Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Brian Bourne has come a long way since his first pro band gig in Fredericton in the mid-'70s. Back then, he was playing with friends he met at UNB in a band called A Joint Effort. 

"Our very first live gig was at the Fredericton Exhibition," remembers Bourne. "We followed the trained seals, honest to God. And because of that show, we got a gig at the Hilltop," a landmark local pub still going strong.

Such humble beginnings have turned into a fifty-year music career for Bourne, the last three decades spent with East Coast allstars Rawlins Cross. But even A Joint Effort showed lots of excellence. The band's lone LP, the live A Final Effort, is now considered a freak-folk classic, with original copies currently being offered online for around $800. 

Bourne, who plays bass and the complicated Chapman Stick, joined Rawlins Cross in time for the group's second album, 1991's Crossing The Border. That's when the group expanded from its Newfoundland beginnings to become an Atlantic Canadian powerhouse. 1993's Reel 'n' Roll defined the sound of East Coast Celtic Rock, a driving rhythm section behind a front line of pipes, whistles, accordion, bouzouki, and all manner of acoustic instruments.

The classic lineup of Bourne, Howie Southwood, Joey Kitson, Geoff Panting, Dave Panting, and Ian McKinnon is being honoured at this year's East Coast Music Awards with the special Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award. It's to be presented at the Music and Industry Awards Part II, held at the Marriott Harbourfront Hotel in Halifax on Sunday, May 7 at 11 AM. The band, of course, will play a tune as well.

Bourne is quick to deflect any personal praise for the award and sends it right back to the fans. "The audience is part of this award, because that's half the show, always," he says. "Pretty well everybody, I think, has a fear of getting up in front of a crowd and showing your stuff. That's kind of why we do it anyway. It's always exciting and you hope that the crowd likes it. You just hope everybody in the band is hitting their mark at the same time, and get it out there, get that message and that sound out there. And having people out there that appreciate it, that's the gift, that's the treasure."

Bourne says the band appreciates the crowds more than ever. The audience, and new fans, have followed them through one sort-of break-up in the early 2000s, and still come out in droves when Rawlins Cross returns to the stage every two or three years. Last fall's Atlantic Canadian tour for the new Sunrise album featured sell-outs and a great spirit on stage.

"We haven't worn each other out," says Bourne. "We don't live in the same town, and there are long stretches where nothing's happening with the group. It's a joy to get together, and you just feel so young again, back to the job at hand, which is taking over the world."

He thinks one of the keys to the renewed excitement each time the band gets together is that they first record new music, from EPs to full albums, and then tour with the new material. "That keeps it fresh, doesn't it? That was always the rule of thumb back in the bar band days, learn a new song every week so people aren't getting stale up there, something to keep you on your toes."

While it's called a Lifetime Achievement award, Bourne says there's still more life to come for the group. "Why not? There's work to be done. There was a break for about six years, but since then we've been together but not active all the time. So it's not a breakup, and it's not a reunion every time we get back together. The plan is to just carry on."

They're carrying on right away. After the group gets the award on May 7, they immediately hit the road for a celebration lap around Nova Scotia. There are shows in Guysborough on Wednesday, May 10, Truro May 11, Windsor May 12, Annapolis Royal May 13, and Lunenburg May 14. After that, there are several summer festival dates in the works.

Bourne even laughed and suggested he'd be happy to play the Fredericton Exhibition again, to celebrate his 50th anniversary of music-making. Please, please let there be trained seals too. 

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