[Up] [Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]


Rob,  Thank you so much for sharing both the information and your feelings about the life and death of John Morris Rankin.  I was hoping you would be able to "report" back to us, but I was afraid to ask.

You may have thought Toronto was ho-hum about the Rankin's music, but as soon as
many of us had a chance to hear their music, there was a run on their lst cassette.  Perhaps the difficulty was getting past the big radio stations, and what they think their audience likes to hear.

Their music and enthusiasm for life was an inspiration to us all.  Thanks again.

Toni Sinclair,
Niagara, Ontario

rob wrote:

 Greetings...     it was a pleasure to come back from such a week to find more than 100 e-mails from a lively Sinclair group...     As some of you in the past have expressed an interest in Celtic music, and fiddling, I feel compelled to tell you the story of John Morris Rankin, who was taken by the sea early last Sunday morning when he swerved his 4X4 to avoid a dolmen of salt on a snow-covered, twisting highway...he, and three young passengers who survived, plunged off one of the more beautiful 90-foot cliffs and into Whale Cove...along the windswept northwestern coast of Cape Breton Isle...     John Morris was native of Mabou Cape Breton...he was well-known throughout his 40 years as a master fiddler and one of the more beautiful pianists the island has ever produced...He was a blessed soul - more-than-nice to everyone he met - and with a sharp Cape Breton sense of humour...in his community, throughout the region, across this country and over the seas he is mourned as a key man in the resurgence of Scottish Culture...     He was the musical arranger for The Rankin Family Band...he and four siblings - Raylene, Heather, Cookie, and Jimmy took centuries of Scottish Music that had been preserved intact in the communities of an isolated island...they mastered the language, they harmonized with the intuition only life-long family practice can bring, they learned to step dance as they learned to walk...there are twelve offspring of Buddy and Kathlene Rankin and they are the essence of all that makes Cape Breton whatever it is...     They have, I think, Sinclair blood...They are closely related somehow to Jim St. Clair - one of the wise men of Cape Breton...he runs the Iona Gaelic Village and writes for the venerated Inverness Oran...I have heard it said that he is Prince Henry's most direct descendant in the province...we talk about it and he officially and strongly feels that it's bunk...but then again, he's spent too much time talking with the department of culture...      When the Rankin Family decided to give up their day jobs in September of 1989 to try the band thing for two years there was no organized music industry on the east coast of Canada...lots of musicians - but they were all  playing Top 40 covers on perpetual tiny-tavern-tours of the region...     Although as individuals they were Cape Breton legends already, The Rankins had to make a record on their own resources...this first record contains some of the enduring classics of celtic music...they started to book shows on their own and they, their Mom, and their enfianced, drove casettes around the province bullying them into stores...     They built momentum on grassroots word of mouth...they became a foundation stone in the building of the east coast music industry, hooking up with the East Coast Music Awards and becoming the standard bearer...They recorded Fare thee Well, Love which went on to sell 500,000 copies and released it independantly...they did their first organized tours of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Manitoba...the records sold like crazy...     Toronto yawned at first...it was from the east so who cares? And worse - it's fiddle music they openly said...So the band looked to Scotland...John Smith, a producer at BBC Scotland's Gaelic television called... He flew them over for ten days and hooked them up with Phil Cunningham to produce some radio and tv shows...I set up a showcase at The Glasgow University Debating Hall...we hung out with Capercaillie, who would drive up after their concerts with Runrig to hang out in the Studio with the Rankins...We hung out with Scottish nationists and musicians in the pubs long past the point where we could stand erect...I drove through Glencoe while Heather sang a sad tale of that place for me...     The day after the showcase the quote-of-the-day on the front page of the Glasgow Herald came from the review of the show:                             "Sadly, they don't make families like this in Scotland anymore"      Others had come before, and many would follow but that trip triggered a flood (that began the next month with a BBC Hogemany Live headline performance for 4 million viewers) and has not subsided...Ashley MacIsaac, The Barra MacNeils, Slainte Mhath, Rawlins Cross, Natalie MacMaster,  Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Mary Jane Lamond, dancers, storytellers, milners, linguists, archivists, and writers all regularly make the trek...Sydney, Cape Breton resident Bruce Guthro is now the lead singer for Runrig...     