The Clans­men played for the crowd

The Glengarry News - - News - – Ian R. MacLeod.

The Glen­garry Celtic Mu­sic Hall of Fame holds its in­duc­tion cer­e­mony Fri­day, May 24, at the Bon­nie Glen Pavil­ion in Alexandria. This is part of a series of in­ductee bi­ogra­phies sub­mit­ted by the Hall of Fame.

The Clans­men were formed in 1973 un­der the di­rec­tion of Sylvester MacDon­ald. This was one of the very few Scot­tish dance bands in Glen­garry at the time and they would change the way dance mu­sic would be played for many years to come. Sylvester was the first one who re­ally started singing for dances and any dance band that started up soon af­ter would also in­clude vo­cals. Pre­vi­ously, it was mainly in­stru­men­tal groups that played for dances.

Soon, larger cen­tres like Ottawa, Mon­treal, Toronto and the USA started call­ing, look­ing for a tal­ented Celtic dance band. Al­ways dressed in tar­tans, the first song that the Clans­men would play was “Come in come in, we’ll do the best we can.” By the sec­ond song the dance floor was full. When it was a dance at the Bon­nie Glen Pavil­ion, where the Clans­men played count­less times, they al­ways filled the hall. The band def­i­nitely had a fol­low­ing.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the group was so great at the time that in the mid sev­en­ties and eight­ies there would be pe­ri­ods where they would per­form ev­ery day for two weeks straight and some­times twice a day if they were play­ing at a se­niors’ res­i­dence in the af­ter­noon. They were also one of the first groups to play at the Glen­garry High­land Games at the Fri­day and Satur­day night dances. Those dances were so pop­u­lar that the Games com­mit­tee had to build a picket fence around the stage in the old An­gus Grey Hall to keep the crowd from stand­ing and sit­ting on the stage.

In 1975 they per­formed through­out Eastern Canada in­clud­ing Loret­teville, Que­bec, Prince Ed­ward Island, Bridge­wa­ter, Nova Sco­tia and Glen­dale, Cape Bre­ton. When the group played for Rob­bie Burns or St. An­drew’s Balls they al­ways started the night off with The Grand March. If it was for a St. Patrick’s dance they wore green and played mostly Ir­ish mu­sic.

Sylvester and the Clans­men al­ways rec­og­nized and re­spected the tal­ented youth in the area and gave many of them a chance to get up on stage and per­form with the band whether it be vo­cal, fid­dle or bag­pipes etc.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the band was so great that it prompted them to do two record­ings in­clud­ing “The Clans­men” in 1976 and “At Your Re­quest” in 1982.

Mem­bers of the orig­i­nal Clans­men, in­clud­ing Sylvester, were: Rob Tay­lor, John (Jack) Job, Jackie Smith, Lyle MacMil­lan and Rene Fleury. Not long af­ter that, he hired two very tal­ented ladies, his niece Th­wyla McDonald (ac­cor­dion and vo­cals) and Clara MacLeod (piano). Along with Sylvester they be­came the core mem­bers of the group. Other mem­bers that played over the years were: Dave McCormick, Paul Smith, June (Au­bin) Prosser, Mike John­ston, By­ron Ha­ley and Dar­rel MacLeod.

When Pipe Ma­jor J.T. MacKen­zie took the stage to play some bag­pipe se­lec­tions with the band, Sylvester never missed a chance to sing along with the pipes, some­thing that is quite com­monly done in groups to­day.

Some of the for­mer mem­bers of the group went on to form or join groups in­clud­ing The Bri­gadoons, Dornie Ex­press, The Cob­blers, McCormick & MacLeod, The Seanachies, Six Mile Cross and Antrim etc.

The Clans­men were one of the orig­i­nal, in­no­va­tive and core singing Celtic dance bands in Glen­garry of our time. They played for the crowd, Scot­tish, Ir­ish and a lit­tle Coun­try “what­ever would make them dance.”

Their longevity was such that they played not only for wed­dings, but some of the same cou­ples’ 25th an­niver­saries as well. As time went on and they re­signed from dances; they still played at se­niors’ res­i­dences and con­certs up un­til Sylvester’s death in Feb. 2008.


AS AD­VER­TISED: Sunshine was the theme of the 37th Her­itage May Show Fes­ti­val in Van­kleek Hill Sun­day. Thanks to the weather, the day lived up to its billing as skies cleared for the “Fes­ti­val of Fun for Ev­ery­one” (Top left) The “Mys­te­ri­ous Gi­tana Ge­or­gia” dance show drew a crowd; (above right) Jim Ca­puto demon­strated ar­ti­facts from the era of the fur trade; (be­low left) Gregg Cham­ber­lain judged a but­ter tart, while Jack Wil­liams, of Alexandria, of­fered Jack’s Fudge at one of many food booths.

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