Frank Ferrel and Janine Randall
at Bowdoin (Maine)

Event Summary

2009 April 10 (Friday)
Private house concert at the Thistle and Pine Farm (Val and John Mann’s home) in Bowdoin, Maine
Frank Ferrel on fiddle and Janine Randall on keyboards present an evening of music, good craic, and blether.
Advance reservation via e-mail to Val Mann at
and $10 at the concert.

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2009 April 14)

This past Friday, Val and John Mann hosted a house concert featuring Frank Ferrel and Janine Randall at their home, Thistle and Pine Farm, outside Bowdoin (Maine), presented by Phill McIntyre, founder of the Skye Theatre and responsible for its amazing stream of concerts presenting the finest Celtic music and musicians from the world over. I learnt of the concert through Phill’s mailing list, which you can join by visiting the Skye Theatre’s web site. Frank and Janine gave a concert at the Skye on Thursday, but since I was planning on being in Boston on Saturday, Friday worked better for me than Thursday, so I asked to attend the house concert instead.

Val and John’s hospitality was superb and I enjoyed meeting and talking with them both. John is the author of the book Ulster Scots on the Coast of Maine and chairman of the Maine Ulster Scots Project and consequently a fascinating person from whom to learn about the history of their settlement of and impact on Maine.

The venue is a lovely panelled book-lined study that easily held both the performers and thirty attendees; overflow seating was available outside in the living room, where the sound was said to be excellent, allowing for a total audience of about forty-five; the concert was sold out. I sat in the study, where the acoustics were superb and the setting delightfully intimate—what a great spot for a concert! Other concerts there are planned for the future.

Advertised as an evening of great craic and blether, the reminiscences of both Frank and Janine as the concert progressed told a story of another place and time, that of the Boston musical scene centred around Dudley Street and in house parties such as those at Johnny Muise’s (Janine’s father). I had previously known of Frank only through his CD, Boston Fiddle: The Dudley Street Tradition, recorded in Cape Breton in 1995 with Hilda Chaisson-Cormier on piano and J. P. Cormier on guitar, and through his celebrated compositions, of which the jigs Spin-N-Glow, Boston Life, The New Stove, The Canadian Club, and Compliments to the Boys of the Lough (all found in Buddy MacMaster’s recordings) are probably his best known tunes in Cape Breton circles; he has written many others, a number of which appear in the three tune collections he has released. In Frank’s description, the Dudley Street scene was a rich mix of Cape Breton, Acadian, and local Irish musicians whose music filled the dance halls and the street itself as it wafted out of the dance hall windows. Its heyday began in the late 1920’s and ended in the early 1960’s; it was a time when the music of those legendary Cape Breton fiddlers Angus Chisholm and Bill Lamey, and, when he was visiting, of Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, was frequently heard at dances and pub sessions there and at house parties elsewhere. Tommy Doucet (from Digby and Concession on the Nova Scotia mainland) and Alcide Aucoin (from Chéticamp) were two of several exponents of the Acadian style that were also active in that scene. Frank came to Boston as this scene was winding down, but he had studied the recordings of the fiddlers he admired and knew the music well by the time he arrived in Boston, where he was stationed at the Charleston Naval Shipyard during the 1960’s and took an active part in the music scene of that day.[1]

He began the evening by playing selections from Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald’s repertoire; the first was Highland Jigs (track 2 of the compilation CD of Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald’s music, Classic Cuts) and the second was Antigonish Polkas (track 19 of that CD). Then came some hornpipes and reels, including the Cottonwood Reel and the Wildcat Reel, played by both Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald and Angus Chisholm. Then came a fine Cape Breton set starting with a slow air, continuing with a strathspey, and ending with some reels; all were tunes I know but can not name. That was followed by a set of jigs. To illustrate the difference between the Irish and the Cape Breton styles, Frank then played the same reel twice, once in each style. Next came a set including the tunes Taxi Driver and Johnny’s Party, both of which Frank wrote in honour of Johnny Muise. Next, he played Elmer Briand’s Beautiful Lake Ainslie followed by a strathspey and two reels. Lastly, he played strathspeys that are very popular for step-dancing. An hour and twenty minutes had elapsed from the beginning of the concert and, while a fair amount of reminiscing occurred between the sets, there was also a lot of very fine music as well, nicely played by Frank with fine accompaniments by Janine.

After a break for leg-stretching, refreshments, and conversation, the concert resumed with Frank’s Spin-N-Glow and the traditional jig Squirrel in the Tree. Next came a set of New England dance hall tunes, the first of which was Lady Bartlett’s Whim, a New Hampshire reel dating from at least 1798, that Frank played a cappella. Then, Frank gave us a set characteristic of Tommy Doucet’s playing consisting of the Maple Leaf Two-Step and the Pointe-au-Pic reel. The fourth set began with Dan Hughie MacEachern’s Trip to Mabou Ridge, and continued with The MacDonald March, Maid in a Box, and the Millbrae reel. For a change of pace, Frank played a cappella a pipe tune on his fiddle in such a way that the fiddle sounded very like a bagpipe—something I had never seen nor heard done and an incredible performance, complete with marching feet—even though, in the end, the imitation was not perfect, it was still something I’d not have thought possible at all. Next came a trio of hornpipes, the second of which was the Golden Eagle and the third of which was the American Rifle Team, the latter a tune with an interesting history (see the tune’s description in The Fiddler’s Companion for details). The concert closed with a set of reels in A. After a prolonged standing ovation, Frank gave us a few bars of Pop Goes the Weasel and then launched into another set of reels. How quickly the second half of the concert, not much shorter than the first half, had passed!

After a chance to catch their breath and retrieve their instruments, Frank, several fiddlers (including our hostess), and a couple of guitarists sat down for several sets of tunes in the study. Some players didn’t know all the tunes, but all of the musicians knew some and their playing was very listenable: these folks know the music very well and it was a pleasure to hear them play.

My thanks go to the musicians for providing a wonderful evening of music and history, much of the latter quite new to me; to my hosts for providing a great venue for house concerts and their fine hospitality and interesting conversation; and to Phill McIntyre for attracting Celtic musicians of the highest calibre to eastern Maine. What a privilege it must be to have high-quality concerts of traditional music constantly available with only a short drive needed to attend!

[1] I would like to acknowledge discussions with Marcia Palmeter and later e-mail exchanges with both Marcia and Dave Palmeter that were very helpful to me.


Frank Ferrel on fiddle accompanied by Janine Randall on keyboards

Frank Ferrel on fiddle accompanied by Janine Randall on keyboards

Frank Ferrel on fiddle

Frank Ferrel on fiddle

Janine Randall on keyboards

Janine Randall on keyboards

Frank Ferrel on fiddle

Frank Ferrel on fiddle accompanied by Janine Randall on keyboards

Janine Randall on keyboards

After-concert session with Frank Ferrel

After-concert session with Frank Ferrel

After-concert session with Frank Ferrel

After-concert session with Frank Ferrel

After-concert session with Frank Ferrel