J. P. Cormier and Darren McMullen
at the Regent Theatre (Arlington)

Event Summary

2008 December 4 (Thursday)
The Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street, Arlington, Massachusetts
J. P. Cormier and friends perform as part of the third Pan-Celtic Winter Sojourn concert in support of J. P.’s new CD Noël.

This third edition of A Pan-Celtic Winter Sojourn is all about that tiny Celtic enclave at the northernmost tip of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton. The descendents, and the music, of all the Celtic nations have been represented here, mingling and surviving over the centuries. This evening we will celebrate the season in music – the roots of the winter/holiday season as well as contemporary sensibilities – Celtic style.

The songs will come from places that have earned a spot in our collective memory – Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Wales, Galicia, Eastern Canada – and the messengers will be the most highly regarded and respected members of the lively Cape Breton music scene, under the leadership of J.P. Cormier. Cormier has many labels to his credit—singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, innovator, recording artist, award winner— but underlying that is a man with an ancient soul who has traveled the world for the past 25 years bringing his unique brand of joy to audiences. Especially for A Pan-Celtic Winter Sojourn, Cormier will be accompanied by several leading figures of the lively Cape Breton music scene.

Advance tickets are $25/$20/$15, depending on seating. Order on-line at here or call the box office at 781-646-4849.

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2008 December 7)

Last Thursday, Hanneke Cassell, Kimberley Fraser, and Doug Lamey opened the third Pan-Celtic Winter Sojourn concert at the Regent Theatre in Arlington (Massachusetts) playing Deck the Halls on unaccompanied triple fiddles, the only piece of Christmas music heard all night long, even though the concert was in support of J. P. Cormier’s new CD Noël; they continued the first set by switching into two Cape Breton tunes. Then, with Hanneke on keyboards, Kimberley next gave us another fine blast of tunes, including Liz Carroll’s Wissahickon Drive[1] and ending with The Mason’s Apron. Then Doug, with Hanneke still on keyboards, gave us a third group of tunes, starting with the clog The Fairy Bridge and including the jigs Road to Skye and Walking the Floor and a reel which J. P. had written, most of which Doug said he had learned from J. P.’s playing. Both Kimberley and Doug were favourites of this audience (and mine) and justifiably so. However, this was the first time I had heard Hanneke as a keyboard accompanist and I was quite taken with her fine distinctive playing.

After this fine opening, J. P. and Darren McMullen took over the stage. This was also the first time I had heard Darren, like J. P. a multi-instrumentalist extraördinaire, whose right arm was encased in a cast, although he played throughout the night with verve and fire, seemingly oblivious to any pain (I heard him say after the show that his arm hurt). Their initial number was J. P.’s song The Messenger, with Darren accompanying J. P. ’s guitar on electric bass. Their second was a “pickin’ session”, showing off J. P.’s incredible speed and accuracy with fine accompaniment from Darren on bass and banjo. Two more songs followed, Light the Fire Again, which I had not heard before, and Gordon Lightfoot’s That’s What You Get for Loving Me. Another pickfest followed with J. P. on guitar and Darren on bouzouki. The first half concluded with J. P.’s song Another Morning.

The second half opened with J. P. on solo guitar; during this virtuoso performance, Darren returned to the stage and began playing along with J. P. on his guitar, i.e., four hands on one guitar; this incredible performance was, of course, at top speed. I have seen Kimberley and Brenda Stubbert playing each other’s fiddle, which is a pretty amazing feat, but never before a guitar four-hands! Three more of J. P.’s songs followed, Leaving Charlottetown, Great Harbour Deep (with Darren starting with a superb introduction on whistles), and Progress Avenue. Then came a fine set of fiddle tunes with J. P. on fiddle and Darren on bouzouki; I really enjoy J. P.’s fiddle playing and regret that his shows usually contain no more than one fiddle number—for some inexplicable reason, he chooses to downplay his talents on that instrument, as he did again this evening. This was followed by J. P.’s heartfelt new song, Afghanistan (if you haven’t heard it yet, the video is here), written after his trip to entertain the NATO troops in Afghanistan this past spring, which obviously impacted him deeply. This was followed by a guitar tune in honour of the late Jerry Reed (Hubbard). Then came a burst of tunes on solo guitar. The show closed with another song I had not heard before and whose title I did not get. After prolonged applause, J. P. on guitar and Darren on bouzouki returned to the stage with Kimberley and Doug on dual fiddles to give us one final great blast of Cape Breton tunes.

