GOING STRONG - St. James’ Gate continues to move forward with their thoroughly entertaining and engaging shows across Central Alberta and beyond. From the back are Justin Stewart

St. James’ Gate throwing a party Dec. 23rd at The Vat

Local band St. James’ Gate continues to surge forward with their engaging, energetic and superbly entertaining style as Celtic rockers who retain that compelling touch of tradition.

Last year marked their 15th anniversary, and it’s been a rollicking adventure ever since their debut on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000.

Fans can catch up with the guys on Dec. 23rd when they play The Vat.

December 23rd is also known as ‘Tibb’s Eve’ – a party held that night originating in Newfoundland. “Its an east coast thing. On the east coast, that’s when Christmas really starts,” explains Dwayne Marsden (guitar/vocals). “It’s usually the kick-off. That’s when families are starting to get together. For this show at The Vat, it’s will be a bunch of music and we have Tyler Braun from Lacombe who will be opening for us that night, too.” Complete with terrific tunes and just the fun of getting together, it’s typically a means of launching the Christmas festivities, explained Marsden.

Rounding out the band are Justin Stewart (guitars/bouzouki/mandolin/vocals), Glenn MacLeod (guitar/mandolin/vocals), Dave Best (bassist/guitarist/bouzouki/vocals), Billy O’Neil (bagpipes/accordion/whistles/vocals) and Brian Buckle (drums).

“We are definitely thinking about putting a new CD together,” said Marsden, who is originally from Ramea Island, Newfoundland and signed on with the guys in the early 2000’s.

“It’s just hard getting everybody together,” he added with a laugh. They are pretty much always introducing new material during their shows anyways, which is a great way to let folks in on what they are up to as well, and what just might appear on a future project.

Meanwhile, from the start, the boys have consistently hit the stage with unrestrained enthusiasm.

Their passion for the music they perform is infectious, and they’ve remained a popular band across Central Alberta and beyond.

“For me, it’s about going out and entertaining people. We still love it – to go out and see the people dancing or even just sitting and listening to our songs, just appreciating the music,” said Marsden. “Also, hearing people come up and say they’re from the east coast and that they miss home so much. The music helps bring people back to those times.”

Over the years, they’ve been featured at all kinds of events and festivals including the hugely popular East Coast Garden Party and even journeying a couple of times to the Top of the World Highland Games in Dawson City, Yukon.

Their latest disc of finely-crated Celtic/folk/rock-flavoured tunes, License to Kilt, was released in 2009.

The 14 tracks include nine originals, a few charming traditionals and two superb bonus live tracks (Peter’s Street and Fisherman’s Blues) recorded at The Vat. License to Kilt was dedicated to the late Jimmy McMullen who was such an enthusiastic force behind the band’s success before his sudden death in July of 2007.

The tune Good Good Man is dedicated to McMullen, and does a superb job of honouring the man who was such an inspired, creative and joyful artist within the band and in his own right.

Prior to License to Kilt, Juice of the Barley marked their third disc in 2006.

Ride was released in early 2004 and Serve Extra Cold in 2002.

Each project is a perfect balance of tried and true traditional numbers and others of a more contemporary nature.

“I think it’s the energy of the music,” added Marsden when asked about the enduring nature of the more traditional Celtic-type tunes. “And it’s not everyday out here that you can go hear an east coast band,” he said. “It’s not often you can hear a band with bagpipes and accordions and whistles. It’s that energy that just comes with the music – and I think that’s what people like about it.

“Also, it takes a lot to write an east coast ballad – it’s all stories. And everything people write, you can actually see it happening,” he explains of the rich sensibilities of the music. Meanwhile, the mandate of the band hasn’t changed.

One of the defining characteristics of St. James’ Gate is their ability to have loads of fun with a tune – it’s not just about capturing the essence of a song, it’s about injecting every ounce of energy and soul possible into each piece.

Not to mentions the lasting friendships that have come about through being part of the popular group.

“We’re still all friends,” added Marsden with a laugh. “I can always call any one of the boys up and there is always time to chat.”

mark.weber@reddeerexpress.com