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North Shore musician releases first solo CD

The Compass

Pump the Box is the title of a new CD by Tony O'Leary.

The recording takes its title from a tune by that name, which O'Leary himself composed about five or six years ago.

Combined with Smash the Window, a traditional tune O'Leary arranged, it's one of 15 tracks on the CD, three of which are originals, written by O'Leary. Living in a Syncrude Eye and Sitting on a Fort McMurray Bus are the other numbers he wrote.

"Sometimes it takes a fair bit of pumping on the box before the tunes come out, the way you want," O'Leary says, recalling how he composed the tune. "I was there fooling around with the melody and out it came. I finally got around to putting it on my own CD."

The other original pieces on the CD were drawn from O'Leary's own experiences of travelling and working around the mainland of Canada.

Sitting on a Fort McMurray Bus is based on his experiences with using that mode of transportation from Fort Mac to the work camps outside the Alberta town. "You run into a lot of interesting people on those buses," he says.

The Box of course is just another name for the traditional button accordion, also known as the squeezebox, - arguably the most popular traditional (if that's not a contradiction in terms) instrument in Newfoundland. And as popular as the fiddle has become, the accordion plays second fiddle to no other traditional Newfoundland instrument.

But as dominant as it is, the accordion is not the only instrument heard on this album.

Far from it.

To accompany his vocals, O'Leary also plays concertina, another instrument of the accordion family, guitar, mandolin, mandola and bodhran, a hand held Irish drum, usually made from goatskin.

If that weren't enough to produce a traditional sounding CD, he also brought in a veritable who's who of traditional Newfoundland musicians to give him a hand on the recording.

Gerry Strong plays whistle and flute on a couple of tracks; Mike Doyle, flat pick guitar; Glen Hiscock, fiddle and Rob Brown, uillean (Irish elbow) pipes.

The pipes heard on the CD were made by Neil O'Grady of Carbonear, the province's only pipe maker. Rob Brown, who plays them, is one of a handful of uillean pipers in the province.

O'Leary is proud his CD marks "the first time locally made Irish pipes have been heard on a local Newfoundland CD."

Besides the other musicians, O'Leary also gives a lot of credit to Ian Chipman who provided electric guitar, drums and bass back-up for the recording.

Engineered by Chipman, the CD was produced and arranged by O'Leary and recorded and mastered by Ian and Rod Chipman at Players Choice Studio in Spaniard's Bay.

-Music in the blood-

O'Leary was born and bred in Western Bay, where he still lives, having returned to the North Shore of Conception Bay with his family in the mid 1980s, after living in various parts of the mainland of Canada.

He has been playing music since he was eight.

There can be no doubt about O'Leary's love for the music. He comes by it honestly, having grown up in a musical family.

Whenever there was a kitchen time on the go, O'Leary was sure to be there, drinking in the music and sometimes joining in, and picking up the old tunes from his father and uncles. That's the way traditional music is passed down from one generation to the next.

Like so many other Newfoundlanders, O'Leary eventually left the rock, with his family, but the music never left him.

"Wherever we went (on the mainland) there was always a bunch of Newfoundlanders getting together, including my uncles, for a bit of music."

While he still returns to the mainland for work, O'Leary has been at the music, off and on, more or less ever since.

He became best known for his involvement with the O'Leary's and Michael Doyle, playing with his brother, Neil and Michael Doyle - they recorded two albums together.

Pump the Box is his first solo venture.

Admitting that making a living solely from music is no easy task, O'Leary has found himself travelling back and forth to Fort Mac since 1998.

"I've been juggling everything, trying everything," he says, "but my heart and soul is in the music. I love playing for folks, and I miss it dearly when I'm not at it."

The multi-instrumental musician says people who play music will know what he's talking about when he says, "once it (music) is in your blood, it becomes like an addiction - you got to be doing it."

Besides performing in front of live audiences, O'Leary confesses he also cherishes the camaraderie of working and jamming with fellow musicians, with whom he can share that universal language of the emotions.

O'Leary said he recorded his first solo album as part of "gearing up towards being able to play full time."

That's his dream and his ambition. But he realizes the music business is a tough one.

"Unfortunately, you got to be at everything else just to live."

Since releasing the CD on St. Patrick's Day, O'Leary has been busy promoting his album and trying to line up gigs for the summer months ahead. Without a recording company behind you to handle the business side of it, including the promotion, he admits the administration work alone is enough to wear you out.

O'Leary dedicates his CD "to all the transient workers, past and present, who travelled many miles to earn a living for their families. It just ain't easy."

Pump the Box is available in local stores around Conception Bay and the St. John's area, or from his website: www.tonyolearymusic.ca

Copyright © Tony O'Leary.
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