With a new band member and a new name, Celtic Ladies ... and Men continues to delight P.E.I. audiences
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
Members of Celtic Ladies ... and Men take a break during their summer series show at St. Joachim’s Parish Hall, Rte. 3, Vernon River, this past Tuesday. From left are J.J. Chaisson, Jocelyn Ludgate, Jaime Bell, Darla MacPhee and Jon Matthews. There are two shows left in the series.
It’s been a season of change for one of P.E.I.’s popular traditional groups.
With the departure of founding fiddler Sheila FitzPatrick from the Celtic Ladies, the doors opened for fiddler J.J. Chaisson to join the musical fold.
“We’re having a blast. J.J. is comical and crazy talented. He adds a whole new dynamic to the group,” says Jaime Bell, percussionist/dancer for the group that also includes Darla MacPhee, keyboards, vocals; Jocelyn Ludgate, vocals, guitar; and Jon Matthews, vocals and guitar.
With this new configuration, the band has changed its name to Celtic Ladies ... and Men. The new moniker comes as a welcome relief to Matthews.
“After being the only guy in a band called the Celtic Ladies for many years and getting used to it ... it’s kind of nice to have a little more man power on stage. Now when the girls start picking on me, I’ve got someone to back me up. I like that,” he laughs.
On a more serious note, Matthews is aware of the impact of the change of personnel on the group.
“Sheila was obviously a big part of the stage show with her banter and her terrific musicianship and singing. And whenever you have a major change like this, the dynamic changes. But sometimes, change is cool. And you get a chance to reinvent things a little bit. So we’re enjoying J.J.’s many talents. Obviously, he’s a powerhouse fiddler, but we’ve even stuck him with an accordion to learn, whether he likes it or not.”
In spite of the learning curve, Chaisson likes his new gig.
“After playing for 30 years, sometimes a change is good. I enjoy being part of the group,” says Chaisson, who also plays bass with Boys in the Kitchen.
“In that band, we do a lot of pub songs but the Celtic Ladies ... and Men has a concert atmosphere with traditional music. It’s a unique, rehearsed show that’s fun to do,” he says.
And, as the newest band member, he often gets picked on. Chaisson found himself the brunt of fun-loving jokes from band mates this past Tuesday night during a show at St. Joachim’s Parish Hall.
However, the tall and talented multi-instrumentalist took it all in stride.
“The band was teasing me backstage that I was wearing white ankle socks, so I’ll sit down to play so my pants will cover my shoes,” says Chaisson with a grin, before flatpicking a reel out on his guitar.
Later, when he accompanied Matthews in his stirring version of Davey Jones, he strapped on an accordion, an instrument he has struggled to learn.
“J.J. loves the fiddle, but the accordion is his first love,” says Bell, adding to the teasing.
Unfazed by the comment, Chaisson switches the attention to his silhouette.
“Do I look like a burly man with an accordion? This makes me feel so manly,” says Chaisson, as the crowd breaks into laughter.
Between the jokes and the laughter, audience members were treated to songs including Here She Comes A Running, Blue Eyed Susie, Feel So Near, Down East Day and the Eyes of Margaret, as well as some superb step-dancing and a lively fiddle tune set featuring Chaisson and his cousin, Darla, on piano.
When the lights go up, audience are pleased with what they’ve heard.
“I enjoyed this...but I liked it before, too. I just like this group,” says Sharon Vincent of Prince George, B.C.
Others have come to see the newest member of the group.
“The last time I saw J.J., he was only tiny. So I’m fascinated. I knew he was talented, but this is terrific,” says Victoria Vanderlinden of Canmore, Ont.
Her sister agrees.
“The band is great. As long as they carry a Celtic theme, they have a winner,” says Chris Fraser, Kilmuir, P.E.I.
Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.