Paul Caldwell grew up in Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland, and as any self-respecting fan of Irish music knows, County Donegal is also where guitar legend Rory Gallagher hails from—the small town of Ballyshannon, to be precise. An annual music festival in Gallagher's honour happens there, and a lifesize bronze statue portraying the blues-rocker in action—playing slide on his battered Fender Strat—is mounted in the centre of town.
Gallagher's influence was also monumental to Caldwell, as the 32-year-old tunesmith explains on a call from Kerrisdale.
"When I started playing guitar I was 19 roughly," he says, "and started playing around in bars and seein' my brothers in different rock bands. That was the music that I was massively into as well. Like Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, and Horslips, things like that. Celtic rock, really. If you like that stuff you might actually like what we're putting together for the CelticFest on Saturday night. We're playing with a full band, so I think there's gonna be a little rock involved.'"
The weekend gig Caldwell refers to is a March 19 performance at CelticFest Vancouver, which features two days of free music at Robson Plaza and the north of the Vancouver Art Gallery. His group, the Fight Outside (TFO), will top off a day that includes appearances by such acts as Odhran Murphy, the Sheets, Celtic Medley, Jas Minh, Clanna Morna, the Long Drop, Early Spirit, and the Irish Pipe Band of Vancouver. He is joined in TFO by Brian O'Brien, another transplanted Irishman, who Caldwell first met when he moved to Vancouver in 2015.
"I had some really good friends here," he recalls, "and they just kept talking to me about how beautiful it is and how amazing, and the fact that you'll get work straight away, and it should be good for music here as well."
Upon his arrival in Vancouver it didn't take long for Caldwell to ingratiate himself into the local Celtic-music scene. It mostly involved hanging out in pubs, but he's Irish, after all.
"There wasn't like a very big [Celtic scene] that I was aware of," he says, "but I got into it through people like Michael Viens in Blackthorn. He used to hold a Sunday session in one of the local pubs, and I used to go to it every Sunday, and you just sit around and listen to the music and eventually they'd ask you up to play some songs."
It was at one of those Blackthorn-run events at Johnnie Fox's Irish Pub that Caldwell first encountered O'Brien.
"I met him in there and we talked about music and everything else," he recalls. "And we both played in another place downtown called Shamrock Alley. I would do every Friday night and he would do every Saturday night. We wouldn't really see each other in there, but one day I came in to pick up my guitar that I left from the night before and we got to talking [about playing together]. We played the Shamrock for the first time not long after that."
The Fight Outside specializes in Irish folk music, with a mixture of anything from pop to Irish ballads. As for the name, it didn't come from there being lots of fistfights outside their gigs. CelticFest patrons aren't encouraged to bring brass knuckles.
"No, there was just one [fight]," says Caldwell. "Actually, on the night when we first played there turned out to be a huge fight outside the bar. It was quite bad; somebody even got stabbed, unbeknownst to us. We were kinda like, 'Drop the guitars and go out and try to break up the fight.' We were like, 'Hey, chill out. We're trying to play music here.'
"So the cops showed up and took the guy, and then we found out a guy got stabbed, and we go, 'Oh, we probably shouldn't have stepped in there.' It was the only time I had to queue to get out of a bar, because there was police there taking statements on the way out. And the next day we were talking about a name and I think Brian turned around and went, 'Why don't we call it the Fight Outside?', and that's how it stuck."
This year's CelticFest appearance will actually be the Fight Outside's fourth CelticFest appearance, the first occurring back in 2016 at the Imperial when Caldwell and O'Brien got invited to play a couple of tunes by Blackthorn. That's one of the bands that he's most psyched about seeing at CelticFest himself this year.
"I love watching them," he raves. "They always put on a great show, and they're brilliant players. And Odhran Murphy is somebody who's coming over from Ireland; I'm looking forward to catching him. And then one of my good friends, Larry Keogh, he's playing on the Sunday. Looking forward to seeing him too."
The Fight Outside show which will see Caldwell and O'Brien accompanied by lead guitarist Alvin Brendan, bassist Derek Maroney, keyboardist Benjamin Millman, and drummer Lucas Ross. The set will feature roughly half original tunes and half covers, so is there any chance of a classic Rory Gallagher or Thin Lizzy tune making the cut? Pretty please?
"Umm...I don't know if there's one on the setlist," replies Caldwell, "but you never know how the night goes."
The Fight Outside performs at CelticFest Vancouver on Saturday, March 19, at 7:40 p.m.