Legendary musician and painter Will Millar is bringing his songs and stories of an old Ireland to Parksville’s McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17).
Millar is a co-founding member of The Irish Rovers, a band he fronted until his departure in 1995. Now a solo performer, Millar continues to play gatherings, weddings and funerals but doesn’t tour nearly as much as he did in his heyday.
“I can’t believe after 35 years of touring around the world with that banjo, here it is hanging on the wall,” Millar said from his home in the Duncan area.
“I mostly play weddings and wakes these days.”
For his two performances at the MAC (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.), Millar will be joined by the Celtic band The Islanders.
“I really enjoy playing with them,” Millar said. “Whenever I left the Irish Rovers I did quite a bit of solo stuff but I really missed the camaraderie and the power on stage of having other musicians.”
Millar will perform original songs from The Irish Rovers, including The Unicorn and Wasn’t That a Party.
“We’ll be doing all those Irish songs. I’ll have my banjo and guitar and penny whistle and I’ll be telling a lot of old silly Irish stories and jokes,” Millar said.
Both shows at the MAC are sold out.
Millar, who was born in Northern Ireland, also exhibits his roots through painting.
“The Ireland that I paint is actually a nostalgic Ireland, it’s an Ireland of the ‘50s at a time when there was horses and carts on the roads,” he said. “Nowadays all these old things that I paint have disappeared. There’s Maseratis in the streets of Dublin instead of horses and carts. It’s my job to keep that old Ireland alive ”
Millar said he’s painted since he was 10 years old but since leaving The Irish Rovers has been painting non-stop.
“Over the last 12 years I’ve been hanging my art around the world in different galleries. There’s even a gallery in Ireland that carries my art,” he said.
Painting for Millar is the “best meditation in the world.”
“I’ll go paint for half an hour and I look at my watch and I’ve been at it for three hours… it’s perfect meditation,” he said. “I’m in the painting. I find that I travel right into it when I do it.”
Mainly self-taught, Millar did attend art school for a while and had some mentoring from a retired art teacher who lived at the end of his family home in Ireland.
“She took a liking to me, she’d sit me down with a drawing pad and a piece of charcoal and tell me to sketch the horse and the cart across the road,” Millar said.
“I didn’t take real formal academic art lessons. As we say in Ireland, I learned it along the hedges and I learned it by having a great eye for observation.”
Millar said he has tried his hand at Canadian landscapes as well.
“There’s a lot to see on this Island and I think maybe for my next show at the MAC I’ll do Will Millar’s Canada,” he said with a laugh.
Although both his St. Paddy’s Day shows are sold out, anyone wishing to view Millar’s artwork can visit The Oceanside Gallery at the MAC (133 McMillan St.) until Sunday, March 17.