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Slainte Mhath will get them up and dancing

By Glenda Luymes - Chilliwack Progress

Slainte Mhath. Try and say it. But before you do, remember that in Gaelic, 'te' is pronounced cha and 'mh' makes a vee sound. Pretty tough, eh?

Slainte Mhath (correctly pronounced slawn-cha-va ) will perform at the Harrison Festival of the Arts Saturday.

The band has five members and combines piano, fiddle, drums and bagpipes, creating a unique sound that mixes old styles with new. The band's unusual name is Gaelic for "good health to you," and comes from a traditional East Coast toast, embodying the purpose of their music.

"The most important thing for us is to make sure that people get into the music, get up dancing and have a blast," says pianist Ryan MacNeil. Each show includes a special number that starts with three dancing band members and escalates to get everyone on their feet.

The Nova Scotian group began to make audiences dance in 1994 when another band, The Barra MacNeils, asked pianist Ryan MacNeil, fiddler Boyd MacNeil and bagpiper Bruce MacPhee to put together an opening act. The audience loved them. A little while later, fiddler and step-dancer Lisa Gallant and drummer Brian Talbot joined the line-up.

The only female in the group, Gallant testifies to the closeness of the gang.

"You miss the girls and all, but they're a great bunch of guys," she says, a wee lilt softening her voice. It's a good thing too, with the band's touring schedule, the group spends plenty of time together.

Last summer Slainte Mhath toured Europe, going back and forth between Scotland and England, playing in pubs and festivals. This summer, their touring schedule is no less ambitious. The group has already played in New York's Central Park, and Canada Day saw them in Washington D.C. getting Canadians dancing at the embassy.

"And then we're back in Halifax and off to Ontario. Next it's Harrison," Gallant says. The group has played at the festival before and looks forward to returning.

"It's so beautiful there. I can't wait to be back."

Gallant began playing the fiddle when she was 14. During the summers she attended Gaelic College, where she learned to dance and got to know the other members of what would become Slainte Mhath. After highschool she attended University for a year, but now music is a "24 hours a day" job.

"It's not fair to either or, if I do both."

The highlight of her musical career, so far, was a concert in Europ last summer.

"We played at this really big festival in Cambridge. There were over 12,000 people watching us and we were up after two big names. There was a lot of pressure, but the crowd was great. They really got into it."

Slainte Mhath's busy touring schedule has paid off. On June 4, the band released their second CD to great reviews.

"We called it VA to facilitate understanding of our name, since the last word is pronounced va ," Gallant says. "The CD was recieved wonderfully. We've gotten good comments and it seems that people are really understanding it," she continues. "It's mostly instrumental and has a bit of humming too."

The melodies focus on different grooves and rhythms, although track four is centred around a voice sampling. The group has just finished the music video for it.

Although Gallant insists that "you have to see the video for yourself," she did disclose a few details about the experience.

"The video was filmed in Toronto in an old art gallery. It was sort of retro." The song features lively music interspersed with the voice of an old concert announcer.

"His voice is just wicked and he's so funny," Gallant says, laughing, "but I'm not saying any more."

Once the editing is finished, Slainte Mhath will be sending the tape to various TV stations, including CMT and Much East, hoping for some air time.

Meanwhile, the group is continuing to focus their efforts on touring, spreading good health and good music.

Slainte Mhath takes the main hall stage Saturday, July 6 at 8:30 p.m. The box office opens one hour prior to the performance and tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors and children.


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