Named after a downtown neighbourhood in Kingston, Ontario, the Swamp Ward Orchestra was formed in 2004. We combine various European sounds from medieval to musette, and we also write our own tunes in tribute to these traditions. The sound can get pretty raucous what with the hurdy gurdy and "smashbox" accordion (TM), but we're partial to smoky tangos and sobbing klezmer as well. The new CD is by turns dark (traditional french songs about war and longing) and circuslike (raucous or unbalanced dance numbers). Festival gigs have included the Winnipeg Folk Festival (Mainstage), Calgary Folk Festival, Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, Mill Race Festival of Traditional Music in Cambridge, Ontario, Skeleton Park Music Festival in Kingston, Chants de Vielles near Montreal, Toronto's Winterfolk, and the Blue Skies Festival near Kingston. The Orchestra has toured in Quebec and plays frequently at various local venues including the Pumpkin Pie Music Series and the Mansion, and with various local arts groups including Theatre Kingston and Cantabile Choirs. All members of the band love to talk about their instruments and do workshops with audiences of any age; we can also do workshops in French. At large venues, the orchestra brings along a percussionist; currently we are working with Mike Essoudry (Mashed Potato Mashers) and Christos Smirnios. In 2007, we released our debut CD, Donkey Boy, and in spring 2009 we followed it with an EP, The Pine Street Sessions. Our second CD, Tightrope, was released in April 2012, recorded and produced by Zane Whitfield of NOP Studio.
Alison Gowan - Vocals, Bass, Hurdy Gurdy
Jan Le Clair - Vocals, Accordion
Laura Murray - Banjo, Vocals, Cello
Guest Percussionist as Needed
Donkey Boy, 2007
Pine Street Sessions (EP), 2009
Le Swamp Ward Orchestra séduit son public!
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"La soirée de dimanche se prêtait tout à fait aux rythmes proposés par le Swamp Ward Orchestra. Un s..."La soirée de dimanche se prêtait tout à fait aux rythmes proposés par le Swamp Ward Orchestra. Un soleil aux rayons doux et chaleureux accompagnait une musique qui semblait provenir d'une autre époque. Alison Gowan et Laura Murray ont été d'excellentes animatrices qui s'exprimaient fort bien dans la langue de Molière avec une petite touche anglaise qui n'enlevait rien à leur charme. Le trio... chantent de leur belle voix cristalline des complaintes connues de notre proper folkore... on reconnaissait également des airs celtiques et parfois même tzigane."
Mark Sirett, Conductor
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"A great highlight of Cantabile's 15th anniversary season was the opportunity to collaborate with th..."A great highlight of Cantabile's 15th anniversary season was the opportunity to collaborate with the Swamp Ward Orchestra in a unique programme that celebrated music from the the 'Old World' to the 'New.' It was an incredible evening of entertainment made all the more memorable by the instrumentals and accompaniments performed by the talented Swamp Ward Orchestra. Our choristers and audience were delighted by the wide range of dances and songs they performed, their vitality, musicianship, sensitivity, humour, and captivating stage presence."
Fleeting Moment to Last Forever
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But the Folk Fest made so many more memories than that. Take the one just after 1:30 p.m., for in...But the Folk Fest made so many more memories than that.
Take the one just after 1:30 p.m., for instance. When clouds rallied for one final assault on the sun, and the field in front of Bur Oak stage rippled with flying feet and rising fists. The movement came courtesy of the madcap fusion between the Swamp Ward Orchestra, Jaune Toujours and Beats Antique -- three eclectic bands that fluidly found a common beat.
When the jam finally whirled to a stop, fans twirled bandannas over their heads and hollered for more. It will be hard to come by. "If you like what you heard, well, you can't get it in stores," quipped workshop host Marco Calliari.
Our Correspondent Encourages Rotation
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As a result of the failure of Ordo Sahkna to attend due to visa problems, the group with the most un...As a result of the failure of Ordo Sahkna to attend due to visa problems, the group with the most unusual name at the fest, Swamp Ward Orchestra, was parachuted in at the last minute to the delight of the audience. After all, how often do you get to hear a hurdy-gurdy? These three women met in Kingston, Ontario. The Swamp Ward is the equivalent of Winnipeg’s North End – a lower middle-class enclave of immigrants. Each of the three women making up the Swamp Ward Orchestra was conservatory trained and performed in symphony orchestras but, in their off-hours, did what they loved playing an eclectic mix of French, Acadian and East European folk music. I met with Jan Le Clair (accordion, concert pianist), Allison Gowan (hurdy-gurdy, double bass, penny whistle and classical violinist) and Laura Murray (cello, banjo and classical violinist) who advised that they were given two weeks’ notice to appear. They were a joy to hear even if the drone of the hurdy-gurdy was not something the audience might have been used to.
Perfect Weather, Great Music Put Spirit into Huge Crowd
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Kingston, Ont. trio The Swamp Ward Orchestra got the evening started with a supper-hour set consisti...Kingston, Ont. trio The Swamp Ward Orchestra got the evening started with a supper-hour set consisting of French-Canadian and Eastern European-influenced folk-noir songs injected with plenty of ink-black humour.
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Direct from an area once known as Kingston’s Swamp Ward, this unlikely orchestra boasts Alison Gowan...Direct from an area once known as Kingston’s Swamp Ward, this unlikely orchestra boasts Alison Gowan as its leader, with her wicked hurdy-gurdy pump, mean double-bass pluck, sweet whistle touch and expressive voice. Soul-sister Laura Murray plays cello and banjo and sings. Richard Day plays accordion and they switch percussionists. Their repertoire is equally unusual, consisting of pieces by contemporary European hurdy-gurdy composers, traditional Acadian folk songs, a couple of old-time American numbers, a few of Alison’s instrumental compositions, including Guy in the Red Thong.
There are moments of exuberating folly and reposing beauty, dance-floor mania and medieval delicacy. Though this recording falls slightly short of rendering their live show, it’s a good one. The Swamp Ward Orchestra is a must-see band with a refreshing repertoire and unique instrumentation.
By Mary Beth Carty
These are the cuts on our new album, but we have easily two full sets of other active repertoire, ranging from traditional french dance tunes and songs to jazz waltzes.
Jardin de mon Pere (trad. Québec, sounds a bit like a rock anthem by the end)
Pig's First Shave (Gowan original in 5)
Ta Petite Flamme (French cabaret song, pretty waltz)
Le Papillon (trad. French, relaxed dance tune)
Roumanian Hora/Badkhen Bulgar (dark sad & merry, trad. + LeClair original)
Lend me Your Lips (jazz-style song, Gowan original)
Lupchevo Oro (Macedonian dance tune in 11)
Gotschy 8744 (rockin dance tune in 4, Gowan original)
Guy in the Red Thong (circusy, Gowan original)
Slippery Slope (Murray original, warped banjo tune)
Castagne Calde (LeClair original, accordion street tune)
Brave Marin (trad. French, v. sad)