A LITTLE SHACK, UP THE PONTIAC... Flapjack is Cookin
by Kim MacKenzie
Pull up a stool on the old front porch,
pick up a jug, a washboard, or a fiddle. There's corn bread
cooking and the sun is setting. It is time for some old-time
Canadian bush swing. Grab your banjo, harmonica, or jaw
harp, add a big bass fiddle, and of course, the gee-tar.
Pile on a whole lot of foot stompin' and hand clappin',
for Flapjack is in town.
Flapjack is a four-piece band made up
of Jay Edmunds, Karen Taylor, Teilhard Frost and Sam Allison.
Now based out of an old log house near Peterborough, Ontario,
their tunes are born around the woodstove in Buckhorn where
they cosy-in to simmer old favourites and cook up new ones.
Wherever they roam, a kitchen party is sure to spring up.
Even the hardest of hearts will find their toes tapping
in spite of themselves.
Flapjack is a true-blue Ontario band
that is dedicated to the performing and preservation of
old-time Canadian music; their music is steeped in the landscape,
history and tradition of Ontario and beyond. Their love
of traditional music is contagious and their songs draw
you to a simpler time and a culture of maple sugar, log
tows, swimmin' holes, and the backwoods of Ontario. You
will smell the pine needles, taste the maple syrup, and
feel the plaid flannel on your skin. The music of Flapjack
gets inside you and fills you up with the spirit of Canadiana,
making it impossible to sit still.
Flapjack's music tells the forgotten
and unknown stories of Ontario and the people who pioneered
the land, who were both tested by, and in love with, the
landscape in which they were making a life. The extraordinary
natural beauty of the province, from its backwoods to its
wide-open spaces, lakes, rivers and trees, are woven together
with the tales of the great joys and struggles of Ontario's
people. Songs such as "The Opeongo Line" and "In
a Little Shack Up the Pontiac" reminisce about the
days of lumber camps and log tows in the Algonquin Park
"We are lucky to have met and talked
with some old-timers in the area-their stories are incredibly
inspiring. Jay wrote a song for the new CD that is based
directly on a story told to us by a friend, Stan Edwards,
about getting lost on the way back to the lumber camp from
a dance in Marmora in the middle of winter. We are so sad
that Stan just passed away and he never got to hear the
song. The new CD is dedicated to his memory," says
Karen. "I think the music, the traditional tunes, carries
the history in some subtle way-every time they have been
played for a dance, for a house party, for someone's wedding
or wake, they gather up a bit of the spirit of that day
and carry it on."
Bush swing is Flapjack's own name for
their sound, which is old-time Canadian fiddle music, mixed
with early jazz, blues and country swing. The band's repertoire
is a mixture of old favourites, and their own original material
written in a traditional style. Traditional Canadian fiddle
tunes are borrowed from the repertoires of great players
such as Andy de Jarlis (from Manitoba) and Don Messer, and
songwriters like Mac Beattie.
"We play almost entirely Canadian
repertoire-from traditional fiddle tunes with a long history
of being played here, songs written in the early 1900s,
as well as our own new material in the same style,"
"The tunes themselves originally
come mostly from the Scots-Irish tradition, and from the
rest of Europe," says Karen. "In Canada, the core
sound was the fiddle and the use of the feet percussively
while playing. There is a fusion in Canadian traditional
music between the Scots-Irish, the old French music, Eastern
European and Native North American influences, in different
mixes depending on whether you're in the Ottawa Valley,
Manitoba, Newfoundland, or northern Quebec."
Flapjack is a busy band, with a jam-packed
touring schedule that takes them all over Canada and the
United States, playing concerts and festivals from Ontario
to Massachusetts, from Alabama to Kentucky and North Carolina.
They also play for dances, weddings, and wakes.
"I like to play at home,"
says Teilhard. " It gives us a chance to share the
music and dance, which is such a large part of Canadian
tradition, with fellow Canadians who may have never experienced
it first hand. When we sing the songs and retell the stories,
I feel it brings people together. We are part of a long
line of fiddlers and storytellers who have travelled the
land, warming up the long winter nights and tempting people
to watch the sun rise on a fresh July morning."
Playing for dances, the band's first
love, allows them to get back to the roots of the music
and the reason it all began. Although most people's vision
of square dancing consists of awkward, sweaty torture sessions
in high school gym classes, there has recently been a huge
revival of Square Dance (or Contra Dance in New England
terms) throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"It is a lot of fun. The music
being played for these dances is some of the most innovative
acoustic music created today, and it's a wonderful way to
meet people and create community. There is a gigantic, vibrant
subculture out there," says Karen.
The band is also doing its part to
introduce new fans to the joys of traditional music and
dance, without the awkwardness, by playing dances for beginners.
"It's always a blast. Anyone can do it-there's a caller
who teaches the dance and calls the moves as you do them...it's
It is true-you cannot help but feel
the urge to kick up your heels only a few bars into a lively
fiddle tune, when the sound of the washboard is scratching
away, the jaw harp is sproinging, and the harmonica is singing.
