East Coast singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant is spreading some holiday cheer again this season as he embarks on his The Innkeeper’s Christmas tour, including a stop in Halifax on December 11.
The show is a very original take on Christmas, with mostly original songs written by myself. – Lennie Gallant
But while seasonal shows may be a mainstay this time of year, Gallant’s show offers something different, as he forgoes the traditional music usually performed during Christmas wrapped inside a multimedia production.
“The show is a very original take on Christmas, with mostly original songs written by myself,” says Gallant. “We’ve also made it into an audio-visual event with a large screen on stage that shows all kinds of videos and also paintings by my sister Karen, a much-loved artist in this part of the world.”
Calling it a “contemporary look at Christmas from various points of view,” Gallant focuses the show on his 2021 holiday album, Christmas Day on Planet Earth. Among the album and concert highlights is the title track featuring the Zimbabwean group Black Umfolosi, in a collaboration that unfolded from a chance meeting in the street.
“A friend of mine who is the North American agent for Black Umfolosi said the band was coming to town and had a few days off and like most musicians, they were looking for a place to stay,” says Gallant.
Offering them the cottage he had rented on the North Shore of Prince Edward Island while he went to stay with his girlfriend, the agent suggested that Gallant might want to do something with them during their visit.
“I loved the idea because they were somewhat akin to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who played with Paul Simon,” says Gallant. “They have that same vibe with their vocals, and I thought it would be amazing to sing something with them.”
Having nothing that he felt appropriate in his songbook at the time, Gallant eventually thought they would sound great on a Christmas song.
“So in the middle of a heat wave in July, I sat down to write a song specifically to sing with those guys, and the song that came out was Christmas Day on Planet Earth. And it was fabulous,” he says.
Meeting the band the night they arrived on Prince Edward Island, they rehearsed, shot the accompanying video and recorded the song all the next day.
“When I decided to flesh out a couple of Christmas songs that I did have into a full-fledged album, it was, of all the songs I had written, the one that encapsulated the general theme of the album,” says Gallant. “All the settings for the songs on the album and on tour really do kind of traverse the planet in many ways. So I like to think of it as a universal look at Christmas.”
But while Gallant says Christmas Day on Planet Earth “doesn’t fall into the standard genre of music at Christmas that you usually get,” it was born out of his love for the season. “I always did enjoy Christmas in my family, and was always a great time of year to get together,” he says.
One family memory is his parents performing in a community choir on Christmas Eve.
“To me, that made Christmas very special to go and hear my mom and dad singing with the choir,” says Gallant. “And afterwards, the family would get together, have a few drinks, open some gifts, eat my mom’s Acadian meat pie, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning.”
Despite the early morning festivities, Gallant remembers his mom ensuring a Christmas feast at the ready the following afternoon.
“She was a bit of a super mom around Christmas time,” says Gallant. “I have no idea how she accomplished that, but it was pretty amazing. So Christmas has always had a special place in my heart.”
With his parents’ recent passing, Gallant continues to create new Christmas memories, splitting his time between his family and that of his partner Patricia Richard. “There’s a little running around, but it’s a pretty cool time of year that I have always enjoyed,” he says.
A musician in her own right, Richard joins Gallant as part of the three-piece band that includes multi-instrumentalist Keelin Wedge and Richard’s son Julien on piano.
“My nephew Jeremy played piano with me for over a dozen years, but he decided he wanted to see the world,” says Gallant. “I began wondering how we were ever going to replace him because he is a unique character and a lot of fun.”
After auditioning several pianists, Gallant realized that the answer to Jeremy’s replacement was right in front of him.
“Julien was a classical pianist and had never been in a band before, but we decided to give him a shot,” says Gallant. “He was keen, and I couldn’t believe how amazing he was and eveyone was blown away by what he can do on the keyboard.”
Calling them a “great little group,” Gallant says he can’t think of a time on stage when he has so much fun. “We always look forward to getting together and playing again,” he says.
Gallant and his band will have a lot of time together this holiday season as The Innkeeper’s Christmas take them to Ontario before they head back to the Maritimes. But there will be little rest after the tour wraps up mid-December on Prince Edward Island, as Gallant begins working on two new albums, including one with Richard as part of their Francophone duo Sirène et Matelot.
“We released an album a couple of years ago that’s done quite well in the Francophone world, so we’re going to do a new album together,” he says.
Gallant will also return to the studio for a solo album.
“I’m a little overdue for a regular English album,” he says. “So there will be a lot of work writing new songs and making arrangements for these two new projects. And then next summer, we will be doing the festival circuit again, so it is definitely going to be a busy year.”
Lennie Gallant’s The Innkeeper’s Christmas tour kicks off in late November with multiple dates in Ontario before arriving back in the Maritimes, including a show in Halifax on December 11. Visit lenniegallant.com for tickets and information.