I met Tunny last year while visiting friends during the Shigawake Fair and Music Festival. Carl Hayes had told me about Tunny when I was there in 2010 and arranged for us to go over and meet him last August. Tunny graciously invited us to his place on two afternoons to share his music with us.
Tunny comes from a long line of fiddle players who lived out on the Gaspé coast around Shigawake. Both Tunny's grandfather and father, Alfred, played the fiddle as did most of his uncles. Most of his family, including his father, also step-danced. Tunny learned much of his fiddling from his father. Tunny began playing when he was nine years old, which is the same age that both his father and son started learning. The Hottots were originally from Honfleur, France and arrived in Québec about 1755 and were possibly of Huguenot extraction. Around Shigawake, the Hottots eventually began speaking English as this was the more widely-spoken language in that area.
In addition to many great French-Canadian and Down-East tunes, Tunny also knows some really great old tunes that come from his part of the coast. He played two of these tunes for us, one which is called the "Sheep's Paw" which used to be played in AEAE tuning. Although Tunny only uses the standard violin tuning, he tells us that all the old fiddlers like his father and grandfather used to tune up their bass strings for many tunes. Fiddlers on the coast appreciate Tunny and his father's music because they can play many tunes they learned off recordings of Cape Breton fiddlers. In fact, Cape Breton fiddle music is Tunny's favourite music. He first remembers hearing Cape Breton fiddlers when he was fifteen and was immediately taken by their music which he calls, "the best in the world".
Tunny plays in a great, hard-driving style with an aggressive bow attack, inspired from his Cape Breton fiddle heroes. When he plays, you can hear all the sharp, staccato rhythms as his bow goes back and forth across the strings. He also clogs his feet in time which makes the rhythmic quality of his music even more powerful. As he put it, "years ago, playing for sets, you beat your feet". At some point in the Part 1 of the full video below (see bottom of article), Carl Hayes tells us a great story about when Tunny's father, Alfred, broke his leg and couldn't beat time anymore.
Tunny played for many years at hotels on the Gaspé coast, in particular at the Wawa Hotel in Port-Daniel where he used to play alternate sets with Country and Western bands. The Country band would play for half and hour, then Tunny would play a fifteen minute set of fiddle music for step-dancing and square-dancing. Tunny provided music there Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and night for many years. Although he tells us fiddle music is still relatively popular on the coast, he thinks the fact that many of the hotels closed down or stopped having fiddle music has a large role in the music's decline in recent years and that today, there are hardly any young people becoming interested in this music.
Tunny left the coast for about 10 years working in gold mines and as a cement worker. His travels took him to such places as Virginiatown (Kerr Addison Gold Mine) and Elliot Lake, Ontario, northern Québec, and as far west as Edmonton, Alberta. In each of these places, Tunny would often play in the hotel bars.
Living on the coast, Tunny became good friends with Hermas Réhel and his wife, Rita White who lived in Bridgeville, near Barachois. They would come visit and play tunes together and Tunny would also have Hermas play sets at the hotel in Port-Daniel with him. Tunny learned several tunes from Hermas including Hermas' version of "La Grondeuse" (know in English as "the Grumbler" or "the Growling Old Man and Woman")
One of my favourite moments during our two visits with Tunny was when he played Saint Anne's Reel four different ways. First he showed us the "modern" way which is how he says people like Ivan Hicks will play the tune. He then demonstratesd the "English way", which he calls an older style featuring a paired-down melody with more drones and repeated notes. He says this style is typical of older English-speaking players in his area and that there are still some fiddlers around New Carlisle who play in this manner. In the "French way", he fills out the melody a lot more with wonderful left hand frills for some really captivating playing. Lastly, he described the "Gaspé way" as a mixture between the French and English styles and is how he normally plays the tune which features some excellent syncopated string crossing in the first part of the tune which gives the tune a lovely rolling swing, very unlike most versions of Saint Anne's Reel you will hear in other traditions. Here is a clip of him demonstrating the different versions:
It was a real pleasure to meet Tunny and his wife and I would like to thank them for inviting me into their home and allowing me to share his music with the readers on the blog. I'm looking forward to spending some more time with Tunny and learning more about his music. I will post teaching files of a few of his tunes in the coming weeks.
You can see Tunny at the Gaspesian British Heritage Museum on July 1st (Canada Day) in New Richmond. He will also be performing at the Douglastown Irish Days on Saturday, August 4th, with many other great local fiddlers and Ivan Hicks.
Here is the whole interview in two parts. I hope you enjoy Tunny's music.