Tommy Peoples and Jerry Holland
at Montpelier

Event Description

Sunday, 2007 April 29
Unitarian Church, Montpelier, Vermont
Tommy Peoples and Jerry Holland, two legends of fiddling, one playing in the Donegal style and the other in the Cape Breton style, will perform together in a special concert; for more information, see this description.
$18.00 in advance, $20 on the day of the show.

Review Posted to the Cape Breton Music List 2007 May 3

This past Sunday evening, Tommy Peoples and Jerry Holland presented a magnificent evening of fiddling at the Unitarian church in Montpelier (Vermont). Neither fiddler had an accompanist; the wonderful acoustics of the high-ceilinged church showed off the purity of their playing to great advantage.

Tommy Peoples, whom I had never seen before, was born in County Donegal, where he had his first fiddle lessons from his late first cousin Joe Cassidy. He moved to Dublin as a teenager, where he entered the traditional Irish music scene of the mid-sixties and met his contemporaries Sean Keane and Matt Molloy of Chieftains fame. In the seventies, he was a founding member of the band 1691 and then went on to be a part of the early Bothy Band, which he left in 1976. He had an unhappy history with the recording labels and the few recordings he made at that time (other than the still available The Bothy Band 1975, one of my all-time favourite Irish music recordings and from which Tommy alas made not one red cent) are generally unavailable. His most recent album, on his own label, dates from 1998; titled An Gleann Ciúin (The Quiet Glen), it features music very similar to what Tommy played at this concert (though it does have a very fine unobtrusive guitar accompaniment by Alph Duggan).[1] I was delighted to pick it up at the concert and have been happily listening to it since then.

Tommy Peoples opened the concert. I have next to no titles of the tunes he played because he gave few of them and most of those he did I didn’t get—his voice, even amplified, is very soft and my ears were not up to the task of picking up the little he said. Nearly all of what he played was unfamiliar to me; some were his own compositions, but they were all strongly traditional, tuneful, and close in spirit to the Scottish tunes of Cape Breton. I was struck by his airy, light, clear, sweet playing, which, especially in the high registers that were prominent throughout his performance, was strikingly beautiful, almost angelic. The initial reel set was followed by a set of jigs and that led on to a slow air followed by a reel, and two more sets of tunes, the first including Memories of Clare and The Rumour. The audience, many of whom were students of the fiddle, was entranced and the church was silent, except for the gorgeous music and the tapping feet. Enthusiastic applause greeted each number in turn.

After playing for more than a half hour, with very short breaks, Tommy left the stage and Jerry Holland came out on crutches—he currently is suffering from a bum left leg that is causing him considerable pain—and paid homage to Tommy, whom he called “one of his gods” and crossed himself before starting to play that he might not embarrass himself in front of him—not that he needed to have worried! Jerry named hardly any of the tunes he played either and a good deal of what he played was new to me—this was not the repertoire that he plays at most of his concerts I’ve been at—so it was especially delightful to me. Like Tommy, he began with a set of reels. The second set started with a beautiful air at a relatively fast tempo and another tune whose genre I couldn’t decide on and then a reel—a really fine set I’d love to have on a recording. The third set was of jigs, the first two of which I recognized while the third was new to me. Then came a waltz he wrote in 1999 that I knew quite well. The final set was of reels, only one of which I remembered. Since Jerry had taught many of those in the audience at the fiddle camps he’s conducted over the years, the audience was listening as only one fiddler can listen to another and enthusiastically received Jerry’s stunningly gorgeous playing.

During intermission, I met Dan and Carla Crook from Lebanon (New Hampshire). They subscribe to this list and had just hosted a house concert for Buddy MacDonald while he was on his recent US Northeast tour; it was a delight to have a pleasant chat with them. I encouraged them to publicize events happening in their area on this list.

After intermission, Jerry resumed playing, beginning with a mournful slow air that was new to me. Then came a great set of tunes, the last having been composed by Vincent MacGillivray (perhaps Tom Marsh’s Hornpipe). A superb set of jigs followed, played with Jerry’s super light touch that was enhanced by the reverberations in the church and the very audible rocking of the audience’s feet. This was followed by a beautiful air.

Tommy Peoples then took the stage and gave us a “coupla jigs”, which were complex tunes played with what I think of as “doubling” (not being a player, I don’t know the proper technical term, but the bow causes multiple strings to sound for each note)—marvellous playing. Then he gave us Green Fields of America, a strange mournful slow air with lots of accidentals, which he played with lots of slurs (this piece is also on his CD, though with fewer slurs, and unaccompanied it sounded even more mournful than on the CD); it was followed by some nice reels to finish off the set. I didn’t get the description of the following set, but I was taken with the sweetness of the high register playing, of which there was a good deal, and the overall motion and “swing” of the set. After a story of which I got nothing, he finished off with a set of reels.

Jerry then joined Tommy on stage and played a set of strathspeys and reels on dual fiddles that lasted for a good ten minutes. At its conclusion, the audience rose as one and, after the applause subsided, we were treated to the very fine encore set that finished the evening’s music.

It was a delight to see so many young faces in the audience. This is a tribute to the great work of Beth Telford and Sarah Blair, who have organized a number of fiddle camps in the area, many featuring Jerry Holland, who is as beloved as a teacher as he is as a player; they are obviously gifted teachers who have passed their love of the music on to their students. They have my sincerest thanks, not only for organizing this memorable concert but also for their work in spreading the music to the next generation.

[1] This information has been condensed from Tommy Peoples’ web site.


The photos I took at the concert, sadly, turned out very badly. I don’t know why, as I got pretty decent photos the previous night with the same camera and similar lighting conditions. Moreover, the photots look much better in the camera’s small monitor than they do after being downloaded. In any case, after adjusting the exposure and brightness as much as I could to compensate, I am still very unhappy with the photos which follow, the best of a very bad lot.

Tommy Peoples on fiddle

Jerry Holland on fiddle

Tommy Peoples on fiddle and Jerry Holland on fiddle