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Family bands work together on music

Laura-Jean Grant, Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — Between talk of the perfect cup of tea and touring schedules, The Barra MacNeils and Ireland’s The Black Family laid down a track of a traditional Irish tune, Monday.

A major project of this year’s Celtic Colours International Festival is connecting The Barra MacNeils with some of the world’s best Celtic artists to collaborate and record over a 10-day span at Soundpark Studios in Sydney with recording engineer Jamie Foulds.

The massive musical undertaking began last week and will culminate in the festival’s closing show, Saturday night. MacNeil siblings Sheumas, Stewart, Kyle, Lucy, Ryan and Boyd have been hard at work in the studio since Oct. 4, meeting each day with a different artist or group to record one track.

“ We wanted to do something with other people so you’re mixing it up. The band has been going for over 20 years now so it’s nice to have someone else’s perspective come in,” explained Boyd.

To date, those perspectives have included Ronald Bourgeois, Matt Minglewood, Fiona and Ciarán MacGillivray, Bruce Molsky, Cathy Ann MacPhee, and Monday, it was The Black Family’s turn with siblings Mary, Frances, Shay and Michael joining the MacNeils in the studio. After some discussion among the 10 musicians and singers, the two family groups decided on recording “ Tarry Flynn” a traditional Irish tune that Mary described as being about leaving home and heading to the big city.

Mutual respect was evident among the two families, with Lucy noting that she’s been a fan of Mary and Frances and the entire Black Family for years, and Mary noting they were comfortable with the idea of working with The Barra MacNeils because “we know their music and we know how brilliant they are.”

“It’s nice. It’s just a lovely thing to collaborate because something different always come out of it,” said Mary. “ Their style will influence our style and our style might influence theirs and I think it’s a good thing to do and it’s nice to get to know people in this setting too. You get time to sit and chat.”

The recording session served as the last official festival gig for The Black Family, who are heading out today after a jam-packed four days. They performed three times in three nights, before meeting with The Barra MacNeils for their final full day on the island.

“It’s been brilliant,” said Mary. “ We’ve had such a great time. Aside from the concerts and the music and all that, which we really enjoyed, it’s just been great to see Cape Breton because I’ve never been here before. I suppose what struck me most is how friendly everyone is.”

Meanwhile, for The Barra MacNeils, their festival work has only hit the halfway point. Still set to join them in studio this week are Ron Hynes, Old Man Luedecke, Tim Edey, Archie Fisher and James Keelaghan.

While there’s a little anxiety in knowing that they only have one day with each artist to record a track, Boyd said they’re simply taking it one day at a time, and so far, so good.

“ Things have been going pretty smoothly,” he said.

“It’s been a great experience every day in here, and it’s been fun,” said Lucy. And a little tiring. “ When you get home you’re mentally exhausted,” said Boyd, with Lucy, adding, “So we haven’t been making the festival club.”

The Barra MacNeils will be releasing a CD of the material they’ve been recording but their first public performance of the songs and tunes will be Saturday’s closing show at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in Sydney where they will be joined by many of the artists they recorded with this week.