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Chemainus Valley Courier


 By Larry Kossey

 Fifteen kilometers off the coast of County Kerry Ireland rises a rocky island that was home to Irish Celtic monks for six hundred years. Remote, spartan and yet inspirational ‘Sceilig Mhichíl’ (Michael’s Rock in old Irish) it is now a world heritage site that among many other points of interest and honour.  It also gave rise to the name of the Chemainus Valley’s own British invasion, the Celtic rock band Skellig. 

Lisa and Chris Burness visited Vancouver over four years ago. With twelve years of music touring the UK and two albums under their belt they felt it was time to make a move. Despite never having set foot on Vancouver Island at that point, they decided it would be their home. They left their Dorset, England home - where Lisa’s father often recited the ditty ”I be Dorset born and bred, strong in the arm and weak in the ‘ead’ - for the welcoming shores of the Vancouver Island because “..It just felt like home.”  It was left up to their son Caleb to pick the spot to settle and after a trip up and down the Island, Caleb chose Ladysmith.  It has been their home since.

Steve Nash (lead guitar) was there with them at their first show, the Ringwood Festival, held in a car park in 1983. A childhood friend and long time collaborator Steve followed shortly thereafter. When asked by immigration why he wanted to come to Canada he replied ‘well all my friends are going, I’m sure I will like it.” And like it he does, citing the sheer natural beauty and reiterating the sentiments of Chris and Lisa, “it justs feels like home, like I belong here.” And oddly enough none of them have ever admitted to any feelings of homesickness. Chemainus is now Steve’s chosen home.  I am sure that there are many of us transplanted Islanders that can sympathize. Check out the song ‘Home’ by the Comox Valley’s Todd Butler for a beautiful sonic sample of those feelings.

They are joined in their performances now by Nanaimo’s father and son team of Mike (bass guitar) and Will (keyboards, mandolin, guitar) O’Shaughnessy. If this is sounding more and more like its about family maybe that’s because it is.

Chris is the front man and lead vocalist and he says that’s what it is all about.  “You have to sing from the heart, you use your life experiences and your spirituality to tell real stories, to raise awareness and inspire hope.” No empty boast there, Skellig has performed for several fund raising functions.  Lisa plays guitar and violin and she explains, “Sometimes you play just for the sake of playing and sometimes you play to support the community you live in.  We have made a commitment to use our talent to give back locally and help bring people together.”

Collectively they cite many influences not commonly associated.  The traditional Irish Folk music alongside African rhythms and the modern beat of bands like U2, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and even the Masters like MozartTchaikovsky andRachmaninoff.

Steve likes Eddie Van Halen, Chris likes Bono, but Lisa says her heroes are Chris and Steve, “they put up with a woman in the band for over twenty years,” she says, “not an easy thing to do!”
I asked them what musical family would best be suited to portray them in a movie. I was thinking maybe the Partridge Family, the Cowsills or even the Beach Boys. They responded quickly and decisively, “If Brad and Angelina are unavailable we would prefer to be portrayed by the boys from Spinal Tap, or well… anyone really, as long as they are younger and slimmer.”

And then there is Caleb on percussion who now at the ripe age of fifteen names Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham as his favourite drummer.  I am not sure how he knows about those old rockers but I did learn that Chris and Lisa had very hard time keeping drummers in their early years.  They solved that problem by conceiving one of their own.  Handy job, handy too that Caleb will work for food, “….preferably cheesecake”.

A welcome invasion indeed!  Skellig can be heard locally at the Chemainus Arts and Cultural Festival Saturday April 25.  This summer they are booked to play Ladysmith Days and Island Folk Fest.  They will also be celebrating the release of their new CD with a concert at the Dancing Bean Café Saturday May 9.  Check them out at 


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