Monday, October 3, 2011


A Scottish National, and Planetary, Treasure 

The three multi-talented members of North Sea Gas brought to the Gravenhurst Opera House an exhilerating, toe-tapping, heart-warming experience of authentic Scottish folk music on the evening of 24 September 2011.

The stage was set with an impressive array of instruments. We counted two guitars, two mandola, a bouzouki, a bodhran, at least one banjo, and last, but not least, a fiddle. The harmonica was less easy to spot. All these were picked up and passed glibly from hand to hand by a trio of outstanding musicians: Dave Gilfillan, Ronnie MacDonald and Grant Simpson.

These professionals drew us into the informal ambiance of a céilidh, inviting us to sing along in choruses and to add our clapping to the percussion. Some of us could not restrain the occasional whoop during a rollicking dance tune.

Grant Simpson’s fiddle wove the music into a rich tapestry of charm. Masterfully blended vocal harmonies, with and without accompaniment, held me spellbound. Dave Gilfillan’s arrangements are tasteful, colourful and compelling, ranging from unison to vibrant harmonies.

Here is a live performance from youtube: Broom o' the Cowdenknowes
Lyrics available at:

North Sea Gas attracts the Scottish diaspora wherever they perform, and adds more fans as they roll along, with a repertoire of old and new, tragical and comic songs. This bardic flow of energy brings to life brave history from the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and calls attention to current issues, like the present plight of the Travelling People.

Scotland’s gypsies, tinkers and anyone else accustomed to the nomadic life are now hemmed in by laws that oblige them to live in towns all winter long, just waiting for the broom to bloom yellow and announce the spring when they can go on the road again. As Dave Gilfillan wryly states, “There are only three of us left now.”

For thirty years this band has toured the British Isles, Austria, Canada, the United States, Turkey, Germany and Estonia. They recorded for Chinese television in 2008 with an estimated audience of 800 million. Regular performers at the Ediburgh Festival “Fringe”, they have received Gold and Silver disc awards and recorded 14 albums.

The North Sea Gas version of the story of Willie aka William Taylor prompted me to go googling. That “brisk young sailor” cropped up  all over the British Isles and in North America, in many variants of the ballad. He really got around, this bridegroom. The basic story is that he was nabbed by a press gang at the church door just in time to stop his wedding. His bride wasn’t about to let him go that easily. (Did she suspect that the press gang was orchestrated by Willie himself?) Dressed as a man, she went after him, found him engaged to another woman and promptly shot him dead. According to the ending of the North Sea Gas variant, the captain of Willie’s ship appointed this enterprising lady as commander of another vessel in the same fleet.

I would recommend that anyone within range of a concert by North Sea Gas be sure to reserve seats, and buy CDs afterward, as they are easily available after a concert, but less so from a distance.

Apologies for taking more than a week to funnel all the fun and bardic pageantry of the evening of Saturday 24 September into some semblance of a review. This was one of those performances where I just sat back and had a great time, without trying to nail down any details. That came later, as I listened, and danced, to North Sea Gas’s latest CD, “Tak a Dram Before Ye Go” and read the lyrics and comments on the accompanying literature.

Searching on youtube I was delighted to hear the North Sea Gas take on some of the favourites of our local Muldrew Lake Sing Song:

Loch Lomond

and Will Ye No Come Back Again?

and others new to me:
A comic song from their youtube collection:
I Wish They’d Do It Now

Cam Ye O'er Frae France


More information is available at the group’s website:

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