The Tom Fun Orchestra is NOT a Maritime kitchen party

To paraphrase Arnie: Tom Fun Orchestra is NOT a kitchen party.

Strange how the pop culture idiom works.

Imagine if Stompin’ Tom Connors had been trained in classical music as a child. Or if James Brown was born in Newfoundland. What would the consequences have been?

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.

As unpredictable as the reality of the Tom Fun gang, up there on stage jamming with fiddles s and acoustic guitars and (currently) six others, going for the gusto, but then changing syncopated rhythms on a dime, opting for a key change as spontaneously as one of a marching bands turns.

Which means not spontaneously at all, but delivered with the verve and energy of those committed to their craft. It IS an orchestra, but one that plays in converted theatre space after midnight to batches of dancing, yelling, drinking, what, “Funners”?

They’ve studied the craft of making a party happen. But not a kitchen party.

Got it yet?

Well, apparently this will take some work. Or you could just go see them, and then you’d understand. There’s love songs and trumpet work, and a changing number of voices which come from an east coast heritage (sorry Ian, but that’s what it SOUNDS like), but these songs are crafted as carefully as Michael Jackson’s dance moves: choreographed and practiced, and then exploded on stage to the amazement of the audience.

Hm. Michael Jackson? I don’t know how that will sit with Ian MacDougall, the founder of the band, but he does dismiss easy categorization: “I think that’s been the charm of it. We’ve been able to play a strange variety of gigs.”

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’.”

Tom Fun is NOT a kitchen party: they are a disciplined collection of artists, steeped in east coast musical history, but leaving it behind while using the tools and tricks that this tradition has given them. The St. John’s Harbour Symphony uses all manner of watercraft’s whistles to play music composed by international submission, taking the boats’ communication system far outside what is expected of it.

That’s what Tom Fun is doing. Here’s what Ian says about it:

“The past few months we’ve been working on the new album [which won’t be available until the new year]. . . It’s so easy for people to make music now, and they all play different music, and it’s an amalgamation of so many different things, It’s really hard to put your finger on a specific category. . .

“I think I’m mostly excited about the newer songs that we’ve been writing, (because) we often just get that Cape Breton celtic jazz fusion comparison, and what we’re doing is beyond that description.”


Check’em out.

Posted by Theresa Johnston

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.