Thirty years ago, Dave Panting was a member of local folk group Figgy Duff, while Dan Rubin was a performer with the Vancouver-based quartet Flying Mountain. Playing at a festival in Blackfalds, Alta. — one of those festivals where it rained so much, nobody was left but the musicians — the pair met on a picnic bench in a muddy field, and started jamming together on mandolins.
In 2003, Rubin moved to the St. John’s area with his wife, a local native, and joined acoustic group Atlantic Union. Approaching the door to The Ship pub one night after the folk festival, Rubin noticed Panting sitting outside, playing the mandolin.
“I stopped and looked at this guy in a little hat, playing the mandolin,” Rubin said. “I pulled out my mandolin and we started jamming on a fiddle tune we both knew. I looked at him and said, ‘I met you somewhere.’”
At that moment, something clicked, and the duo have been making music ever since. “Musical long-lost cousins” is how Rubin describes his relationship with Panting.
Recently, Rubin and Panting formed Mandomania together, as a way to explore the potential of the mandolin. It’s an eight-stringed instrument with a long history, Rubin said, evolving from the lute and originating in Italy in the late 18th century.
“It’s a very unappreciated instrument — it doesn’t just play bluegrass and it doesn’t just play Vivaldi. You can play some rocking blues and jazz on the mandolin,” Rubin explained, breaking into an improvised blues tune with Panting joining in,
in perfect accompaniment.
“I’m sure he could start a song that I’ve never heard before and I would listen and we’d be there. When we get together, it just flies. It just goes,” Rubin said of Panting.
Apart from Figgy Duff, Panting is a longtime member of Rawlins Cross and The Panting Brothers Band, often credited as one of the leaders of the revival of Newfoundland folk music. Playing mandolin, banjo, guitar and bouzouki as well as singing, Panting is also a composer and music producer.
Rubin, also a songwriter, plays mandolin, violin, guitar, bass and piano, among other instruments, with a background in classical composition before moving into folk and world music genres. In this province, he has worked as a performer with Atlantic Union, an artist manager and concert promoter, as well as a producer.
Between the two, there are more than 60 years of musical experience, and although they’ve spent the majority of their careers on opposite ends of the country, they have no trouble finding common ground.
“The music community, especially the folk music community, is like an extended family, so even though I was on the west coast and Dave was on the east, we were actually learning some of the same tunes,” Rubin said.
Those tunes range from ballads to fiddle pieces, and everything in between, with instruments such as the mando-bass and guitar weaved in.
There’s no doubt the mandolin is a romantic, evocative instrument that goes well with Baroque and classical music, but it can also be a nice addition to country, bluegrass and even rock songs, Panting said, and can produce a full sound or be used as a rhythm instrument.
“Mandolin has a lot more to it than you would think,” he explained. “It’s an awesome instrument for the blues, and there are also a few jazz performers who use it as a lead instrument. It’s been used in rock before.
“The first guy who ever inspired me as a kid on mandolin was Rory Gallagher, the Irish rock guy, because in his set he would come out and do a song called ‘Going to My Hometown,’ with a guy just hammering away on the drums and him on the mandolin. I thought, wow. He was just giving it on this mandolin, and he had walked out there and did that in front of 2,000 people. He didn’t need all the bells and whistles. He just needed this one mandolin. That was just one fellow who showed me you can do that with this.”
Mandomania will perform at The Ship pub Thursday, Feb. 7 at
9 p.m., playing some originals, some traditionals, a few fiddle tunes and taking requests. Cover is $10 at the door.
They’ve been tossing around the idea of coming up with a book and album of their original fiddle tunes.
“Dave has written a lot of tunes, and some of them are played all around the world at weddings and so on, and I get these tunes coming to me, maybe a dozen or so,” Rubin said of their original compositions. “We’re thinking of putting together a book for fiddle and mandolin players of some of the tunes we’ve written.”
For a video of Mandomania performing a medley of the traditional folk song “Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair” and “Under Full Sail,” one of Rubin’s fiddle compositions, during a visit to The Telegram studio this week, visit www.thetelegram.com.