by Scott Roos
photo by Deanna Roos
Much beloved Meadow Lake based fiddler, luthier, and music educator Lucas Welsh, through his years in the music industry, has been on a voyage of self discovery. He had big dreams, goals and ambitions. There were a few left hand turns, but as you’ll discover, he’s content now, and right where he needs to be. He’s reaching people. He has the respect of many and, to be perfectly frank, can still shred the fiddle like almost nobody's business. His style is unique. It combines traditional elements, Metis culture, jazz and western swing, all with a technical precision that one who was classically trained can muster.
“My background in fiddle is classical actually. I was trained Royal Conservatory and that was the actual goal…. I was gunning for an orchestra spot,” Welsh recalls.
It was a lofty goal for Welsh to reach the heights of a classical violinist but one that a young and spry Lucas Welsh had in his sights. Starting in the mid 90’s, the plan was to commute weekly from his hometown of Blaine Lake, just over an hour's drive, to take lessons from renowned violin instructor Dean Bernier in Prince Albert. As his studies progressed, he discovered that his technique was a few years behind where it needed to be in order to meet university entrance requirements. Suddenly, he had a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short period of time.
“I doubled up on some studies,” recounts Welsh, “I wound up doing three years worth of classical stuff in two years. I just crammed it in, lived and breathed it for a couple of years, did my theory through the summers and all that getting caught up.”
“Somewhere along the way I got burnt out is what happened,” Welsh continues, “ I remember driving to lessons with my Mom one day and she goes ‘What's wrong’ and I said ‘I don't wanna do it anymore’. So I packed the fiddle up for a few years. I started playing guitar then.”
Welsh put down the fiddle in 1999 and did not pick it back up again until 2002. In the meantime, he learned that he was fairly adept at playing lead guitar and could skillfully sing harmonies. He traveled across the country for a while in a band called Steppin’ Out before ending up in Moose Jaw working as a mechanic. Boredom set in and he decided it was time to pick up the fiddle again. He missed the social element of the instrument - the friends he made and the music that was created from those connections. He needed the instrument back in his life.
“It was lonely and I was broke. The provincial fiddle championships were coming up and I figured maybe I could win a bit of prize money, so I practiced up and won 2nd place. The following year, in 2003, I won the provincial fiddle championships.”
It was also right around this time that Welsh took a deep dive into his Metis heritage. He had known since he was a teenager of his background but had never taken the time to fully investigate and explore it. It turns out that one of his ancestors, three or four great grandfathers back, had served on Gabriel Dumont's committee and had been imprisoned for his role in the rebellion. For whatever reason, this rich, historically significant background had been hidden from Welsh’s family for quite a number of years.
“We started digging a little bit into the family tree and found out in fact that my dad's side of the family is very Metis. Right back to Batoche,” Welsh recalls of the discovery, “It turned out that there was a lot of history and a lot of culture that we didn't really know we had. It was hidden from us. It was hidden from a number of generations basically. Kinda hushed up. Whether that was a pragmatic decision by the ancestors to 'you know what if nobody knows we're metis there will never be any trouble' or whether it was some shame in it I'm not too sure. We're quite proud to call ourselves Metis now.”
“A big part of the work I do now is based on those cultural things I have going for me - being Metis and a fiddler and my love for that music. So I get to work a lot on that end of the music side of things,” Welsh tells NSMZ.
Welsh is a humble human being. He’s a guy just as comfortable being the “utility player” or "sideman" as being the centre of attention. He’s a self described “honest player” when he has his fiddle in hand. Everything he’s picked up along the way - the jazzy flourishes, the stunning classical technique, the cultural brevity, is all there to hear.
“Everything that I've ever done or experienced as a musician is kind of all, the whole part and parcel, every little thing that I've picked up along the way or been shown, I still use today. So the culmination of all those little experiences has made me the player that I am today. And I think what I've done, especially as a fiddle player, is I kinda have a unique sound and a unique style of play,” Welsh explains.
“I'm a pretty honest player. Everything is fresh, even if I'm playing the same song from show to show it's not going to be identical every night. There's going to be some little flourishes, some little tricks and differences. I hope that's something that kinda appeals to the audience.”
Welsh is also very much into paying it forward now that he’s several decades into his career. He’s been teaching fiddle in communities around Meadow Lake and very much enjoys that aspect of his daily life. There’s an element of humility to be sure but also a feeling of contentment. He’s giving back to the music community now and he very much understands what an awesome responsibility that is.
“It feels like I've come full circle in my career and I'm at that point now where I have to start giving back now and start this journey for the next crew of musicians. Hopefully a few of them stick and that's the goal for me right now. I have fun playing but trying to keep music alive and the traditional music alive is a big part of my focus right now.”
Welsh, as the old adage goes, has "no regrets" with how things have worked out musically for him. There's been amazing peaks and deep deep valleys but, in the grand scheme of things, it all worked out for the greater good and continues to do so. He's reaching people the best way he can whether it be teaching, performing, or through his luthier work. He wouldn't have it any other way and that has earned him a great deal of respect within the Saskatchewan music community.