Canada toor 2014 – Post 2. Hostels to Mansions.

A whirlwind of epic proportions is the only way of describing the past five days. Since the last blog post on Tuesday, we’ve gigged in four venues in four different areas, we’ve travelled at least 11 hours by bus, we’ve stayed in homes that range from modest houses to border line mansions and a hotel that must win the award for the most badly organized building in the world, we’ve had disagreements but over all great fun. Most importantly, we are really enjoying Canada and we are loving the Canadian people.

On Tuesday, after the last blog post, we went to the cathedral that would host our show. As it was an unusual setting for us, we thought it would be a good idea to check it out beforehand. We decided to make a few changes to the plans. We moved the piano around and got rid of the stage. The wholly family cathedral in Saskatoon was only build three years ago. From the outside, it could quite easily be mistaken as yet another industrial building right in the middle of the industrial centre of Saskatoon. The only difference is its large spire that can be seen from a reasonable distance. The inside of the cathedral is quite different. Although the walls don’t have the same long lasting solidness found in Irish churches, you certainly get the impression you have walked into a cathedral when in the main room of the building. The main church area is a massive round room with high ceilings, very decorative stain glass windows, custom art work and a sizeable alter. I know so much about the cathedral because the host family we stayed with were very proud of it and therefore took great pleasure in describing the room in detail. In fact, I even know that outside the stain glass windows is a glass solar energy collector. I also know that a few months ago one of the stain glass windows fell in on the quire area and a replacement window had to be acquired from the maker in Germany. I’m rambling. Sorry. The point I was trying to make is although this wasn’t a typical cathedral, it still had the same acoustical attributes. This means that for playing the pipes without amplification it sounded great however playing with a group of eight musicians, it was a little difficult. I’ve encountered this a few times. When there is a lot of echo in a room, musicians need to be very careful. They need to sit closer together and they need to listen carefully to what each person is playing or the sound will become muddy. Fortunately, although it was a bit of a challenge, the sound engineer that is traveling with us handled the situation very well.

On Tuesday evening, we went to a local session. There were at least thirty musicians there. Some from Ireland, Some from Canada but all playing traditional Irish music. Unfortunately it was quite hard to hear everyone in the session but the standard was great. I really enjoyed talking to people who had come over here a year ago or fifty years ago. They all seem to say the same thing. The quality of life is great over hear but the winters are very cold and harsh. I love hearing the people that have been here for fifty years that still have their local Irish accent. I also like that they get to go home once a year mostly. It was fantastic to hear locals finding people form our group that lived in the area that they left behind. The thrill they got from speaking to people from their home town was sad in one way but rewarding in another. It was nice to be able to bring a bit of home to Canada for some of the people that moved here.

After the session on Tuesday night there was no time to be particularly social. The objective was to get to bed and get as much sleep as possible before getting up at 6AM on Wednesday morning to get to the cathedral to be interviewed by a local Saskatoon television station called Global. Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer any questions. All I had to do is play a few times. The program ran for 2 hours and we were needed for a total of about 10 minutes in that time. However, there was quite a lot of planning and organization required when we were off camera.

You might think that the rest of Wednesday was spent relaxing after that early start. No. Not at all. I had work to do as I was getting dozens of calls from Dublin and by 12:30PM we were back in the cathedral again helping the sound engineer get things set up. We finally left around 5 to get something to eat before the show started at 7:30. By the end of the performance I was absolutely shattered. In fact, during the harp solo in the first half, I nearly fell asleep on stage. Still, we had to go to a pub afterword to play a few tunes and talk to the locals. I say we had to. That’s not really accurate. Of course, we had a choice but the host families had been so good to us it would have been very rude not to go out after the show.

Thursday, we departed Saskatoon to travel to Regina. That was only a three and a half hour trip so with the opportunity to catch up on some sleep on the bus I was in great form for the rest of the day. The venue in Regina wasn’t as flashy as the cathedral in Saskatoon but it was a fantastic place in terms of sound and layout. When we started playing, the audience warmed to us instantly and every single one of us had a great time.

