The Celtic family
Fiddle fest celebrates variety of Celtic nations
“It’s gray. It’s not raining, but it’s about to,” said Kevin Burke by phone recently of the weather in his adopted hometown of Portland, Ore., where he lives with his wife and two children.
Burke is a world-famous, London-born Irish fiddler known for his membership in the popular traditional-Irish-music groups The Bothy Band and Patrick Street and he will be visiting Chico as part of the Celtic Fiddle Festival, making a return engagement to Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium Wednesday, Sept. 22.
This year, as in years past, Burke brings with him fiddlers Christian Lemaître and André Brunet, but French guitarist Nicolas Quémener will replace guitarist Ged Foley, who appears on the wonderful Celtic Fiddle Festival: Équinoxe album of which the group is touring in support.
“We used to have a Scottish guy with us called John,” said Burke, speaking of the late fiddler Johnny Cunningham, who passed away in 2003. “He died. We played in Chico before and since he died. We’re almost regulars now. When we walk into a restaurant, we expect to know the waiters’ and waitresses’ names.”
Quémener—who is from Brittany, a Celtic region in northwestern France—has played with Lemaître “for many years.”
“I’ve known him for a while … but I’ve never played with him formally,” said Burke of Quémener. “I know him well enough to throw insults at him. You can’t do that with people you don’t know well enough and like.
“The idea of the show,” he offered, “is that each fiddle player will do a short presentation of the music from his respective area.” Burke will be playing music from Ireland, and Lemaître will present the Celtic melodies of northwest France. Brunet will play the music of his native Quebec.
Quémener (“the fiddlers’ laborer,” as Burke jokingly referred to him) will accompany them on guitar.
“Brittany, Ireland and Quebec each have their own traditional music,” Burke said. “The fiddle features prominently. Each style of music is part of the Celtic family, if you like. Each region has strong Celtic influence.”
Each fiddler will play on his own “to highlight the differences between the regions,” before coming together in the second half of the evening “to show the similarities” between each region’s music.
The group’s repertoire has changed a little, Burke said, since Quémener joined.
“The main difference will be some of the repertoire, but also the approach to some of the older material,” Burke said, choosing not to elaborate.
“He’s a great guitarist,” said Burke. “And he’s a great singer. Mainly, it will be an instrumental show, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to sing a song here and there. He’s French—he’s dark and mysterious.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Burke continued, promising a “light-hearted, high-energy” show. “But some of the pieces of music we’re playing will have their own intensity.”
“We all live in different places; we all play in different groups. We don’t play together all the time—only a few weeks out of the year. So [in this way] we keep it fresh,” said Burke, before bringing up his current musical project with Portland guitarist Cal Scott.
Burke and Scott’s CD, Suite—featuring 10 traditional Irish tunes arranged to be played with a string quartet—will be available for purchase at the Laxson show, as will Équinoxe. Popular, new, traditional Irish band Beoga appears on Suite as well.
“It’s a kind of semi-classical idea for traditional tunes,” said Burke of Suite, adding that he is going to Ireland in October to make the final arrangements for him and Scott to perform there next spring with Ireland’s esteemed Vanbrugh Quartet.