Three Bills and a Brooke perform for residents at the Swallows Landing. (Images by Peter Reid).

COLUMN: Carefully conducted COVID concerts feature local talent

Allan Reid – Contributor

We’ve all felt the urge to break free of our COVID social oppression, but creative residents at the Swallows Landing condominium have found a way, taking advantage of beautiful summer weather and a spacious courtyard overlooked by amphitheatre-arranged balconies, residents indulged in two afternoons of musical entertainment featuring local musicians, many of whom have found few gigs since the pandemic began.

The first event, on Aug. 24, presented a pair of acts in two sets. The first featured Terry Boyle and Ceilidh Briscoe, two superstar fixtures of the Victoria music scene. Terry is a guitarist/singer/songwriter who has taken his act well beyond Vancouver Island, having toured both the US and Europe. Ceilidh Briscoe is a five-time North American fiddle champion and an All Ireland fiddle champion. Not surprising then, that their set rolled with curling Celtic reels and jigs starting with the traditional tune Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair. The set included several of Terry’s original songs including, Don’t Forget About Me, Running Away to China, Life’s Too Short, and Could it be Love? (or influenza), which struck all the appropriate funny bones among the audience. Ceilidh’s lighting fast fingers unleashed a tempest of lilting riffs throughout, but she also displayed a gentler side on her solo Slow Air.

Up next came Andy Ruszel and Mike Sadava, a pair of old-time folkies playing a selection of folk and gospel classics and a couple of Andy’s Bossa Nova originals: Little Boat and Drifting on a Breeze. Other originals included Cool Water and Wherever You Go (dedicated to Andy’s wife, Cathy, who was in the audience). In addition, the audience grooved to hippy-era classics including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Ada Habershon, 1907),Gram Parson’s Christine’s Tune (Devil in Disguise) and Hickory Wind, and Johnny Mercer’s Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (Arlen and Mercer, 1944), among others, with Mike Sadava switching from guitar to mandolin for some songs and providing thrilling vocal harmonies throughout.

On Sept. 9, the residents of Swallows’ Landing returned to their balconies and courtyard to enjoy a performance by three members of The Bills with special guest Brooke Maxwell. Billed as Three Bills and a Brooke, this group performed two sets that spanned 20th century genres and decades. Songs included the old jazz standard There Is No Greater Love (1930), after which the first set percolated through tunes such as the Cuban Viente Años (1935) featuring solos on fiddle and guitar, Johnny Vincent’s rockabilly Rocking Pneumonia (1957), Cole Porter’s comical country ditty Don’t Fence Me in, Chuck Berry’s love ballad You Never Can Tell (1964), the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood (1965), and a Latin rendition of Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps (Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, 1947). The second set included Hank Williams Sr’s country song I’m so Lonely I Could Cry (1947), followed by a Ray Charles inspired rendition of Georgia on My Mind (1930). Phil Philips’ classic hit Sea of Love (1959) was well appreciated, as was the timeless Calypso favourite, Harry Belafonte’s Shake, Shake, Shake, Señora (1947). The set ended with another Chuck Berry classic, Roll over Beethoven (1956), and a long encore medley in which each instrumentalist took his moment to shine. The Beatles’ I’ve Just Seen a Face (1966) flowed seamlessly into Hank Williams Sr’s I Saw the Light (1948), a traditional spiritual tune, Study War No More, and ended with the oldest song on the playlist, from 1853, Stephen Foster’s Old Kentucky Home.

Residents purchased 50/50 tickets and collected donations to pay the musicians. But it was not the money so much that these entertainers craved, but rather the opportunity to entertain again, outdoors, on a beautiful summer day, with Victoria Harbour behind them, and a live, appreciative, carefully spaced and not to large audience arrayed before them.

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