It’s hard to believe local Celtic rockers St. James’ Gate have been recording, performing and entertaining since the spring of 2000.
That means that virtually every show this year is a kind of celebration of that milestone. Next up are a couple of shows at Bo’s Bar and Grill in Red Deer April 17th-18th.
The guys made their debut back on St. Patrick’s Day of 2000, recalls Justin Stewart (guitars/bouzouki/mandolin/vocals). Rounding out the band are Glenn MacLeod (guitar/mandolin/vocals), Dave Best (bassist/guitarist/bouzouki/vocals), Billy O’Neil (bagpipes/accordion/whistles/vocals), Dwayne Marsden (guitar/vocals) and Brian Buckle (drums).
Their music has absolutely clicked with local audiences from the get-go.
“For a lot of the Maritimers, it’s about bringing ‘home’ to Alberta,” said Marsden. “There’s something about the music that people love. We’re also still kind of unique out here. There are not a whole lot of bands doing what we are doing.”
Marsden, who has been with the band for 14 years and is originally from Ramea Island, Newfoundland, explains that although the band has evolved over the years, they’ve stayed true to their roots. He also recalls upon arriving in Alberta how much he wanted to be a part of a band like St. James’ Gate.
“I remember when I moved out here from Newfoundland and I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to do something like this?” The band has brought all kinds of fulfilling opportunities since.
“Looking back, we’ve been from here to there to everywhere in 15 years. And everybody’s lives have changed so much but we’ve all still managed to keep the music going,” he said, adding he’s excited to see where the coming years take the guys as well.
As for marking their 15th anniversary, the band is certainly not restricting the celebrations to one or two shows. It’s a year-long event.
“I think we’ll keep running it all year. Every show we have, we will make mention of it.”
Stewart signed on with St. James’ Gate in 2007. Hailing originally from Cape Breton, he had played with many popular Maritime acts including Kilt, Bruce Guthro, Jimmy Rankin and Ashley MacIssac to name a few.
Part of the appeal of being with the guys – apart from the fun they have together – is also watching how the musicianship of the members has grown over the years, too.
“A lot of these tunes we have been playing for awhile, but we’ve made changes to them over the years and it keeps things exciting and fresh.”
There is indeed a certain timelessness to Celtic music. Some of that springs from the sheer vibrancy and energy of it, no question. “One guy at work, who listens to heavy metal stuff, said that when he listens to us, it makes him want to stamp his foot,” said Stewart.
And from the start, the boys have consistently hit the stage with unrestrained enthusiasm – their passion for the music they perform is infectious, and they’ve remained a popular band across Central Alberta and beyond.
They’ve also been featured at all kinds of events and festivals including the hugely popular East Coast Garden Party and even journeying a couple of times to the Top of the World Highland Games in Dawson City, Yukon.
They have also landed a long sought-after spot at the Canmore Highland Games this September, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year. “It’s the big one that closes up the entire pipe band season,” said Marsden.
Meanwhile, the guys’ latest disc of finely-crated Celtic/folk/rock-flavoured tunes, License to Kilt, was released in 2009. The 14 tracks include nine originals, a few charming traditionals and two superb bonus live tracks (Peter’s Street and Fisherman’s Blues) recorded at The Vat in Red Deer.
License to Kilt was dedicated to the late Jimmy McMullen who was such an enthusiastic force behind the band’s success before his sudden death in July of 2007.
The tune Good Good Man is dedicated to McMullen, and does a superb job of honouring the man who was such an inspired, creative and joyful artist within the band and in his own right. McMullen was all about the music, but he was all about family, friends and community as well.
Prior to License to Kilt, Juice of the Barley marked their third disc in 2006. Ride was released in early 2004 and Serve Extra Cold in 2002.
Meanwhile, the mandate of the band hasn’t changed.
One of the defining characteristics of St. James’ Gate is their ability to have loads of fun with a tune – it’s not just about capturing the essence of a song, it’s about injecting every ounce of energy and soul possible into each piece.
These days, they’re working on another project which can be described as a kind of ‘fan favourites’ collection with a few new tunes included as well.