Thanks for allowing us to
do an interview with you for The Canadian Celtic Music Website.
What is the "Howie MacDonald" history?
Where were you born? What got you started in music?
Hi. I was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and my
mother and father both grew up in musical households and going to
square dances, ceilidhs, etc. My mother also speaks Gaelic which
she used to communicate to friends, relatives growing up...not so much
now. I just picked up the interest in the music spending most of
my summers and holidays in Troy and Glendale at festivals and
functions growing up.
For someone who is new to
your music, how would you describe it?
I would describe my music as passionate, lively,
emotional and rootsy I guess. A lot of the
melodies were carried over to Cape Breton by our ancestors along
with the sense of humour, dry wit, etc. None of my older
relatives used music as a means of making a living even though at
times they did get hired to do weddings, dances, funerals,
etc. It was a way of passing the time and a form of
recreation. However they did and still do take their music
quite seriously and hold their opinions mostly to themselves as do a
lot of Cape Bretoners.
Do you have any other musicians in
the family? Are your parents musical? Siblings?
My oldest brother was the first to play in public
back in the 60's with my uncle and my mother at times for mostly
concerts, dances, weddings, funerals, house parties...that type of
thing. A lot of house parties, especially on holidays, during
haymaking season and just about any other excuse. I have 4
sisters, 2 of which dance and another sings. And 2 of those
were in Howie's Celtic Brew doing comedy as well. We have a
huge history of mimicking as well as do most Cape Bretoners.
The other sister was mostly into sewing and crafts...although
her sewing machine's a "Singer"....ha...
Everyone knows that you are a
fiddler. Do you play any other instruments?
I started out playing piano when I was pretty
young (7 or 8) at fiddlers' ceilidhs. Festival tuning rooms
were always fun. There weren't many kids playing piano at that
time, other than John Morris Rankin. He and I played together
at the Glendale Festival (in Cape Breton) during the outdoor square
dance for the first time in 1978 or so. Then we switched
instruments (fiddle/piano). That always kept things
interesting. I also play a little guitar.
You've just released a new CD called
"Howie's Celtic Brew", which is not like your earlier albums
which are all fiddle music. This is a CD from your comedy
show. How long have you been doing comedy for? Are the
stories you tell based on true stories or are they all from your
The first time I ever did comedy in public was in
1997 in the Cape Breton Summertime Revue. I did several
characters in one particular skit I called "Is This Cape Breton
or What" which was a radio show guy with guests, which I also
played. I used different hats to do each character.
The stories and characters are both imaginary
and part based on stories and people from around Cape Breton.
I've always kept my most outrageous comedy restricted to dressing
room humour and behind open car trunks at dance halls. I've
never called it comedy. It was always just having fun and
mostly mimicking people and telling stories...that's where the real
fun always was.
You toured with The Rankins for 10
years. What was this experience like?
Touring with the Rankins was a wonderful
experience and a great education in travel, the music business,
meeting interesting people, etc. They've always been and still
are like a real family to me. I've known them for many years.
You've composed some
popular fiddle tunes, such as "Call to Dance" made famous by
Leahy. Do you still do a lot of composing?
I have quite a bit of stuff that I've written and
have been working on over the years.
What is your ideal
composing situation? (by yourself, in a certain location, etc.)
The ideal situation for composing for me
strangely enough is the first 5 minutes of a square dance when we're
just getting primed up. Other than that, I have to work at it,
get in the mood, and sit at the kitchen table...forever.
You toured Western Canada with
Ashley MacIsaac a few years ago. Are there any plans to bring
your "Celtic Brew" show out west now that the CD has been
The CD is available nation-wide, distributed by
Tidemark/EMI. I've toured The Celtic Brew in the Maritimes in
2000 and 2001. Then this summer a good deal of the material,
humour and comedy was incorporated into a show in Ontario that ran
from June 5 to Aug 31 called The Canadian Loonie which was 113% sold
out. 8 shows a week. Great experience!
Ontario fans got to see
alot of you this summer as you spent the summer in a production there
called "The Canadian Loonie." What was the audience
response to this show like? Was it a solo show or were there other
musicians involved? Was it like your "Celtic Brew" show?
The response to The Canadian Loonie was terrific.
It played in a little village just outside Kitchener-Waterloo, not
far from Stratford. All of the reviews were very positive
(knock on wood). The audience response was great as
well. There was one other musician on stage with me, pianist
Christopher Mounteer from Ontario and Neil Aitchison, who played a
Mountie doing political and Canadian humour and 2 families of
stepdancers who split their performances throughout the summer.
Rachel and Whitney Bushell, and 2 sisters and a brother called
"The Ballaugh Bunch".
What's on the agenda for
the coming months for you? Will you be doing any touring?
I just arrived home from Ontario and I'm still
unpacking so I haven't any idea what's next at this point.
Do you play a certain
type of fiddle? Do you have a preference as to the make of the
fiddle you like to play?
I have 2 fiddles I normally play. They're
both Stratavarious copies.
Who are some of your
Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Mark O'Connor, Jean
What do you enjoy to do
when you're off the road?
Most of my free time I spend with my family.
I also like to golf a bit.
What have been some of
the highlights of your career so far?
The Rankin experience, The Summertime Revue,
The Celtic Brew and The Canadian Loonie.
Where do you see yourself
in 5 years? 10 years?
Is there a place that you
have yet to tour that you would like to visit?
Not that I can think of. I like Canada and
What are your favourite
movies / TV shows?
I've always liked the original Star Trek. The
only shows I seem to watch now are Frasier and Everybody Loves
Raymond...the kids hog the TV a lot.
Who are your favourite
I like early Elton John, Billy Joel, J.P.
Cormier's a great musician. Ashley (MacIsaac) / Natalie (MacMaster)
If you could perform with
anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I can't really say...Elvis is dead...I
think...ha...I'd have to ponder that one. I'd like to meet Jim
Carrey. I think he's been down the road and back. I
think I understand where he's coming from, in my own Cape Breton
Best of luck with your
career in the months and years to come!
Thanks for keeping in touch! Take care.