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Garden of Troup reel; Dan R. Born on this farm, Alex Francis, with the exception of three years spent in Windsor, Ontario, has lived his whole life there. The beautiful tall trees pictured on the over are Silver Oaks. They are about to spring to life for their 66th year. As a young boy, Alex Francis planted these trees with his father around the same time he started to play the fiddle. Throughout the seasons these trees have matured and have firmly rooted themselves, both in the earth, and as an impression on the minds of the many who have visited this home for music. The same is true of the music of Alex Francis. Deeply rooted in old world tunes, this music was born from a local Gaelic culture, and enriched by countless musicians, both local and itinerant. Through his own enthusiasm to learn and play, his repertoire has grown and matured throughout the seasons to include old world fiddle and pipe tunes as well as tunes from a long line of Scottish and Cape Breton composers including Niel and Nathaniel Gow, Simon Fraser, William Marshall, Alexander Walker, James Scott Skinner, and Dan R. His sound, rich in Gaelic accent, is truly unique in the world of fiddle music. This sound is an expression of an older world - a world of Gaelic language and mouth music; Clydsdale work horses and cows with Gaelic names; itinerant fiddlers and dance pipers; and long hard days of farm work followed by evenings of endless streams of strathspeys and reels. Alex Francis was the youngest of a Gaelic speaking family of By the time of his birth his father Angus, a blacksmith, had established the MacKay property as a busy farm with a forge, along a main road through Inverness County. As the seasons changed so too did the work that accompanied the everyday life around the MacKay farm. Although the long long winters prevented many outdoor chores besides cutting firewood, work around the forge and hauling water for both the farm and forge from the nearby river. As busy as farm life was, though, there was always time for a few tunes, especially if a fiddler or piper was to stop by. In the above picture from , Alex Francis, aged 13, took a break from his days work to learn the reel "Lady Georgina Campbell. When Alex Francis was a young boy starting out on the fiddle, one of the most important goals and values in learning music, as with learning the Gaelic language, was to create an individual style and sound. By the time Alex Francis was in his late teens he had already established his own sound and style as well as a strong repertoire of local tunes. Initially Alex Francis learned to read music from his older brother Jimmy. Various musical influences strengthened his style and through the generosity of visiting musicians his repertoire quickly grew far beyond local proportions. Alex Francis soon gained a reputation as a good player and kept himself busy playing at various picnics, weddings and dances. Although as he often said himself, Alex made very little money at it. The MacKay farm was a stopping point along the road for various people of different backgrounds. They came for the forge, and for the music and friendship. For many musicians the farm became a regular stopping point on a musical circuit that stretched from MargaretMacPhee's house in New Waterford all the way through to boston and Detroit. From these musicians he inherited a huge repertoire both by ear and in the form of printed collections. He inherited from Dan R. Dan Hughie MacEachern, who lived in nearby Queensville, made the MacKay farm a regular stopping point on his musical circuit. Gordon was a collector as well and in published the Cape Breton Collection which, besides many of his own compositions, included newly composed tunes from other Inverness County composers. Included in this book were some of the early compositions of Dan R. He worked there at an automotive plant. In fact, the introduction on this recording track 1 I transferred from a rare wire recording made at a house dance in Detroit, You hear Alex Francis playing solo for the first figure of a square set. The occasion is a wedding. Three years later, after a work shortage, Alex Francis moved back home to glendale where he has since lived and worked on the farm. Eventually he took a job at the pulp mill in Port Hawkesbury, but continued to manage the family farm with his older brother Jimmy. Throughout these years Alex Francis kept playing the fiddle and honing his repertoire. As well Alex Francis has continued the old time tradition of stringing tunes together at random. He will rarely play the same tunes in the same set. An example of this aspect of his playing style, included on this recording is Marnoch's strathspey, appearing in two totally different sets, from two different sessions. Other old-time traditional aspects of Alex's playing are the unique gracings, embellishments and bowing styles that gives his musical accent that Gaelic flavor. One of the close musical friendships Alex Francis made in the 70s was with folklorist John Shaw. John cultivated a wonderful musical friendship with alex Francis and eventually included recordings of Alex Francis on his Topic LP compilations of Cape Breton fiddling and Gaelic singing. These wonderful recordings and countless appearances at festivals ranging from the Glendale Festival to Expo '86 in Vancouver, have broadened the reputation of Alex Francis, to make him one of today's most distinguished of Gaelic style fiddler players. Today, many things have changed around the MacKay farm. Jimmy has passed away and things aren't as busy around the farm as they used to be. However, one strong tradition has remained to this day. The MacKay farm is still a stopping point on a musical circuit that since those early days has grown in great proportions! Alex Francis, now in his 74th year is still as eager to play and share his music as he was at age The recordings you hear on this disc, with the exception of tracks 1 and 8, were made over a four year period at sessions in Alex's front room. Those sessions are magical memories for me. I remember sitting back and closing my eyes and being overwhelmed by the feelings and images conjured up by his music. Indeed, for me recording Alex Francis has been a special experience. Not only have I made a wonderful friendship, but now since working with Alex Francis and his tapes for several years, that music is inside me! Like my very first experience of music - my grand-aunt Lizzie diddling tunes in my ear Jimmy MacKay - Alex Francis' older brother Jimmy was a fluent Gaelic speaker and writer; a bard and a renowned scholar in the Gaelic language. He lived his whole life in Glendale, with his brother Alex, where he helped manage the family farm and kept a small antique shop in the summer months. He had Gaelic names for all the cows and often passed the time while working alone in the barn, gently conversing and singing to the cows in Gaelic. He had a special fondness for antique clocks, photographs, Gaelic poetry and stories; and all things old. He was very fond of his brother's music and it was Jimmy who first encouraged me to publish these recordings. The following story is from a recording Jimmy made of himself - in his native language. He then transcribed the recording himself. His recollections contained here reflect the gentle nature of his personality and offer us an insight into the older world of his great-grandfather. Although this story reflects his deep love and his hopes for the Gaelic language and culture, it also reflects his willingness to accept the changes that are inevitable in our world. My ancestors came from Kintail in Scotland. It was called MacKay's Kintail to distinguish it from another Kintail. They left the old country in I understand they left of their own free will. I didn't hear about any oppression. Willion son of Murdoch was a ship's carpenter and also worked on furnature. I didn't hear why they chose Cape Breton as a place to settle. Perhaps they understood this was a very pleasant place. Anyway, this was the nearest land to them. I believe they were getting sick on the ocean. They took up a farm in the rear of St. Peters in Richmond County. This place was called MacKay's Cove. My grandfather married a Glendale woman and he bought a farm here. That's the reason I live here now. I was born and raised here. I have never lived anywhere else but here. Since I was very young there have been great changes in the people's circumstances and their livelihood. In my grandfather's era it was a different situation everywhere. At that time the majority of people were taking their livelihood from the earth. This involved a good deal of work. They didn't have the implements that folk do today. The land had to be cultivated as Bard MacLean said, " For sure, the neighbors were close to each other. They frequently held ploughing and reaping frolics; they used the sickle and the sycthe. There was a bard around here called Allan the son of Hugh MacEachern. He was at a reaping frolic once and he made a verse of a song to taunt the others. It goes like this: I was once reaping with a crew of nimble lads. I threw off my coat and out stripped them. The women used to have spinning frolics and apparently there was a good deal of fun in this. There woud be a wee dram among them and a goodly share taking snuff. Between that and strong tea, it's likely suitable songs were to be heard in their midst. Everyone had their own living to earn at special times of the year, but despite however busy they were, there would always be time to visit relations and friends at a long distance.
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