May 20, 2006
Allan Cameron made Celtic cool
Tribute being paid to ailing
Gave Maritimes' music to the world
Greg Quill - Toronto Star
Allan Cameron's trademark concert cry — "Are you with me?" —
always gets a roaring response.
Wednesday, folk musicians from across the province will
gather at The Berkeley Church in Toronto to provide, for
perhaps the last time, a resounding and joyful musical
answer to the Cape Breton folk music pioneer's famous
won't hear it. He's at a Pickering hospital, in the final
days of a long struggle with a rare and particularly vicious
cancer. But he will know what's being done in his honour,
said his son Stuart, a Toronto-based guitarist and music
producer. And he will certainly feel the spirit of the music
he has inspired, and championed, over the past four decades
when the mass ceilidh gets underway.
number of Canadian folk musicians and singers are lining up
to perform at Wednesday's concert — a fundraiser to help
Cameron's wife, Angela, and Stuart defray medical expenses
that have mounted during the veteran folk star's four-year
illness. The performers include Cape Breton fiddler and
longtime Cameron compadre Sandy MacIntyre and his band
Steeped In Tradition, world-champion fiddler Ashley
MacIsaac, Celtic band The Tartan Terrors, expatriate
Scottish guitarist Tony McManus, folk guitar virtuoso Don
Ross and songwriter Nancy White.
just for starters, MacIntyre said. He's the event's music
director and producer of a 40-track, all-star tribute CD,
Yes! Let's Hear It For John Allan Cameron!
getting calls every day from performers who want to show
their appreciation for John Allan. I've given up trying to
put a formal bill together. I suspect it will be a giant
kitchen party, where anyone who brings and instrument or a
song will just join in."
the fourth star-studded fundraising tribute for 67-year-old
Cameron in the past year, following events in Glace Bay and
Halifax, N.S. — featuring Rita MacNeil, The Men Of The
Deeps, Ron Hynes, Natalie MacMaster, Jimmy Rankin, Buddy
MacDonald, Dave Gunning and Stuart Cameron, among many
others — and last month in North York, where Blue Rodeo and
Great Big Sea performed for corporate donors. Last summer's
Scottish Festival in Fergus, Ont., was dedicated to Cameron,
its honorary chieftain since 1985.
tribute album is a compilation of tracks from existing
recordings by Canadian folk and roots music artists who have
either performed with or been influenced by Cameron's music
during their careers, MacIntyre explained.
include MacIsaac, MacIntyre, Hynes, MacDonald, MacNeil,
Great Big Sea, Rankin, Blue Rodeo, Bobby Curtola, Gordie
Sampson, The Cottars, J.P. Cormier, Natalie and Buddy
MacMaster, The Barra MacNeils, Leahy, John McDermott, Bruce
Guthro, Nova Scotia Premier and renowned Cape Breton fiddler
Rodney MacDonald, Bobby Brown & The Cape Breton Symphony,
Mary Jane Lamond and, of course, John Allan himself.
will be released worldwide on Wednesday, with all proceeds
going to the family trust fund, said MacIntyre. He's known
Cameron for 45 years, and toured with him in the Cape Breton
Symphony Fiddlers during the 1960s and '70s.
Allan has opened doors for so many people, and everyone I
asked was only too willing to contribute music to this
project ... He took Cape Breton music out of the kitchen and
into the world.
"He has so
much pride in the music of Nova Scotia. He likes telling
people he was playing Celtic music before Celtic was cool.
He's an invigorating performer, an excellent fiddler and a
great musician, able to capture the distinctive variants of
the Cape Breton fiddle style — basically bagpipe music — on
his 12-string guitar. He paved the way for Ashley, The
Rankins, The Barra McNeils and so many others," added
pop music icon Anne Murray agrees. She toured on and off
with Cameron for five years in the early stages of her
career. "John Allan is single-handedly responsible for the
Celtic music revival in the 1960s," she said in a phone
interview from her Richmond Hill home.
the guy who made it happen, and he was always so much fun.
