Showmanship sets folk group apart
Musicians typically leave small islands to find work, but the opposite is true of Gordie MacKeeman and Mark Geddes, who found their calling on Prince Edward Island.
MacKeeman, a step-dancing fiddler from Nova Scotia, and Geddes, a drummer and stand-up bassist from New Brunswick, both became entranced by P.E.I.’s small but lively music scene. “It’s a mecca for music. It’s very much a cultural thing,” said Geddes.
He and MacKeeman struck up various other musical partnerships while playing house parties and community halls around Charlottetown until the chemistry finally gelled three years ago between them, guitarist Peter Cann and bassist/banjo player Thomas Webb, who are both of P.E.I.
The four musicians have been gathering steam — and acclaim — ever since as Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys.
The Celtic folk group that performs on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Elk’s Lodge in Red Deer won a 2012 Galaxie Supernova Award at the Ottawa Folk Festival for outstanding live performance. CBC Radio host Tom Power also called the Rhythm Boys his “best discovery band” at the East Coast Music Awards.
But it’s the group’s showmanship that’s gained as much attention as its musicianship across Canada and Western Europe. “Gordie’s dancing sets us apart — it’s a great selling point,” said Geddes, who noted the long-legged MacKeeman began step-dancing at the age of six, long before picking up the fiddle.
His free-style moves also appear to incorporate clogging and a whole lot of personal style. “They call him crazy legs because his legs are like rubber bands — people have never seen anything like it,” said Geddes, who believes audiences love to watch MacKeeman’s feet, perhaps even more than his fiddling prowess.
Bluegrass vocals are also becoming a trademark of the multi-instrumental band that mixes traditional songs and instrumentals, such as Old Joe Clark and Ragtime Cowboy Joe, with original tunes and reworked covers.
After releasing a debut, self-titled CD in 2010, the group put out Pickin’ N Clickin’ earlier this year. The album is described as “traditionally inspired down-east music from Price Edward Island,” but a Saskatchewan fiddling legend also makes a posthumous appearance.
Geddes explained that King Ganam of Swift Current was a Canadian fiddling sensation in the 1950s. The Rhythm Boys are tipping their hats to him by rolling two of his tunes — the King Ganam Special and Kiley’s Reel — into a medley of sorts. It’s called King Ganam Style only because the Korean Gangnam Style video was all the rage when the album was being recorded, he added with a laugh.
Heroes of the Sidewalk is the band’s traditional Celtic version of a rock song by the P.E.I. band Two Hours Traffic, while O’Halloran Road is a song that’s been passed down through generations of Webb’s family. “It’s about a road in P.E.I. that’s dear to his heart,” explained Geddes.
Cann wrote a few of the new tunes, including Working Title, “about doing what you love and what makes you feel good and doing it all day,” said Geddes.
MacKeeman penned Jim’s Lament, about an old friend who passed away during his childhood, and Gonna Get Out, a happy song about high-tailing it out of a stale relationship.
“I believe there’s some fact and fiction in there,” said Geddes, who looks forward to getting a Red Deer audience onto its feet. “We love it when people dance.”
While it was P.E.I.’s rich music scene that brought the band together, Geddes said the Rhythm Boys, regretfully, don’t play many local gigs anymore because of constant touring, including another planned trip through the U.K., as well as Australia.
Interestingly, England, Scotland and Ireland love Canadian Celtic musicians, he added, because “we’ve preserved some of the music that they’ve lost over the years.”
Tickets for this Central Music Festival Society-sponsored concert are $30, including dinner from centralmusicfest.com. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. the show is at 8 at 6315 Horn St. in Red Deer.