What people say about
"McGann has become synonymous with Celtic-influenced Canadian folksong. She is one of the finest contemporary Canadian singer-songwriters of today." -Celtic Heritage Magazine, Halifax N.S.
"What would you say to songwriting a la Stan Rogers allied to a voice of like ilk to Mary Black?...Eileen's voice has a stunning immediacy & power that threatens to overwhelm the unwary listener with its sheer exquisiteness." - Folk Roots, London, England
"McGann continues the Canadian tradition of honest, subtle storytelling and musical observation that has earned the respect of folk musicians and fans worldwide. McGann's own personal journey has been a bright one, and it looks to be getting brighter all the time." - The Calgary Sun
"Magnificent songs and equally magnificent voice." - Steve Klein, Lansing State Journal
"An exhilarating performer, Eileen McGann has a magnificent voice & a knack for writing topical songs with the right amount of humour for an eclectic audience." - The Gazette, Northampton, MA.
"Delivered with a beautiful ballad-mezzo, her melodies seem timeless and traditional, but the lyrics are urgently modern. She could be Canada's next big songwriter." - Scott Alarik, The Boston Globe
"One of folk music's most breathtaking voices... her songs range from Celtic and traditional to very contemporary and topical....A gifted lyric poet and musical composer whose gorgeous vocals make her a must-see performer!" -Songstreet Productions, Boston
"Calgary-based Eileen McGann is rapidly becoming Canada's folk music voice to the world. She is one of this country's best folk songwriters, an exceptional singer and one of the finest interpreters of traditional music to be found on the music scene today." - Regina Folk Festival
"Canada's Eileen McGann stole the first half of the show. McGann's strength was a clear, astounding voice, best heard in songs reflecting Celtic roots...(and in) the power of her traditional stylings." -Paul Robicheau, The Boston Globe (Review of the Harvard Winter Folk Festival)
"Power is the key word when speaking of an Eileen McGann concert. Her voice - both lyrical voice and singing voice - is a powerful instrument." - Dirty Linen Magazine, USA
"Hauntingly beautiful voice and abundant poetic songwriting." - The Providence Journal-Bulletin, Providence, RI
The full review from:
Published by Visible Ink Press; 1-57859-037-X; $24.95 US; May 98Eileen McGann
"In an age when "folk singers," male or female, tend to be more and more idiosyncratic, post-modern, and unpolished, Calgary's Eileen McGann is that rarest and most welcome of exceptions, a young singer with a keen sense of and pride in the traditional music of her Celtic and British ancestors, combined with the ability to write movingly about the beauties of life and nature around her, and blessed with a strong, crystal clear soprano voice that stops people in their tracks and commands attention. Following the path blazed by fellow Canadian singer/songwriters such as Stan Rogers and Gordon Lightfoot, the last decade has seen McGann establish herself as one of the finest singers, songwriters, and interpreters of traditional music on either side of the Atlantic. A first-generation Irish-Canadian, McGann was captivated by the music of Rogers, Lightfoot, and Don McLean in her teenage years. While working toward a degree in medieval history, she was asked by one of her professors to perform at a St. Patrick's Day banquet, and the embarrassing (by her own description)realization dawned on her that despite her Celtic heritage, she didn't perform a single Irish song. In listening then to her mother's records of Irish operatic singers doing traditional songs, she was drawn to the underlying beauty of the music and the stories it was telling. Since emerging on the folk music scene during the late 1980s, McGann's recordings and live performances have highlighted her stunning ability to deliver traditional fare as well as her own intelligent, finely honed songs. While her melodies are beautiful, she excels at writing thoughtful, well-crafted lyrics that, as clearly as she sings them, express her thoughts on the environment (Requiem for the Giants"), politics,
(Too Stupid for Democracy"), social justice (Reservations"), and many other contemporary themes. She can also write ballads ("Isabella Gunn," "The Knight of the Rose") that have a timeless sound, as if they have been around for hundreds of years - the mark of a superior minstrel. Her first three albums feature a solid mix of both traditional and original music, while newer releases have responded to her fans' many requests for an all-traditional recording. More than most singers in the world of folk music today, though, her entire catalog is of top-level quality, making it very difficult to pick favorites. These days, McGann spends much of her time on the road away from her beloved Calgary, on the slope of the Canadian Rockies. Travelling and performing as a duo with her long-time musical (and life) partner, David K. (Knutson), she continues to win rave reviews and new fans wherever she goes, still in the early years of what should be a long and fulfilling career. As she sings in one of her most popular songs, "I See My Journey."
what to buy: It's a close call between Turn It Around * * * * * (Dragonwing, 1991, prod. Eileen McGann) and her 1995 effort, Journeys, and either will be immensely satisfying. Turn It Around features "Requiem for the Giants," "The Knight of the Rose," and the title track, but the real head-turner is her version of the traditional ÒThe Fair Flower of Northumberland." Overall, the album matches four traditional cuts with seven original songs.
