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

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.

This group of musicians are well educated, supportive of one and other and widely traveled. They are knowledgeable and respectful of Cape Breton’s musical history but keenly aware and open to the many other forms of music alive in the world they are experiencing.

Colin and Jason have joined forces with the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen and the rhythm section of Donnie Calabrese and Colin Clarke to form Sprag Session.

With humorous titles on the CD like such as The Gwanwitcha, Mabou Pizza Boy and S’nice-a-tron, you might get the impression these guys don’t take their music seriously. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This is seriously brilliant musicianship and arrangements that combine Cape Breton traditional rhythms with funk and world music grooves. They just happen to have a wonderful time doing it.

I just heard them live at the ECMA celebration in Moncton where they brought 400 excited people to their feet. Everyone in that room seemed to sense they were witnessing the birth of something very special. Watch for them on the U.S. festival circuit this summer and hopefully you can also catch them here the next time you are in Cape Breton.

How the Music Found Me

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.