The Pat Chessell Band brings its blend of Celtic and Maritime music to the Glades Gardens in South Surrey on July 10, 2021. Employing a mix of upbeat jigs and pensive balladry, the band’s performances are comprised of mostly original material, both inspired by and supplemented with classics and Celtic favourites.
“Sometimes people tell me they wouldn’t have guessed a song was an original, it sounds like a traditional [song],” says band leader Pat Chessell. “And you can kind of do that, I find, in keeping the language a little simpler almost. And often the big thing is the melody. So, I’ll often look to a traditional melody for a bit of inspiration to keep that field there.”
A lifelong pursuit
For Chessell, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter of his titular band, connections to Celtic and Maritime music are deep and sincere. Having family ties to Ireland and hearing Celtic music all around the house, it was no surprise that he would find himself performing that same kind of sound.
Chessell recalls performing bar gigs as early as grade 10, inspired by his father’s Irish musician friend.
“He played all the local bars and clubs in Vancouver. And I started playing with him. By the time I was in grade 10, I was playing bars on weekends and making money that way. I was pretty lucky,” says Chessell. “All my friends were working part-time jobs at restaurants or something, and I was gonna get to play music. So, it was a pretty cool thing.”
Between then and now, Chessell has had dips both into and away from that kind of music. But for the most part it’s been learning, performing and writing inspired Celtic music. He’s even retained the talent of long-time high school friend and vocalist/mandolinist Nathan Powell, as the two have performed together for the past 21 years.
“I always kind of clung to it. I played country and rockabilly and all kinds of jazz throughout the years, but I always found myself going back to Celtic music,” says Chessell. “There’s more of a kind of Americana and folk and even blues influence in some of the stuff I do, but it’s definitely got that Celtic edge. We’d like to kind of mix in all the styles kind of similar out.”
Making a connection
In that time, the musician has come to learn a lot about the ways in which much of the Celtic-inspired Maritimes music draws on and distinguishes itself from Celtic song, even between eastern provinces themselves.
“You’ll really hear a difference, even within the East Coast, between the Celtic music in Newfoundland, which is a little more Irish, and the Celtic music in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, which is a little more Scottish,” says Chessell. “So even in that area there you’ll hear differences as you travel around.”
When it comes to writing and performing, Chessell says that it’s all about having a down-to-earth and personal feel. Character-centric story songs and a mix of joyous and sombre tunes – with a heavy tendency towards joyous tunes, of course – are what make for an authentic and engaging experience, he says.
“You kind of need your peaks and your valleys. You need to make people extremely happy, and then you’ve got to bring them back down a little,” he adds. “Sing a song that they can relate to about, you know, a difficult time. And then bring the party back up again. Overall, we try to keep it more up than anything, but we do like to kind of go through the gamut of emotions.”
All in all, the musician notes that in the end, it’s about having a good time and making a meaningful connection with those who come to the show.
“If at least one person tells me they liked the song, I think I’ve done a good job,” says Chessell. “Music’s an important thing, it’s really important. It’s helped me through some bad times in my life. So, if one person comes up to me and tells me that songs help them at some point, I like to think I’ve done a good job.”
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