Having fun: Tom and the Orchestra still defy East Coast classification

In the best interviewing tradition, the first thing I do when speaking with Tom Fun Orchestra’s frontman, Ian MacDougall, is remind him that I offended his sensibilities in our first conversation (following the Orch’s first CD tour in 2010). At that time he responded to my simplistic interpretation with, essentially, ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ kitchen party!’

Essentially.

“I don’t think I’d be nearly so (concerned) about it now,” he says on the phone, while wandering the streets of Vancouver during their current tour last week. “I don’t even think I was then.”

 Group of adults in forest setting standing behind a log
The tom Fun Orchestra is gettin’ all natural, for reasons that aren’t clear. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Their current tour brings them to SAIT’s The Gateway on the 29th, and it will definitely be a show worth watching. On their first pass through Calgary in 2010, the show was likened (by yours truly) to the result if James Brown growing up in Cape Breton. It’s not a neat metaphor, but it captures how they had taken the flavours of the region (“We have a fiddle player and an accordion player and a banjo and people say ‘they’re from Cape Breton so it must be a kitchen party’,” Ian said then) and gone completely over the edge with it.

Now, he’s less concerned about that labelling.

“(This disc) is certainly more representative of the music we want to be making, and how we envision ourselves as a band. Last time we were around it was our first batch of songs, and we were brand new, and there wasn’t so much idea about structure: we just kind of threw them all together in whatever way they came out.”

Structure of who the Orchestra is, or of the songs?

black and white photo of 2 guitarists and 2 fiddlers 
Guitars and fiddles, but no ukulele!? What about Earthworm Heart? Image courtesy of the artist.

“All of the above . . . It’s not that we’re embarrassed by the first batch of music, (but) it’s so far removed from music that we listen to, or that we like to play.

“What we did is set out to make an album; I feel that a live show is such a separate thing. I would say that our live show is still similar to what we used to do. There are some songs on the album that we will probably never be able to pull off live in the way that they were recorded . . . I’m not really concerned about that because I see them as two wholly separate experiences.”

On the first tour through Calgary, their performance of You Will Land With a Thud shook the dust out of The Marquis Room, and given the band’s apparent enthusiasm for the direction their music is taking, the Orchestra has a lot to offer. What direction is that? They’ve definitely lost the ‘east-coast’ regional twang: gravelly vocals are now dueted with an almost punk female/group vibe, psycadaelic craziness and uncategorizable lyricism and harmonies.

And maybe they’ll play the title track.

“I have no idea where the (album) name came from. It was this odd-titled track which I recorded with a ukulele and keyboard. I had played it for my friends, but it certainly wasn’t anything that we would normally play. But we all just liked it so much that we just put it on there, and then ‘Let’s call the album after that.’ (laughs)

“That’s one of the aforementioned ones that we’ve never played live: maybe if we get a fleet of ukuleles, we might.”

Or a fleet of requests; take my word for it, you’d love to hear them do Earthworm Heart.

In fact, if you enjoy music that defies expected genres, and brings multi-instrumental poetic insights to life, plan to catch the Orchestra having Fun in The Gateway.

Posted by Allen Thai

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.