Wednesday, 08 July 2015 12:03

New video recalls success of Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Larry Gould, Alistair McEwan Larry Gould, Alistair McEwan

The success of a Swift Current-based old-time music band that performed in communities across the prairies and produced 12 recordings is the focus of a new video produced for the Swift Current Museum.


The first screening of the video The Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers took place at the museum on June 18. It is the sixth title in the museum’s Stories from Saskatchewan’s Great Southwest video series.
Swift Current Museum Director and Curator Lloyd Begley said there has been a positive response to the video series.
“Every one of them has been well-received, well-attended in terms of their release and they’ve been watched,” he mentioned. “There have been some high visitation rates with respect to people viewing them on YouTube. I do know that one of the teachers at the Comprehensive High School is using our videos in his history class. So it’s working for the whole community.”
The previous videos are about the former Healy Hotel in Swift Current, the RAF Aerodrome at the Swift Current airfield during the Second World War, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the three station buildings in Swift Current, a Remembrance Day video that highlights the Swift Current region’s long history of involvement with Canadian military efforts and the history of the Swift Current Fire Department.
The six videos can currently be viewed on YouTube and they are also posted on the City of Swift Current website, but Begley said their intention is to produce a box set that will be offered for sale in the museum’s gift shop.
The museum will continue this series and he considers the current videos to be just the start of telling stories from the region’s past.
“So it’s a beginning and our intention is to move forward and continue to make these videos, not only about our city, but our region,” he said.
These videos do not only highlight the past, but tell those stories through interviews with residents who were part of that history.
“We’re losing these folks that know all about our past and so it was an important story to think about telling,” he said about the latest video, which highlights an era when people came together for potluck suppers and brought their musical instruments along to make music and to dance.
The history of the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers can be traced back to 1966, when the Swift Current Fiddling Association was formed. These musicians developed a significant fan base over the years and they produced their first album in 1978, which was recorded at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School.
The different fiddling groups that existed under the Swift Current Fiddling Association eventually amalgamated in November 1979 and the new organization was officially named the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers.
Over the years they performed at various events locally and across the prairies, including at Telemiracle, the Regina Folk Festival and at the popular Red Barn country music hall in Edmonton.
The Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers produced their twelfth and final album in 1994. After years of declining membership the group decided to disband and held their farewell dinner and dance at the Legion Hall in October 2003.
The video includes interviews with two former band members. Alistair “Bud” McEwan played the accordion and Larry Gould was a guitar player in the band. They were both present at the release of the video and spoke to the audience after the screening.
The video brought back a lot of memories for Gould, who was one of the younger band members.
“I just wish I had time to go on more trips with the Fiddlers, because it was really a good time to have gone playing and visiting and all that,” he said. “It was really fun.”
He was about 25 years younger than other band members and still working while most of them were already retired. The band members were not only from Swift Current, but from across the region.
He recalled one of the challenges faced by band members when they were recording their music for a new album.
“When we did the records the hardest thing to do was not to talk,” he said. “When the song was over somebody would always talk. It seems like it was hard not to say something and it always happened.”
According to McEwan the band's regular dances took place on the second Tuesday of the month in the Centennial Civic Centre, now known as the Credit Union iPlex.
“We would get maybe a couple of hundred people sometimes,” he said. “They’re coming from around the district of Swift Current and the town itself and they’d show up there for dancing on a Tuesday night.”
One of the advantages of being a large band of around 15 to 20 players, including eight to 10 fiddlers, was that band members could also join the dancing.
“Some would say 'I’m going dancing' and some of them would take off,” he said. “It never took the music down, because there were so many guys up there to fill in. If three or four guys decided to go down on the floor for a dance, that was fine. We still had enough fiddlers to fill and give the music lots of body.”
He went on a number of tours with the band and one of his most memorable experiences occurred when they played at the Red Barn in Edmonton. There were around 500 people on the dance floor and another 300 were watching the band from the balcony. The band was on a three-tiered stage and they could chat with audience members on the balcony while they were playing.
Another memorable moment was their farewell in 2003. A large crowd showed up for their performance on the Friday evening and the band also played the following evening at the farewell banquet.
“We knew this is it, we won’t be playing together probably ever again,” he said. “It was a happy thing and it was very sad. ... I can still recall it, the very last night that we played, and when we played ‘Home Sweet Home’ that was enough to bring tears to your eyes almost, because we knew that’s it, we’re done.”
For McEwan there is one enduring memory from his years with the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers.
“It was the camaraderie, being with the players,” he said. “We were good musicians and they were a fun group to be with. ... We had a great time on the busses and on our tours, wherever we went.”

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