Celtic Chaos will perform its original show For the Highlanders at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni on Sunday, Nov. 6.
The 2 p.m. performance, split into 45-minute halves, is a story told in poetry and music of how the Highland Clearances spread Celtic culture across the world. The clearances saw the evictions of tenants from the Scottish Highlands and Islands between 1750 and 1860.
The resulting emigration saw Scottish people leave for destinations as far-flung as Sweden, Appalachia and Canada.
Band member Joyce Beaton, who plays fiddle and cello, with accompanying vocals, came across a piece of music that commemorates the voyage of the ship Hector, which brought 189 Scottish immigrants, displaced by the clearances, to Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773.
“We thought it’d be good to put our music and poetry together and form a show that tells the story,” said John Beaton, who does the show’s poetic narrative. “And takes it right up to present day.”
For the Highlanders takes the audience on a historic journey that begins with farmers being displaced from their livelihood thanks to the greed of landlords.
It chronicles their perilous trip across the Atlantic Ocean on the Hector and continues on as they adjust to life in North America. The show also has a message for the present day.
The Beatons will be joined by Dave Barta on accordion and lead vocals, Gordon Lafleur on flute, whistle, bodhran and vocals and Joe Spinelli on double bass.
The show’s halves are held together by a poetic narrative written by John.
“I basically tell the story in poetry,” he said. “Our songs range from old traditional — there’s a Burns song in there—to music by contemporary, mainly Scottish, performers that we’ve incorporated and in one or two places adapted to fit the story a little better.”
The show’s first half tells the story of highlanders being forced off the land, onto boats and landing in Nova Scotia, where life was not what they expected. Its second half focuses on the spread of Celtic culture across the globe.
The members of Celtic Chaos come from Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Nanaimo and the core group has been together for more than 20 years, touring up and down the Island.
John’s father grew up on a croft on the Isle of Skye. A croft is an enclosed area of land, usually small and arable, with a home and a tenant farmer working the land. “I was very attached to that place,” he said.
John recently wrote a book of poetry, Leaving Camustianavaig, which tells the story of the people who stayed in the Highlands, rather than emigrate, and were maltreated by landowners, before eventually getting more rights. Crofting persists into the present day.
Tickets are $20 and available at The Grove-Community Arts Council Art Gallery at Harbour Quay (7-5440 Argyle St., in the former Alberni Aquarium space) or online at www.alberniarts.com.
— With files from Susie Quinn, Alberni Valley News