Last call is coming for long-time Red Deer band St. James’ Gate.
The staple pub band has been entertaining city crowds with raucous, bagpipe-driven Celtic music for more than 20 years. And what a two decades it’s been.
The five band mates have toured from British Columbia to Newfoundland, performed for thousands at outdoor festivals, and survived a terrible blow — the death of founder and percussionist Jimmy McMullen in a 2007 car crash.
Through highs and lows, the musicians have bonded as brothers. And this closeness has made the decision to fold St. James’ Gate all the harder, admitted lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dwayne Marsden.
“It’s more than a band, it’s a family. We have watched each other grow and watched our families grow,” he said.
The last time the musicians played a live show together was in January 2020. This was followed by a taped 20th anniversary special during the pandemic, which was shown virtually from Marsden’s basement.
Several members of St. James’ Gate, meanwhile, began thinking about calling it quits — two are already retired from their jobs and one is planning a move to Kelowna.
Starting over with new musicians, wouldn’t be the same, Marsden reasoned. “To re-brand and come back as a different band, we felt we would always be compared to what we were…”
In the end, the band mates decided to “hang up their kilts” and go out on a high — while performing is still a thrill and the crowds’ excitement is still palpable.
“This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we really feel it was the right one,” he explained. “We always want to leave people wanting more.”
Marsden is sure the five musicians will all play again — “just not together… (but) we feel good we are leaving on our terms, on a high note.”
Two good-bye concerts are planned at Bo’s Bar and Stage in Red Deer for Oct. 22-23. They already sold out in two days.
Although there are also plans underway to make the group’s very last show virtual, Marsden has heard many fans are coming from all over Alberta to be in the live audience at Bo’s.
They will hear select tunes from St. James’ Gate’s Celtic-flavoured catalogue, as chronicled on the independently produced CDs: Serve Extra Cold (2002), Ride (2004), Juice of the Barley (2006), and License to Kilt (2009).
The band includes three original members — Bill O’Neil, Glenn MacLeod, and Dave Best. Marsden joined in 2001, after the former lead singer moved back to Newfoundland, and Brian Buckle has been with the group for seven years.
“The band has had a few different faces over the years but the core has always been the same,” said Marsden. “Our objective has always been: Go out, have fun, entertain the people and put it all out there, night after night.”
Now that the end is nigh for St. James’ Gate, “there are so many people to thank — mostly our families for all those weekends away, times on the road,” Marden added.
“The places we’ve played, the people we have met, so many new friends we now have… We want to thank them all. We will miss every single one of them.”
Marsden encourages fans to check out the band’s Facebook page for updates on the virtual last concert. If some people can’t use their tickets for the Bo’s shows in October, they can also post on the page to resell their tickets.