Transplanted Rock folk give every Irish Descendants show a hometown vibe
Who: The Irish Descendants
Where: Maxx Fish
When: Tuesday, March 16
Sure, being a member of one of Canadas top Celtic music bands sounds like it might be a lark. According to Con OBrien, frontman for Newfoundlands The Irish Descendants, it can be just that.
But theres one downfall missing out on the best party in Canada every year.
St. Johns is where the Descendants hang their hats. And according to OBrien, St. Patricks Day in Newfoundland, a place that maintains strong cultural ties to the island across the Atlantic, is nothing short of a two-week event.
He remembers pre-band years, being a headstrong young man lining up at the first pub at 9 a.m. with a mental checklist of all the different locales he had to make sure to hit before the sun rose on March 18.
Then there were the early years of the Irish Descendants, from 1990 to 1992, years during which OBrien says the band was in such high demand in their home town they played 33 sets in four days.
But now, with the recent release of their ninth album, We Are the Irish Descendants , and numerous national and East Coast music awards under their belts, OBrien and his bandmates are in high demand throughout all of North America.
An ambitious touring schedule brings them to Whistler on March 16, a day before they hit the Commodore in Vancouver for St. Patricks Day 2004. Thats about as far from St. Johns as you can get.
The last St. Patricks Day OBrien says he remembers spending in St. Johns was way back in 1992.
"I do miss the camaraderie," he admits. "We miss out on a lot of the fun. Its a balancing act; its a necessary evil for us to be travelling."
But a gang of Newfie minstrels can find little patches of home all across this country. Up in the oil patches of Northern Alberta, in the suburbs of Southern Ontario, all throughout B.C. and so on, there are communities of Newfoundlanders displaced by an ever-weakening fishing industry. For the Irish Descendents and other touring Newfoundland-based acts like their friends Great Big Sea, this phenomenon makes almost every show a hometown show.
Nothing beats the energy of a hometown show the arms-around-the-shoulders camaraderie, singing along to songs everyone knows the shows that make strangers into friends.
But OBrien says the situation can also be kind of sad.
"You get so many people coming up to you saying, you dont know how homesick you just made me," he says. "Its a little bit of home and at the same time it makes you think about home an awful lot. Its an interesting phenomenon."
Its no wonder they inspire homesickness, playing the music that has been passed down through generations, holding fast to traditional Celtic style. OBrien estimates their repertoire to be a 50/50 split of old folk tunes and original material arranged traditionally of course.
As the only remaining original member of the Irish Descendants OBrien remembers days the band produced and sold their first CD out of their cars. But after all that time there hasnt been and still is no need to court radical change when the traditional way is working just fine. Dont count on ever seeing DJ turntables on stage amidst the mandolins and tin whistles, concertinas and accordions and fiddles. That would be akin to sacrilege.
"These songs we grew up with," says OBrien, a 12 th generation Newfoundlander. "Im playing songs that my father taught me."
The musics timeless and ageless appeal has allowed the band the flexibility to think outside the bar.
"We say its Hasbro-age is nine to 90," says OBrien. "We can go into a senior citizens home this evening and play in a Kindergarten class the next morning.
"It makes it a lot easier when we tour the country to be able to go to a bar show and then sit with a symphony. We started as a bar band and probably well finish as a bar band. Thats where we learned our craft and were very comfortable there. But were equally comfortable in a soft seat theatre."
Theatre or raucous pub, fans can be adamant about hearing their favourites, but with over 140 songs to choose from there are a lot of favourites.
Even out of a repertoire as deep as the ocean OBrien can name a couple tunes that are universal crowd pleasers: the folk ballad Catch the Wind and the old standard The Rocky Road to Dublin. "Gets em rising to their feet every time," he says.
When asked to pick a song that best describes his home province, he mulls over the difficulty of such a task. There have been the bad times and the good times and theres the sense of humour inherent to the folks from the Rock. But he settles on Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Marys, a tune written in the 1930s by a transplanted Irishman living in New York City, pining for the Emerald Isle. Its a sentiment he says Newfoundlanders across the country know all too well.
"As long as Newfoundland exists well have Newfoundland expatriates," says OBrien. "The common denominator amongst all of them is, I really enjoy being in Winnipeg, or I really enjoy being in Barrhead, Alta., but God, I cant wait to get home.
"Thats something that just doesnt change."
Transplanted Rock dwellers craving the sounds of home as well as fans of authentic Celtic music will want to catch the Irish Descendants at Maxx Fish this Tuesday night.
Thats March 16. Its a St. Patricks Day eve, of sorts. But come on now, if Newfies can make St. Paddys Day last two weeks Whistlerites can sure as heck make it last two days.
For more information call 604-932-1904.
St. Patricks Day happenings around town
As the frontman for one of the most well known and successful Celtic bands in Canada, Con OBrien says the worst thing about St. Patricks Day is that he always has to work.
Here are some of the other musicians in town who will be working so the rest of us can raise our pints to great tunes.
Who: The Bowen Trio
Where: Dubh Linn Gate Pub
As the only Irish themed Pub in town the Dubh Linn Gate will be St. Patricks Day headquarters. Its guaranteed regular performers Cam Salay, Rob Thompson and Moritz Behm will be doing it up right with their standard high-energy guitar and fiddle tunes.
Who: Guitar Doug
The local legend will be strumming his signature guitar cover tunes for the après ski revellers at Merlins in the afternoon. Its sure to be an epic set what with all the Irish folks among us celebrating the fact that they ski for free that day. Thats those of us with legitimate Irish passports for proof, so put down your family trees because insisting that somewhere way back in your lineage is a great great uncle Sheamus isnt going to cut it.
Who: Doug & Kyla
Where: Blacks Pub
After his apres set up in the Benchlands, Guitar Doug makes his way down the hill to Blacks Pub where hell be joined by lovely folk punk violinist Kyla Uyede for a night of good time Celtic-flavoured favourites. Kyla may have learned how to play at classical music academies, but she fiddles on Devil Went Down to Georgia like a hillbilly demon.
Who: The Mercenary Jazz Ensemble
The collective of Whistler and Vancouver musicians make a special appearance at the casual pub for Wednesdays pint-raising St. Paddys Day partiers.