The Barra MacNeils
There is something refreshing about a band that can stare in the face of "flavour of the moment" pop music, smile disarmingly, then proceed to deliver their distinctive style of Cape Breton-tinged Celtic artistry. For the BARRA MacNEILS, it's not about being "au courant"; it's about the tradition they hold close to their souls.
The siblings grew up in the heart of Celtic tradition in Sydney Mines on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Along with all the extracurricular activities of any normal family, the MacNeil kids learned Celtic dancing from their Mother, and took the music lessons that formed the basis of their renown. Whether it be at church dances or other public outings, the music of the MacNeils, sometimes alone, sometimes together, was certain to be the focal point of the evening.
In 1986, Sheumas, Kyle, Stewart and Lucy recorded their eponymous debut album while still attending Mount Allison University, working towards their degrees in music. Two more independent releases followed: "ROCK IN THE STREAM" in 1989 and "TIMEFRAME" in 1991. By this point, the group had solidified their standing as one of Canada's premier Celtic acts. Major record labels, long aware of the quality and sales potential of the music of the BARRA MacNEILS, began to pay close attention, and in 1992, the BARRA MacNEILS signed a contract to record for Polygram.
The first album for Polygram, titled "CLOSER TO PARADISE", was just that, garnering outstanding critical reviews and earning the BARRA MacNEILS their first gold album. "THE TRADITIONAL ALBUM" followed in 1994, staying close to the roots of the Celtic music the BARRAS use as their foundation. "THE QUESTION", released in 1995, took the BARRA MacNEILS in a more pop-oriented direction. Although the release earned the band its biggest radio successes, critics felt this album steered the group away from the one characteristic that made the BARRA MacNEILS so unique, and that, of course, was the strong Celtic feel of their music.
A compilation of the band's musical highlights was released independently in 1997. Titled "UNTIL NOW", the album allowed the BARRA MacNEILS to catch their breath, review their successes and regroup for a new, rejuvenated start.
The recorded journey began once again in 1999. The group had never stopped touring during the gap in recordings, headlining folk festivals across Canada, touring to sold-out audiences night after repeated night, and even allowing the BARRAS to perform as Canada's Celtic ambassadors in Scotland, England, Denmark, Germany and the United States. "THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM" was released in the autumn of 1999, and re-acquainted Canadians with the sound of the BARRA MacNEILS. Reviewers loved the album, and by the sales reports, so did the group's legion of fans. A Christmas tour sold out completely, and the MacNEILS closed the year performing for a worldwide audience as CBC broadcast their New Year's Eve show in Halifax.
During 1999, the BARRA MacNEILS entered the studio with producer and musical alchemist, Danny Greenspoon. The new album, titled "RACKET IN THE ATTIC", is a twelve song collection showcasing the BARRA MacNEILS at their finest: bright, uplifting and elegantly performed. Song selection includes originals, plus covers of artists as diverse as Steeleye Span and Fleetwood Mac. The group's amazing vocal abilities absolutely shine, but there are also a handful of instrumentals that allow the outstanding musical prowess of the siblings to be showcased. "Don't Call Me Early" is already a sing-along standard in concert, while "Misty Moisty Morning" bounces, taking the listener on a Celtic journey to the shores of the islands from where the MacNeil ancestors once lived. "Queen of Argyle" has a dark underbelly; a musical story sung by Kyle that beguiles and entrances. And "By Northern Light" finds Lucy at her absolute finest vocally, with her brothers adding fine harmonies.
The year 2000 was an exceptional year for the BARRA MacNEILS. Besides sold-out tour dates in Canada, the U.S. and Barbados (yes, Barbados!), the group worked diligently to promote "RACKET IN THE ATTIC" and their recent seasonal release, "THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM." Not only did they host their own one-hour Christmas special, which ran 20 times during the month of December 2000 on CMT; they were also guests on Rita MacNeil's CTV Christmas special. In February 2001, the BARRA MacNEILS were voted Group of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards, based on their successes with "RACKET IN THE ATTIC." The album also earned a Juno nomination for Roots/Traditional Group of the Year.
This year, the BARRA MacNEILS will continue to do what they love to do best, and that is playing their music for the fans. Once again, this incredibly talented family will tour Canada, and will also venture into the U.S., the Caribbean and Europe to spread the Celtic flavour captured so eloquently on "RACKET IN THE ATTIC."