Maeve Mackinnon in a double bill with Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac, Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Vogue Theatre, part of CelticFest Vancouver (March 9-17). For tickets, $30/$35, visit celticfestvancouver.com.
WHEN it comes to her creative process, Maeve Mackinnon's number one enemy is complacency.
"I just feel that it chips away at any sort of inspiration," says the contemporary Gaelic singer.
"The key thing is to find inspiration. If you're not inspired as an artist there's not really any point," she adds.
Mackinnon makes a concerted effort to grow as an artist by constantly pushing herself out of her comfort zone through her songwriting, involvement in challenging collaborative projects and by playing with musicians from a multitude of stylistic backgrounds.
The efforts of the Glasgow, Scotland-based performer, who sings in both Gaelic and English, are more than paying off seeing her continue to receive critical acclaim, including for her November 2012 sophomore release, Once Upon An Olive Branch, which showcased her writing chops for the first time. She's currently penning a full-length musical for the National Theatre of Scotland that explores the slave trade and she's just helped launch a new Irish-Scottish band called Nasc.
In addition, Mackinnon is embarking on a Canadian tour next week set to kick off locally with her debut appearance at CelticFest Vancouver. She will perform in a double bill with Cape Breton Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond and fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Vogue Theatre.
"I actually remember watching (Lamond) on a Gaelic TV program when I was really young, so it will be lovely to share the stage with her because I've really only met her socially before. I can't wait to share the stage with her and Wendy MacIsaac, obviously, who is such a great player as well," she says.
Growing up in Glasgow, Mackinnon recalls singing around the house from a young age and getting her first crack at performing at local ceilidhs on the Isle of Jura during family vacations.
"I think it was pretty much in my blood because my dad's family was from the Isle of Skye so there was a Gaelic connection in the family," she says of her long-held interest in traditional music.
Mackinnon was also a big fan of the Scottish folk band Capercaillie.
"I remember being really captivated by their music and the beauty of the songs and the different rhythms. I just thought it was amazing. I just fell completely in love with Gaelic songs so it was just one of these things I think that just grabbed me and took me places, just purely by accident," she says.
Realizing her passion for music, Mackinnon decided to enroll at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and majored in Gaelic song.
"It was through really in doing that course that things started to take off," she says.
Mackinnon released her first album, Don't Sing Lovesongs in 2007, and its follow, Once Upon An Olive Branch, last fall.
"That was an album that was quite a long time in the making," she says. "It was about five years after my first album came out but I think it takes you time to try and figure out what sort of album you want to make and what you want to say. I've come away from that with a lot more focus and confidence."
The record features her original song "The Olive Branch" and turns an eye on the Middle East and issues faced by the people of Palestine.
"'The Olive Branch' is something that I felt compelled to write. . . . When you're making music and you're in a position of getting radio play and things like that, you're in a very privileged position and I felt like it's important to use that privilege to get the message out there," she says.
Rather than focus on personal topics like love in her writing, Mackinnon typically addresses humanitarian issues. She credits her avid socialist parents who took a stand in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the antiapartheid movement among others with instilling a sense of social responsibility in her.
An example of another of Mackinnon's socially-conscious works is "The Exile," a 20-minute trilingual composition for BBC Scotland that she wrote in 2011.
"It was about the slave trade and cultural displacement and the idea of people learning to work together," she says.
Mackinnon is currently writing a full-length musical loosely based on "The Exile" for the National Theatre of Scotland with an anticipated premiere in 2014.
"I'm actually going out to the (United) States straight after my (Canadian) tour to do research for that project," she says.
"I've been very lucky to be asked to do some great things so it's been a great adventure," she adds, referring to her career thus far.
When Mackinnon isn't touring, she devotes time to preserving her Scottish heritage by teaching Gaelic songs to children through Gaelic arts organization Fèisean nan Gàidheal, which she's been involved with for more than 10 years.
"I think that's where I feel my responsibility for the culture and the language, I can come to terms with it through my teaching," she says.
While she works hard to pass on the Gaelic traditions to the next generation, in her own music she's more free, drawing from a variety of genres for her contemporary sound.
"I'm a big fan of so many different genres of music and I suppose it all just merges. For me, I don't like to put labels on different styles," she says.
Mackinnon's interest in sonic exploration has paved the way for her new band, Nasc.
"We've done quite a lot of gigs in Ireland so far and the band's only really been going for about six months and it's just a great bunch of folks," she says.
Three members are from Ireland - Gaelic singer Gráinne Holland, fiddle player Donal O'Connor and composer and cellist Neil Martin - and Mackinnon and fellow Scot, Ross Martin, a guitarist who's coming with her to Canada, round out the group.
In addition to her performance Thursday night, Mackinnon is also scheduled to present three workshops at the CelticFest Vancouver Tom Lee Music city stage on Saturday, March 16. At noon, she and Ross Martin will lead a session focused on Gaelic work songs ("Orain Luaidh"). The session will focus on the origins and form of the most prevalent form of Gaelic work song, commonly known as "Waulking" of the tweed fabric.
At 1 p.m., she and Brian McAlpine (piano/accordion), the second musician accompanying her to Canada, will present a session focused on Gaelic dance music ("Puirt-a-beul"). They'll explore the percussive style of singing known as "mouth music," which was danced to following the ban of musical instruments after the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, she says.
At 2 p.m., Mackinnon and both members of her trio, Martin and McAlpine, will present a session on the contemporary Scottish folk band music scene.
CelticFest Vancouver offers more than 70 free and ticketed concerts and events over the course of its run, March 9-17, ranging from musical performances to comedy shows and family entertainment as well as the ever-popular ninth annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, being held Sunday, March 17 at 11 a.m. in downtown Vancouver.
For more information on this year's festival, visit celticfestvancouver.com.