Jimmy Halliday | Bowing Down Home
Jimmy Halliday’s family has occupied the same property in southeastern Queens County since the early 19th century, when they migrated from the Isle of Skye and got a grant of land from Lord Selkirk.
Halliday started playing at 15, and was unusual among his contemporaries in that he learned many of his tunes by note (via note reading): a skill he was taught by a Boston man who boarded nearby during the summer. At first, he felt he needed to keep this skill under wraps, “Those times, you did it on the sly. They made fun of you for playing by note: that it was sissy or something; the fiddlers who played by ear thought it was too mechanical. But it was a good way to pick up tunes!”
Halliday started playing for local dances by the age of 20, and soon teamed up with piano player Eddie Martin: a musical partnership that would last for decades. People in the area danced both the quadrille and the Eight-Hand Reel, which called for step-dancing in place between the figures. Some other fiddlers who played at dances in the area were Joe Griffin, Frank McCabe, Angus Leslie MacLean, Clarence MacLean, and Johnny Morrissey.
Halliday tells us that interest in fiddling and traditional dancing began to decline in his area in the late 1940s and early 50s: a trend that was accelarated by the coming of television. He also notes that even in the old days, fiddlers were not always regarded with respect by their neighbors, most of whom did not regard playing for dances as “real” work.
Halliday stopped playing fiddle altogether for many years while he was raising a family. He then took it up again in the mid-1970s and became a founding member of the PEI Fiddlers’ Society.