James Keelaghan is a storyteller.
His tales are woven into folk melodies that take listeners on an adventure to explore the human condition.
“What really inspires me more than anything else is ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances,” said the singer-songwriter. “I love folk music, which is the repositioning of these stories. It’s the natural way to tell stories. I love telling stories.”
Songs like Kiri’s Piano, which is about the Japanese internment camps in the Second World War, explores someone who sacrifices their prized possessions to maintain their dignity.
The song was inspired by a conversation with his sister. Other inspiration comes from books or talking with friends and family.
Keelaghan said people find their own meaning in his songs. For example, the song Your Secret on the Road album is about an end of an affair and someone taking all the personal effects from the person and putting them on a bonfire. Keelaghan said after a performance one of his fans came and told him how Your Secret helped him deal with his daughter’s cancer. The fan said the family felt they were being lied to by the medical establishment and that the song resonated with him and helped him through that time.
“Something in the song spoke to him. People become part of the art. People put stuff in the music you don’t even know and the songs end up in some place in people’s lives,” he said.
Many of his songs start with a rhyme or melody. Those rhymes and melodies suggest the words, said Keelaghan.
Keelaghan said his writing process might not seem interesting if a person was sitting watching him.
“I sit and stare and tap a pencil on my forehead and scribble something and scratch stuff out,” he said.
Keelaghan performs an all-ages show with Hugh McMillan, on bass, and David Woodhead on the mandolin and guitar.
The show starts at 8 p.m., doors open at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church, located at 311 Fitzwilliam St., Sunday (Oct. 28), which is also his birthday. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 in advance from Fascinating Rhythm or Arbutus Music.