Zoë Darrow and the Fiddleheads at Agawam


Zoë Darrow on fiddle and Phil Darrow on guitar

Tom Coburg on piano

Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow on bodhràn

Phil Darrow on octave mandolin

Meg Sullivan introducing the second half of the concert

Dan Sullivan working the sound board

Tom Coburg on piano

Phil Darrow on guitar and Zoë Darrow on fiddle

Zoë Darrow step-dancing

Zoë Darrow fiddling and step-dancing

Zoë Darrow fiddling and step-dancing

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2007 February 19)

The group known as Zoë Darrow and the Fiddleheads consists of Zoë Darrow, a seventeen-year old from Blandford, Massachusetts, on fiddle; Phil Darrow, her father, mostly playing guitar but occasionally the mandolin; and Tom Coburn, a local organist and musician, on piano. On Saturday night, they gave a very fine concert at the Captain Charles Leonard House in Agawam, Massachusetts, sponsored by Meg and Dan Sullivan.

The trio plays traditional Scottish, Irish, and Cape Breton music. Zoë, who has attended the Cèilidh Trail School of Music and the Gaelic College in St. Anns, has absorbed the Cape Breton style of playing; closing my eyes, I had no problem at all believing I was back in Cape Breton as she played set after set of the tunes I have learned to love there. As well, she has had great exposure to the Scottish traditional music from Prince Edward Island, gaining her initial motivation to play this music when she heard the Chaisson family play at the age of six. She also has learned the Irish style of fiddling, though she more often plays the Cape Breton style I prefer. As if all this were not enough to master, she has recently taken up the bodhràn and is starting to play the bagpipes, but says she as yet lacks the confidence to play the latter for an audience. She is a vibrant, energetic, lively, extremely talented player, with great poise and stage presence, doing exactly what she has set out to do. Phil Darrow is a fine guitar player and mandolinist; he and Zoë did a duet (he on his new octave mandolin and she on a bodhràn built over thirty years ago by our host and talented musician in his own right, Dan Sullivan) that showcased his talents very well, in addition to giving Zoë a chance to demonstrate her fine bodhràn playing. Tom Coburn provided striking piano accompaniments to the evening’s music, adjusting them to mirror and enhance its varying moods: adding especially beautiful embellishments to the slow airs and bouncing rhythms and percussion to the strathspeys, jigs, and reels, everything he does is very well thought out and impeccably played. He is the only pianist for this style of music I have ever seen with written music in front of him as he plays, though he told me later that what he has is not all spelled out, but instead consists of sketches and notes for accompaniment ideas, since he hasn’t yet internalized all of the tunes. Whatever, it works and works very well; he’s a delight to hear. In addition to the three main instruments, there was a fourth instrument quite audible during the Cape Breton style sets, Zoë’s feet: in true Cape Breton style, she pounded out the rhythms of the dance music as she played.

Most of the sets the trio played are to appear on Zoë’s forthcoming CD, her second, due in a couple of months (her first was entitled Please Don’t Eat the Fiddleheads and was released when she was twelve). Either Zoë or Phil gave the names of all of the tunes played in each of the many sets—they played for two very full hours—but I regret that I did not get all the names of the tunes written down as my short term memory is getting ever shorter with the years. There were some J. Scott Skinner tunes, including the gorgeous Dargai and The Shakin’s o’ the Pocky, the latter written with Peter Milne; some Jerry Holland tunes; James Hill’s The Bee’s Wing; Neil Gow’s Lament on the Death of his Second Wife; John Morris Rankin’s Hull’s Reel; Dan. R. MacDonald’s Moxham Castle; A Farewell to Decorum by Hamish Moore and Dick Lee; traditional tunes such as Silver Spear, The Flowers of Edinburgh (for several interesting interpretations of what those “flowers” might be, check out the Fiddler’s Companion entry here!), Pigeon on the Gate; and tons more. Zoë’s dulcet tones on the slow airs sounding at times like a viola; her fast, precise, and perfectly timed playing on the fast pieces with heavy use of cuts and typical Cape Breton embellishments; Tom and Phil’s beautiful accompaniments: it all added up to an evening of marvellous music. To finish it all off, Zoë treated us first to a rousing step dance and then a step-dance fiddle playing combination at the very end. Greeted by a standing ovation, the trio returned for their encore, a set appropriately beginning with William Marshall’s The Farewell, just before the clock struck ten. What a wonderful evening!

Sincerest thanks go to Meg and Dan Sullivan for hosting this fine concert. The next in the series will be J.J. Chaisson from Prince Edward Island on March 17, making it another “do not miss” in this excellent concert series.