I personally find it interesting that Scotland's outlawed culture was preserved and returned intact at just the right time...At the recent Stone of Scone ceremony one wag was heard to say that this wasn't the real stone...Cape Breton Stepdancer Willie Fraser is the real stone...this for his role in returning step dancing to Scotland...     For the first time in too long Scotland has her own Parliament...and a legal culture...     For the Rankin Family it was the music that drove it all...all of the majesty of  the mountains of Cape Breton, the mists, the winds and the cry of the oceans...Raylene has ruined me for other female vocalists - she has the richest, most pure voice I have ever heard...Heather gets the best songs and Cookie sings the singles...Jimmy writes and sings with the grit of the mines and the roll of the seas in his songs...the voices are individually and collectively stunning...and the community has more than it's share of outstanding voices in the Parrish choir...     The music was underscored by centuries of Scottish Culture and John Morris Rankin...he was the musical arranger and band leader...also the arbitrator in sometimes difficult situations between siblings...he is most responsible for the end sound and it's creation, not just on record - but night after night from the days they played the cow palaces and were the best band anyone had ever heard - night after night after night...     When the regions of Canada began their own navel gazing in the early parts of the past decade as a result of Quebec's identity crisis, it was the east coast who next discovered that we also were distinct culturally... the Rankin Family were the soundtrack of that discovery...     They sold more than 2 million records in 10 years before letting it all go last autumn...John Morris still lived in Judique, just down the coast from Mabou...he had left the stadiums and concert halls behind to play the dance halls once again...and to spend time with his beautiful wife and soul-mate Sally, and their two children - Michael and Molly...He was driving Micheal to a hockey game in Cheticamp that morning...Michael and his teammates were able to escape relatively physically unscathed...     After years of gloating about the weather in Nova Scotia it has been snowing for a week...Mabou, a town of around 100 at the end of Mabou Harbour, is one of the most beautiful places in a beautiful province...huddled in a narrow valley between the mountains which line the coast, the area endured a week of almost non-stop snow with high winds making movement almost impossible...an eclipse is little solace...dark omens abound...     The Catholic Parrish of St Mary's has a long musical history...one of the more interesting anecdotes concerns a certain Father Kenneth MacDonald who, in the mid-19th century ordered all of the fiddles of the parrish burned as "the instrument of the devil"...(working with Ashley MacIsaac has given me some insight into the well-intentioned father's motives)...but it is more than evident that, with a good measure of thanks to John Morris Rankin, MacDonald failed utterly...        He had been cited as early as 1973 in a television documentary program - The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler, as a leader of the new generation of fiddlers who were struggling to keep the dying Gaelic culture alive...that program acted as a clarion call that led to not only the preservation of Scottish Culture but to it's flourishing...and as for Mabou's fiddlers - the current member of the Nova Scotia Legislature for Mabou is a local 27-ish fiddler - Rodney MacDonald...     The funeral was attended by more than 1000 souls; and more than 75 Cape Breton fiddlers, including many of the best fiddlers in the world, answered the call to play...Howie MacDonald, Buddy MacMaster, Sheumas MacNeil, Ashley and fiddlers from 8 to 88 brought the only smiles to any faces on a dark dark day...John Morris touched so many people in so many ways...     And so, I call your attention to John Morris Rankin, and Sinclair, please call the names of Sally and Michael and Molly wherever you may, I don't think we can begin to understand what he has done for us all...                                                                         rob                                                                        nova scotia/cape breton  ps. I forward some photos which JSQ has stuffed under:                                 http://www.mids.org/rob/ ...and with apologies...I always carry a camera but rarely use it...I'm always too busy...so I have nothing of Mabou - but that is because I never felt my type of drive-by photgraphy could do it justice...   The first was taken in Glencoe, Scotland on the drive abovementioned drive...The second is of the Glasgow U. debating hall (on the left) where the Showcase was heldThe third is from and of a friend's place about 8 miles north of Mabou which would be to the right with the ocean...imagine it this week under three feet of snow...The fourth is a Glenora Falls Valley drive-by one winter's day in a forgotten year...The fifth is of Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster from a ECMA '95 rehearsal...and the sixth is of John Morris from the cover of their 1997 Collection...and for you ravenous Sinclairs who read all the way to the end of this - there is lastly a picture which I took of Rosslyn Castle 14 months ago...