James Keelaghan has been called “Canada’s finest songwriter.” He has traversed the world singing his songs that are soulfully stepped in history. Keelaghan lives for history and entices the listener with his detailed entertaining monologues and songs about real-life people whose lives represent the universal human condition.
To learn more about James Keelaghan, visit his website.
Take a listen to one of James’ most popular songs, “Cold Missouri Waters.”
James Keelaghan will be performing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on February 15, 2019.
One of the many reasons why your dedicated fans love you is the breadth of your knowledge about all aspects of history. What have you been learning about lately?
I have a couple of things that I hone in on, World War One, specifically the Battle of the Frontiers and Verdun—I’m reading a book right now to do with that called August 1914 which is specifically about the court-martial of two British officers for their actions during the battle of Le Cateau (art of the battle of the frontiers). I knew about Le Cateau, but didn’t know about the courts-martial so that is kinda new. I also can’t have just one book on the go. I’m also reading a book called Fatal Discord which is a parallel biography of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther. Erasmus has always been one of my heroes and Luther one of my villains, so it’s interesting reading. Lots of social detail about the 15th and 16th centuries which is really fascinating.
What piqued your interest in history in the first place?
My Dad was Irish and my Mum was English, so I grew up steeped in history. It’s always seemed to me that if you are trying to solve a problem or understand a situation, you’ll never get anywhere unless you know the history. History is also at its root, storytelling. I’ve always been a storyteller.
Tell us about your music trips to Ireland. Fans can accompany you and have fun, listen to music, and learn a lot of musical lore, I’m sure. Do you have a trip planned for this year?
Yes, the next one is in September this year, but is sold out. There’s another starting on August 28, 2020. I love those trips. It’s a really deep dive into Irish music, and it’s a very un-bus tour-like bus tour. It goes at an easy pace—we generally stick to a small area of the island rather than trying to do the whole thing, so, we might do Cork, Clare, and Galway. We stay in each hotel for three nights, rather than packing up and moving every day and the day part of the tour can include a local historian and archaeologist or others that are going to give you a very non-touristy look at the place.
Have you written any new music lately? If so, can you give us an idea about any of it?
I’m currently writing for a new CD and have 7 good songs in the bag. There’s some story songs, some landscape numbers. A good assortment. I don’t tend to write about my personal life per se. I was also involved in an interesting project early last year translating the songs of a fellow by the name of Fabrizio de Andre. He was basically Italy’s Bob Dylan. A group of us were brought together to translate, arrange and perform his songs in his hometown of Genoa. I think a couple of those songs are going to make it onto the CD, and if I’m brave, maybe even the one I sang in Italian.
I know that you travel to festivals quite often. Have you discovered any artists that you admire that you would never have met if it wasn’t for your gigs?
Meeting Odetta face to face, and playing a game of air volleyball with her was very exciting! I got to know Richie Havens over the years. I can’t imagine meeting them outside of the gigs and the festivals.
Do you have a favorite song that you cover?
A favourite right now is “Eulalie” by Jesse Winchester
What’s a fun fact about you that no one knows until now?! You never know what someone knows. But i think it’s fun that I am a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.