New CD - Full Speed Ahead: Strathlorne native Robbie Fraser and Cabot’s Crossing
New CD - Full Speed Ahead
Strathlorne native Robbie Fraser and Cabot’s Crossing
-by John Gillis
Fans of Celtic music may have noticed a relatively new CD on the shelves locally from a band named Cabot’s Crossing. The band released their new CD – Full Speed Ahead last summer.
The band, based in Calgary, includes well-known Cape Breton fiddler and pianist – Robbie Fraser of Strathlorne. Robbie has been performing with Cabot’s Crossing on a regular basis since December 2011 and the band was together prior to that.
“They were looking for someone to replace a band member who had left and they heard of me through a cousin of mine from New Waterford named Francis MacDonald and that’s where it started,” he added.
Fraser is currently employed in the Calgary area as a grade seven math teacher. All the band members have day jobs but they get to perform together twice a month or so.
Robbie stills tries to spend part of his summers in Cape Breton, where he also performs on fiddle or piano on a regular basis.
Fraser has been a fixture, of course, on the local Celtic music scene since he first started playing fiddle here in Cape Breton at the tender age of five.
“I took my first fiddle lessons from John Donald Cameron at the age of six at An Drochaid in Mabou, where he was teaching. I knew about 12 tunes at the time and he got a kick out of that and he asked me why I needed lessons,” Fraser said with a chuckle.
Surrounded and immersed in Celtic music from the time he started to crawl, Robbie told The Oran he was very fortunate to grow up in the 1990s when Cape Breton fiddle and Celtic music was being recognized the world over. His parents, grandparents, and the community were supportive with many of the seasoned performers realizing that he was serious about his study on the music.
“I remember playing Alice’s Thursday evening summer ceilidhs (in the Inverness Fire Hall) and there were all these great young fiddlers who were already performing there – people like Jackie Dunn, Stephanie Wills, Wendy MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster, Rodney MacDonald, and Glenn Graham and others. I was very fortunate to be immersed in that group of people,” he added.
Robbie was also very quickly accepted into the fold of older players who were still alive at that time – fiddlers like Willie Kennedy, Kenneth Joseph MacDonald, and Alexander MacDonald of Mabou. The legendary Buddy MacMaster and Fr. Angus Morris were also influences and mentors.
“I think they really loved to see the young people carrying on the traditional music especially,” Robbie added.
First known as a fiddler, Robbie began playing piano on a regular basis in 2005. Prior to that, he often performed on fiddle with his brother Isaac, also a piano player. Together, they performed on countless occasions at the Glenora Distillery.
“I remember the first time I played a gig on the piano. It was with Willie Kennedy and Kenneth Joseph MacDonald at a matinee at The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. It was around 2005. I had been playing a bit with them at regular sessions at the Thursday Mini Manor at that time. Stanley (Doc) MacNeil, Bill MacDonald, Alexander MacDonald, and Pius MacIsaac were other regular players there at the time. It was very special to be asked by Willie and Kenneth to accompany them and after that I began to play piano more. I did a lot of gigs with the late fiddler Marc Boudreau of Cheticamp as well,” said Fraser. He also began performing on a regular basis on piano with fiddlers such as Howie MacDonald, Ian MacDougall, Ashley MacIsaac, and Colin Grant and recorded with both MacIsaac and Grant.
“My fiddle repertoire helped me recognize many of the tunes and that really helped me starting out on piano,” said Fraser.
Robbie said that on the piano cut of Johnny Cope that he was also very much influenced by the piano styles of two Mabou area pianists: Joey Beaton and the late John Morris Rankin.
On this recording Robbie primarily plays piano but there are a couple of cuts where he performs on fiddle.
On one of those tracks, Robbie pays “Compliments to the Chisholms” of Margaree, a family who were also influential to his development as both a piano player and fiddler.
“I thought it would be a nice gesture to the family, as I had played with Maybelle over the years and looked up to her for a huge inspiration. Of course, Cameron and Margaret were other legendary figures in that family,” said Fraser.
Prior to recording with Cabot’s Crossing, Robbie and his brother Isaac recorded a couple of CDs together.
Listeners will find Cabot’s Crossing to be an upbeat and energetic band.
The CD opens with an upbeat version of Star of the County Down with Robbie providing the intro on piano and taking the second solo on this dual fiddle track.
Other tracks include a lot of tradition material – cuts such as Johnny Cope, Loch Lomond, Caledonia (Dougie MacLean) Irish Rover and Little Beggarman, for example.
Cabot's Crossing has a repertoire “firmly embedded in East Coast/Maritime/ Newfoundland/traditional Irish music, from the Rankins and Great Big Sea to Ryan's Fancy and Stan Rogers, Christy Moore and the Pogues to John Allan Cameron and Ron Hynes,” the band notes on its website.
The Full Speed Ahead album was produced, arranged, and recorded in Alberta and it was mixed and mastered at Lakewind Sound Studio in Point Aconi, Cape Breton, by Mike Shepherd. Graphic design of the CD was done by Margie Beaton of Mabou.
A little snippet of news passed along by Robbie’s mother, Joanne, and confirmed by Robbie. He is getting married this spring to his fiancé at a ceremony in Calgary. She’s a High River, Alberta, native. Congratulations Robbie on your new CD and your upcoming wedding!
Locally, Cabot’s Crossing CDs are available at many venues along Route 19 in such places as the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, The Bear Paw Gift Shop, Mabou Freshmart, Port Hood Home Hardware, MacKinnon’s Music Store in the Port Hawkesbury Mall, and elsewhere.
You can also purchase the album on CD Baby, iTunes, and Google Play. If you are in Calgary, you can get a copy of the album from the band at any of their gigs.
The other members of Cabot’s Crossing are: Dominic Terry (vocals, guitar, bodhran), Dominic produces a morning show for Global; Jonathan Harris has his own audio-visual business (fiddle), and Bryan Culliton (guitar, bouzouki, banjo, dobro) is in furniture sales.
Follow Cabot’s Crossing at www.cabotscrossing.com.
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