He never failed to put a smile on everyone's face, and we
can never get enough of that."
1960s and '70s Cameron was a frequent guest with Murray on
the hit CBC Halifax TV variety series, Singalong Jubilee,
and he was a regular on the provincial TV favourite,
his own series on CTV, from Montreal, in 1975-76, and from
Halifax on CBC from 1979-81. He has performed at the
Mariposa, Newport, Atlantic and Winnipeg folk festivals, at
Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, at dozens of festivals and
concert halls in Britain and Europe, and in the late 1980s
produced and starred in shows at Canadian military bases in
Germany and the Middle East.
than not he performed in a kilt, which some folkies frowned
at. He didn't care" - Anne Murray
what he did," Murray continued. "He'd travel to places in
the U.S. just to talk about Celtic music. More often than
not he performed in a kilt, which some folkies frowned at.
He didn't care.
hero to them now, the first true champion of Celtic music in
was born in Inverness, Cape Breton, on Dec. 16, 1938. He
grew up in Mabou, surrounded by music — his uncle, Dan R.
MacDonald, mother, Katie Ann, and brother, John Donald, were
accomplished fiddlers and composers.
began playing guitar for his brother at local dances. He
studied for the priesthood and took final vows in 1964, then
received papal dispensation to become a performer. He went
on to earn arts and education degrees in 1966 and '67.
say the seminary is where he found his humanity," said son
Stuart, who remembers his father's favourite band was the
brutally in-your-face Australian hard rock outfit AC/DC.
"But I believe his humanity drew him into the priesthood."
best known for his vast Celtic repertoire, Cameron was
always quick to pick up songs by up-and-coming Canadian
composers, including Stan Rogers, Bruce Cockburn, Gary
Fjellgaard, Allister MacGillivray and Ron Hynes, sometimes
before they were even recorded.
"One of my
most exciting times with John Allan was in 1994, when word
got out that I'd co-written a gospel song, `The Golden
Ribbons,' with a Nashville songwriter," said award-winning
Newfoundland troubadour Hynes, from his home in St. John's.
"The minute John Allan heard it, he recorded it.
"It was a
thrill for me. He is a Canadian institution ... Wherever he
was playing, he owned the place. He made that magic
connection with an audience that reduced an auditorium to
the size of a living room.
has recorded more than a dozen albums, and enjoyed modest
success with the regional country/folk hits "Sit Down, Mr.
Music Man," "I Can't Tell You," and "Overnight Success"
between 1973 and 1982.
efforts in promoting Canadian folk music throughout North
America, Great Britain, Europe, the Middle East and Japan,
Cameron was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2003.
Allan is the godfather of Celtic music in Canada, the first
champion of the songs and musical style unique to Cape
Breton," said multi-award-winning concert and recording star
Rita MacNeil from her home in Big Pond, Cape Breton.
be the first to join in and the first to step aside to make
room for someone else ... He brought the music of Eastern
Canada to the world, and for that he is an inspiration to
the generations of musicians who followed him."
when news of Cameron's decline was publicly confirmed last
week, the Internet roots music news group Maplepost was soon
clogged with personal tales from folk musicians, concert
promoters and festival directors from across Canada. British
Columbia singer-songwriter and fiddler Shari Ulrich paid
tribute: "When I first started in music in Canada in the
early 1970s he was a big feature of almost every festival or
fundraiser I participated in and, to me, he represents the
essence of the spirit of music in Canada — welcoming, fired
up and ready to take the stage."
board member David Warren wrote: "Whenever John Allan knew
young performers were in the audience, he wouldn't hesitate
to ask them up to the stage to perform with him. When we had
auctions or jumble sales to raise money, he was the most
generous person I ever contacted ... more than once."
Folk Festival founding artistic director and Canadian folk
music authority Mitch Podolak had the final word:
right we are."
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Margaree (by Victor Maurice Faubert)