Those with tickets to see one of Tiller’s Folly’s two shows at Blue Frog Studios on March 17 can congratulate themselves on having made a highly appropriate choice for St. Paddy’s.
Not only is the underlying Celtic theme of the popular folk/roots/Canadiana band entirely in keeping with the ‘wearing of the green’ – it’s also a chance to celebrate the band itself as it marks a quarter of a century in the music business.
The White Rock shows (at 7 and 9 p.m.) are part of a mini-celebratory tour – as the band emerges from COVID-19 restrictions – which also includes shows at the Evergreen Theatre 7 in Coquitlam (March 19) and the Mary Winspear Centre at Sidney on Vancouver Island (March 20).
Bass player, vocalist and band co-founder Laurence Knight said the shows – which will feature plenty of traditional Irish favourites as well as Tiller’s Folly’s trademark historical-themed originals – mark a return to the band’s own roots as a six-piece Celtic act, plus eight Irish dancers.
In that format, the group’s springboard was a highly successful 22-day run at the PNE in 1997, Knight recalled.
“Given the popularity of River Dance, we were in the right place at the right time,” he chuckled.
Naturally, a 22-day gig does not a 25-year career make – and Knight acknowledges that Tiller’s Folly has undergone some substantial evolution over the years.
While the dance element was, predictably, not sustainable, the band quickly established a three-piece core group – and a singular identity – that has stood the test of time, and accumulated a catalogue of some nine albums, including A Ripple In Time, Stirring Up Ghosts and A River So Wide.
In addition to Knight, the triumverate consists of virtuoso Whatcom County fiddler and mandolinist Nolan Murray and Maple Ridge acoustic guitarist/vocalist/songwriter extraordinaire Bruce Coughlan.
Even during the original PNE run Coughlan came up with the first two of his original historical songs for the group, Knight recalled, and his knack for picking and musically memorializing events and characters from Canada’s past have given a distinct flavour to Tiller’s Folly over the years.
“He’s an amazing songwriter in so many genres,” Knight said. “Bruce and I go back at least 30 years to when I was playing in a band called Bare Facts.”
The Celtic connection proved valuable for Tiller’s Folly in its early years, providing opportunities to tour abroad – including Scotland.
“We had the great pleasure of working with Phil Cunningham, Scotland’s most accomplished accordionist, who had the first Celtic group to include bass and drums at a time when most of the music was played very traditionally.”
The band also attracted attention – and opportunities – in different venues across North America, Knight added.
“We had our Nashville phase, in which we were based there for two or three years and did the album Go The Road,” he said.
“We got to work with some of the cream of the crop of Nashville bluegrass players.”
But, ultimately, Tiller’s Folly couldn’t stay away from Canada – and Canadiana – for too long. The group have achieved an enviably busy schedule of concerts, tours and festivals from its White Rock-Lower Mainland base in recent years – that is until Covid came along.
With consequent travel restrictions in place, Murray could not travel up to Canada for the few live and recorded shows that Tiller’s Folly was able to put together, which led to the first adjustment of the band’s line-up in many years.
Filling in for Murray temporarily were two equally accomplished musicians – mandolinist and slide guitarist Eric Reed (who has also worked with Tiller’s Folly as a producer and recording engineer) and award-winning fiddler and prized sideman Mike Sanyshyn.
Fortunately, now that restrictions are easing, Murray is back in the fold to provide his distinctive fiddle and mandolin sound to the mix – even though it currently costs him a $75 test to venture across the border.
But Reed has also won a place as a permanent member of the group, Knight said. “He’s quite famous for his slide playing.”
Reuniting with his bandmates some two weeks ago was “thrilling,” Knight said.
“We hadn’t played a show with Nolan since March 12, 2020. When he came up for the first rehearsal he was nervous.
He needn’t have been, Knight said – the magical interplay between the band members was there from the first note.
“It was just so great to hang out with these guys again.”
For further information on Tiller’s Folly and links to tickets for upcoming shows, visit tillersfolly.com