Jo Frost reports on the Artist Exchange Partnership, at Showcase PEI on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
One of Canada’s three Maritime Provinces (alongside Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), Prince Edward Island is the country’s smallest province with a population of just 145,000. Its capital, Charlottetown, is famous for being the ‘Birthplace of Confederation’ when in 1864 the first meeting took place, mooting the idea of creating a new nation (it eventually happened in 1867). There’s no escaping this fact, or the date, as 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the momentous Confederation gathering. There was a 70-day festival this summer and the streets of Charlottetown are still lined with banners proclaiming the date.
PEI’s other claim to fame – besides being the home of Anne of Green Gables and one of the world’s largest potato museums – is an impressive amount of homegrown musicians who, come October, are given the opportunity to shine when the island hosts Showcase PEI.
The event is organised by Music PEI, set up to promote the province’s musical talent and also to forge new partnerships and links with other countries. Around 40 delegates ranging from festival directors, promoters, to music supervisors and journalists, from across Canada, the US and a handful from Europe, congregated for three days to sample the island’s music.
This year also saw the fourth Artist Exchange Partnership – a collaboration between Music PEI, the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) in England and Trac, the Welsh traditional music and dance development agency. The basis for the exchange is for the chosen artists from each country to get together, co-write a couple of songs, tour half a dozen dates together in Canada, then perform in front of the invited delegates. This is then followed by a reciprocal tour a year later in the UK. The ultimate aim is for these young artists to develop their songwriting skills and to get an opportunity to tour in Canada and the UK. “It’s a crapshoot,” says Music PEI’s Rob Oakie about the pairing of the artists, an expression that was admittedly somewhat lost in translation, but the general surmise is that it’s really the luck of the draw whether the artists hit it off and make the most of the opportunity. Previous exchanges have seen considerable success, especially the first pairing of PEI’s Dennis Ellsworth together with John Smith as the pair still regularly perform together. Last year’s exchange with banjo player Dan Walsh together with country singer-songwriter Meaghan Blanchard is now reaching its conclusion with a six-day tour of England, including a London gig (see details below).
This year brings together the singers Ashley Condon with Maz O’Connor, and Kizzy Crawford with Tim Chaisson. And so on a bright, autumnal evening, the invited delegates and local music fans congregate at the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown – one of Canada’s longest running theatres – for an evening of traditional, contemporary and some very newly-penned songs.
First up is Cumbrian folk singer Maz O’Connor who shone at WOMAD this summer with songs from her latest album, This Willowed Light (reviewed in #102). O’Connor’s repertoire of revamped versions of traditional English folk songs is juxtaposed alongside Ashley Condon’s heart-on-sleeve songs about her life and loves. Both O’Connor and Condon are natural performers and engage with the audience with their informal onstage chat but appear less sure of themselves when they perform together – perhaps simply a question of nerves and the fact that they haven’t actually played as a duo very often.
The second half features the 18-year-old Welsh singer Kizzy Crawford along with local rising star Tim Chaisson (pictured). Crawford grew up in Aberaeron, Wales within the eisteddfod tradition and also performs in an electro-folk group called Kaikrea with Angharad Jenkins. She played the BBC Introducing… stage at Glastonbury this year, a sure sign her career is on an upward trajectory. The confidence she exudes onstage, together with her vocal range certainly impresses – definitely a name to watch. Her PEI partner Chaisson, is a talented singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddle player who brings to mind a Canadian Seth Lakeman. He crops up again over the course of the three days with his trad trio The East Pointers who are a group to look out for.
REVIEW Check out the next issue for a review of more music from Showcase PEI
DATE Dan Walsh, Meaghan Blanchard, Tim Chaisson and Kizzy Crawford will perform at Cecil Sharp House in London on November 13