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Thread: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Here are a couple of pieces recorded by the Celtic Studies scholar and Cape Breton fiddler, John Shaw, et al. Shaw's notes imply that relatives of one musician were playing Cape Breton music on mandolin in the 1920's. (Alex Francis MacKay, named on the YouTube site is a fiddler of note, included on the same album, but not connected with this particular recording.):

    "Jig & Hornpipe: Paddy’s Resource / The Flowers of Edinburgh ALEX MacNEIL mandolin with Charlie Dobbin mandolin and Kevin McCormick piano

    "In the 1920's two of Alex MacNeil's close relatives were active musicians in Benecadie Pond..., Cape Breton County, a Gaelic-speaking area that was settled chiefly by families from the Island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Their repertoire for mandolin and fiddle, which was passed on to Alex consisted of a surprising number of Irish tunes, among them PADDY'S RESOURCE (in O'Neill's Music of Ireland, #997). The ever-popular hornpipe THE FLOWERS OF EDINBURGH was fashionable in the Lowlands by 1740 and has since gained currency as a Scottish country dance tune."

    If the links don't work, search YouTube for "Paddy's Resource/ The Flowers of Edinburgh (Jig & Hornpipe)".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgz1...dVillageMuseum

    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-06-2021 at 11:35am.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Love this! Thanks, Ranald!

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Thanks for posting this clip. In the last two years I've gone off on a tangent playing more Irish fiddle tunes, and more recently, New England and French Canadian fiddle tunes. Both of the tunes on this clip I learned from Oneill's (revised edition). Sometimes I'll pick a tune to learn on a whim or because I like the title. Such was the case with "I will if I Can" on page 50. At the bottom of the same page is "Paddy's Resource". Again because I liked the title I learned that one too. I now play them together as
    a medley. They flow together nicely. So it's great to hear " Paddy's Resource" on this clip.
    And Flowers is of course one of those that might be considered a must to know in the Irish fiddle repertoire.
    Thanks again. I'm going back and listen one more time.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Thanks for posting this. Cool to hear the mandolin in this context.

    Been playing French Canadian tunes for the past year or so on the mandolin. Definitely will never sound like a fiddler, but it's fun. Especially when I can team up with a fiddle. Then the sound seems to work better, IMO.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    My brother tells me that "Paddy's Resource" is known in Cape Breton (but apparently not to Alex MacNeil) as "The Road to Skye."
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Just to clarify a bit here, Cape Breton is mor influenced by Scottish (mostly) and Irish sources and less so by areas that speak French including Acadia. That doesn’t mean there is no overlap. A lot of the traditional music up there is a real melting pot.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Jim,

    Thanks for pointing that out. I probably veered off topic too much with my comment. Will only defend it by saying most of the Cape Breton music I have heard is very fiddle and piano heavy with not much else except for maybe a guitar helping push the rhythm. But I am definitely not deep in that knowledge and only have a few CDs of the area.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    I can also say that Eric was a regular attendee of our weekly Québécois online jam and plays that music excellently.

    I spent a week or so up in Cape Breton decades ago and it is like being in Scotland especially muscially.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    I have have few points to make about Cape Breton traditional music. I have roots in and spent a great deal of time in Cape Breton, and am the grandson of a Cape Breton fiddler. I play tunes in the Cape Breton as well as other styles, as does my brother.

    Cape Breton is a multicultural society, with numerous musical styles, as well as regional "Scottish" styles across the island, though regional styles are heard less in recent decades.

    I have met Acadian (Atlantic-Canadian French-Canadian) fiddlers from Cape Breton, who played in French-Canadian style, not at all Scottish.

    Many prominent Cape Breton fiddlers are or were not of Scottish descent, two notable examples being the Irish-Canadian, Winston Fitzgerald (one Cape Bretoner described him to me as the "Bill Monroe of Cape Breton fiddling') and the Mi'kmaq (indigenous), Lee Cremo. Contemporary fiddler, Ashley MacIsaac has both a Scottish and an Acadian parent, and says that his Scottish style changed as he played dances in Acadian areas where they expected a different rhythms and tempos, even for Scottish music.

