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Celtic she does

With a baby on the way, a new CD, and featured performer spot at this year’s Celtic Colours International Festival, Scottish harpist Corrina Hewat’s cup runneth over

By Stephen Cooke - The Chronicle Herald 

SCOTTISH harpist Corrina Hewat often has to plan her schedule months in advance to keep tabs on the multitude of projects she’s involved in. Yet her biggest production of the year turned out to be a total surprise; namely the baby she’s expecting with husband and pianist David Milligan, when she found out four weeks ago she was already four months pregnant.

“It’s a shock to both David and I,” says the featured performer at this year’s 10-day Celtic Colours International Festival, which kicks off on Friday night in Port Hawkesbury. “We both said we’d never have kids because music is what we want to do and there’s never going to be any time for anything else.

“Now we’re here we’ve decided we’re going to give parenthood a go. So the baby’s due around the beginning of March and everybody’s got advice for us.”

Among those with advice is Cape Breton drummer Mattie Foulds, who produced Hewat’s latest CD Harp I Do and recently became a dad with his wife Karine Polwart, a gifted Scottish singer-songwriter who also performs at Celtic Colours in a trio with Hewat and renowned piper Annie Grace.

The threesome will appear at the Ceilidh at the Big Fiddle at Sydney Marine Terminal on Saturday, Celtic Comedy (Turkey, Tunes & Tea-Hee) at Membertou Trade and Convention Centre on Monday and Girls’ Night Out at Place des arts de Cheticamp on Tuesday. They will also be involved in the Harmony Singing for Fun workshop on Monday at the United Protestant Church of Sydney River as well as taking part in Tuesday’s live broadcast of CBC Mainstreet from Baddeck’s Knox Presbyterian Church.

The trio was formed for Glasgow’s annual Celtic Connections festival, as part of Hewat’s and Milligan’s 22-piece ensemble the Unusual Suspects as well as a 2000 project called Scots Women. These collaborations planted the seed that the three of them working together quickly generated ideas, and although there’s been no recording yet, they’ve appeared on each other’s individual CDs.

“Karine is a fantastic songwriter and performer, so Annie and I are very pleased that we’ll get to come over and so some shows as a trio, and we’re also going to go into Jamie Foulds’ studio (Soundpark, in Sydney) and do some recording,” says Hewat, who also performs solo at Friday night’s Common Ground: Carlos Núñez’s Celtic Journey at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre and Sunday’s sold-out Step Into the Past event at Fortress Louisbourg.

“Hopefully we’ll make some inroads into our first album; we thought it’d be better to start it in Canada rather than in Scotland. It’s rare that we’re all together in one place for days at a time, so it makes sense to take advantage of that.”

Before the paint’s dry on that wing of her discography, Hewat also plans for more Unusual Suspects work with Milligan —also a fellow former member of the progressive group Bachué — as well as starting up her own band in the new year with Grace, guitarist (and frequent Celtic Colours guest) Anna Massie and, if his schedule permits, Mattie Foulds.

Hewat also has a musical kinship with multi-talented piper/fiddler/vocalist Kathryn Tickell, releasing the luminous CD The Sky Didn’t Fall with her in 2006; and there’s still her sparkling work on this year’s solo Harp I Do, with her fingers working overtime on her Camac Aziliz harp (a.k.a. “Little Yellow”) painting impressionistic images of everything from the amphibian-strewn country road of Dodging the Frogs to a battle with writer’s block on Berserk.

Overall, Hewat has appeared on 30 albums in the past 12 years and eagerly looks forward to each new collaboration.

“It allows me to continue just being a musician, and pay the rent, rather than just being in one band and having to take on a lot more teaching, so that’s why I do it,” she explains.

“And I’m really into collaborating; I feel that’s where a lot of my best music comes from, when I’m working with other people. I really feed off that creatively.”

With a background in jazz as well as Scottish folk music, Hewat hopes her trip to Celtic Colours might open the door for more teamwork, perhaps out of something as off-the-cuff as a last minute jam at the festival’s popular Festival Club, taking place every night at the Gaelic College at St. Ann’s.

In past years, she’s been able to share the stage with Gordie Sampson and the Barra MacNeils and she plans to make the most of this year’s opportunity.

“(Celtic Colours founders) Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald are incredibly supportive. If you have a new idea and it gets them excited, they’ll give you a space to do that at Celtic Colours,” says Hewat, who brought the Unusual Suspects concept to the festival in 2004 as an artist-in-residence, and again in 2006.

“I really appreciate their forward thinking and open-mindedness with relation to music. We miss Celtic Colours when we’re not there because you’ve got the same kind of ideas and feeling and craic that we have over here, and as soon as you come into Cape Breton you feel right at home, even though you’re thousands of miles away.”

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