Born into a musical family, Dave and Geoff Panting played at all the local venues growing up in St John’s, and both had experience prior to hooking up with Ian McKinnon in 1987. Dave had been with folk group Figgy Duff, and Geoff had written for and performed onstage with Sheila’s Brush – a St John’s theatre company.
With Dave handling guitar and mandolin and Geoff on keyboards and accordion, they formed Open Road in with McKinnon on pipes and whistles, and for the next year or so they became fixtures on the local pubs and fairs scenes and down the Atlantic, finding their niche while putting a pop spin on traditional folk standards.
Deciding to fill out the band to go more mainstream, the name was changed to Rawlins Cross (St John’s busiest intersection) and was rounded out the group with Lorne Taylor on bass and drummer Pamela Paton. More of the brothers’ own material was making it into the sets, and they quickly became one of the hottest groups around, and released their debut indie, A TURN OF THE WHEEL in ’89. Recorded at the CBC’s St John’s studio and blending Celtic roots with a pop flavour, it was half rock spins on traditional tunes and songs by the Pantings.
With help from VideoFact, the single, “Colleen” made it to MuchMusic, which in turn got the song to the top ten in Toronto. With a clever two-stepping backbeat, it was an underground cross-over hit. But shortly after the album’s release while on the road, Derek Pelley replaced Taylor on bass. They finished out the tour and while working on their follow-up, Paton left and was replaced behind the drumkit by Tom Roach, and Brian Bourne took over on bass.
McKinnon formed Ground Swell Records, and again chose to go off the beaten path for CROSSING THE BORDER. Recorded at Salter Street Film Studios and in the stores in the spring of ’92, and “Memory Waltz” won the East Coast Music Awards’ best video of the year and best pop/rock recording of the year Other noteable tracks included the lead-off “Legendary,” “Israel Got A Rabbit,” and “Stray Cat.”
With new drummer Howie Southwood and PEI native Joey Kitson taking over vocals, their breakout album was 1993’s REEL ‘N ROLL. Over 130,000 units sold and on the backs of the lead-off title track and “Long Night” as singles, their tours took them across the country. It also featured remakes of four tracks with Kitson singing – “MacPherson’s Lament,” “Turn of the Wheel,” “Ghosts of Love,” and “Colleen.” They took home their second straight ECMA for best pop/rock recording of the year, and signed with Warner. Over the next couple of years they also played some major venues – including headlining the G-7 economic summit at Citadel Hill in Halifax, and performing on Parliament Hill during the ’95 Canada Day celebrations.
LIVING RIVER was in the store shelves in ’96, it earned them their first Juno nomination for best roots/traditional group of the year. Backed by the singles, the soulful “When My Ship Comes In” and “The Long Way Home,” which made it to #49 on Canada’s AC chart and #58 on the pop chart, international markets opened up and they found themselves back and forth on trips to Germany, Switzerland, Austria. A smash in the UK, they also headlined the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games in ’97, made three cross-Canada trips, and were nominated for a pair of Junos the next year.
That same year CELTIC INSTRUMENTALS was released, featuring remakes of the band’s previous hits, followed by MAKE IT ON TIME in ’98. Two originals – “You Will Always Be My Love” and “Where Would I Be” (#56 on the AC chart) were released as singles, and more short tours were sprinkled in between major festivals, including Germany’s St Patrick’s Day festival and represented Canada at the Expo Cumbre de las Americas in Santiago, Chile.
They started the new millennium by announcing their parting of ways to pursue other projects. In particular, McKinnon concentrated on Groundswell, which over the years would handle artists like Kim Wempe, Carleton Stone, The Stanfields, and The Town Heroes, among others. Most of these acts also appeared on stage with Rawlins Cross over the years, as well. Their final show was in Edmonton alongside the ESO in December, 2002.
The hiatus only lasted six years tho, when Warner decided they wanted to put out a compilation album. They approached the band for some new material, and four new songs were included in ANTHOLOGY in 2008. They headlined Halifax’s New Year’s celebration, and a full-fledged reunion, primarily up and down the East Coast, ensued.
HANDS HEAD HEARTS was released in 2010. Though a favourite with the critics in the diversity in cuts like the title track, “Grandmother’s Song,” “Shift/African Cowboy,” and “Back To Brazil,” no singles were released, but still the band continued to tour sporadically, to present day. In 2012, “MacPherson’s Lament” was featured as the backdrop to Mary Vingoe’s production of “The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum,” which ran across the theatres nationwide.