what to buy next: Journeys * * * *1/2 (Dragonwing, 1995, prod. Eileen McGann) opens with "I See My Journey" and includes'Reservations," "Too Stupid for Democracy," and "In the Silence." Traditional songs include "Braw Sailin' on the Sea,""Bonny Portmore," and "Jock O'Hazeldean," and an added bonus is a rendition of Pete Morton's "Another Train."
the rest: Elements * * * * (Dragonwing, 1987) Heritage * * * * (Dragonwing, 1997)
worth searching for: Two
Thousand Years of Christmas * * * * (Dragonwing, 1996, prod. Eileen McGann
[& Trilogy]) features McGann, David K., and Cathy Miller performing.
as Trilogy, harmonizing on a variety of songs from the Celtic and British
Yuletide tradition. Something unique and worthwhile to add to the Christmas
music section of the record collection.
-John Lupton "
And here's the full text of the interview with
Rod Campbell published in
Summer 1998 The Penguin Eggs Interview Eileen McGann, possibly Canada's finest traditional singer, remains for some obscure reason, better known abroad. Heritage,however, her wonderful current album - a tip of the hat to her Irish ancestry - ought to make her a household name from Sydney, N.S. to Victoria,B.C. Rod Campbell tags along for the ride. Let's start with Heritage. As the title implies, it's all about the songs you heard growing up with Irish parents. What did these songs have that held your interest? I think foremost it's the beauty of the melodies. These songs are made for singers and one of the reasons they've lasted for hundreds of years is because singers love to sing them. They're straightforward and they're totally lovely. It was always around. My father played a lot of classical music - he played violin and had a lot of recordings. I heard a lot of Irish music all around me. You just pick things up when you're a kid. And I must confess, what I was most attracted to as a child were the Rebel songs, because they were fun. Great choruses and all sorts of lusty rhythms. I had no idea what they were about. I guess I grew up thinking getting hanged was something you did when you grew up. And it was a fun thing to do because everybody was so happy about it when it happened. I remember my siblings and I marching around the living room to Roddy McCorley. Boy, they were fun. Plus there were all these Irish music hall sort of songs as well. Songs that would appeal to children. Obviously there was a lot to choose from for the Heritage album. How did you sort them out? It was really difficult. I ended up with a a list for four or five albums. And of course, on my three previous albums I put a number of my favourites. I guess I went to some that had been on the short list for previous albums but hadn't made it. I was looking for balance, I didn't want a whole album of just murder ballads, or a whole album of just love songs. And a musical balance as well - feel and rhythm, up and down. I wanted a variety. Although my family is Irish, and I grew up with the Irish tradition, the songs I've known for a long time include songs from England and Scotland as well as from Canada and Ireland. How did you settle on versions? For instance, you chose Little Musgrave as opposed to Matty Groves. That was just my favourite version. I'm a singer not a scholar. I learned that one from Bill Craig from Belfast. He's been living in Toronto for then past 20 years. I learnt a number of songs from Bill over the years and that version of Little Musgrave was one. He sang it once at the FiddlerÕs Green and I said, 'Bill I have to learn that song.' He sat down with me after the concert and I wrote it down on the back of an envelope. And we sang it into the night until I had it. I think it's one of the prime examples of the Child Ballads having a real strength and power, even six hundred years after the event. Little Musgrave has basically two melodic lines -one just a variation of the other. It's a long song and just the variety of tone and colouration and passion amazes me. I didn't use to sing it that much, although I learned it many years ago. There's not that many opportunities in concert to sing a Child Ballad. It has to be right kind of audience in the right mood. But I'm really delighted that that's one song on the album that number of people have said is their favourite. There'll Be More Joy, what a wonderful track that is. Where did it come from? At the Folk Alliance Conference in Calgary in 1992, we had a magical evening on the (closing) Sunday night. People scattered in all directions but many went to the Kensington Deli. We had basically a sing-around - people got up and did three songs each. We all sang together, people from all over North America and beyond. It was a really powerful, magical evening. And at the end Jeff Warner (from Jeff and Jeff) sang that. . . .Jeff's parents are musicologists. They published many collections of American traditional songs,and that was one of them. Jeff sung it into a tape recorder for me and I've been singing it ever since. I've closed many festivals with it and lots of great evenings. So it was appropriate to close the album with it. Are you ever tempted to tamper with the gender of songs like Peggy Gordon? When I first started singing in public in my teens I was tempted to change genders on some of the older songs. I didn't know any better. But then I realized you didn't have to do that. It wasn't a pop song. This was the way the song was written. And I don't think Peggy Gordon would work nearly as well the other way around. These songs have survived intact for hundreds of years. But that's not to say I've never tampered with lyrics, I have. But to change gender seems silly. As a singer of a traditional song, I'm just a vehicle for the song. It's not about me. I'm not singing to Peggy Gordon. I'm singing a traditional song of somebody else's passions. If I'm a story-teller I don't have to