BY AARON CORBETT
This is a band that needs no introduction. The Tom Fun Orchestra is one of Cape Breton’s biggest bands and for a very big reason. With great songs and a huge stage show, there is no wonder why this group is going to be very busy this year at the 2010 ECMA’s.
Ian MacDougall, the front man of TFO, was coming home from living in Scotland in 2005 with a few songs in his head and no idea what to do with them. When he arrived back in Cape Breton, he decided to start playing a few shows. So he asked some of his friends to give him a hand. It really worked out that his friends happened to be some of the best musicians around.
It turns out that one of the first shows that TFO played was the last time the ECMA’s were in Sydney in 2005. The Maple Leaf Lounge on Charlotte Street were hosting some of the “No Cases” that year. The “No Cases” are unofficial ECMA shows that pop up in the area to give more opportunities for artists to showcase their music. MacDougall had given his songs to his friends to learn the day before and then showed up and played the show. MacDougall remembers it being a very short set. “We only played three songs,” he laughed. Even though their performance didn’t last very long, it would not be their last trip to the ECMA’s.
In 2008, they teamed up with Gordan Gano of the Violent Femmes to create their first full length Album, You Will Land With a Thud. After it was released, it won them an ECMA award for the Galaxy Rising Star Recording of the Year in 2009. TFO are now the band everyone wants to see during the awards weekend. “It has been a real building block for us,” MacDougall says. “We make so many contacts and you get so many shows because of those contacts.”
But it’s not just the business side of the ECMA’s that the band is looking forward to. There’s also the people you meet. MacDougall remembers meeting Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies when the ECMA’s were in Fredericton. After TFO had just finished their set, MacDougall came off the stage and Page was waiting in the wings. The lead singer of TFO was wearing a pin spoofing Kraft Dinner that read “Shit Dinner”. When he asked the Canadian music star what he thought of the pin, Page just lowered his head in disappointment. “When he walked away, someone asked him what was wrong,” MacDougall recalls. “I could hear him say that it was something in his past that he didn’t want to talk about. That was my moment with Steven Page.”
With the ECMA’s returning to Sydney this year, MacDougall can’t wait for the event to be in his hometown again. “I love the idea that after I play at the crowded bars and hotels, I can walk home to my own bed.”
TFO has seen its fair share of members come and go but continues to have a power-house team of musicians on board. Alongside MacDougall, the band now consists of Albert Lionais, Carmen Townsend, Thomas Allen, Shane O’Handley, Dave Mahalik, Morgan Currie and Victor Tomiczek with fiddlers Colin Grant or Rosie MacKenzie sometimes joining them on the road. With so much talent in one band and so much energy on stage, it is always amazing to see this band perform.
During ECMA weekend, the group will be very busy. They are up for two awards this year. First, they are nominated for Video of the Year for “Throw Me to the Rats”. They are also up for the Fan’s Choice Award, which is voted on by the general public. And if that wasn’t enough, TFO will be playing some of the ECMA’s hottest showcases including Soundwaves: One Big Show at the Savoy Theatre on Thursday, March 4th, from 7pm to 9pm. They will also be playing The Hometown Throwdown presented by CBMIC at Smooth Herman’s Cabaret later in the evening on Thursday, March 4th. And finally they will be performing at the Molson Canadian Rock Stage on Saturday March 6th also at Smooth Herman’s Cabaret. For more information on TFO, you can visit their website at tomfun.ca. Click here to vote for Tom Fun Orchestra for Fan’s Choice Award.