The Skirmish hard at work as Lanark County TroubadoursPosted May 26, 2011 By Bill Cameron
EMC Entertainment - The Skirmish, now in their sixth year as Lanark County's hard-driving Celtic troubadours, are heading into a busy month of performances. In June they will be playing a barn dance, a lobster boil, a concert at MERA, an Ottawa senior's residence on Canada Day, and finally the second annual Perth Kilt Run.
"We like variety in our gigs!" laughs bandleader Bill Cameron. "If they'll hire us and it sounds like fun, we'll be there! Let's see, this little tour will take us to Appleton, Ottawa, McDonalds Corners, Ottawa again and finally Perth - yup, we're getting around a bit. And these are all places we've played before, so we must be doing something right."
Cameron, whose Scottish and Maritime family roots sparked his interest in Celtic music in the late 1970's, formed the band in 2006, because he was being offered St. Patrick's Day gigs and needed a combo. He knew he didn't have to look very far to find dedicated musicians who enjoyed the Celtic style, the other two original members are his McDonalds Corners neighbours, guitarist/singer Linda Grenier and bodrhan player/vocalist Gary Glover, while Cameron plays mandolin, lead guitar and pennywhistle. After they went through a couple of bass players, it became clear to them that people expect a to hear a fiddle in a Celtic band, to provide a bigger melodic canvas than the mandolin-driven soundscape The Skirmish started out with. Cameron called on his fiddling friend Victor Maltby, with whom he had played in the orchestra for the Orion Theatre Co. production of 'Cabaret', to round out the lineup. "Vic's a good all-around professional musician, with an easy-going attitude, so he fit right in. Plus he has a kilt." This lineup has remained constant since 2007.
The concept for the band, in a word, was to be employable. "There are lots of good Celtic fiddle players around, but you can't squeeze a dozen fiddlers into a pub corner and call it a band, or play a full wedding reception gig like that. The pubs like the music, but they need a band that will fit into a small space and entertain their customers," explains Cameron. "We're not artistes, we're working for the audience. We play songs and tunes that we like, that the crowd may or may not know, but that they can relate to, and we try to keep it mostly uptempo." Their repertoire spans the gamut of Scottish, Irish and Maritime sources, and audiences can expect to hear favourites like 'Farewell to Nova Scotia' and 'Whiskey in the Jar' as well as more obscure numbers.
And how did they come by their name? Cameron explains that his previous combo was called the Seldom Heard, which turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a name, The Skirmish is catchy, energetic, and ties in with the band's motto: "It's nae a real battle!" It suggests, accurately, that although tuneful, this is not the kind of dreamy Celtic music that makes good lullabies. Also, he notes that, as with any group not short on opinions, their rehearsals can include vigorous debates.
The biggest challenge for a working Celtic band is to find gigs other than for St. Patrick's Day and Robbie Burns Day, when there are always offers. In fact, many bands play two or more gigs at different venues on St. Patrick's Day. This year The Skirmish played only one, at the Barley Mow Pub in Barrhaven, but it was a 10-hour marathon. "After that one, we took a few days off," admits Cameron. Fortunately The Skirmish has found their music goes over well at summer events like community heritage festivals, barn dances, Celtic-themed weddings and unique events like the Kilt Run, so it's just a matter of letting the event organizers know where to find them.
A few of the venues the band has played are Almonte Celtfest 2010, the Elphin Roots Festival, Stewart Park Festival, and pubs large and small, like the Royal Oak on the Canal, D'arcy McGee's, the Barley Mow (Barrhaven and Kanata), and O'Reilly's and the Red Lion in Perth.
The 2011 summer series of gigs starts off Saturday, June 11 with a barn dance hosted by Ray and Kay James at Cuil Aitinn Farm, 4356 Appleton Side Road, just east of Carleton Place. It is a fundraiser towards replacing the Almonte Fair educational building, which burned down last fall. The Skirmish will be playing from 7-11 p.m. Tickets including dinner and two bands are $40 (kids free!) and available from Kay James at 613-257-8539.
Next, on Friday June 17, is the Lobsterfest celebration at the Royal Oak on the Canal in Ottawa East (next to the Pretoria Bridge), a 6-10 p.m. show on the patio. This gig is becoming a tradition and all the band's Ottawa area friends usually show up for a great party and scoff.
On Sunday, same weekend, June 19, The Skirmish will play a double bill matinee with the duo of Rebecca Barclay and John Steele (a 2010 Canadian Folk Music Award nominee, see barclayandsteele.com) at the MERA Schoolhouse in McDonalds Corners. This will be an afternoon concert starting at 2 p.m., tickets $15, see www.ticketsplease.ca
On Canada Day, The Skirmish is pleased to have been invited back to the Perley-Rideau Centre to perform for a great crowd of seniors and veterans, they will be bringing out their most Canadian repertoire to suit the occasion.
Finally, on July 2 they will again perform at the second annual Perth Kilt Run, in support of the MS Society of Canada. This event saw over 1,000 kilted runners cover a 10 km course in its first year, earning a Guinness World Record, this year it is a five mile run. The Skirmish won't be running, but they are planning their own sort of marathon - the "World's longest medley of Scottish music", and will be accepting pledges and donations for the MS society. The band's performances at the Kilt Run will be sponsored by Little Stream Bakery. (Yes, they will be wearing their kilts!)
After July 2, The Skirmish will be available until late summer to play your event. For information and sample performances, see www.myspace.com/theskirmish or www.youtube.com/billsdubious, or contact Bill Cameron at 613-278-2556 or email@example.com
Submitted by Bill Cameron.
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