Roxanne: DBAWIS: Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

january roxanneFaith and begorrah! St Paddy’s Day is today, and I’m all out of green beer!

Just kidding – green beer is a blight, a slap in the face to any true Irishman worth his or her salt. But there will still be many pubs offering it up on the 17th. And many wannabe Irish puking it up the next day.

montreal_st_patricks_day_23I do love to celebrate the day. My mother’s father was from Ireland, and all of his eight children were lovers and dreamers, happily singing traditional and ‘patriot’ songs, and generally brushing over the fact that their mother was one of the conqueror Brits. In Montreal, a city where so many Irish had settled, St. Patrick’s was celebrated loudly, and with much abandon.

My mum was a sucker for an Irish ballad, preferably sung by a good Irish tenor. Her tenor of choice was John McCormack, the world famous singer, famed for his operatically trained voice, his diction, and his astounding breath control. Sadly, he died in 1945, but his legacy lives on in early recordings.

I was a sucker for all things Irish as well. In my teens, I readily took advantage of my youth and charm to pose prettily on the back seat of a convertible in Montreal’s famous parade. How I wish I had a picture of myself, waving like a princess, wearing a little tiara and a bunny fur stole over my black slinky jumpsuit. Princess by day, disco bunny by night!

I spent many a Montreal night enjoying the pubs that specialized in music from ‘over ‘ome. One, the St. James Pub, was a constant draw. My mother, my sister and myself would regularly drop in to hear Gordie Lee and Carl Peterson (both proud Scots) sing classic Irish ballads and reels. When I tracked down Carl a few years ago, I discovered that he’d gone on to become the most successful and busiest Scottish singer in North America, with an enormous body of work. Here’s Carl with his longtime friend, John Allen Cameron.

In ’76, the night before I left Montreal for Toronto, my sister and I hit most of the Montreal bars in a sort of farewell tour. At yet another Irish pub, we ran into a Toronto dr who tom bakerrugby team, who were celebrating a big win. A very Irish and very handsome scrum-half named Trevor insisted I take his phone number, and call him when I arrived in Toronto. Which I did, and not very long after that, we were living together, in a huge apartment with two other crazy Irishmen, who introduced me to yet more of the music, film and television they’d enjoyed in Belfast. Although the marriage didn’t last, my love of the British Isles – and of course, the wonderfully fantastical Doctor Who – was firmly cemented by our time together.

Trevor was a strong supporter of modern Irish music, and through the concerts we attended, I too began to follow bands like Horslips, Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, and Thin Lizzy, who had a hit with their version of the classic, “Whiskey In The Jar.”

In the spring of 1981, I found myself auditioning for the Toronto band, Lady. The keyboard player cheerfully greeted me from the bathroom, waving me into the rehearsal space, where a skinny guitar slinger, a dead ringer for Mick Jagger in black spandex, was tuning up. They’d auditioned every chick singer in town, and needed someone to start immediately. The guitarist was not impressed with my ‘look,’ but loved my voice. I’m amazed I could sing a note that day, because with one look, I realized I’d just met the man I’d be with for a very long time.

And wouldn’t you just know it … Shawn O’Shea was half Finnish, and half Irish. And born on March 17th, to boot.

Before too long, Lady had become Performer, and Shawn and I began over 30 years of making music together.

Sadly, Shawn’s aversion to bars filled with drunken Irishmen has largely curtailed my own pilgrimages to the festivities enjoyed in some of Toronto’s pubs on St. Paddy’s. We did go to the Toronto parade one year, and we both waved happily at my ex, Trevor, who was proudly walking with his team mates from the Balmy Beach Rugby Club. But Shawn’s not one to enjoy an evening of Irish musical nostalgia. He did, however, thrill to the amazing dance and music of Michael Flatley’s “Riverdance.”

That March 17th connection seems unending.  Shawn shares his birthday with two other of his band mates in the heymacs.

Throughout the years, I’ve often found myself singing in a pub on the 17th, and I’m generally happy to oblige with a tune or two. I favour the songs that I grew up singing, from the goofily silly, like “Seven Old Ladies Stuck in the Lavatory” to the heartbreaking and poignant remembrances of ex-patriots.

I always loved when Bing Crosby would sing about “Galway Bay,” though as a child, I was convinced he was saying, “If you ever go across the street to Ireland.” That mishearing would seriously impact upon my sense of geography over the next few years.

A few years back, one of my bands had a St. Pat’s gig that began in the afternoon, and went on until the night’s closing. We learned a few songs we could mix in with our regular rock and blues mix. This song was a crowd pleaser, even after the sixth or seventh outing.

No matter your background, it’s hard not to get into the spirit of the day. Falling in the middle of Lent, it’s license to kick up your heels, and get into a frisky Spring frame of mind. So sip on a Guinness, or hoist your green beer (if you must,) pin on your “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button, and pretend you’ve kissed the Blarney Stone. Dance with a lassie or a laddie, cause “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

= RT =

Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. After years of doing things she didn’t want to do, she’s found herself working with a bunch of crazy people who are as batshit crazy and devoted to music as she is, and so she can be found every Monday at Cherry Cola’s, completely unable to think of anything funny to say, as the co-host of Bob Segarini’s The Bobcast. Come and mock her. She’s good with that. And she laughs. A lot. But not at you.

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