    The music in Cape Breton has always been dynamic. Cape Bretoners didn't "preserve" Scottish music. Not only have they developed their own take on this music, but Scottish Cape Bretoners have been influenced by their neighbours from other backgrounds, and by fiddlers they heard in their travels for work in Canadian and American cities.

    Many Cape Breton Scottish fiddlers read music. Still, they are expected to put their own take on tunes, and to abandon the book. I have rarely seen a Cape Breton fiddler perform with sheet music.

    When I was growing up, and as a young man, I usually heard Cape Breton fiddlers backed by piano, and seldom by another instrument. However, the parlour piano and organ only became affordable to middle-class people toward the end of the 19th century. Piano styles were still being developed during my lifetime. At least one influential pianist, Margaret MacPhee, was also a jazz musician. Still, bands playing Cape Breton traditional tunes, often along with popular music, go back at least to the 1930's. These bands often included guitars players.

    During my lifetime (I was born in the early 50's), Cape Breton traditional music has changed considerably, being influenced by the British, Celtic, and American folk revivals, and by younger musicians having more formal musical education. Whereas Cape Breton music was played by solo fiddle or with piano accompaniment, now there are many "traditional" bands. (I never heard of bodhrans until Irish groups like Ryan's Fancy and the Chieftains introduced then to Canada in the early to mid-70's, though someone may have been playing a bodhran somewhere in Canada.)

    About ten years ago, I played a recording of contemporary fiddling by Ashley MacIsaac, a great fiddler, for my father, who was born in 1921. This was an album of traditional music -- Ashley sometimes gets pretty wild. My father enjoyed it, but wasn't thrilled. I then played a record of 1950's or early 60's fiddle music by Dan Joe MacInnis, another fine fiddler, and a man closer to my father's age than my own. My father really liked that music. He said, "That's how Dad and his friends played."

    Groups of fiddlers playing together were far less common in the past than in the present era. I think the idea became more popular as fiddle associations put on festivals, and teachers began classes (as opposed to oral transmission) in the post 60's era, both encouraging fiddlers to play together.

    There are some jumbled observations on Cape Breton traditional music. Apologies for the lengthy post, though if I were really sorry. I wouldn't post it, would I?
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-07-2021 at 10:22pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    One more point: Some researchers say that immigrants from the Highlands and Islands, arriving in Cape Breton from the late 18th to mid-19th century, were more likely to bring bagpipes than fiddles. Fiddles became popular in Cape Breton during the late 19th century because they were more easily made and more readily available at reasonable prices than were pipes. Anyone familiar with piping can easily hear its influence on Cape Breton fiddling, especially among older fiddlers. Dance music on bagpipes, as opposed to martial music, has undergone a revival in recent years.
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-07-2021 at 10:23pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    I found that mandolin recording very interesting. I was in Cape Breton in 1988 and heard a lot of music, but don't remember any mandolin.

    One thing I noted was that these guys had hundreds of tunes and could play for hours. The fiddle and the piano were the big things.

    Although they were certainly playing Scottish music, there was no doubt that they were playing it in a distinctively Cape Breton way. When people emigrated from Scotland they took their music and their Gaelic language with them. The music subsequently developed in a somewhat different way from back in Scotland. They were also pretty isolated, not only from Scotland but even the rest of Canada.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    This is not directly related to the mandolin recording, but is an interesting piece by the innovative Scottish small piper Hamish Moore, and is to do with differences between Scotland and Cape Breton. Remember that many people in Scotland only began to hear music from Cape Breton in about the 1980s, and for many folk musicians it came as a revelation.

    https://bagpipe.news/2021/02/04/hami...NwHwj-tohdXX5A
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    What a thoroughly eye-opening and well-thought-outpiece of writing, Dagger. Hamish Moore speaks so much truth here. Thanks for posting this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    What a thoroughly eye-opening and well-thought-outpiece of writing, Dagger. Hamish Moore speaks so much truth here. Thanks for posting this.
    Hamish is an interesting man altogether. Hope you're well. Dagger
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Ranald: do you know if that recording is still in print? I highly doubt but would love to hear more of that. Looks like that YT channel has lots more.

