Catherine MacLellan and Sam Carter: No Ordinary Folk

Although they live on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Prince Edward Island’s Catherine MacLellan and England’s Sam Carter share much in common.

Both musicians have about the same number of records to their credit (MacLellan has four, Carter boasts three) and both have been making waves in their respective countries.

The tour featuring MacLellan and Carter is a joint production of Music PEI and the English Folk Dance and Song Society and includes four Maritime dates. The tour wraps up with a show Friday evening at the Empress Theatre in downtown Moncton.

MacLellan is music royalty in Atlantic Canada and beyond, the daughter of celebrated songwriter Gene MacLellan, who wrote the Anne Murray hit ‘Snowbird.’ But Catherine has been making waves of her own. In 2008, she was voted the critics’ favourite new discovery by folk-roots magazine Penguin Eggs and has toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States and Europe, both on her own and in support of Bruce Cockburn and Steve Forbert.

MacLellan’s most recent record, Silhouette, released in July 2011, captures the singersongwriter in stellar form. Where some of her earlier records were at times sparse, intimate-feeling records, Silhouette sees the songwriter spread her wings in formidable fashion. Her voice is warm and inviting and, for the first time in her recording career, she pays tribute to her father, singing the iconic ‘Snowbird’ as a duet with Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy.

From her home in Prince Edward Island last week, MacLellan told the Times & Transcript she is now writing songs for her next studio effort. While she had originally believed her forthcoming record would return her to a spare musical sound, she isn’t sure the songs pouring out of her will allow her to do just that.

‘I’m not sure which direction the recording will take at this point,’ she said. ‘I had originally been interested in doing a duo, minimalist type of record but some of the songs I am writing are dictating otherwise.

‘A lot of the songs have a folk-type of feeling running through them, but then there are a couple of tracks that are definitely more of a full-band type of feel to them. Ultimately, I have to let the songs decide.’

One thing is certain, however. While MacLellan admits there’s a certain appeal to a series of releases with fewer songs than your standard full-length record, she sees the ‘album’ as a viable art for the indefinite future.

‘I still truly enjoy the classic 12-song album and what it lends to music as an art form,’ she said, ‘In the 1920s and the 1930s, people were buying music singles and not full-length records, and we have kind of made a return to that today. The great thing is that artists have the freedom to do what they feel is right for themselves.’

Once her tour of the Maritimes with Carter wraps up, MacLellan has a handful of dates in Western Canada and then will make her fourth tour of the United Kingdom. European audiences have received her warmly and she is looking forward to returning overseas to perform, she said.

‘Like anywhere, you have to go back and play to build your fan base but I have been very fortunate to have experienced a lot of strong support from crowds in Europe.’

Had MacLellan not already been so familiar with European audiences, she could have picked the brain of her current tour mate, Sam Carter. Described by musician Jon Boden as ‘the finest English-style fingerpicking guitarist of his generation,’ Carter walked away from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2010 as winner in the best newcomer category.

The independent artist released his debut EP in 2009, the full-length Keepsakes in 2010 and his latest, The No Testament , earlier this month.

Before diving into the formalities of an interview, Carter recalled how he struck up a conversation with complete strangers before he left his arrival airport in Canada. Not that he harboured any doubts as to the friendliness of Canadians, but those random encounters helped get his inaugural Canadian tour off on the right foot.

‘That isn’t the type of thing that happens in London,’ Carter said. ‘It was so refreshing and such a nice experience to have.’

Having grown up in a musical household, It really wasn’t a surprise that he chose a career in music.

‘I can’t really recall a time that I wasn’t interested in music. My dad played guitar and it seemed as though there was always music playing in our house, so it was completely natural for me to gravitate towards it.’ Carter is the first to say his career got off to a modest start but after his BBC Radio 2 Folk Award he has been busier than he ever dreamed. The award helped raise his profile in his homeland to a level that might otherwise have taken him much longer to reach.

‘The nice thing about having won the award in 2010 was that the award brought me publicity and publicity brings people looking to book me for shows,’ Carter said. ‘I’ve been very fortunate that people pay attention to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. For someone like me who is trying to make a career from playing music, I can use all the help I can get to help my music reach more ears.’ For Carter, awards in general are a rather sweet ‘extra’ and not something he has strived to achieve. ‘It is so nice to have received the award but fundamentally, it doesn’t change what I do from day to day. It is great from a career point of view but it is not something that I have gone looking for. When it comes to being creative, you really have to follow your nose and follow your heart and not let anything sway you from that.’

Article published in the September 26, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript