St. James Gate perform on Saturday

A toe-tapping good time

If you already love the sound of wailing bagpipes, wait until piper Bill O’Neil of St. James’ Gate goes medieval on them.

If you already love the sound of wailing bagpipes, wait until piper Bill O’Neil of St. James’ Gate goes medieval on them.

“It’ll be very primal sounding, very percussion driven and obnoxious,” promises O’Neil. He performs with his Celtic-rock dance band on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Arts & Craft (Beer) second-annual fundraiser for the Red Deer Arts Council.

Those kicking up their heels at the Festival Hall benefit just might be doing it to O’Neil’s latest composition — the medieval bagpipe tune, Bannockburn.

The instrumental that’s destined for the group’s new album suggests the savagery of a Scottish battle from 1314 while also providing the soundtrack for an upbeat dance experience.

Like all Celtic music — the tune merges heart-break and a rollicking good-time melody, said a chuckling O’Neill. “We’ll be keeping everyone happy and getting people’s feet moving” at the Arts & Craft (Beer) event.

O’Neil believes St. James’ Gate musicians were a natural choice as entertainers, since “we’re very good at promoting beer and at beer drinking.”

Product from 10 craft breweries can be sampled at the fundraiser — everything from sweet cream stouts to ginger beers and raspberry ales. Tasters get score cards to note their favourites.

Diana Anderson, executive-director of the Red Deer Arts Council, said appetizers from favourite restaurants can also be tasted. There will be a 50-50 draw as well as raffle prizes such as original art, including beer steins, some jewelry, dinner theatre tickets, gift cards and merchandise from local businesses.

The beer tasting goes from 7 to 9 p.m. , followed by entertainment from St. James Gate.

The Celtic rock band that started in 2001 has become a local favourite, even though several of the musicians now live out of the area.

Accordion and bagpipe player O’Neil moved to Calgary a decade ago. Electric guitarist Justin Stewart now lives in Edmonton, as does new drummer Brian Buckle (who like Stewart is originally from Nova Scotia). Bassist Dave Best lives in Lacombe, singer and guitarist Dwayne Marsden is in Penhold and singer and mandolin player Glenn MacLeod resides in Red Deer.

“We call Hwy 2 home,” said O’Neil, who admitted the musicians have to supplement rehearsals for their twice-a-month gigs with some Skyping sessions these days.

St. James’ Gate last put out the album Licence to Kilt in 2012. O’Neil hopes to have the yet-untitled new album out by the end of the year.

About half the songs will be originals and the rest will be traditionals, including a couple of Newfoundland standards. The band is also doing a cover of The Trew’s tune I Can’t Stop Laughing — yet another Celtic-flavoured song that mixes a riotous melody with a maudlin message.

“It’s got absolutely miserable lyrics about a guy whose girlfriend leaves him and who plans to drink himself to death,” said O’Neil.

But, boy, can you ever dance to it.

Tickets are $50 ($350 for a table of eight) from the Red Deer Arts Council. Proceeds will go towards the Red Deer Arts Council’s emerging artist award and general operations. For more information, please call 403-505-6094 and 403-872-4155.

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