Mairi Rankin - A Question of Taste

Mairi Rankin - A Question of Taste
Mairi Rankin spoke to Des O'Driscoll at the Irish Examiner ahead of her nationwide Irish tour

Mairi Rankin plays the fiddle, step dances and hails from Mabou, Cape Breton Island on the east coast of Canada. Cape Breton is a bit of a hidden gem having been crowned the no.1 Island in North America by readers of Conde Nast Traveler for the second year in a row. It is also an island steeped in rich musical culture that has its own distinct style and sound. Mairi spends her time touring with 3 groups; Beolach - a Cape Breton based quartet on the go for over 20 years, The Outside Track - a band with members hailing from Ireland and Scotland, and with Eric Wright, a Vermont cellist now living in Ontario, Canada.

Best recent book you've read and what you liked about it

Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray. The hilarious, cringe worthy tale that makes you feel a bit better about your own life situation. It's the coming of age story set against the 2008 global recession of a humdrum individual named Milton Ontario, who leaves his small town in Saskatchewan to pursue fame and fortune in Montreal and to find his idol Leonard Cohen. It's a tale of being careful what you wish for, as it might not be the best outcome in the end. Be forewarned, there are piles of curses in it but it's so well written that even my mother didn't mind!

Best recent film

I've not watched any recent films lately but rewatched a favourite documentary called the Grey Gardens filmed in 1976. That whole era of the opulent Bouvier Beale family is so over the top yet so sad in the end. Makes for a great story and lots of interesting articles to research afterwards.

Best recent show/gig you’ve seen

Step dancing is a huge part of the culture here in Cape Breton. Square dances happened every single night of the week in the summer. Since Covid, that hasn't been the case. It might be the first time in over 200 years that the dancing did not happen on the island. That changed the first week of April when we held our first square dance in Mabou and the hall was jam packed with smiling, energetic, couples dancing their faces off. It was awesome to look out at the dance floor and see such happiness radiating from it.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old)

My favourite CD (dating myself here) is by a Scottish piper named Angus Nicolson called "Lassies that Baffle Us". Rick Taylor produced it and the arrangements and horn section parts are simply magnificent. The tunes that Angus picked and wrote really stand out as top notch. It was the inspiration for Eric and I's Cabin Session album.

First ever piece of music or art that really moved you

I remember being enthralled with Gustav Klimt's "Lady with Hat and Feather Boa" even though it was a poster, which I bought, it really piqued my interest with the use of bold colours and rich textures which I'm still a fan of today.

The best gig or show you've ever seen (if you had to pick one!)

Seeing Natalie MacMaster live when her "In my Hands" album came out was the inspiration I needed to see how playing traditional music could be the vehicle that allowed you to see the world.

Tell us about your TV viewing

I love dark, sinister, eerie shows and "Servant" has been the best thing I've watched in ages. It is a slow burn that kept me on the edge of my seat with every episode. Already waiting impatiently for the final season to come out next year.

Radio listening and/or podcasts

CBC- the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is a regular on my morning routine. "Something was Wrong", is also a pretty dark podcast I put on when cleaning.

You're curating your dream festival – which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

I've lost three dear musician friends this year. Koady Chaisson from The East Pointers, Pastelle LeBlanc from Vishten and Ellen MacPhee, a fantastic piper, all from Prince Edward Island. I'm smiling thinking about it.... we'd be howling with laughter and the tunes would be epic. I'd do anything in the world to hear them again.

Your best/most famous celebrity encounter

On a flight from Boston to Halifax on one of those tiny planes, I ended up sitting right across from Hulk Hogan. He was decked out in his usual uniform of a bandanna and white tank top. The poor fellow barely fit in the seat and was the colour of beef jerky.

Remote file

You can portal back to any cultural event or music era – where, when, and why?

I've read and reread Pamela Des Barre's memoir "I'm With the Band '' about the Los Angeles rock music scene in the 1960 and 70's and would love to be a fly on the wall at that time. The fashion, music, creativity and overall sense of freedom seemed to be the golden era that will never be replicated again.

Mairi Rankin's Music Network tour with Tim Edey and Eric Wright runs from 5 - 13 May with performances at Dún Laoghaire, Stradbally, Baltimore, Clifden, Dublin, Listowel, and Baile Mhúirne.