Spirit of the West

Spirit of the West. Folk (later folk-rock) group. It was formed in 1983 in Vancouver by Geoffrey Kelly (flute, whistle, bodhran) and Jay Knutson (guitar, bouzouki) with John Mann (guitar, vocals). Knutson left in 1987; Hugh McMillan (bass, mandolin) was a member 1986-8 and returned in 1989.

Spirit of the West

Spirit of the West. Folk (later folk-rock) group. It was formed in 1983 in Vancouver by Geoffrey Kelly (flute, whistle, bodhran) and Jay Knutson (guitar, bouzouki) with John Mann (guitar, vocals). Knutson left in 1987; Hugh McMillan (bass, mandolin) was a member 1986-8 and returned in 1989. Linda McRae (bass, guitar, accordion) was a member 1988-96, replaced by Tobin Frank. Daniel Lapp (violin, trumpet, accordion) alternated with McMillan 1988-9, and Vince Ditrich (drums) was added in 1990.

The group's first album, the self-produced Spirit of the West, issued in 1984 under its own Triniti label, was followed by three albums 1986-9 for Stony Plain Records (Tripping Up the Stairs, SPL-1098; Labour Day, SPL-1123; Old Material 1984-86, SPL-1141) and by a series of albums for WEA Corp. and Warner Music Canada: Save This House (WEA CD-70971) in 1990, Go Figure (WEA CD-74692) in 1991, Faithlift (WEA) in 1993, Two Headed (WEA) in 1995, Open Heart Symphony (with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) in 1996, Weights and Measures (WEA, recorded in the UK) in 1997, and the compilation Hit Parade (WEA/Warner) in 1999. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, three band members worked on solo albums that were released in 2002: Mann's Acoustic Kitty (Nettwerk); Kelly's Gringo Starr (Base Camp); and Ditrich's Supertonic (Pacific Music). The band then released Star Trails for MapleMusic Recordings (2004), and in 2008, through Rhino Records, they released the compilation Spirituality 1983-2008: The Consummate Compendium; the album reached Top 10 download status on iTunes.ca.

Their recordings trace Spirit of the West's evolution from a spirited Celtic folk trio, to an aggressive, near-rock ensemble, to (though not without controversy among its earliest fans) a full-fledged alternative rock ensemble. The group's music is a repertoire of declamatory topical, political and protest material, as well as humorous and drinking songs, written for the most part by Mann and Kelly who often used traditional melodies for introductory purposes or as refrains. During the mid to late 1990s they became fans of experimental and alternative rock bands such as the UK's Radiohead, which influenced their music, including "Save this House," "D. for Democracy (Scour the House)," "Political," "And If Venice is Sinking" (1993), "Tell Me What I Think" (1995; also the band's first music video), "Canadian Skye" (1997), and "July" (2004), which have had commercial radio play in Canada. Other titles of note include "Homelands," "Dirty Pool," "(Putting Up with) the Joneses," and "Home for a Rest" (1990), one of the band's best-known songs.

Tours, Performances, Awards

In Canada, Spirit of the West has performed at folk festivals including multiple appearances at Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Stein Valley, BC; folk and night clubs; universities and rock venues. It has appeared in Seattle on several occasions and toured the eastern US seaboard in 1988. Overseas, the band performed at the Edinburgh Folk Festival in 1987 and subsequently made several tours of Great Britain including performing at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festivals; appeared in Finland in 1988; and opened for The Wonder Stuff in 1990. With its turn to a more consistent rock-oriented approach in the early to mid-1990s, the band toured frequently, including tours 1991-4 in the UK, Germany, the US, and across Canada, as well as elsewhere in Europe. In 1995, the band performed in the touring rock festival Another Roadside Attraction, and in 1996 performed its Open Heart Symphony arrangements with several orchestras including the Edmonton Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Winnipeg Symphony, and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. On St. Patrick's Day weekend in 2008, Spirit of the West celebrated its 25th anniversary with a concert at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom (recorded and broadcast by CBC Radio and filmed by Bravo!). That year it was inducted into the Western Canadian Music Awards hall of fame. In 2009, the group opened several concerts for Great Big Sea, and in 2010 it received SOCAN's national achievement award.

Discography

Spirit of the West. 1984

Tripping Up the Stairs. 1986

Labour Day. 1988

Old Material 1984-1986. 1989

Save This House. 1990

Go Figure. 1991

Faithlift. 1993

Two Headed. 1995

Open Heart Symphony. 1996

Weights and Measures. 1997

Hit Parade. 1999

Star Trails. 2004

Spirituality 1983-2008: The Consummate Compendium. 2008


Further Reading

  • O'Day, Ellie. "Group's got gaelic gusto," Vancouver Georgia Straight, 4-11 Sep 1987

    Jones, Christopher. "Spirit of the West: acoustic attack and potent message make folk fresh again," Toronto Now, 16-22 Mar 1989

    Jennings, Nicholas. "Rock 'n' reel," Maclean's, 19 Mar 1990

    "Spirit of the West; pop band," Contemporary Canadian Musicians (Toronto 1998)

External Links