There was no late nights on Thursday after the performance. It had been a long few days so we were all very happy to get to a bed and try to catch up on some sleep. Again, we stayed with host families from the area. We stayed with a family that lived about five minute drive from the venue. On the drive there the lady of the house warned us that the dog was quite protective. That was a tad under stated. The dog was very obviously vicious toward anyone he didn’t know so they unfortunately had to lock him away for the night.

We left Regina on Friday morning to travel six and a half hours to Manitoba. We had a few delays at the start but we arrived there reasonably on time. The venue in Manitoba was quite similar to the venue in Regina. The sound system was absolutely top of the range and the stage was very comfortable for all the performers. Again, the audience on the night were very warm and appreciative. I even played around with them during my solo. I love interacting with an audience and I love when the audience interacts with me. It makes the performance much more enjoyable.

After the show on Friday night we met up with our host family. They drove ten miles to their 1000 acre farm. Yes. I said 1000 and they said their operation was very small in comparison to most. Their house was a mansion. Their basement had a bar in it the size of my house! The son’s room was cavernous and the walk in shower was the size of two large showers. Their small car had a 3.2 later engine and their large car had a 6.6 later engine. They considered themselves working class but the wealth they demonstrated without trying to show off was incredibly impressive. On Friday morning we got up early to have a quick tour of their farm. It’s a funny thing about Canada. Their old buildings are at most about a hundred and thirty years old. In Irish terms that’s very young. However, a church that is in the locality was one of the oldest structures they knew of but to us it was quite ordinary. Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely little church and it’s fascinating the way things are done in relation to creating small churches every few miles with very small grave yards. The host family we were staying with were the Lee’s. They were able to show us that the majority of their descendants had been buried in the grave yard a few miles away from their house. Even relatives that travel away generally prefer to come back to be buried in the local grave yard. It’s not exclusive to one family either but I think the idea of having several small grave yards dotted around the country side is to keep the plots small while keeping the churches and the grave yards accessible to the locals. It’s interesting.

We left Manitoba on Saturday morning at around 9 AM and we were here in Winnipeg by 12:30. The organizers had asked us to teach locals who had an interest in traditional Irish music. For the first hour and a half I taught the pipes. Well, actually I didn’t. I was meant to teach the pipes but no one showed up. Two people came to listen to the lesson. A husband and wife. The wife played the bodhran and the husband played the guitar. I decided to ask them to play a few tunes with me. I spent the time teaching them about rhythm. I was thinking that if both are playing backing / rhythm instruments it would be useful to show them that playing together will make the melody players life a lot easier and it will make the tune sound a lot cleaner. The second lesson I gave was on the bodhran. I had four participants at a beginner level. Again, I tried to teach them to make their beats simple, only let one bodhran player run with a tune at a time and never try to overrun the melody.

The performance in Winnipeg was as enjoyable as the previous two. The venue was a little different. At the start it felt like a barn but as the night went on I really began to like it. The equipment there was absolutely incredible. Over kill isn’t the way to describe it. They had five foot high bass bins, separate mixers for front of house and monitors and a complicated EQ system run through a laptop. I should also say the mixers were all digital. The system was at least thirty thousand Euro worth.

In Winnipeg we are staying in a hostel / hotel. It’s a weird place. The building seems reasonably new but the design is absolutely senseless. Absolutely nothing here makes sense and just forget trying to get breakfast in the morning. They have stuff there but it’s all over the place. It’s a comfortable room but really not organized well.

We will spend a few days in Winnipeg. The dancers are teaching today but we all have a day off on Monday. Tuesday is another day of traveling so I’ll update you again next week.

One final note, my pipes don’t like the Canadian weather. The air is very very dry so the reeds aren’t handling it very well.