Pat Chessell is no stranger to playing for crowds in sing-along settings, so The Minstrel Boy is something of a departure for the Surrey-based musician.
Relatively quiet songs about soldiers fill Chessell’s new CD of music, in a release timed with Remembrance Day and devoted to raising money for veterans’ charities.
The disc’s 11 tunes are all sung by Chessell with just guitar accompaniment, in a project that has special meaning for the history buff.
Usually, he can be heard and seen rocking Celtic-folk sounds, solo and with his band, at venues across Metro Vancouver, as one of the hardest working musicians in town.
“It’s a bit of a different thing for me,” Chessell said of The Minstrel Boy, “but not entirely because even the fast, rowdy stuff I do, it’s mostly all story songs I play, so this is just kind of a different style.”
Before he recorded for a day at VR Sound in Maple Ridge, with the help of Renaud brothers Tim (as producer) and Vince (engineer), Chessell had to chop his original list of “30 or 40 songs” he’d shortlisted for the CD.
“There were so many songs that could be on here,” he said, “and you have to kind of think of stuff that fits together, too, right. There might have been a better one here or there, but it might not have gone with the theme of the rest of the album.”
In conversation at the hockey rink in Fleetwood earlier this week, Chessell talked about how he chose some of the songs.
“I’m a big John Prine fan, he’s one of my favourite writers, so I did ‘Sam Stone,’ one of his classics, about a Vietnam vet who comes back and turns into an addict and didn’t really get a good welcome home, basically.
“Some of the songs I’ve known since I was a little kid,” he continued. “I’m a big Pogues fan, too, so there’s ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes,’ which sounds like it’s about a guy sitting in a bar talking about a pair of brown eyes he hasn’t seen forever, and most people would assume it’s about an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife or something, but he’s talking about his buddy he went through the war with.”
Also of note, Stompin’ Tom Connors’ “The Blue Berets” is on there, too.
“I picked that one because I heard a cool story when they aired Stompin’ Tom’s funeral,” Chessell explained. “Adrienne Clarkson was giving a speech about how when Roméo Dallaire was with the UN troops in Rawanda, with the Canadians, that when their spirits were getting kind of low, he would play that song to boost them up again and make them feel proud of what they were doing.”
Online and at his many gigs, Chessell is selling copies of the CD for $10 each, with all profits destined for charities including Wounded Warriors and also McDermott House Canada, a palliative-care facility for veterans and first responders in Toronto. The latter organization was founded by singer John McDermott, Chessell noted.
On Remembrance Day this year, Chessell’s weekly Sunday-afternoon showcase at The Dublin Crossing in Clayton will, appropriately, be sprinkled with songs from The Minstrel Boy, from 2 to 5 p.m.
His new collection of songs opens with the title track.
“It’s a traditional Irish tune that I liked because it’s about a young man who goes to war – he’s just a musician, so he brings his harp with him and he’s got his father’s sword, and he goes off to battle,” Chessell said. “For me, my dad was in the army, my grandfather was in the army, my great-grandfather was in the army, and two of them served overseas and here I am just playing music, you know. Like, is there anything I can do? They made their sacrifices for guys like me.”
An old “Buy Victory Bonds” ad-campaign photo graces the front of the CD, and the back sleeve features an image of Robert Joseph Hazelton.
“That’s my great-grandfather,” Chessell explained. “He was in the Highlanders and that’s an old picture I found of him, in 1915 or whenever, when he was going off to fight there, in Europe.
“He made it back (from the First World War),” he continued. “He was from Toronto and he lived out his days in Windsor, Ontario, as a city worker there. That’s some history there.”