LEFT to RIGHT: The Bookends – Errol Fischer (Fiddle and Tenor Banjo), Cait Watson (Whistles and Flute), Miriam Fischer (Piano and Piano Accordion) and Pete Watson (Guitar). (Photo: Aidan Shipley)
Friendship, luck and a love of Celtic music
Introducing The Bookends
The band known as The Bookends has been shaped by multiple magical serendipities.
It all started in 2016 when Errol and Miriam Fischer, their two kids and the family cat left Calgary and drove 3,200 kilometres across Canada to settle in Stratford, Ontario. As they arrived and were unloading their things in the driveway, they heard the sound of an Irish whistle “blowing in on the summer breeze” but couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
Stratford is a friendly place and the Fischers were quickly welcomed by their new neighbours, Cait and Pete Watson and their two kids.
The Fischers heard the Irish whistle another afternoon and again the following day. At that point, Errol was determined to find out where it was coming from. Turns out it was their new neighbour Cait Watson. There and then they discovered all four of them were musicians. Cait played whistles and flute, Pete played guitar, Errol was a fiddler and Miriam a pianist.
And so it began.
“We spent most of that winter in the Watson’s living room playing together,” says Errol. “It was a little providential for sure.”
In no time the couples became good friends, as well as compatible musicians. Their four kids, all roughly the same age, also got along famously. Everyone was playing together, literally. “It all slotted so nicely into place,” recalls Cait.
Errol, Miriam, Cait and Pete have all been deeply steeped in music, with varied influences and interests over the years. Errol began fiddling when he was just four, a skill he honed during his travels and the ensuing decades. Miriam grew up playing classical piano, then diversified to explore a Celtic sound and learn the accordion. Cait studied classical piano at a young age, later experimenting with other genres and instruments, including whistles and flute. Pete, who has Irish family blood, picked up the electric guitar early on and applied his versatile talents to a broad spectrum of music over the years. Needless to say, they all bring their own approach and experience to the music they now play together. And that is Celtic music, for which they share a mutual love and the perfect complement of instruments.
When the four friends were asked to do a formal gig, they knew it was time to get a name.
The couples never set out to become a band, but within a year of playing together that’s exactly what happened and it was just the beginning. Loreena, hearing of their musical collaborations, encouraged them to get together with other local musicians. “She has a real knack for building community,” says Cait. But when the four friends were asked to do a formal gig, they knew it was time to get a name. Serendipity had a hand in that too.
Around the same time, Pete ran into Loreena and her long-time musical companion, guitarist Brian Hughes, in a local coffee shop. During their conversation Loreena told Brian about the Fischer and Watson families becoming such great friends. “They’re like bookends,” she said. Pete shared his chance encounter with the rest of the band later that day and “thus The Bookends were born.”
Over the past six years, the band has made remarkable strides and become known for putting their own distinctive stamp on traditional Celtic music, a folk music genre Errol describes as “the people’s music”, explaining that “through the songs, you’re reliving these snapshots of life – the weddings, harvests, daily life and unrequited love. It’s not all about maids and beer.”
In 2022, The Bookends performed as Loreena’s back-up band for her seasonal, eight-city Under A Winter’s Moon Tour through Ontario. They’ve also produced two of their own albums, Chapter One in 2020 and A Celtic Celebration: The Bookends with the Stratford Symphony Orchestra, just released in January, 2023. They’re currently working on a third album.
“It’s been wonderful going back to the origins of my love for Celtic music through joining forces with the Bookends. Not only are they a fantastic group of musicians, they’re pure pleasure to work with,” Loreena says. “It’s always gratifying to discover people who share similar loves and passions and I’m looking forward to many more collaborations in the future.”
The Bookends also played at the Celtic Roots Festival in 2021 and will be back again this summer, this time as Loreena’s back-up band for her four rare ‘back to her roots’ summer festival performances. They’ll accompany her at the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich, the Summerfolk Music Festival in Owen Sound, the Muskoka Music Festival in Granvenhurst and the Peterborough Folk Festival, all of them in Ontario this August. “It’s going to be fantastic. And we’re feeling very honoured to be a part of it,” says Errol.
“It’s been wonderful to work with someone as professional as Loreena,” adds Cait, a sentiment echoed by her husband Pete. “Loreena seamlessly manages every aspect of the performance, from the very first rehearsal to the very last note performed,” he says. “Coupled with an incredible ear, massive musical talent and truly one of the most beautiful voices of a generation, I often find myself swept away in the moment.” Miriam also appreciates the way Loreena weaves all the instruments together. “As a band, we each bring our different sonic hues and she masterfully intersperses and combines them to create a distinct and memorable show.”
“We were all at the Falls Hotel in County Clare playing into the wee hours of the morning, having the time of our lives. Ireland is just that kind of place – magical.”
Other band events have also been coloured serendipitously. In 2019 Pete and Cait went to Ireland on vacation. Coincidentally, Errol was there at the same time buying an Irish tenor banjo. Recognizing a rare opportunity, they convinced Miriam to fly over and join them. What followed was a series of enchanted musical experiences. “We were all at the Falls Hotel in County Clare playing into the wee hours of the morning, having the time of our lives,” Cait recalls. “Ireland is just that kind of place – magical.” They also got to play with other musicians from several Celtic supergroups, like Lúnasa, Kilfenora Céilí Band and Cherish the Ladies.
Another fortuitous event unfolded on the shores of Lake Huron, back in Ontario. The band had just played at the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival, followed by a lively performance at a local pub. When the bar closed, they headed down to the beach and continued to play until dawn. There’s a giant underground salt mine in Goderich and a shift change took place while the band was on the beach. “As the workers came out in their overalls after a long day’s work, they heard our music and started dancing along to the tunes,” Miriam reminisces. “That moment – the sounds of music drifting on the moonlit water and the dancing of the mine workers – is one that will stick with us always.”
Mark Fewer, artistic director of the annual music festival, Stratford Summer Music, says about the band: “They’ll lift your spirits and have your toes tapping for sure. On top of which they play some of the Celtic tunes we know and love in ways that are fresh and inspired.”
And so it seems the heart of The Bookends grows in friendship, creative Celtic and a healthy dose of good fortune.
To learn more about members of the band and their musical history (think heavy metal, big band, big names, lots of accomplishments and much travel) check out their profiles on The Bookends website where you can also order their CDs.)
Written by Diane Sewell, a career journalist for more than 30 years. In addition to working with Loreena for 20 years, she has also written for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and assorted consumer magazines. She is also the author of several commissioned books.