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Making Celtic Connections

By The Cape Breton Post

The reviews are in and just look at what our fellow Celts have to say about Cape Breton!

Representatives from the Celtic Colours International Festival recently traveled to Glasgow, Scotland to experience the Celtic Connections Festival. The visit provided a first-hand look at the artists, venues, marketing strategies and culture of the festival which is, in some respects, similar to Celtic Colours held each October on Cape Breton Island.

The biggest collective highlight is undoubtedly the pride which was felt for our local performers who acted as ambassadors on behalf of Cape Breton, showing the United Kingdom the degree of talent and Gaelic culture that pervades our island communities. Local Celtic group, Slainte Mhath performed four times throughout the festival, bringing crowds to their feet with their energetic and original tunes.

Slainte Mhath (pronounced slawn-cha va), Gaelic for "good health to you" came together in 1994 when independent recording artists The Barra MacNeils asked younger brothers Ryan and Boyd and piper friend Bruce MacPhee to put and opening act together. Audiences immediately wramed to this fresh musical style and after just one show, band members felt the chemistry and realized the potential of the group. Drawing from the seemingly endless pool of young Cape Breton talent, fiddler/percussionist/stepdancer Lisa Gallant was later added to the line-up. Almost five yeras and thousands of touring miles and studio hours later, Slainte Mhath's raw energy and unique style leaves an impression forever urned on the listener's brain.

A review by Sue Wilson, a writer with The Scotsman newspaper in Glasgow, says: "Cape Breton's latest ambassadors to Galsgow, Slainte Mhath, displayed joyous musicality and giving the folks out front a good time were the order of the day. The anchor of the band is the partnership of Ryan MacNeil's piano and Bruce MacPhee's pipes, locking on to the one another and motoring through the dance steps with melodic depth and irresistible swing. At home in the wickedly rhythmic accompaniment stype that's such an exhilarating hallmark of the Cape Breton sound. MacNeil also carried the tune in several numbers...picked out with delicacy and grace...their arrangements revealed a level of intelligence and imagination that bodes well for the future."

A huge sold-out show at a venue called The Old Fruitmarket saw Slainte Mhath, and Cape Breton-born John Allan Cameron, open for Quebec super group La Bottine Souriante. This being their third and most moving appearance at the festival, our ambassadors proved popular once again to a notably attentive crowd. The three acts featured on this night were videotaped for television and will air on BBC in Scotland later this year.

Cameron, also known as The Godfather of Celtic music, delighted audiences along with his son Stuart doing guitar and vocals, and North Sydney's Allie Bennett on bass and fiddle. Throughout his performances, which included songs, 12-string guitar reels and fiddle tunes, Cameron consistently demonstrated his pride of Cape Breton, in particular the Celtic Colours Festival, singing indigenous airs and inviting audiences to visit the island this October. The trio shared the stage on a few occasions with Slainte Mhath and their natural unified approach served to enlighten new fans about the spirit of co-operation and mutual respect so often present among Island musicians.

The Herald, a UK news publication, reviewed Slainte Mhath's performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and concluded: "...the quintet put on quite a show, with flying bagpipe tunes, fizzing fiddle reels, complete with Stax-style funky guitar rhythms, a percussion-dominated finale which took in an African groove and a nimbly co-ordinated six-footed step dance routine."

The group of island representatives who accompanied the trip to Scotland returned to Cape Breton with an undeniable realization that the Celtic Colours International Festival already holds a prominent place in the international festival scene. After all the warm receptions, rave reviews and positive energy surrounding Cape Breton's musical capabilities, this year's Celtic Colours festival is bound to be another huge success.

Scotland has heard just a sample of what our entertainers have to offer and there is no doubt that they, along with the rest of the world, are waiting for more.


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