    I was in CB and NS back in 1978 ( I think) when I found out about the bi-annual fiddle festival that was urged on by a CBC segment that mourned the death of the Scottish fiddling tradition in CB. The musicians looked at each other and said huh? At least that was what I was told. I am sure there is a great mix of music in CB but this is what I came across and on my short visit mostly heard that music.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    They were also pretty isolated, not only from Scotland but even the rest of Canada.
    Far less isolated than you might think. The oceans were the world's highways, and many Cape Bretoners were seafaring people. Others went back and forth to urban centres for work. Boston and Detroit/Windsor had big Cape Breton fiddling scenes. Boston or perhaps suburban Waltham, once had two large Cape Breton dances a week, one on "Maids Night off," when young Cape Breton women would be available. Waltham had a Presbyterian church with Gaelic services, mainly for Cape Breton emigrants and migrants. A great many CB women went to "the Boston States" to work as domestics, with better pay and work conditions than in Cape Breton. My
    grandparents were born in the 1880's. My grandfather was a sailor and regularly went to Boston, the UK, the Netherlands, and who knows where else. Others went to Africa, Asia, and South America. Grampa worked at a garage for electric cars (is there anything new under the sun?) in Boston for a period somewhere between 1900 and 1910. Like many of his generation, he also spent four years in Europe during WWI. MY grandmother, who was orphaned, shared a maid's job with her sister from the time she was 13. Both spent half a year in Boston and half a year in rural Cape Breton, earning money in Boston then caring for a young brother at home, while labouring in the local economy. Despite what the romantics tell you, Cape Breton wasn't isolated, Toronto was isolated.

    Jim Garber: "Ranald: do you know if that recording is still in print? I highly doubt but would love to hear more of that. Looks like that YT channel has lots more."

    That record and volume 2, Cape Breton Scottish Fiddle, were put out by Topic in London, England. Is it still around? The fiddller, Paul Cranford, at Cranford Publication is a helpful fellow who knows a great deal about CB traditional music sources:
    https://www.cranfordpub.com/

    John Kelly, I'm off to the garage for an oil change, but will check your link later.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    Far less isolated than you might think. The oceans were the world's highways, and many Cape Bretoners were seafaring people. Others went back and forth to urban centres for work.
    That's true for sure. Same for the Scots islanders. Nonetheless, their music has remained very Scottish, with plenty of strathspeys etc.

    However, I don't see the piano style as anything like what is usually played in Scottish Country Dance bands. It seems to me to owe far more to something like barrelhouse piano, and is certainly far wilder and probably more improvised, and perhaps is something that would have been heard in US cities?
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    That's true for sure. Same for the Scots islanders. Nonetheless, their music has remained very Scottish, with plenty of strathspeys etc.

    However, I don't see the piano style as anything like what is usually played in Scottish Country Dance bands. It seems to me to owe far more to something like barrelhouse piano, and is certainly far wilder and probably more improvised, and perhaps is something that would have been heard in US cities?
    I suspect you're right. The piano has changed in role since the 1920's, from an instrument to accompany fiddle to a second instrument in its own right. As I mentioned above, the influential pianist Margaret MacPhee (1913-1997) had some jazz background. I suspect that some of the Cape Breton bands of the 30's-50's that played popular and traditional music would have been playing swing, the pop music of the era. It would be hard to repress the swing pianists. The Cape Breton industrial region, where many formerly rural fiddlers mixed also had a population of African-Canadians, many from Barbados, who followed trends in African-American music, which may have had some influence. I'm not sure how segregated the music was.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    This is not directly related to the mandolin recording, but is an interesting piece by the innovative Scottish small piper Hamish Moore, and is to do with differences between Scotland and Cape Breton. Remember that many people in Scotland only began to hear music from Cape Breton in about the 1980s, and for many folk musicians it came as a revelation.

