Allister MacGillivray CM, D.Litt (hon), (born January 17, 1948) is a Canadian singer/songwriter, guitarist, and music historian from the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia. He was born in the coal-mining and fishing town of Glace Bay.
He began performing at the age of seven, later became a boy chorister and, as a teen, sang in local folk bands. During his twenties and thirties, he travelled the world as a guitar accompanist with some prominent Celtic performers, including Ryan's Fancy, Makem & Clancy (i.e., Tommy Makem, Liam Clancy) and John Allan Cameron. With Cameron, he performed on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1970, earning a lengthy standing ovation and stealing the show from the likes of Hank Snow, Roy Rogers and Bill Monroe. Since leaving the road, MacGillivray has lived close to the village of Marion Bridge, also known as Drochaid Mhira which remains strongly Gaelic.
A well-respected author/composer, his most popular songs include: Away From The Roll Of The Sea, Coal Town Road, Kitty Bawn O'Brien, Tie Me Down, Here's To Song, Sea People and You'll Be Home Again -- all published by Cabot Trail Music (SOCAN). He is best known for a composition called Song for the Mira that provided the theme as well as the sound track for an Atlantic Canadian film, Marion Bridge. Song For the Mira has been translated into Dutch, French, Scots Gaelic, Japanese & Mi' kmaq, is available on well over 250 recordings, and is a standard in the Canadian choral-music repertoire. One of the most recorded songs ever by an eastern Canadian, Out On The Mira (an alternate title) has been covered by Anne Murray, Foster & Allen, Celtic Thunder, Daniel O'Donnell, Denny Doherty (of The Mamas & The Papas), Phil Coulter, The Canadian Tenors, Frank Patterson, The Los Angeles Children's Chorus, and scores of other noted performers.
Out on the Mira, the people are kind,
They'll treat you to homebrew, and help you unwind.,
And if you come broken they'll see that you mend,
I wish I was with them again,
Can you imagine a piece of the universe,
More fit for princes and kings?,
I'll trade you ten of your cities for Marion Bridge,
And the pleasure it brings.
In the mid 1970s, MacGillivray penned Coal Town Road for Fergus O'Byrne of Ryan's Fancy. The song was later adopted as part of the regular repertoire of folk groups like Cockersdale (England), The Clark Family and The Barra MacNeils. Coal Town Road documents an important part of Canadian history in that Canada has experienced the same types of labor and environmental exploitation as the United States--and has reacted in similar song-style ways. Significantly, this song is sung by the Nova Scotian coal-miner group, The Men of the Deeps.
We never see the sun,
Down the coal town road,
At a penny for the ton,
Where the coal trains roll,
When the shift comes up on top,
We're so thankful to be done,
We head home to sleep and dream,
About the coal town road.
Significantly, MacGillivray's songs are well loved by choral groups, and over 600 choirs throughout the world perform his works in classical contexts. His Away from the Roll of the Sea is sung in Italy as Vecchi Amici in typically Italian operatic style by Coro Leone Bologna, and also in Taiwan as 世紀尋跡 無垠聲情 by the National Taiwan University Chorus.
Small craft in a harbour that's still and serene,
Give no indication what their ways have been;,
They rock at their moorings all nestled in dreams,
Away from the roll of the sea.
He concluded his singing & playing career in the early eighties in order to write songs and books and to make films about the musical traditions of Cape Breton Island. He continues to write and arrange music, has released a compilation CD, and is involved in the operation of Sea-Cape Music Ltd. (the company which distributes his books).
Books Published: Song For The Mira (1979), a collection of thirteen original songs. • The Cape Breton Fiddler (1981), a historical and photographic look at Cape Breton's Scottish violin tradition. • The Cape Breton Song Collection (1985), an anthology of the Island's best-loved compositions. • A Cape Breton Ceilidh (1988), a historical and photographic look at Cape Breton's unique stepdancing and piano-playing traditions. • The Nova Scotia Song Collection (1989). This anthology deals with the works of Hank Snow, Wilf Carter, Stan Rogers, Dr. Helen Creighton, etc. • Diamonds In The Rough (Vols. 1 & 2), the story of The Men Of The Deeps, Cape Breton's coalmining chorus. • Songs From The Mira (2001), a collection of thirty-two original songs.
His children, Ciarán and Fiona MacGillivray, are also noted performers in the Celtic-music field.
He has as Bachelor of Arts degree (St. Francis Xavier University), has been appointed to the Order of Canada (2013), has been awarded an honorary doctorate by The University College of Cape Breton, and has been designated The Official Bard of Clan MacGillivray Canada.