By Chet Greason
Chris Whelan, of the band The Shananigans, has a hard time defining their niche. Most would be quick to call them a Celtic band, seeing as a large majority of their repertoire is traditional songs from Ireland, Scotland, and Canada’s East Coast. “But I get in trouble from Irish relatives for saying ‘Celtic’ because they don’t call it that in Ireland and Scotland,” he explains. He wonders if maybe Irish folk music, or even Celtic folk/rock might be more appropriate.
However you identify the genre, everyone agrees the music can unequivocally be referred to as foot-stomping, green-beer guzzling, jig-dancing, high-energy fun.
The Shananigans have been feeding people’s need for Irish and Scotch reels since the late ’80s. When they play The Black Angus on Friday, March 15, it’ll be their first time playing St. Marys.
Whelan, of Paris, Ontario, originally started the Shananigans with his father, who was the band’s accordionist. “I was the drummer for years,” says the junior Whelan. When his father passed away in 2003, it looked like the end of the band; but a reformation in 2008 saw them return with a brand new line-up.
Currently, the Shananigans are made up of Waterloo-based Tawnya Moore (Celtic flute, whistle, piccolo, and vocals), Aimee Jesso of Stratford (guitar, bodhran, and vocals, as well as step-dancing), Dan Tapper of Kitchener (bass and vocals), and Whelan, who’s taken over the role of accordionist from his father.
“Technically, it’s a button accordion, or a melodeon in Ireland,” explains Whelan. “Calling it an accordion puts people in mind of the big Walter Ostanek piano accordions.”
Inheriting the instruments from his dad, Whelan decided to learn in order to maintain a connection with his father. As his father learned from Whelan’s grandfather, and Whelan’s son has since picked it up, it makes four generations of melodeon players in the family. Whelan also doubles as the band’s main percussionist.
The Black Angus show will be notable for including the first appearance of the Shananigans’ newest member, Robbie McMaster of Cambridge, who’ll be playing mandolin, guitar, bodhran, as well as singing.
The weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day is the busiest time of year for the band. Earlier on Friday, before the St. Marys gig, they’ll be playing in downtown Waterloo at the Public Square at 2 p.m. Saturday will see them at the Kitchener Farmers’ Market at 11 a.m., with more performances later that day. Sunday has them playing at Kitchener City Hall at noon, followed by McCabe’s Irish Pub and Grill at 3 p.m. The marathon string of shows ends at Bobby O’Brien’s from 6:30-9 p.m.
Whelan says they tend to play more traditional Irish songs this time of year — “more stuff we don’t usually play, like Danny Boy, that are a must on St. Patty’s Day.”
However, one of the Shananigans fortes is their ability to blend traditional with contemporary, such as their slick, uptempo rendition of Molly Malone, or their cover of Celtic punk band Flogging Molly’s The Devil’s Dance Floor using time-honoured and largely acoustic Irish instruments.
If you’re interested in hearing the Shananigans play before checking out their show at the Angus, they’ll be appearing on radio station 98.5 FM on Sunday, March 10 from 3:30-5 p.m. Part of the Celtic Connections show (formerly Irish Horizons), the band will be on the air promoting its new live CD.
Their show at the Black Angus kicks off at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. The Angus’ regular menu will be served up until 7:30, with dinner reservations being recommended. The show costs $10.
“We hear St. Marys is a great place to play...I hope this will be the first show of many here,” says Whelan. “Here’s hoping everyone comes out to help us kick off St. Patty’s Day!”
For more information, check out the band’s website at www.shananigans.ca, or find them on Facebook.