    https://bagpipe.news/2021/02/04/hami...NwHwj-tohdXX5A
    A fine article, Dagger. I agree with John Kelly's comments (post #13). My only caveat would be that folk arts, as the folklorist Barre Toelken put it, involve a combination of conservatism and innovation within a particular community's aesthetic limits. Cape Breton fiddling, piping, step-dancing, and Gaelic speaking preserve some aspects of Scottish culture that have disappeared in the old country, but also have new creative approaches, as well as aspects involving fusion with other cultures in North America. Cape Breton musicians also had a feedback loop with Scotland, as Cape Breton sailors and servicemen interacted with Scottish musicians of their time. Cape Bretoners also purchased records and books by Scott Skinner, who I believe performed in Nova Scotia, and other Scots contemporaries throughout the 20th century. John MacNeil's Reel (Big John MacNeil) for instance, written in Scotland well after the Highland Clearances that had a large part in populating Cape Breton with Scots, is a popular traditional tune in Cape Breton. This feedback pattern continues today.

    Added: Irish-Canadians in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have had a similar relationship with Irish musicians. Touring Irish musicians often played New York, Boston, Halifax, and St. John's. Furthermore, Atlantic-Canadian songs (e.g., "Pat Murphy's Meadow") have gone into oral tradition in Ireland.
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-08-2021 at 11:52am.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I was in CB and NS back in 1978 ( I think) when I found out about the bi-annual fiddle festival that was urged on by a CBC segment that mourned the death of the Scottish fiddling tradition in CB. The musicians looked at each other and said huh? At least that was what I was told. I am sure there is a great mix of music in CB but this is what I came across and on my short visit mostly heard that music.
    Many years ago, I told that story to my folklore professor, the bluegrass historian and banjo player, Neil Rosenberg. His response was, "Be wary of stories of origin." Neil pointed out, rightly, that the Cape Breton fiddle "revival" was happening at the same time as ethnic folk music revivals all over the western world. No doubt the story and the response were catalysts to the revival, but many young -- at the time -- folks like me were developing a strong interest in Cape Breton fiddling before hearing of the program that was aired in 1972. Cape Breton singer, guitar player, fiddler, recording artist, and TV host, John Allen Cameron was an influential promoter of Cape Breton fiddling at the same time as the associations and festivals were starting (He may have participated in some of these festivals). The legend of The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler and Father Rankin's role in reviving fiddling were reinforced and spread by a national news magazine article. I can't locate the reference at this time. I'd describe the reaction to the film as one important factor in the increasing popularity of Cape Breton fiddling.

    (The legend, in a nutshell, is that Father Rankin was so annoyed by the TV show that he stared an association and a festival. Many active Cape Breton fiddlers had to have already existed for Fr. Rankin to take these actions.)

    Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler:

    http://q=vanishing+cape+breton+fiddl...w=1250&bih=695

    https://www.google.com/search?q=vani...w=1250&bih=695

    Added: I posted this as a video, but it isn't showing on my screen.
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-08-2021 at 6:18pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    The album which really got me going was Jerry Holland's Master Cape Breton Fiddler, with (I think) Hilda Chiasson on piano and Dave MacIsaac on guitar. I am aware that he was born in Massachusetts to Canadian parents, but that album was a milestone for me.
    When I was in CB I was given some cassettes of Angus Chisholm and Cameron Chisholm, plus a few home recordings of sessions. It was pretty addictive stuff.

    I was much less keen on the contemporary folk songs that some bands seemed to favour.
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    The album which really got me going was Jerry Holland's Master Cape Breton Fiddler, with (I think) Hilda Chiasson on piano and Dave MacIsaac on guitar. I am aware that he was born in Massachusetts to Canadian parents, but that album was a milestone for me.
    When I was in CB I was given some cassettes of Angus Chisholm and Cameron Chisholm, plus a few home recordings of sessions. It was pretty addictive stuff.

