Most people in the Bradford area know Russ Clayton as a children’s entertainer; making regular appearances at the Bradford Farmer’s Market and venues across York Region and Simcoe County.
But what some people may not know is that Clayton is also part of The Flailing Shilaleighs Band, along with his brother, Anthony and nine other musicians, and they just released their first album this past month: ‘Yours to Discover,' a 16 track compilation of cover songs and original music.
The Celtic band originally started, and still plays, as part of an Elvis tribute band, with frontman Clayton playing as the King of Rock. The idea to branch out into Celtic music came about four years ago, after realizing their audience was limited, and wanted to expand their audience.
“We need more gigs, what can we do?” Clayton remembers saying to the band.
But they didn’t want to be just another regular, pop rock band, they wanted to be different.
Clayton knew his brother Anthony was already playing some Celtic songs with his band, and asked if he wanted to join forces with the Elvis tribute band to play Celtic songs.
“We try to do a mix of East Coast, Irish and Scottish music,” Clayton explained about the band's style.
The name Flailing Shilaleighs was inspired by the band’s drummer, Antti Patjas, after Clayton had sent a list of 50 possible cover songs for the band to play, when Patjas replied back via email “Holy Flailing Shilaleighs, that’s a lot of songs!” And the rest was history.
A Shillelagh is actually a wooden Irish walking stick, usually made of blackthorn and predominately used as a weapon.
“This is a little scary, because it’s the first time adults would be listening to it,” Clayton described about the album.
Prior to this, he has only ever recorded music for children noting that in the beginning of his music career he was always nervous to play in front of adults.
“Kids are so forgiving, if I make a mistake they won’t even realize,” he said.
“So I took more time with this than I have any other CD.”
It took him about a year and half to put the record together, but the music has been worked on here and there, in between his other children’s concerts and gigs, and full time job as a music and drama teacher at St. Jean de Brebeuf.
“It’s mainly a summer project,” he explained.
“My brother and I will just play the song on the guitar, and record our part, and then invite other musicians to come in to build their parts,” he explained of the recording process.
There are two instrumental tracks, ‘Julia Delaney’ and ‘The Shilaleigh Shake’ that dig into the celtic sounds of violin, fiddle and flute.
There is also a mix of fun, feet stomping drinking tracks like ‘I Only Drink Upon the Days That End in D-A-Y!’ and ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ as well as slower paced ballads like ‘The Ballad of Molly-O’, ‘The Parting Glass’ and ‘Over My Shoulder’.
‘The Duct Tape Song’ is another standout track, that Clayton says usually gets a good chuckle from the audience, listing off the many items that “that itty bitty two inch strip that holds the world together” can fix, from a leaky hose, a runny nose, hole in a tire or microphone wire.
Another comical line “Here in North America, if government doesn’t work out, sure fire, we’ll take Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau and stick them together.”
The song was actually written by Clayton’s friend in Midland, Sean McGaughey, almost 20 years ago. Clayton says he performs the song often even at his children’s shows, and noted the extra verse about the politicians was added just for fun, “those two guys are such important characters that 20 years from now people will still laugh at that joke,” he said.
One of Clayton’s favourite songs on the album is the cover ‘Northwest Passage’ from Stan Rogers.
Clayton described his admiration for Rogers, a Canadian singer who wrote many songs about the East Coast.
“That song he did just as a vocal only, so we do it where we bring music in on the verses and just acapella voices, and just the voices that came together on the recording make it one of my favourites to listen to,” he said.
‘Old Man Colm’ is a rewrite of the classic, ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ but instead of being about an American, it's about an Irish man.
While the music industry has changed over the years, with the younger generation choosing to download songs individually as opposed to entire albums, Clayton says he still enjoys producing hard copy CDs.
“You still have to make CD’s, because people are going to buy them at your shows," he explained.
"But at the same time, the younger folk are going to want to download the songs they like. Nothing is done as an album anymore,” explained Clayton about the way the music industry has changed over the years. “There’s less of an attachment to the artist now."
He said most of the band's audience is for the 40+ crowd, but they will sometimes play the odd gig at college bars, like Donaleigh's in Barrie.
“We’re smushed in between the two audiences,” he explained about the band’s listening demographic.
The band plans to submit some of their original songs over to CBC Radio, in hopes of getting some air play on local radio.
The album was made with CD Baby, a music distributor for independent artists like Clayton and The Flailing Shilaleighs.
The CD can be purchased at any of their upcoming shows, which can be found on their website here.
It can also be downloaded on iTunes and Spotify.
You can catch The Flailing Shilaleighs playing live on Friday March 13 in Newmarket at The Sociable Pub at 1:30 p.m. and at the Newmarket Theatre on Saturday March 14 at 1:30 p.m.