In 1978 I visited Canada for the first time, as a 14-year-old piping student from St. Louis at the Gaelic College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The late Finlay MacNeill, a double Gold Medalist (for piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting and for Gaelic singing at the Mod), was the piping teacher. The great Wilson Young was the drumming teacher. I was required to learn some Gaelic, which I didn’t like because it took me away from practicing piping.
Almost all of the students were Canadian, and a vivid memory was going to a party one night at one of the residence halls. Over and over again there was a song I’d never heard before being played on the hi-fi record or eight-track tape machine. It was “Raise a Little Hell” by the Canadian group, Trooper, and it was all the rage in Canada that year.
It was my first exposure to Canadian music. I didn’t quite know what to make a song that said “hell,” but knew that it was catchy. At that same school, I remember both Barry Ewen and Neil Dickie, immigrant Scots who were both living in Nova Scotia at the time, came to the Gaelic College to compete, or do a recital, for us students.
They played what I thought were crazy tunes. Barry did a rendition of the accordion tune that Donald MacLeod adapted to the pipes, “The Hen’s March O’er the Midden,” with mind-blowing vibrato finger-trills in a variation. It was pure piping insanity. I can’t remember exactly what Neil played, but I do recall it being very different and adventurous.
I would return to St. Louis to become a fan of Canadian rock and pipe-music. Rush, April Wine, Neil Dickie, Trooper, City of Victoria, Clan MacFarlane – all were part of my late-1970s Midwestern years.
Destiny and luck I believe are informed by choices. I chose to come to Canada, largely to play Canadian-made pipe music on a world stage. I got to know Barry and Neil, and count both as good friends. I’ve been lucky to be a small part of some of the biggest changes in pipe music, much of which have come from Canada, and last year my backgrounds in piping, publishing and PR played big roles in starting the work I currently do with SOCAN, the Society of Composers, Authors & Music Publishers of Canada.
In November at our annual awards at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, nearly 35 years since my first visit to Canada at the Gaelic College and my first listen to Canadian music, things came full circle when I met Ra McGuire and Brian Smith, the Trooper-member-composers of “Raise a Little Hell,” and to whom SOCAN was presenting a National Achievement Award. McGuire and Smith seemed like two of the nicest guys you’d want to meet, and they were genuinely honoured and thrilled to receive the accolade.
I wanted to tell them about that party in 1978 in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton but, even if they had the time to listen, I wouldn’t have bored them with it and the fact that serendipity, fate, luck and conscious decisions all converged for me right then.
Nobody’s going to help you
You’ve just got to stand up alone
And dig in your heels
And see how it feels
To raise a little Hell of your own.
A few simple words to guide us.
Thank you. Those words are actually quite helpful at this juncture. Hope they are for others too.
I still have Raise a little hell on my nano and the Clan was my favourite pipe band. Some things like some people really do get better with age.
Thanks Andrew: I was a big fan of Trooper, and the Hens’ March was one of my favourite jigs as a teenager, good to remember both!
Andrew, I too was there with The Dartmouth Boys Pipe & Drum Band. Good times, Great memories!
Not to nag – well, maybe just a little – but the melody for Hen’s March wasn’t originally for the accordion, but a brass piece from the late 1600s, if memory serves correctly. I don’t remember the composers name or other details, but bought a 2 CD set by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and partway through, realized that I was hearing Hen’s March on brass instruments. I’ve since been told that it was , previous to the brass incarnation, an organ fanfare. Funny how these things work…I also remember Neil Dickie and Barry Ewan from the Antigonish Highland Games many years ago, whom we quivering mortals viewed as distant, fearsome gods. Well, us neophytes did – or maybe it was just me…I was so much younger and it was all so new and intimidating. Interesting to get another perspective on it all – thanks, Andrew.
Whale songs……some say that everything has already been written. All we really do is repackage it.
It’s fascinating to hear your story. Full circles happen in different settings but good music has staying power. When it comes to Trooper, the appeal is intergenerational. I was a fan in the ’70s, then my children were, and now my grandchildren are. 🙂
I still have the trophy somewhere: St.Ann’s Gaelic Mod, Open Quartet – IIRC the winners were Andrew Bertoff, Bill Henry, Andrew Payzant, and Ann McMullin. In an old milk crate sits my “Trooper – Hot Shots” album. Good times indeed.