put myself into the story. So the fact that I'm female doesn't affect the song itself. Several musicians from the Friends of Fiddlers Green have appeared on your albums before, how did you develop this connection? Mmmmhmmm. I started going to the Friends of Fiddlers Green Folk Club in the late seventies and was delighted to find that people sang traditional music year round. Up to that point I'd been singing Irish traditional music and people only seemed to want it only on St Patrick's Day. So I was amazed people sang traditional songs all the year round. It was a great joy for me to find the club and also to be exposed to the English and Scottish traditions and to learn all these songs and sit in a room with people who loved to sing like I did. It was wonderful. That was where I made my first folk connections and that was where I learned my performance skills, such as they were. I was extremely shy at first. IÕd get up and sing the song and be afraid to look at the audience. Mumble the name of the next song. I was fine while I was singing because the song was the important thing. People there were really helpful. They encouraged me. They made me get up and they said, 'Now you have to say something.' What were you doing in Toronto? I always thought you were from Calgary. No I was born and raised in Toronto. My whole family has been moving west over the years. . . I guess I stopped living in Toronto in '90 after a year in England. I was doing another masters degree there (her first was in Medieval Studies). And now you're going to the Victoria College of Art taking Fine Arts - the perpetual student? Yeah, yeah. You know painting is a form of music. It's visual music. I see it as an extension of what I'm already doing. It's something I've always wanted to do. Because I've been on the road, pretty much constantly, for the last ten years, I haven't had much time to do it. About two and-a-half years ago I decided that if I was ever going to get good I had to paint while I was on the road. . . . What I would like to do, ideally, is to be able to spend half a year at home every year and paint and tour for the other half. Going back to Heritage, how did Steafan Hannigan become involved? I met Steafan when I was living in England. Steafan lives in London and we just hit it off and started playing together. We did some festivals. He hired me for an Irish weekend - a teaching weekend out in Durham. And then he played some festivals with me the following year. And then he came over here to do a whole tour, with David K and myself, across Canada. We just play when we happen to get together. Garnet Rogers is also on the new record Yeah, Garnet's wonderful. He's been so supportive right from the time I was first starting out. I love Garnet. He's been great. He and his mom both helped me with my first album. She gave me a lot of advice and help. And so did Garnet, when I was making my first album and didn't have a clue what I was doing. . . Garnet's played on all but one of my albums; he was on tour at the time we recorded Journeys. He's an amazing musician. I'm sure you've been asked this a million times, but do you find it harder to write your own material than interpret traditional songs? It's different. I guess I have to come up with the song as well as learn to perform it. So in that sense, yeah. But songwriting is also part of the tradition. In a way, I don't see it as two separate things. It's an odd thing doing both, because, especially in the United States, I find people want to put you in a box. They want to say, 'Are you a singer-songwriter? Or, are you a traditional musician?' And there are some venues that will only hire one or the other. And I sometimes have a hard convincing them: 'What do you want? I can do that.' In Canada, our songwriting in the acoustic world, tends to be closely connected with tradition. Gordon Lightfoot had a very traditional influence. Stan (Rogers) had the tradition. We accept that. We're more open-minded about the melding of influences, like Na Caberfeidh, for instance. In the States, I think traditional American music is less directly connected with the contemporary material that the majority of songwriters are writing, there's a bigger gap there. And so when people say, 'Are you a singer-songwriter?' what they are thinking of are contemporary singer-songwriters singing in the modern tradition. When they think of traditional they think of Appalachian murder ballads. So in Canada and Britain I have no problem saying I'm a Irish traditional singer and songwriter. It seems I read more about you in magazines from abroad than here in Canada. Why is that? I've been trying to figure that out for years. I don't know that I play more abroad although I do play a fair bit out of the country. I don't know. It's a hard grind in Canada. It's hard to make a living here.The distances are so great. The expenses for travelling are so high. There's one folk club a day away in each direction from where I live right now. You can only play Calgary folk clubs so often so it's just that more difficult. It's also very hard getting press attention in Canada. I don't know why. So what do you make about all this Celtic malarkey - this incredible interest in so-called Celtic music?
I don't know. On the one hand, it's an acknowledgement of the passion and the depth and excitement that there is in Celtic music. And it really is there. We know that - we've been doing it for hundreds of years. And it's great the general public are seeing some of that. But I guess you have to be a little cynical about what's making it to the top as always. Big record companies are businesses and they're out to make money. So what they are doing is combining elements that make pop music successful and joining it with Celtic music. . .I guess you have to hope that it will lead people to the genuine article.