It was a great show, with an excellent helping of Cape Breton fiddle music, thanks mostly to Kimberley and Doug. The instrumental numbers that J. P. and Darren gave us were superb and I enjoyed them thoroughly. I am usually not much interested in sung music, but J. P.’s songs are always worth hearing and Darren’s accompaniments made it seem like I was hearing the songs for the first time; there were some new songs I had not heard before: Afghanistan is an especially fine one and I will enjoy hearing it again. Unfortunately, the audience for this great music was small, but enthusiastic and really into the music; the performers did not skimp either, especially considering the state of Darren’s arm—the show ran for more than two and a half hours.

I was so impressed with Darren’s musicianship, even with a broken arm, that I picked up his newly released CD, entitled Decade, on which he plays all of the instruments on all but five tracks, where he is joined by J. P. on three and Zach Smith, a percussionist, on three (one track has them both). Darren plays a lot of instruments on this CD: tenor banjo, guitar, bouzouki, low whistle, mandolin, and fretless bass (and that’s all on the first track!), cello, whistles, upright bass, and 5-string bass. Multi-instrumentalist indeed! The music ranges widely from Celtic to bluegrass to classical: two of the tracks are Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite #1 and Mozart’s Sonata #1 in C! He also composed five of the tunes that appear in the instrumental sets. Other than that he is married to a lady from Ontario, has been playing for ten years, and started as a youngster on the piano, there is little biographical information in the CD liner notes. Moreover, except that he is 32; issued a CD, Fingerboard Grooves, with Martin St. Maurice in 2001; taught guitar and mandolin at the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School (San Francisco area) in 2005; and now plays in the nine-man Halifax band, Pogey; I have been unable to find out much information about Darren on the internet (there’s an Australian of the same name who really swamps Google’s results, while Darren’s web site, http://www.darrenmcmullen.com according to the liner notes, is not responding as of this writing). The liner notes indicate his grandfather was from Cape Breton (the last track is a moving tribute to him), but there is nothing about where Darren grew up or now makes his home—I assume somewhere in the Maritimes. The CD is not yet available from J. P.’s web store, though, since it lists Fingerboard Grooves, I assume it will also soon list Decade. In any case, if you can get your hands on it, you are in for some memorable instrumental playing. Highly recommended!

Out of curiosity (I’m not really a fan of vocal Christmas music), I also picked up J. P.’s newly released Noël; it is short (only ten selections running for 34 minutes), but filled with fresh arrangements of Christmas music, sung by J. P. (thanks to the magic of modern recording techniques, J. P. both sings the lead and the backing vocals), who plays all the instruments as well. There are classics (e.g., I Saw Three Ships, Carol of the Bells, The Little Drummer Boy, and Oh, Holy Night), but there are others (e.g., Green Pastures, Joseph & Mary, Saints & Sinners (by David Francey), and In the Bleak Midwinter) which were not familiar to me and which are certainly not among those encountered ad nauseam on Christmas shopping trips. Even the classics are in interesting and unusual arrangements that make one perk up one’s ears and listen anew. That the musicianship is impeccable goes without saying: I can recommend it without reservation. This CD is available from J. P.’s web store.

[1] I am indebted to Marcia Palmater for this and a couple of other tune identifications.


Hanneke Cassell, Kimberley Fraser, and Doug Lamey on triple fiddles open the show

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Hanneke Cassell on keyboards

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle

Doug Lamey on fiddle accompanied by Hanneke Cassell on keyboards
as Kimberley Fraser looks on

Doug Lamey on fiddle

J. P. Cormier on guitar accompanied by Darren McMullen on electric bass

J. P. Cormier on guitar accompanied by Darren McMullen on banjo

J. P. Cormier on banjo accompanied by Darren McMullen on electric bass

J. P. Cormier on guitar accompanied by Darren McMullen on bouzouki

J. P. Cormier and Darren McMullen four hands on one guitar!

J. P. Cormier on fiddle accompanied by Darren McMullen on bouzouki

J. P. Cormier on solo guitar

Finale: Kimberley Fraser and Doug Lamey on dual fiddles
accompanied by J. P. Cormier on guitar and Darren McMullen on bouzouki