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I Have Seen the Future and It’s Called Sprag Session

Written by Max MacDonald.

Cape Breton traditional music is often called fiddle music because that instrument usually takes the melodic lead with the piano as the chief accompaniment. Our music has been played on these two instruments at dances and house parties for the last century.

Because the music is so closely related to the Cape Breton dance tradition, there have been relatively few experiments with additional instrumentation and rhythms. This is not to say it hasn’t been done. Slainte Mhath, Beoloach and some of Ashley MacIsaac’s music come to mind.

You can now add Sprag Session to that list with the release of their self titled debut record. Fiddler Colin Grant and piano player Jason Roach are part of the hugely talented and knowledgeable vanguard of twenty something year old composers and players currently on the scene.

The Time I Played With Elvis

Written by Max MacDonald.

Celtic Connections Festival ClubI made my first trip to Scotland in January of 1996. The purpose of the visit was to conduct research at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. My business partner and I had hatched the idea to create what would become the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton. We wanted to see a large Celtic festival in action and Celtic Connections, although only in its third year of existence, was already a huge event spanning almost three weeks in length.

Each night, Celtic Connections hosts a Festival Club after the evening’s concerts. This is a lively, informal gathering of artists and fans where the drink and tunes are served up in abundance. Growing up on an Island inhabited by 160,000 people doesn’t prepare you for attending a festival in a big city like Glasgow. The first night at the Festival Club it seemed as if there were 160,000 people in the lobby alone and we didn’t know any of them.

We decided the best policy was to split up and dive into the throng of people. Not long after, I was asked by a group of people where I was from. They had heard my funny (to them) accent and were curious. I welcomed the opportunity to meet some festival attendees. I told them I was from Nova Scotia, actually an Island called Cape Breton. The first words I heard in return were, “Do you know Jerry Holland?”

How the Music Found Me

Written by Max MacDonald.

Jerrydave.1

As I’ve mentioned previously, I wasn’t exposed to Cape Breton traditional music until I was in my twenties. I was aware of some of the bigger names like Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald and John Allan Cameron. I would see them and others on local TV programs from time to time when I was younger but didn’t pay too much attention. It just wasn’t cool. (I was such an idiot! But hey; it was the 60s. It was the Beatles not Buddy.)

Winnie Chafe was the first Cape Breton fiddler I ever performed with. She played on some early recordings of Leon Dubinsky songs we made with the CBC in the early 70’s. I thought she was very brave and remarkably open to some of the untraditional (read “crazy”) ideas we had.

As I became more active in the Cape Breton music scene, I began to meet fiddlers like Marcel Doucette and Ronnie MacEachern. They were part of a developing music scene in Cape Breton that was creating original music influenced by a variety of sources.

Then, everything changed for me one night at a house party. Jerry Holland and Dave MacIsaac were drivin’er in the kitchen and then suddenly switched to a beautiful slow air. That moment is as clear in my mind as the taste of my Mother’s chocolate cake with boiled icing.

A Happy Musical Accident

Written by Max MacDonald.

Max  Sam Moon

Cape Breton is well known for its traditional music and those who perform it. You don’t even need to hear the last name to know who Natalie. Ashley or Rita is. While I have been fortunate to perform with these great artists as an adult, I didn’t hear our own music in my home or any of the homes of my friends when I was younger.  I was into the American popular music that I listened to on my Sony six-transistor radio late at night.

Many of my childhood friends (Including Sam Moon) played in bands but not me. I wanted to be an actor. After doing dozens of plays in college, I auditioned for my first paying acting gig in 1972. Leon Dubinsky (Writer of Rise Again)and Frank Mendleson had created Theatre On the Island, a Cape Breton based Theatre Company.

My audition with Leon was going pretty well until he asked me if I had any talent other than acting. I wanted this job so badly that I blurted out, “Yes, I also sing and dance.” I still don’t know where that came from since I had never done either!