Corryvreckan – St. John’s own Scottish Country Dance Band

Scottish Country Dancing has been alive and well in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for close to fifty years now. At first, we relied on taped music for all dancing including Socials. However, in July 1987, the group held its first instructional week-end workshop, with a guest teacher. We hired two music students to provide live piano music for the instructional classes, and the Friday evening Welcome Dance was danced to taped music, but for the Saturday evening Ball, Duncan Keppie and his Band were brought in from Nova Scotia. This was the first time many of our local dancers had danced Scottish country dances to live music. As all who have done so will tell you, a special atmosphere is created when the music is performed live, and the general enjoyment of the dancing is increased.

The Scottish Dancers held their second instructional week-end workshop two years later in 1989. This time, the musicians were Susie Petrov and Friends from Boston. They played for classes and for both of the evening events.

Just before this, Bruce Shawyer had discovered that local dentist Stewart Gillies was also a Scottish fiddler, and they started to play some music together. After the workshop, they received information and encouragement to play for dancing from Susie Petrov. They were joined initially by Bruce’s daughter, Janet, who recruited a friend, Natalie Brunet, both of whom played recorders and tin whistles. Together, the four practiced Scottish Country Dance tunes. By November 1989, they had developed a small repertoire, and debuted, playing for a Scottish Country Dance demonstration at the Multicultural Festival on the stage of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. This was followed in January 1990 by playing again for the demonstration at the annual Burns Supper, at the Legion Hall, Pleasantville.

In February 1990, under the name of “Rhum, Eigg and Muck”, they played for the first time for public dancing, playing for half of the Family Night dance at Vanier School. They played for various other events during 1990.

In 1991, the dancers held their third weekend instructional workshop. By this time, Rhum Eigg and Muck were ready to play for a full program, and invited Duncan Keppie (piano accordion) to join them.

There has been live music at almost every social dance since.

In 1993, with a change in personnel, resulting in Bruce Shawyer and Stewart Gillies being the only two remaining members, the band’s name was changed to “Corryvreckan*”.  In its almost twenty five year history, the band membership has changed.  Bruce no longer plays with the band leaving Stewart as the sole member from the early days.  Currently (2016), the band consists of Stewart Gillies (violin),  Jane Ogilvy (piano and accordion), Andy Fisher (mandolin and guitar), and Mark Fuglem (violin) supplemented from time to time with friends as need be.

Currently, the band plays for  three or four social dances per year, as well as for any special events, such as instructional workshops or demonstrations. Playing at the Burns Supper has become an annual tradition.

Former members of and musicians who have played with the band are:

Alasdair Black (violin)
Wayne Brace (piano accordion)
Tara Bryan (guitar and violin)
Doug Dorward (violin)
Lance Forsyth (violin)
Phil Graham (piano, piano accordion and harmonica)
Alison Gray (violin)
Kate Gray (flute)
Ray Kenny (percussion)
Stuart MacDonald (string bass)
Pat Roberts (viola)
Bruce Shawyer (piano)
Abigail Steele (whistles and flute)
Scott Swinden (string bass)
Brian Titus (flute and whistles)

*Corryvreckan is a “whirlpool”, between the islands of Jura and Scarba, in the Inner Hebrides, on the west coast of Scotland. (More properly, it is a dangerous tidal race, caused by the tide flowing and ebbing past an undersea cliff.) It is the only sea passage in the British Isles that is declared to be off limits by the British Navy.

This history of Scottish Country Dance musicians in St. John’s has been updated and edited from an original written by Bruce Shawyer, the founding Music Director.