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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Effin’ Brilliant

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday March 19, 04:48 pm
The Real McKenzies are as filthy as ever

Photo Credit: Kitt Woodland


Friday 20


I had a helluva time getting hold of Paul McKenzie, frontman of the legendary underground Canadian Celtic punk band The Real McKenzies. They were about to board a cruise ship bound for the Bahamas for an extended gig, and their tour manager wasn’t answering the cell number I’d been given. I finally had to interview McKenzie by email, so I’m not sure if he was blitzkrieg drunk or just screwing around and having fun when he was answering my questions, but he sure seemed to enjoy telling me to fuck off.

No,” says McKenzie when I asked him if age was starting to slow their partying down at all. “Fuck Off. But seriously, fuck off. No really. What does that mean? I think I've answered the question.”

Fair enough, on to the next question. Celtic punk has a dedicated following of diehard fans, but it’s also as derided as dubstep in some circles. So asking McKenzie if he thinks it’s unfairly disparaged felt appropriate, but he didn’t seem to like this notion at all.

If you were to do your homework you would know that the best of Celtic if not all Celtic music is rebel music. On your bike!”

A quick Google search tells me that “on your bike” is a euphemism for “fuck off.”

I got a sneak preview of their new album, Rats in the Burlap, and fans won’t be disappointed; loud guitars, ear-splitting bagpipes, and an attitude as large as a pirate ship. Any change in the band’s sound over the years has been hard to detect for the most part, but McKenzie assures me that they roll with the times.

We try to employ a signature sound for our dedicated fans,” he says. “However, life goes on, things change and for we Real McKenzies, change is good. We try to remain resilient with our changing world. Now would you please just fuck off?”

Okay, now you’re just saying it for the sake of saying it …though a man that uses an F-bomb for punctuation is a man after my own heart…

Their sound has stayed true, but the band has gone through a multitude of lineup changes over the years. McKenzie says that the constantly changing lineups have allowed him to “lubricate the axel pinions of the revolving door.”

We have broken over 100 men and counting,” he says. “What’s it to ya?”

He’s obviously got a vivid imagination — which helps with the more traditional aspects of their music, as storytelling is one of the cornerstones of Scottish music — and McKenzie sounds drunker than ever when I ask him about telling stories.

Lies! Lies! And all lies! Artistic embellishment. The master paints an ugly woman as a beauty, and a beautiful man as an oaf. It's your time to choose. Choose what? It's up to you. We Real McKenzies cannot take responsibility, although sometimes we are forced to.”

He does seem to settle down at the end, and I imagine him giving me a wink and a crooked grin when I ask him if there’s anything important that I missed.

Obviously,” he replies. “But we love you anyway. Can't wait to rub elbows at the bar over a Guinness.”

Long may you run, Paul.



Monday 23


If you don’t love at least some of the stuff that Detroit’s Motown records pumped out from the ‘60s onward, there’s something seriously wrong with you. Mo’ Love is a locally sourced tribute to the sounds of Berry Gordy’s Hitsville USA, featuring Saskatoon and Regina musicians from bands like The Dead South, We Were Lovers, The Rebellion, Six Moons Later, and more. It started as a jam band a few years back, put together by musician Christian Kongawi to raise funds for his trips to help set up schools in the Congo.

Motown, for me, is the elements of funk, R&B and soul — and you know, the groove,” says Kongawi. “It’s a really cool style of music. All my favourite Motown songs have a very cool arrangement of vocals, horns, percussion. It’s a classic style that inspires so much music that we listen to today, whether we know it or not. People are sampling it, covering it, getting ideas from it. It’s a cornerstone of our musical era.”

In addition to the Saskatchewan musicians, Kongawi is flying in a 23-year-old vocal wunderkind from London, England named Oliver Thomson. The two met on a cruise ship gig and became fast friends, and what started as a bit of a joke became a reality when Thomson decided to come to Saskatoon for the show. Motown has produced some of the best singers of the modern era, so it’s a high compliment that Kongawi has faith in Thomson to front the band.

He’s a great singer. He’s done a lot of cool things over there. He’s played across Europe and started off singing at the premiere of the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. He can bring it, and that’s what amazed me about him.”



Saturday 28

The Bassment

Toronto’s Harley Card Quintet, led by jazz guitarist Harley Card, is touring through town with a new album called Hedgerow. While Card has been piling up musical cred with his guitar — including being a semi-finalist in the 2008 Montreaux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition — he actually didn’t enter the music world plucking and strumming.

Music was always part of my family,” says Card. “My dad played guitar and played drums, so I actually inherited his drum kit and initially started playing drums. In high school I played drums in a few bands. I always knew a few chords and could play a bit of guitar, but I didn’t really consider myself a guitar player. Eventually I became more interested in guitar as a more melodic and harmonic instrument. Then I just got really caught up with it.”

Hedgerow features some of Toronto’s leading players; it’s a highly improvisational work of jazz that veers towards the modern, while still honouring the past. It’s a sound that they’ve tried to build organically, being more about feeling than construction. A lot of the songs on Hedgerow have a certain set-up and arrangement, but they leave themselves room to play within those confines.

It’s not a conscious thing, that we’re trying to be either traditional or modern,” says Card. “We’re just trying to get across music that we like aesthetically and just sort of play honestly. But because we have a lot of experience playing original music and music from the jazz lexicon, I think that just comes through honestly. It should never be contrived.”

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