Close your eyes and you'll find yourself back in a one room
schoolhouse with a weatherworn wooden floor, kids, uncles
and grandmas stompin' up a storm, do-si-do-and-loop-da-looping,
laughter and warmth and fun in the air. The callers bark
out the steps and next thing you know everyone is clapping
and knee slapping, and the dance is in full swing.
You need only hear Flapjack play a
few songs to know that each of the band members holds a
very personal connection to traditional Canadian music.
Each song holds a flavour of its own personal history. Teilhard
Frost, the band's percussionist, is a Manitoulin Island
boy, and fell in love with the fiddle at age four.
"Lyle Dewar was a big influence
on me. He used to play sitting on the arm of his couch and
I thought that was great. He was 'ooold-time'! My mum would
never let me play like that. Rudy Meeks out of Orillia was
also a big influence. We had some of his records, and I
would sometimes visit with him at his shop which was always
full of fiddles and fiddlers."
Frost works magic with a washboard,
bones, harmonica, jaw harp, and his well-worn boots. In
fact, it is said that he can jam with anything he lays his
hands on. He has been put to test on this claim; he's even
been known to make music with cheddar cheese and a plastic
"It met with limited success,"
he grins, but reminds us that we can't take for granted
just how incredible instruments, such as the fiddle, really
are. "In the words of Jamie Snider, a fiddle is just
'horse hair, strings and an old pine box' and look where
it has got us!"
Sam Taylor, the band's bassist, has
a deep love for all forms of folk music, and has long revered
such greats as Stompin' Tom and banjo player Uncle Dave
Macon. Sam sees the music as an expression of regular folks
and the ways that their lives and stories change over time.
"I love music that is a product
of everyday life and is a perpetuation of the idea of the
development...of peoples in relation to the passing of time
Sam was the unsuspecting inspiration
for the name of the band, as well as their newest CD.
Jay explains, "I was busking in
the Toronto subway a few years ago and this fellow came
along with a stand-up bass and started jamming with me.
He told me that he was studying jazz and working as a chef.
That night I had a dream that he was flipping pancakes in
a roadside diner called Happy Slappy's Flapjack Hut-which
is the title track and name of our new CD. Of course, that
bass player was Sam, who became the fourth member of the
band shortly after that subway jam session
became the name of the band."
Karen Taylor and Jay Edmunds provide
lead vocals and fiddle, and are the creative force behind
Flapjack. Jay spent plenty of time in the Ottawa Valley
as a child, and has always held a fascination for playing
the music of his own roots.
"My interest was first piqued by
my mentor, Jamie Snider, who continues to be a great influence.
It has always really appealed to me to play the music of
the place I come from. All through my childhood I spent
summers in the Ottawa Valley, so the music of that area
has a particular resonance for me."
Karen, too, holds a deep personal connection
to the stories and the songs of the old times.
"I love Canadian history-not so
much the dates and battles and political developments, but
the social history-people's experience of day-to-day life
and how it has changed. I live in an old square timber house
from the 1860s off in the woods, with no television and
plenty of instruments...when we're not touring, we are in
a place where it is easy to dream and imagine and drift
back into the feel of earlier times."
Karen trained in classical violin as
a child, but a bad experience at a music camp had her firmly
hanging up her fiddle. Luckily, however, after hearing someone
playing fiddle music "the way it was meant to be played"
at a party ten years ago, she became hooked on the sound.
"There is a drive, a pulse, a hypnotic
rhythm in fiddle music that I'd never been able to feel
playing classical music. When I heard the fiddler at that
party, I hadn't played for a very long time, but I dusted
off my grandpa's violin and started up again."
And thank goodness for that. In rural
areas, traditional music is alive and well. Teilhard grew
up on Manitoulin Island, where "if you don't like old
time music, you're out of luck." In small towns all
over Ontario, traditional Canadian fiddle music is coming
"There are still a lot of jams
and sessions where people get together to play fiddle tunes
from Ontario, and there are lots of kids interested in learning
fiddle music which is a good sign," says Karen.
The band began however, as they realised
that opportunities to hear and play old time Canadian music
were becoming more difficult to find. "There aren't
as many old-time dances as there used to be in Ontario,
which was one of the things that gives the music reason
to go on," laments Karen.
The idea for Flapjack was born when
Jay decided to make it his mission to play and preserve
this timeless, lively aspect of Canadian culture. "I
first learned to play the fiddle from Jamie Snider, who
grew up in the Ottawa Valley and later lived in Newfoundland.
He taught me all these great old Canadian tunes. No one
else I knew was really playing them, either in sessions
or in performance. It became my mission to get a band together
to share this wonderful, underplayed music."
And so it was that Flapjack came to
town. So close your eyes and hear a tuneslap your
knees and tap your toes. Drift back to a simpler time of
taffy pulls and hayrides, swimming in the creek and banjos
on the back porch. The stories, landscapes, and traditions
of old-time Canada live, as Flapjack plays on.
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 43, Summer/Autumn 2003. Copyright Kim MacKenzie.
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