Farrell gets started | Bowing Down Home


File: farrellleo06-oh-gettingstarted_M.mp3


LF – Leo Farrell

KP – Curator Ken Perlman

LF: Well I’ll tell you, my mother was a Woods from Miscouche. And after church – we’re Catholics, I don’t know what you are but it don’t make no difference anyhow. After church we went down with the horse and wagon to her home. Just about here to the corner from the church. I wasn't goin' to school, I was about three, four years old. I went upstairs and I seen a fiddle hangin' up on the wall, and somethin' struck me the funniest feelin' in the world, I can't explain it. The funniest feelin' came over me. I took the fiddle, picked it off the wall - I never seen anybody play the fiddle because there was no television, and no radio. We didn’t even have a radio, that time. I took the fiddle down, I took it like this, and I took the bow like this [demonstrates more or less proper playing position]. Now, if you can tell me why I did that I don't know. And I took the fiddle downstairs and, “I want to take it home.” And my mother said, “No, cause that's my father's fiddle. Put it back upstairs.” So poor Leo had to go back upstairs and hang it up. Finally, Jack my Mom’s cousin brought it down to me. They brought the fiddle down but it was pretty well unglued. So what I used to do is put thread on for strings, went to the horse's tail; there was no hair on the bow. I made a bow out of a short [stick?]. I couldn't take too much long hair out of the horse's tail.

KP: So you carved your own bow?

LF: Yeah. I made my own bow (laughs). Anyway I couldn’t play a note but I could sit down and… [demonstrates scratching at the fiddle]. I didn’t know any tunes, there was no tunes in the house.

KP: So you never actually heard anybody play

LF: No, I never heard anybody play till I was five or six years old. The winter of 1924, Archie Holman’s in Summerside, you know where Holman’s Store was, or do you? It’s where Dominion Square is now.

KP: I know they were involved in creating a radio station.

LF: Yeah, and by the way I play up on that there. Anyhow, Holman’s had a fiddlin’ contest. So they went to Summerside with a team of horses and chuck wagon. And Holman’s had a fiddle advertised in the paper, it was three dollars and a half for the fiddle and a dollar and a half for the bow. “Gosh,” I said “I wish I had that fiddle. I’d like to have that fiddle.” And that was enough. Anyway, they went to Summerside and brought home the fiddle. Gosh, I was pleased. My neighbor moved from Lot 16, he married a woman from down Alberton area. And she could play the fiddle, play the piano. And the first night she learned me to play Wreck of the Old Number 9.

Farrell plays first part of Wreck of the Old Number 9

LF: Well I got that, I came home. I spent three or four days getting that and finally I got it. So I went over again, and she showed me the “turn” [second part].

Farrel plays the 2nd part of Wreck of the Old Number 9

LF: No, once I got the tune, and heard the sound of it, I could play it. I didn't have any trouble doing it [the technique], that just came natural. But I had a hard job learnin' [the tunes].


Talk about Leo's son Victor, who was a natural musician, opened up a music shop in western Canada, but was no good at farming. His other son David had no musical talent but was good at farming.


LF: Some people like Joe Albert, he can hear me playing a tune and he can pretty well get it. I can't do that. You play a tune, I can't get that.

[On the video (V-33-01; 26:00) Leo demonstrates how he learns tunes now, by playing along with recording B this is not represented on the Marantz recording]

So either he gets a tune from another fiddler playing a bit at a time, or by ear off the record. Either way, he can only absorb a tune a bit at a time. The woman who first taught him was named Ninah (NYE-na); she also taught him St. Anne's Reel. Then at dances he watched other fiddlers and watched where they put the fingers, and kept addin' on, addin' on.

[the other voice heard here is David Farrell, Leo's son]

KP: Some fiddlers have talked about waking up with a tune in their minds.


LF: I do that all the time. You have to get the tune in your head. You can't play a tune you haven't got in your head. The tune goes over in my mind all the time when I'm learnin' a tune.


Leo demonstrates a tune that has been going round and round in his mind of late.