The Bodhran’s Celtic heartbeat underpins the dramatic landscapes imagined by skirling bagpipes and the mournful Irish whistle. Give me a fiddle and a glass of whiskey, and I’ll tell you a story you’ll almost remember...
The core members of Eastern Ontario’s Riverthieves have been playing music together since the turn of the last millennium. The house band at the Royal Oak on the Canal for seven years, this iconic, Ottawa pub overlooking Pretoria Bridge served as the band’s original home base. Every St Patrick’s Day for more than a decade, the band was the signature feature at the famous D’Arcy McGee’s on Sparks Street. And weekend after weekend, the band could be found in bars and pubs from Renfrew to Trenton.
The Riverthieves clocked its flight time the old fashioned way: honing its chops on small stages over three-set nights, celebrating the world as they found it, pint by pint and song by song. Road-worn cases and old friends. Eventually, the bar gigs were interspersed with festival shows and small halls. Venues friendly to original music became more frequent and the Riverthieves began to present their own original music. In 2009, the band recorded songs and tunes they composed themselves during a very memorable live show at the Almonte Town Hall before a sold-out audience. It was released as their first album, Bandit Queen, the following year.
But that was before the war...
Afghanistan tours for the two serving military members of the band began literally the day after that verdant, Victoria Day concert. Devon completed two tours of duty to Kandahar province and Finley one. Devon also deployed to Haiti in the wake of their terrible earthquake and was subsequently posted to Valcartier. During and after that time, the band lost its focus, playing only infrequently, and rarely its own music.
But the Fall of 2015 offered a re-ignition. With Devon’s return posting to Ottawa, the Riverthieves’ hyperactive engineer and commercial pilot feverishly constructed a rehearsal space and recording studio for the band in his hangar located in Carp, Ontario. In celebration, the boys set about an ambitious writing project and dedicated themselves to a second album and a return to the stage. Composing and arranging relentlessly through 2016, the lads completed songs at a rate of one per month.
Recorded between January and March 2017 by Mike Kay, and mixed by Chris Bradley, the Riverthieves’ first studio album, Soldier, consists entirely of original tracks. The album explores the Canadian military experience, past and present. It considers soberly the cost of service, celebrates the joie de vivre of the soldiering culture, and pays special tribute to family, home, loss and hockey.
* * *
A nod to our Alumni
Longtime Riverthief, the constantly-kilted and genre-crossing beatmaster Terry Kittmer, relocated to Nova Scotia in 2016. Drumming duties have since passed to Oscar Mullally.
A bevy of famous fiddlers have passed through the band’s ranks over the band’s long tenure: champion valley fiddler Terry-Lynn Mahusky; the gypsy-styled Finnish-Canadian Shanthi Minor; the classically trained and Irish-inspired Evan Lewis; and the great, versatile session player, Greg Brown have all rosined up their bows in the service of the ‘Thieves. Javier Mullally is now playing first violin.
Photo: T.H. Wall