    I was much less keen on the contemporary folk songs that some bands seemed to favour.
    Jerry was part of the Boston Cape Breton scene. His parents were from New Brunswick, but his father loved Cape Breton fiddling and passed on his passion to Jerry. Jerry's style was influenced greatly by Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald (see post #9). Winston was christened "Scotty" by his record company to indicate that, despite his name, he played Scottish music. An Acadian fiddler was similarly named "Scotty" Leblanc. Winston and Jerry played with a lighter bow touch than that of many Scottish Cape Breton fiddlers, especially those of Winston's generation, who are gone now. This Angus Chisholm medley from the 1930's is a classic example of older Cape Breton Scottish fiddling. (Forgive the record jacket, which takes kitsch to a new level.)

    And I'm with you about the contemporary "folk" songs. Cape Breton has many good real folk sings, i.e., songs that have gone into oral tradition, in both Gaelic and English. However, few Cape Bretoners speak Gaelic, so a Gaelic song is often a novelty, perhaps sung by people who learned it phonetically. And for whatever reason, few performers are interested in the older English songs.

    If the links don't work, search YouTube for "Angus Chisolm - Glengarry's Dirk, Bonnie Lass of Fisherow, Bird's Nest".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybt8...MacIsaac-Topic



    Added: Dave MacIsaac (Ashley's cousin) had a regular gig in a Halifax pub, playing guitar and fiddle, when I was there three years ago, pre-Covid. Hilda Chiasson is still active musically. Dave Holland died of cancer years ago. Many professional CB musicians, including Dave and Jerry live in Halifax on mainland Nova Scotia, where there's a bigger audience, a music industry, and cheaper and better transportation to gigs further afield.
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-09-2021 at 10:45am.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

  36. #23
    Registered User Kirk Higgins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Jerry Holland died in 2009.

    It is my understanding that Natalie MacMaster’s uncle, Buddy MacMaster, a renowned Cape Breton fiddler, prior to his death used to go regularly to Scotland to teach “Scottish” fiddling.

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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Pretty funny a good friend (who was darn good fiddler until his hands stopped cooperating recently) said here listen to this album. It's downstairs next to my turntable. Angus Chisolm who had never heard of.
    Ratliff R5 2007, Capek A5 2003, Washburn M5S-SB Jethro Burns 1982, Mid-Mo M-2, Epiphone MM 30 Bk mandolins, Harmony Batwing 1970's, George Bauer bowlback early 1900's Philadelphia.


    "Don't cloud the issue with facts!" Groucho Marx

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  40. #25
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cape Breton mandolin (1976)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kirk Higgins View Post
    Jerry Holland died in 2009.

    It is my understanding that Natalie MacMaster’s uncle, Buddy MacMaster, a renowned Cape Breton fiddler, prior to his death used to go regularly to Scotland to teach “Scottish” fiddling.
    I've been told that Jerry lived in Cape Breton and not Halifax, and that some dance fiddlers and pianists make a living or a substantial part of a living in Cape Breton.

    Different Cape Breton fiddlers, Buddy among them, go or went to Scotland to perform and give workshops in "Scottish fiddling" and "Scottish stepdancing" (hmm... no dance influence from the Irish and Acadians?) Also, fiddlers like Dan R. MacDonald, who visited Scotland during World War II, were influenced greatly by Scottish fiddlers. There's a colonial mentality on both sides, with the Scots thanking Cape Bretoners for preserving their musical culture, and Cape Bretoners either taking this as a compliment, or -- less so today -- feeling that they should emulate contemporary Scottish fiddlers. As I said, there's been continual feedback between Scotland and Cape Breton, though probably far less in the 19th century. Cape Breton bands, such as the 1970's Sons of Skye, were greatly influenced by the British Isles folk revival of the time. John Allen Cameron and his fiddling brother, John Donald Cameron, were admirers of the Scottish fiddler Hector MacAndrews. John Allen and other Cape Breton performers, e.g. the Rankins and Barra MacNeils, sang many old and contemporary Scottish songs in English, which would not have been understood by their Gaelic-speaking ancestors. Once again, their audiences were largely English-speaking. By the 1980's, most fluent Gaelic speakers in CB were rural and elderly. There's been a language revival in recent decades, with Gaelic singing used in teaching.
    Last edited by Ranald; Sep-09-2021 at 11:30pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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