Tuesday, 11 March 2008
Friday March 7 was the culmination of a small dream I had to see and hear Paddy Keenan, the legendary Uilleann piper, play a concert in Ottawa. After playing with a spreadsheet and talking with his agent I decided to back the concert myself, accepting the possibility of a loss, but hoping for at least a break-even venture, according to my spreadsheet ‘crystal ball.’ Thus, last Friday, 166 people gathered at the First Unitarian Congregation on Clearly Ave, Ottawa, to see a live performance by Paddy Keenan (pipes, whistles) and John Walsh (guitar, vocals). Everybody braved the weather which was dumping yet another 4 to 6 inches of snow on a beleaguered Ottawa. Notable before the first set was a mass of snow and ice which rumbled off the roof of the musicians lounge like a freight train! Soon after the audience was treated to great sound by Greg T. Brown, one of Ottawa’s finest traditional musicians, and of course a superb performance by Paddy and John, playing two major sets with a 20 minute intermission in the middle. We were dazzled by Paddy’s virtuosity on a variety of hornpipes and reels, his more relaxed pace on jigs, and the very moving slow airs that separate mere show-offs with true masters. John Walsh sang an original composition, and the pair played an original instrumental, also by John, which according to feedback, aided in many CD sales. In the second set local musicians Alistair Dennett (bodhran) and Don Kavanagh (harmonica) sat in with the main duo. Paddy was very pleased Alistair ‘stuck to the script’ of keeping the beat with no embellishment for the slow tune, and also remarked on the microphone that Don was the best harmonica player he ever heard (this comment was repeated over the breakfast table, as well), two well known brothers in Dublin coming a close second. On Saturday afternoon five workshop attendees gathered at my house in Nepean for a Paddy Keenan workshop. By this time the weather was starting to turn quite nasty. Paddy was very gracious and allowed anybody who wanted to, to strap on his pipes, and give them a go! Paddy was pleasant and patient with everybody, no matter what their level of playing was. It was such a relaxed and fun afternoon, it easily went an hour longer than planned. When the workshop ended, some people left, and invited others started to arrive for a house session. The weather, sadly, got horrendous, and this meant some invitees did not make the session. But some did! We were treated to some of Ottawa’s finest traditional musicians in the living room, around the fire, among the candles, the place was just rocking!! The session ended with an impromptu joke-telling session which was quite hilarious. By the end of the session Paddy had turned to simply listening to the locals play. He said the next morning it was seriously one of the best sessions he’d been to in a long time. He was quite sincere about it. On a personal note, I have to say that both Paddy and John were tremendous house guests. They are both wonderful people and are lot of fun, willing to share their story and music to anyone who will listen. Saying goodbye on Sunday was like saying goodbye to old friends. I also want to thank the many volunteers who were ‘paid in kind’ for assisting me so much. The media sponsors (The Gaelic Hour and Music From the Glen) for playing the music, interviewing Paddy, and interviewing me! To my girlfriend, Paty, for making sure we were always well fed, watered, and housed, and always with a smile, I thank you so much.