The rich, haunting heritage of Celtic music traditions still fires Heather Rankin.
The singer-songwriter from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia — a member of the famed Rankin Family — who is coming to Cranbrook next week, says those traditions are still a place she sets out from when songwriting.
Audiences will get to share that experience as she touches down at the Key City Theatre, Wednesday, Feb. 20 — her first time in British Columbia with her solo show, and her first show of 2019.
“It’s beautiful — the melodies of those Gaelic songs are unbeatable, they’re beautiful, haunting and rich,” Rankin told the Townsman. “It’s such a natural engrained style it’s often where I start out when I’m writing. I do a lot of co-writing, and that’s when it starts going in other directions and the influences of other people, and other styles that come into my writing. And I do look to a lot of other styles too. But I do tend to lean more towards the folk and Celtic style.”
The Rankin Family was at the forefront of the Celtic-influenced Cape Breton music wave that swept Canada in the 1990s.
The music of Nova Scotia is a distinct genre in its own right — an evolution from the music of Scotland.
“It is its own style, just because it has evolved over the last number of generations,” Rankin said. “But a lot of it maintains that rough style that would have come over with the Scots in the late 1700s to Cape Breton. Because they were isolated, and because it was such an important part of the culture to entertain one another through stories and songs and fiddling and piping, and step dancing, it survived.
While it’s still strong in Scotland today, she added, one hears a lot of influences from other places like Ireland, and new technologies and genres like rock.
Rankin’s trip to Western Canada is in the form of a mini-tour, and handful of shows in Cranbrook, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Then it’s back to the Atlantic Provinces — Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for more.
“I don’t often go on long extended runs, but I’ll do three or four days here or there, wherever I can fill the dates,” she said. “I’m still in the process of educating people that I’m out there doing solo work — singing some of my own songs, but singing some songs I would have sung with the Rankin Family. And throwing in some other stuff too to keep it interesting.”
Rankin is still no stranger to the grind of a full-on tour.
“I was a lot younger then — that was 25 years ago. We went pretty hard in the beginning, kind of like what I’m doing now. A lot of puddle jumping. One coast to the other, with no real rhyme or reason to the order of the dates. Going wherever you’re invited.
“But once the Rankin Family was established, we were able to book extended tours. We’d usually go for three weeks, take a couple of weeks at home — it was busy, it was hectic.
But she’s not trying to recreate that — not for the time being, anyway.
“It’s nice to go out for a couple of weeks, but now that I’m doing all the singing, it’s more work, it’s harder to stay healthy and rested,” she said. “I can’t rely on my siblings to fill in if I start getting sick or tired.
“But I’m just happy to be doing a show here and there if I’m invited.”
Rankin will be joined onstage by a trio of fine Cape Breton musicians: Kim Dunn on piano, Jamie Robinson on guitar and Ron Hynes on stand-up bass.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “It will be my first official British Columbia date, and I couldn’t think of a better place. I know people won’t be disappointed.”
Heather Rankin and Friends appear at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook, Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Pictured above: Heather Rankin pictured on stage with bassist Ron Hynes. Manon Cormier photo