Celtic Colours tribute concert in Glendale
Tartans made by the Glendale Weavers Guild lined the stage and walls of the hall; everyone present was there to go back in time when Celtic music and the Gaelic language dominated the homes and halls of Cape Breton.
Doug Lamey (fiddle) and Sandy MacDonald
It was a sold-out show at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Glendale last Wednesday night. The place was filled with friends and family members of Alex Francis MacKay. There were also many who just came for the music, song, dance and Gaelic, and there was plenty of Gaelic and laughter to be had.
The MC for the evening was a shared role between John Donald Cameron and Jeff MacDonald, or as he is more commonly known in the Gaelic circles, Goiridh Dand#61538;mhnallach. John Donald on the fiddle, Sandy MacDonald on acoustic guitar and Mary Graham on the piano kicked off the show in fine form.
The crowd was welcomed with a full Gaelic opening accompanied by traditional Celtic tunes. There was many a tale told about how fiddling was ever present in the lives of the MacKay family and that Gaelic was spoken exclusively in their household, a tradition that has certainly been preserved as there were so many people in the hall that evening having full-on conversations in the native tongue of their Scottish homeland.
Alex Francis was a lover of music and family. He was full of wit, and many said he was even funnier and wittier in Gaelic than he was in English.
Goiridh Dand#61538;mhnallach is a teacher of the Gaelic language, and he told the story of the rough times in the Highlands of Scotland, when the wealthy landowners were raising the rents and making it near impossible for the Scottish people to survive on the land they worked and lived on. These families took what they could, which was very little, and sailed to a make new home for themselves. He gave the background of the song he was to sing by Allan “the Ridge” MacDonald, who was named “the Ridge” from living in Mabou Ridge. Dand#61538;mhnallach dedicated this next song to Catherine MacDonald, whom he said was in her final hours. The song was written by Allan MacDonald through inspiration as “he was listening to the beautiful voice of the lady of the house who was praising the family, their home and, of course, the good MacDonalds.”
Douglas Lamey then took to the stage with fiddle in hand, along with Sandy MacDonald, and they got the crowd clapping as they picked it up. Afterwards, Lamey played a James Scott Skinner tune who was “the Strathspey King.”
In the hall that night it was a heartfelt family affair as the MacKay family were all present and in the front row. Lamey said he had been listening to Alex Francis’ CDs preparing to pay tribute to the man who was loved by so many.
The many stories of Gaelic culture and tradition were said to have been what has sustained the Celtic people for hundreds of years. Celebrations of life, as well as death, are understood through the music of ancestors played throughout the generations. Everyone in the St. Mary’s Parish Hall seemed to be cousins or kin of some sort. It was undeniably a clannish affair.
When Glenn Graham took the stage he recounted that the parish hall in Glendale was the very first place he had ever played, besides Christmas concerts in school; he was only seven years old. Graham then played the Grand March for Jeanette, for Alex Francis’ nieces.
There were whispers in the crowd surrounding the talent of a young woman as she made her way to the stage. She was a young, beautiful woman by the name of Donna Marie DeWolfe, and she wore a stylish fitted red plaid dress. She played that fiddle as hard as she could with her feet ablaze as she kicked up a storm, pounding out the tunes. She breathed new life into the crowd who stomped their feet, cheered and clapped for her as well as Sandy MacDonald when they finished their set.
As she left the stage and Goiridh Dand#61538;mhnallach returned, he said, “I’m tired from just watching her!”
Every artist who performed had very personal stories that they told about Alex Francis. Shelly Campbell stood while playing her fiddle and said, “In all the times I saw Alex Francis play, he always stood, so I’ll stand in honour of him – but also I have a dress on!”
The audience was warned of the humour of the next performers, Rona Lightfoot and Mairi MacInnis. With a thick Scottish accent Mairi said, “It’s a great privilege to be back in Glendale, and I notice that you’re all having such a great time that I’m going to spoil it on you by singing. And I’m singing a song about drowning too!”
It was a wonderful evening, full of history and steeped in tradition. Goiridh Dand#61538;mhnallach said it best when he said that Alex Francis “had the best of the Gaelic; what was lost when he passed away can’t be replaced. But I owe a debt to the MacKay family for the Gaelic that I have today.”
That sentiment seemed to represent the feeling of everyone in the hall that night, whether they knew the man or felt they did through hearing the stories, music and song that was played in his tribute.
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