Honouring John Allan|
Musicians, friends get together to help out the Godfather of Celtic Music, who is battling cancer
By GREG GUY / Entertainment Editor Halifax Herald
JOHN ALLAN CAMERON says he's taking life day by day.
The Cape Breton-born Godfather of Celtic Music is overjoyed by the outpouring of support from his friends and fellow musicians, who are getting together on Thursday night at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax and on May 28 at Glace Bay's Savoy Theatre. The events will raise funds for their pal's medical expenses and to let him know they're here for him.
John Allan, who's 66, learned earlier this year that he has bone marrow cancer and a rare form of leukemia.
"I'm hanging in there," John Allan says over the phone from his home in Pickering, Ont. "I'm staying alive, and as long as I'm alive I'm functioning as best I can and talking as well as I can."
In early January, John Allan learned of his diagnosis.
"He hadn't been really feeling that well for over a year," says his wife, Angela. "His health hasn't been good for a few years. We went to several specialists over the year. And everybody kept saying, 'He's OK, he's OK.' I kept saying, 'There's something wrong here.' And every time we'd go to the doctors, we'd go back to see how the tests went and they would say he's fine."
As the year progressed, he wasn't getting better.
Angela said she and their son Stuart, also a musician, were beside themselves wondering what they were going to do.
"Finally it took a doctor friend, who's a good friend of ours, he was the one when he took one look at John Allan he could see the difference in him. And he said, 'Enough is enough.' He was the one that did all these extra tests and was the one that found the bone cancer.
"It's one in a million exactly what John Allan has, and he just happens to be that one and it's all connected with the cancer."
When he learned of the bone marrow cancer, John Allan says his first reaction was, "Hey, I'm still alive and I'm going to stay alive a long time."
He is not undergoing chemotherapy but is taking a battery of medication.
After his diagnosis, Angela took a month off from teaching dance. She runs a school in Ontario that teaches clogging, a form of step-dance.
On the afternoon of this interview, Angela finds comfort in knowing that her husband hasn't been in pain.
"He's having a pretty good day. I find his balance is really off, and he's not steady on his feet right now, but other than that his spirits and his faith are absolutely wonderful," she says.
What has helped to lift his spirits is the upcoming shows at home.
"It means everything to me because they all mean so much to me," John Allan says.
Thursday's gala tribute, which sold out in Halifax within days, will be hosted by Denis Ryan and Eric MacEwen.
It will feature performances by Rita MacNeil, Jimmy Rankin, The Barra MacNeils, Buddy MacDonald, Jerry Holland, Dave Gunning, Fred Lavery, Scott Long and a Singalong Jubilee Reunion featuring solos from Catherine McKinnon, Audrey Alexander, Penny MacAuley, and Robbie MacNeil.
In the house band will be John Allan's longtime touring buddies Allie Bennett, Dave MacIsaac, his son Stuart, Sheumas MacNeil, Wendy MacIsaac, Bruce Timmons, Robbie MacNeil, David Isner and Ryan and Boyd MacNeil.
In Cape Breton on May 28, the lineup will include hosts Eric MacEwen and Dave Harley, performances by The Barra MacNeils, Lennie Gallant, Ron Hynes, General John Cabot Trail, Jerry Holland, Brenda Stubbert, Dougie MacPhee, Stuart Cameron, Donnie Campbell, Nipper MacLeod, Buddy MacDonald, Fred Lavery, Wally MacAulay, Allie Bennett and Bruce Timmons.
"John Allan has given so much to traditional Cape Breton music and is also a lifetime director of our festival," said Celtic Colours festival director Max MacDonald. "We are so pleased with the response to the Halifax show (May 19 at the Rebecca Cohn, now sold out) and know that the Capers will be out in force at the Savoy on May 28."
Tickets for the Savoy show are $35 and are on sale at 564-6668 or www.reservatech.net
Looking back over his career, which spans more than 30 years, John Allan fondly recalls some memorable times, and as he speaks there's still that spark of enthusiasm in his voice that we have come to know.
"I was thinking about that today and there are lots of memories, but I loved working with my friend Stan Rogers," he says. "I was the first guy to put him on television. I took him to Scotland and Ireland.
"And I'm still friends with Roger Whittaker and Anne Murray."
John Allan recalls the five years he opened shows for Murray, touring the world, and those "special fun times" on the Las Vegas circuit.
Murray said she remembers how people looked at him as a curiousity, especially in places like Las Vegas. "They'd shake their heads and they'd all go away laughing. Because he always has put on a great show, and he never took himself too seriously," said Murray on Monday from her home in Ontario.
"He puts on a great show and he makes people laugh. And you can't help but clap your hands and stomp your feet. It's undeniable that music and it elicits that kind of response from people. And he got it everywhere, not just in Canada, not just on the East Coast, but everywhere. In Las Vegas he did, which shows you the universal appeal of that kind of music."
Born on Dec. 16, 1938, into a musical family in Glencoe Station, Inverness County, John Allan learned to play the guitar and by age 12 was playing local dances. His early influences included his fiddling uncle Dan Rory (Dan R) MacDonald and his Gaelic-speaking mother Katie Ann and brother John Donald, who both played fiddle.
Between 1957 and 1963 he was in the Order of the Oblate Fathers and had hopes of becoming a priest, and although he took his final vows he received papal dispensation in 1964 in order to step into the entertainment world.
He entered St. Francis Xavier University, where he received an arts degree and performed at coffee houses on campus, and he could be heard often on CJFX Radio in Antigonish. He pursued his education degree at Dalhousie University in 1967. In those early days, he was often credited with keeping the Celtic music and language traditions alive - "playing Celtic music when Celtic wasn't cool."
In 1970, he stunned audiences at the Grand Ole Opry by arriving on stage in a kilt and playing bagpipe tunes on his 12-string guitar.
By the mid-1970s, John Allan Cameron was a household name in Canada. He appeared on CBC Halifax's Singalong Jubilee and Ceilidh, and started his own series, first on CTV in Montreal from 1975 to 1976 and on The John Allan Cameron Show from CBC Halifax, from 1979 to the winter of 1981.
His first recording, Here Comes . . . John Allan Cameron, came out in 1968, and he has recorded 10 albums.
In December 2003, he was awarded the Order of Canada.
The Cohn audience Thursday will be filled with fans, friends and members of John Allan's family.
John Allan says John Prine's manager, Alfred Bunetta, a longtime friend, has expressed interest in coming to the tribute.
The show came about when friends John Meir, Dave Gunning and Brookes Diamond heard of his illness and decided to organize the tribute for their friend. All proceeds will go to John Allan and Angela to help with their medical expenses.
"I'm certainly happy with everybody who is coming by to help me out," John Allan says. "I really appreciate that, and you can be sure I'll be wearing my kilt."
Copyright ? 2005 The Halifax Herald Limited
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