My love of music has gone hand-in-hand with my love for books from very early on, the former often providing the soundtrack for the latter, which is how I got into traditional Celtic music. I bought an album by the late Seamus Ennis (an old Tradition recording on vinyl with Ennis playing Uillean pipes, whistle, singing and telling stories) and suddenly realized that this music was the soundtrack for the folk and fairy tales I'd been devouring for years. So how could I resist it?
I started playing guitar and various flutes and whistles in the mid-sixties, but didn't start playing professionally until the early seventies when I formed a duo called Wickentree with a childhood friend—although I do remember busking with a whistle in Yorkville, Toronto, during the summer of 1967 to pay for my dinner.
Wickentree existed for about fourteen years. The core line-up consisted of myself and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Curry, but we varied in number between a duo and a four-piece over the years. We played everything from bars, renaissance faires and small cafes where the band occasionally outnumbered the audience, to TV gigs and festivals where the audience numbered in the thousands.
When Wickentree finally packed it in, I stopped playing on stage for a few years. I was tired of playing mostly in bars where people were more interested in getting drunk than listening to music. During that time, MaryAnn and I kept up the music by playing tunes together at home and taking part in sessions around town until we were approached by the organizers of an Earth Day benefit to see if we'd play on the bill.
MaryAnn and I put together a five-piece band for the event, using the name Wickentree one last time because we couldn't come up with anything else on such short notice. After the concert, four of us went on to play around town as Jump at the Sun—MaryAnn, myself, Doug Heirlihy on hammered dulcimer and John Wood on Uillean pipes, fiddle, flute, whistles, guitar, concertina, harmonica and highland pipes. We played the usual gamut of clubs, festivals, weddings and the like, our one insistence being that the gig had to be fun. I think one of the reasons we kept it going for so long was that we enjoyed getting together for the rehearsals—MaryAnn and John having particularly astute senses of arrangement and harmony.
John moved to England a few years ago and we've occasionally augmented the line-up with a Cape Breton-style fiddler named Don Fletcher since then, but we're playing less and less as a group now.
After years of hosting Celtic music sessions at various pubs around town, our Thursday night gigs at Patty's Pub came to an end. Like so many other local bars, Patty's brought in big-screen sports TV to replace live music. We've been too busy to find a new venue, but we've been playing at an open mike session hosted by our friends Joel Hayward and Kyla Dowden. That happens on Sunday afternoons at a great café/bar called Pressed, 750 Gladstone Avenue, just west of Bronson. Of course we haven't lost our love of playing live and we're always delighted to play by invitation or at conventions.
MaryAnn primarily plays a long-necked mandolin made by Toronto luthier William ("Grit") Laskin, but she also has a sweet little A-model Gibson. She also sings and plays guitar, bodhran (an Irish goatskin drum) and various percussion instruments.
My favorite instruments these days are my Irish flute (made by Michael Copeland), various whistles (by Chris Abell and Copeland) and the Godin electric guitar that MaryAnn got me for my birthday last year (now we're rocking!). I also sing and play acoustic guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, button accordion, mandolin, harmonica, bodhran and occasionally fool around with a keyboard.