Men At Words – Archie Fisher, James Keelaghan, and Jez Lowe
April 11, 2015, The Sounding Board, West Hartford, CT
By Lahri Bond
It does indeed sound like the start of a classic joke; a Scotsman, an Englishman and a Canadian walk into a bar. . .
Though this gathering undoubtedly caused some glasses be raised, it also brought together three of folk’s most talented singer/songwriters, each one well steeped in the traditional music of their respective homelands. Archie Fisher is well known on his native soil for being part of the mighty Scots traditional singers The Fisher Family (along with his sisters Cilla and the late great Ray Fisher), and for his 27-year tenure as the host of BBC Radio Scotland’s award-winning “Travelling Folk” show. Internationally, he is revered for such seminal albums as Man With A Rhyme, Sunsets I Have Galloped Into, and Windward Away. Jez Lowe hails from the coal mining country of North East England; both as a solo artist, and with his ever-evolving band The Bad Pennies, he has written and performed an enormous body of work, firmly rooted in the traditions of his homeland. James Keelaghan is a Calgary native, who has been calling Winnipeg home for the past few years. He is well-known for his gorgeous voice and a catalog of literate, historic and rousing songs in the tradition of fellow Canadians Stan and Garnet Rogers.
While all three musicians have played in various configurations with each other in the past, this was the first time they have toured as a group. The idea was broached last year, when all three of them found themselves as the same folk musician’s “flop house” in Cambridge, MA. “Jez and I were on tour,” explained Keelaghan, “I went downstairs the next morning, and found Archie making coffee in the kitchen.” Nine month later, the result is a new Celtic super-group, the whimsical titled Men At Words.
Anticipation and speculation was bountiful as these three master musicians took the stage. Often, when you have a meeting of such towering talents you wind up with mini-solo sets, and an all-performer finale, which is the staple of many a folk festival. It was clear from the moment these three hit the stage that they were definitely a group. They began with the old cowboy classic “Good To See You, My Old Friend,” each trading verses, their distinct voices blending beautifully on the choruses. Keelaghan followed with a lovely version of “Winds of Change,” with Fisher adding some skillful finger-style accompaniment, while Lowe performed lead lines on his Irish bouzouki.
From their mischievous stories and asides, there was no mistaking that this trio were having great fun together. Lowe and Fisher sang a pair of coal mining songs, which included “The Pitman Poets” and “What A Strange Lover Is A Coal Mine.” Keelaghan followed with a song of “un-required love” in his beautiful cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Eulalie.” The first set finished with a fine trio of songs, including Fisher’s “Bonnie Border Lass,” Lowe’s “Jack Common’s Anthem” and Keelaghan’s exquisite ode to the fragrant air of his home in “Sweetgrass.”
Set two began with Lowe’s “Donnini Doolaly,” with Fisher and Keelaghan adding engaging harmonies on this tale of a young man off to war. Fisher followed with the fine “A River Like You,” which showcased his intricate guitar playing, while Keelaghan got the crowd singing on “Safe Home” from his latest studio CD House of Cards. Lowe offered a humorous song “The Wrong Bus,” from his recent The Ballad Beyond CD, while Fisher paid tribute to his recently departed friend, and guitar great John Renbourn in the song “Lindsey,” a Fisher-penned song he used to love to play.
Keelaghan told tales of the master stonemasons who had rebuilt Canada’s parliament, before performing a stirring rendition of Scots/Canadian, singer/mason Bobby Watt’s “Remembrance Day,” about the same subject. Lowe performed “A Dream of Steam and Freedom,” and the evening finished up with a stunning rendition of Fisher’s iconic “The Final Trawl,” with all three singers trading verses. Thunderous applause preceded a much-welcomed encore, which brought a beautiful trio performance of the traditional Scots ballad “The Broom of the Cowdenknowes.”
No immediate plans are in the works for a trio album, as Fisher is currently well involved in finishing his next solo CD. With a standing repertoire of about 25 songs between them that the have rehearsed to play on this current tour, one hopes that at least a few of these shows are being taped professionally, with an eye for a future release, and hopefully another tour to support it.