Pacific Northwest heritage traversed in song and story

Posted 9/23/22

At a time when many Americans have turned to genetic sequencing to learn about their lineages, Tiller’s Folly instead turns towards the history that has been and is being made here in North …

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Pacific Northwest heritage traversed in song and story


At a time when many Americans have turned to genetic sequencing to learn about their lineages, Tiller’s Folly instead turns towards the history that has been and is being made here in North America.

Tiller’s Folly will bring their blend of Scottish, Irish, and Pacific Northwest maritime music traditions to The Bay Club hosted by Port Ludlow Performing Arts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24.

Based out of Canada, Tiller’s Folly have been uniting the past with the present by singing the West’s pioneer history to life.

Bruce Coughlan is the lead vocalist and songwriter for the group, and uses his gifts as a storyteller to write a new tradition that harkens back to the old.

“I like to view each song as a chapter in an adventure novel,” Coughlan said.

Coughlan has been playing music for almost 50 years; 25 of those with Tiller’s Folly. He also happens to be of Celtic descent, which brought him to bring the band back to his homeland.

“A dozen tours have left those influences on our collective musical psyche, so what you’re going to hear is not just Celtic and not just Pacific Northwest history, but you’re also going to hear stories about our journey some of the places we visited and how that effected our music,” Coughlan said.

Utilizing Celtic, folk, and Americana, Coughlan and Tiller’s Folly create a timeless sound that is as at home in the histories the songwriting explores as it is here and now.

One of his most touching songs on this specific place is called “Bring Lolita Home,” which advocates for the return of a Southern Resident orca that is the last surviving member of the group that were captured and forced to perform in aquarium shows.

“Forty-five years is a long haul trapped inside these prison walls. Doesn’t time slip by at a crawl, Lolita?”

So starts the song which Coughlan has been singing for years while working with Orca Network to bring Lolita back to the waters of her youth.

Tokitae, or Toki, another name for the orca, has already been retired from performing, but could easily have 20 or 30 years of active life left, especially if she is returned to her native habitat.

Coughlan’s song “The Bitter End,” takes on a human tale, though through a darker lens; the murder of a ship captain and his son during Prohibition.

“A father and a son, a fishing boat turned rumrunner, Beryl G, set out from Sydney Harbor on Vancouver Island ... with a boatload of whiskey,” Coughlan began. “In the morning they found the Beryl G floating down the Haro Strait unmanned, no whiskey, no captain, and his crew of his 13-year-old son all missing.”

Because the song itself is so entertaining, it’s OK to ruin the ending where authorities are able to develop pictures from a camera on board which just so happen to have the faces of the murderers.

There are plenty more stories like these which paint a history not often found in books.

“There’s not much as far as a home culture to attach your sense of belonging to, right? If you’re not indigenous, you’re part of a mosaic, but you don’t have your own thing to hold on to,” Coughlan said. “I’m hoping that the colonist settlers will find a history here, and I hope that for indigenous culture, as well. I hope that emerges through this entire reconciliation process, that we can all celebrate the indigenous culture and that we can all celebrate our colonial culture, our heritage, whether we’re German or Irish or French or Lithuanian or Asian.”

“I’m only one voice, but that’s what I would hope is a sense of cultural belonging to people of the Pacific Northwest,” he added.

While there’s plenty of controversy in the colonial past of this place, Coughlan is also aware that there were moments of connection.

“Being sort of a student of history, I see sort of when and where the train left the tracks. At one point this whole colonial concept wasn’t quite understood. We were trading partners in the 1830s, 1840s; a lot of fur traders were intermarrying with indigenous people and leading fulfilling lives,” he said. “They came and intermarried and lead happy family lives. That happened, yes. Was there abuse? Of course there was.”

The level of complexity Coughlan brings to history is matched by the intricate layering of the band. While often only a three-piece, those attending their show in Port Ludlow will get the added joy of a fourth member to bring an even more full sound.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about engagement. Our audience is there to be taken to a different place or have some thought expanded in their mind,” Coughlan said.

Tickets are $35 and can be found at