‘Not just funny, exciting and toe-tapping’
St. Patrick’s Day concert to showcase traditional Irish music
Fun and music, or “Craic agus Ceol” as the Irish say, is the theme of a celebration of traditional Irish music being presented during an upcoming St. Patrick’s Day concert. The event will take place at the King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal by Irish singersongwriter Damian Brennan and well-known Nova Scotia fiddler Jenny Melvin. Brennan moved to Nova Scotia with his wife, wildlife artist Nicole Ruuska, more than a year ago after working in the Gaelic music scene in British Columbia. Brennan had heard much about Nova Scotia and its deep Gaelic music roots from a former bandmate who urged him to visit the province. “He was actually stopping in Nova Scotia with the intention to move back to Ireland and loved it so much that he didn’t move to Ireland at all,” Brennan said. “He has always been telling me you have got to come out here. It’s amazing. It’s like Ireland. The Gaelic music scene is stronger here. It has more deep roots than British Columbia. I wanted to visit that part of the music, the real culture and Maritime sounds. “I had to leave Ireland for a better life in Canada as many Irish have done throughout history. Then to find and collaborate with Jenny, I would say that this is another thing that stands out. The fact that my style of Irish music has created a unique sound when it blends with the Nova Scotia sounds of Jenny Melvin’s style,” Brennan said during an interview. Brennan credits his early musical education provided by the Christian Brothers in Ireland for his lifelong interest in the musical roots of his homeland. “They did a tremendous job of keeping us busy and promoting traditional Irish music,” Brennan said. “I started on the penny whistle. And I loved it.” Brennan has spent his share of time playing popular Irish drinking songs in pubs. However, he enjoys a concert setting more as a venue to share his favourite traditional and original Irish music and stories. “There is a lot more depth to Irish music than drinking songs. I’m into the more obscure but still very toe-tapping tunes.” According to Brennan, every song has a story behind it. “I really wanted a listening audience,” he said of the upcoming concert. “I want them to come away with the fact that Irish music is not just funny, exciting and toe-tapping, it’s interesting too. There are things you don’t know about Ireland until you hear the songs,” he said. Brennan said the songlist for the concert includes perennial toe-tapping favourites, which he describes as “my old friends” because he played them so often over the years. He said his upbeat version of Farewell to Nova Scotia is one example. Other favourites include Drunken Sailor, Old Black Rum, popularized by Great Big Sea, and even Sonny’s Dream. “I’ve been singing this song since I was 15 in Ireland, not even knowing that it’s a Newfoundland song from the great and missed Ron Hynes,” Brennan said. He added he and Melvin also look forward to showcasing less-known traditional songs such as Muirsheen Duirken, a catchy toe-tapping song about Irish immigrants sailing to America to follow the gold rush. Liberty’s Sweet Shore is about Irish immigrants approaching Canada by ship in the 1800s on to (the) Gross Île (Isle) location of the Irish memorial historic site. Four Green Fields is about Ireland personified as an old woman and its four provinces represented by green fields, one of which remains occupied (“taken”) by the British (the “strangers”) despite the best efforts of the Irish people (her “sons”), who died trying to defend them. Brennan’s original tunes will include his recent single Cois Fharraige, which translates to Beside the Sea and “a tearjerker” called Sweet Sixteen. “It’s a beautiful song that was my parents’ song they sang together for over 60 years. They met during the Second World War on a hillside, watching as the Luftwaffe were bombing the Belfast shipyard. They sang this song to each other that night and for many years after,” Brennan said. According to Melvin, who studied classical violin performance at the University of Toronto and has a master of music in traditional Irish music degree from the University of Limerick, the Irish have long been saddled with harmful stereotypes regarding alcoholism, often highlighted on St. Patrick’s Day. “This year, Damian and myself will provide an alternate window for all ages into the rich tapestry of music that has survived for more than 800 years,” Melvin said. “There’ll be several instruments from the tradition to experience and learn about and Damian’s friendly demeanour sets anyone at ease and as if they’ve been ‘in the fold’ all their life,” Melvin said. The concert will take place March 17 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information is available at www.kingstheatre.ca or by calling 902-532-7704.