Poor Angus winners of Hamilton Searchlight competition

The band competed against 115 local artists to win the local competition.
Poor Angus, from left: Joel Guenther, DJ Moons, Ross Griffiths, Brian LeBlanc and Andrew Bryan. (Photo courtesy Chris Zizzo)

Check out the other regional winners:

  • Absolute Forever - Moon Music (Vancouver)
  • Rosie June - Figure 8 (Victoria)
  • The Good Ol' Goats - The Train (Kelowna)
  • Randi Boulton - Coffee Song (Calgary)
  • SHELBI - Smooth Whiskey (Edmonton)
  • Close Talker - By the Lake (Saskatchewan)
  • Elton Adams - Gunslinger (Winnipeg)
  • Dreamz - Come On (Toronto)
  • Ambre McLean - So Over (Kitchener-Waterloo)
  • Henry Norwood - Another Bottle Another Day (Ottawa)
  • Kori Row - No For Me (Sudbury)
  • Shy-Anne Hovorka - The Awakening (Thunder Bay)
  • Sarah Smith - Shine Bright (Windsor)
  • Motel Raphael - Ghosts (Montreal)
  • i.No - Mon Cheri (Quebec City)
  • Tristan Horncastle and the Southern Drive - She Brings the Beer (New Brunswick)
  • Mark Boutilier - Lose Another Day (Cape Breton)
  • Ian Alistair Gosbee - Life Gets in the Way (Halifax)
  • Amy and Rachel Beck - Pick Up the Pieces (PEI)
  • Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case - Thick as Thieves (Newfoundland)
  • Speed Control - Tent City (Yukon)
  • The Trade-Offs - Simple Man (Nunavut)
  • Grey Gritt - Nickels and Dimes (Northwest Territories)

Hamilton folk band Poor Angus has taken the title of regional champions in CBC's Searchlight competition with their song Something I Can't See.

Now, the five-piece band that plays Scottish, Irish and East Coast-themed music will face off against 23 other bands from communities across the country to compete for the title of Canada's Best New Artist. The winners will also receive $20,000 in gear from Yamaha, an opening slot on a high-profile music showcase and a recording session with CBC Music.

"We we're incredibly excited and humbled by all the fan support," said Brian LeBlanc, who play guitar, mandolin, drums and sings for the band.

115 Hamilton bands entered the CBC's Searchlight music competition. Thousands of people voted and eventually the top five bands surfaced. From there, thousands more logged on to cast their vote and declare Poor Angus Hamilton's favourite artists. 

LeBlanc said they were blown away by their more than 100 fellow competitors in Hamilton.

"There's so much excellent music in this town. It's a real hot bed of musical talent. I'd like to think we all won, because everyone got a lot of attention and focus on their music."

A twist on a classic

The band originally toured with local minstrel Scott Cameron Smith. When Smith decided to retire last year, the group asked songwriter Joel Guenther to join them.

"Joel said, 'I'm interested in doing music with you, but we don't need to put a label on it,'" LeBlanc recalled.

Instead, Poor Angus combined their talents in traditional Celtic instruments — including highland pipes, tin whistles, mandolin — with Guenther's contemporary songwriting style to create a sound that defies categorization.

Part Celtic, part folk, part Canadian rock, Poor Angus's sound is modern and difficult to fit into one genre, which is a point of pride for Guenther.

"It doesn't work to try to fit something into something," he said. "When people in the business say our music doesn't really fit into a category, I take that as a compliment."

This is best captured in their winning single, Something I Can't See. Guenther said he wrote the song quickly, a rarity for him, so he wasn't sure it would be much more than a bookend on an album. But once the rest of the musicians had their chance to make the song their own, they all agreed it was the single they wanted for their upcoming album.

The band is currently wrapping up recording on the album — their first with Guenther — set to be released in May and have two shows coming up for the St. Patrick's Day Weekend. They'll be performing at the Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto on March 16 and at the Lake Affect in Port Credit on March 17.

Guenther said their fans at live shows are the best part about making music. Their performances often escalate into full-room sing-alongs, creating a kind of energy that can't be described, he said.

"When all these people start singing with you, it's just the coolest feeling," he said. "I always tell fans when they come to our shows, sing your face off!"

Voting for the final round of the competition starts Sunday, March 10 when fans can log on to cast their vote for Poor Angus as Canada's top new artist. While the group is eager to square off against the other regional winners, LeBlanc said their mostly looking forward to focusing the spotlight on Hamilton's music scene.

"Hamilton music is awesome. We're looking at this as a chance to promote not just ourselves but also Hamilton."

Listen to Poor Angus's winning song.

And don't forget to vote for Poor Angus starting March 10.