Celtic music band Blackthorn performs in New Westminster, BC – The Record (New Westminster)

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It’s one thing to listen to Celtic Woman’s Ballroom of Romance on loop and another to hop and skip to traditional Celtic music with a group of people. And here's a chance to do the latter — Vancouver-based music band Blackthorn is bringing its highland pipes, fiddles, and whistles to the Anvil Centre for an end-of-the-year soiree. 
The music will include “older Irish and Scottish tunes” besides more recent and popular numbers, said Michael Viens, a band member. Overall, he guaranteed it’ll be music “that’s hard not to dance to.” 
Celtic music, Viens noted, has its origins in Ireland and Scotland; eventually it spread to Canada — especially to the Maritimes and Quebec. “In the 1800s, there was a big emigration of the Irish into Quebec, during the famine and such. So there is a traceable influence of Irish music, especially in Quebec. The East Coast of Canada also follows a lot of old Irish and Scottish traditions.” 
Raised in Maillardville, a historic French-Canadian neighbourhood in Coquitlam, Viens remembers listening to the Irish Rovers, a band popular in the '80s, on a 45 record vinyl disc. It had the song The Black Velvet Band on one side, and The Unicorn on the other, he recollected. 
That gave him his first taste of Irish music. After high school, though, Viens experimented with “a lot of different styles” — until he joined a local Celtic band as a guitarist.
“I just fell in love with the music. A lot of that music is very dance-able.” 
The songs traditionally convey heart-wrenching stories — “of a woman losing her husband, brother or lover to the sea, or to war; or of the wait for someone to come back; of the longing among people who emigrate to another land to return to their home country where they were born.”
But, said Viens, “Even the saddest songs make you want to smile, because the music is so uplifting, and gets you toe-tapping.”
His fascination with Celtic music continued, and in 1995, he joined Blackthorn — six years after it was founded. The core members including Rosie Carver, who plays the fiddle, Michelle Carlisle, who plays the flute and Irish whistles, Tim Renaud, the bass and cittern player, and Viens, who strums the guitar for the band, have been performing together for more than 25 years.
But more than writing their own music, what the band excels at is taking an older melody, and "putting it to a different groove," said Viens. “We all bring our own background and skill into it, and bring in a fresh approach to some songs that can be 150 years old or more.” 
And the group will be performing their twists to traditional folk songs at a "Family Ceilidh" event as part of the Anvil Theatre's Winter Celebrations — “Ceilidh is an old Celtic word which can mean anything from popping into your neighbour's to have a cup of tea and socializing with a bunch of people gathered in a kitchen, telling stories, singing songs, drinking and carousing … to a handful of people dancing and singing, sharing good times with each other,” explained Viens.
At the event in New West, though, what Ceilidh would mean is members of the audience coming together for a dance to Blackthorn's music — with guidance from a dance caller. 
But more importantly, said Viens, it would mean "a chance to finally gather with friends and family, and to shake off that darkness of the winter.”  
And, perhaps, to say aye to a brand new year with some good auld tunes.
 
Blackthorn will be performing at the Anvil Theatre Ballroom on Friday, Dec. 30, at 7.30 p.m. Tickets are priced between $15 and $20 plus service charges. For more details, check out Anvil Centre website.
© 2022 New West Record

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