MABOU: Nearly four decades’ worth of live performances from two of Inverness County’s finest Celtic musicians are now available on a single CD.
Rooted In Tradition: A Musical Journey with Buddy MacMaster and Joey Beaton incorporates 11 groups of fiddle tunes from the late MacMaster, a longtime Judique resident, all accompanied by Beaton, a Celtic pianist, music archivist and native of Mabou. The album also features “Johnnie Cope Slow March With Variations,” a solo piano piece performed by Beaton in 1978 at The Kitchen Music and Video Centre in New York City.
In choosing the fiddle medleys for this project, Beaton sought to showcase performances that would show MacMaster “at his maximum” in terms of his comfort and ease in delivering Celtic favourites in live settings.
“I wanted to portray Buddy in the very natural setting where he always performed so magnificently,” Beaton told The Reporter, noting the sharp contrast between studio recording and live performances.
“Several of these cuts are done right off the floor, right off the cuff. And I always found that Buddy would be at his best when he’d be in a situation like that – he was so relaxed. And that came through in these particular cuts.”
With this in mind, Beaton filled the Rooted In Tradition project with 36 years’ worth of MacMaster’s appearances at concerts and dances, with the earliest of these recorded at the CJFX Radio studios in Antigonish to help the station celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1968.
“This was totally unrehearsed – we went ‘cold turkey’ there, and played live on CJFX,” recalled Beaton, who had been accompanying MacMaster for three years by this point in time.
“Buddy just said, ‘Joey, will you accompany me when I do my solo?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ but I didn’t have a clue what Buddy was going to play… I just hoped that he was going to play something that would follow the regular flow of chords, and that’s what he did. It worked out well.”
The wide range of performances spotlighted on the album include the third figure of a square set from a 1986 square dance in Glencoe, a 2004 set at The Octagon Arts Centre in Dingwall that occurred without a sound system in place, and two sets from the 15th Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, with these 1999 live cuts showing the boisterous response that greeted MacMaster and Beaton at this particular event.
“The [Nevada] audience was most receptive to the music – they had an intense appreciation for what we were doing,” Beaton reflected. “That certainly boosted our spirits and got us in the mood to play.”
The process of putting this project together helped Beaton gain a new appreciation for his longtime musical partnership with MacMaster, who was 40 when he first approached a 16-year-old Beaton to provide piano accompaniment to his fiddle sets in the mid-1960s.
“Buddy was like a sibling to me,” Beaton enthused.
“He was so young at heart, and he always had such a tremendous amount of great spirit from which to draw.”