Kitchen Racket,
Celtic Colours 2002
at the Jubilee School
in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, NS
(18 October 2002)

Racket, indeed! That's not exactly the first word I would think of to describe the fine sampling of tunes and songs heard during this night's festivities, but whatever you choose to call the sounds, they were certainly abundant in the gymnasium of Jubilee School in Sydney Mines.

The first group to take the stage was the Northside Session Players, a group of musicians who gather at Rollies's Wharf (a restaurant/pub in North Sydney) each Thursday to play tunes in an informal setting. This setting was recreated for the audience on the stage, with the piano in the corner and a circle of fiddlers surrounding it.

This group of musicians put on a fine show. Each got a turn in leading a set of tunes, as would happen at a session, and the results were magnificent. The audience was treated to what sounded like off-the-cuff session playing, full of the vibrancy and good humour that one normally finds at such a place. Clearly, each of these musicians was there for one purpose -- to have a good time and play some tunes. We were treated to set after set of foot-tapping, bopping-in-your-seat tunes.

I did notice, however, that many of the featured musicians were well-known musicians -- and not just locally. Such people as Brenda Stubbert, Paul Cranford and Jean MacNeil are quite widely recognized for their talents. And although they do regularly attend the sessions at Rollies -- and in fact, play a big part in keeping them going -- I had to wonder where the unknown musicians were. There are many others who regularly attend the sessions who may not be at such a high level of skill as yet, but their attendance is a big part of sessions and plays a strong role in keeping musical traditions alive. It might have been more interesting to have included these individuals as well, to provide a clearer picture of what sessions are really like.

Next to take the stage were A Crowd of Bold Sharemen from Newfoundland, consisting of Jim Payne, Fergus O'Byrne, Gerry Strong, Colin Carrigan and Graham Wells. With the sounds of accordion, mandolin, banjo, bodhran, concertina, tin whistle, flute, fiddle, bouzouki and guitar between them -- as well as five fine sets of vocal chords -- the Sharemen put on one hell of a show.

The band's set included traditional songs and instrumentals, all wrapped up in a blanket of entertaining stage banter. Right from the moment these fellas stepped on stage, they captured the audience's attention and never faltered. They were well-polished, with wonderful instrumental arrangements and very strong vocals. There were a number of a cappella bits that emphasized the band's ability for intricate vocal harmonies. A Crowd of Bold Sharemen is a band that I would gladly go see again.

Locals Kyle, Sheumas and Stewart MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils then took the stage for the evening's final performance. I had seen the Barras perform several times previously, and wondered what shape the act would take without Lucy MacNeil, who had just given birth a few days prior to the concert. While I certainly wouldn't say that Lucy was not missed -- her robust vocals and percussion add a significant brilliance to the group -- I would say that her brothers are more than capable of providing an outstanding performance by themselves.

Right from the beginning of the performance, the MacNeils had the audience captured. Smooth, melodic vocal harmonies and an excellent instrumental mix was the theme. They did a number of favorites from their most recent album, Racket in the Attic, as well as some exceptional traditional medleys that had heads bobbing and feet tapping throughout the gymnasium. Sound trouble, unfortunately, seemed to plague the trio throughout the set, with some drifting in and out of instruments seemingly at will. Not ideal, but the MacNeils made up for any defects in the output with the quality of the performance. The display was highly energetic, rousing the crowd and putting them in the mood for more.

As luck (and good organization) would have it, the audience was in store for more! Characteristic of many Celtic Colours venues, all of the evening's performers returned to the stage for a finale to the evening. Two thumbs (and two big toes!) up for this one. Combining the vocals of A Crowd of Bold Sharemen and the MacNeils (and a few of the Northside Session Players as well, once the mikes were adjusted) produced an astounding sound, reminiscent of the Men of the Deeps in its force and harmonies. The set of tunes that followed was no less spectacular. Everyone crammed on the stage appeared to be truly enjoying themselves, which always brings a certain dimension to the music to begin with. This final set was just bursting at the seams with the vitality of a jam session.

The Kitchen Racket crew produced an energetic, bounce-out-of-your-seat set of songs and tunes that would keep concert-goers giddy all the way over the bridge to the Festival Club.

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 23 November 2002