Long live the album

Susan Flanagan
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Jim Fidler may be blind, but he has a vision

Last fall my husband turned 50 and we had a party for him at Quidi Vidi Brewery. The party wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was the entertainment.

While my husband was whisked downstairs for a tour of the brew tanks, Jim Fidler, my favourite Newfoundland musician, was whisked upstairs by his lovely wife and manager, Lillian, and installed on stage to play a private show just for the birthday boy and guests.

Because we had been playing a Jim Fidler CD when my husband was led away — and because Jim Fidler, the real person, was playing the same song when my husband was brought back — it took a minute or two for him to realize what everyone was so excited about. He couldn’t believe that the voice and music was actually coming from the real person wearing dark glasses in the corner. (This may have had something to do with the suds that were flowing from the brew tanks, as well.)

Anyway, if you don’t know Jim Fidler, you should. He’s a music-making machine. He plays more instruments than you can shake a drumstick at: bass, bodhran, guitars, whistles, banjo, melodion, mandolin, drums, all kinds of percussion. He dabbles in saxophone and he’s classically trained on keyboard/piano. And his six CDs cover styles from bluegrass to Celtic to reggae.

I first heard of Jim Fidler when my father-in-law came home from a night on George Street back in the ’90s. He had won a cassette tape of the guy playing live music in the bar. Never heard of him, I said, when he held up the cassette case. I had no idea what I was missing out on.

Since I first listened to that cassette, I have been Fidler’s No 1 fan. My favourite Fidler CD is called “Friendly Fire” featuring the songs “Mr. Ambassador” and “Number 1.” I took some Hibernia oil folk to the CD launch for “Friendly Fire” back in 1999. As we were leaving the packed double-decker club, one of the oil wives named Dinah made a remark that has stuck with me: “I knew we’d have a good time, but I didn’t realize he’d be good.”

It’s not only “Friendly Fire” that is good. “Gypsy,” “Revolution Time” and “Up that River” are equally diverse showcases of Fidler’s talents.

On Nov. 7, Jim Fidler is releasing a new record — a true record like back in the ’70s when recordings had themes and were meant to be listened to from beginning to end. Think Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or The Who’s “Tommy.”

“Experts announce the death of the popular recording format widely known as the album,” says Fidler. “I will endeavour to show that rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

Fidler’s new recording, aptly called “RPM,” is meant to be listened to from beginning to end rather than cherry picking songs here and there.

“The album tells a story,” says Fidler. “It takes the listener from the beginning to the end and through the middle. It starts them somewhere, brings them through and you come out the other end feeling like you’ve been … taken somewhere.”

“RPM” tells the story of a fictitious Mickey Klein, who as a boy dreams of musical fame and fortune. Mickey achieves his dream, but later realizes that more important than the hits is the music itself, that life is more important than the music biz and he, himself, is more important than his commercial image.

“I’ve gotta say,” says Fidler. “I have had more fun making this record than any other album I’ve ever made for myself or anybody else.”

It has taken Fidler eight months to put together this album, which has 12 original recordings. The launch will be at Spirit of Newfoundland’s Masonic Temple. Tickets are $30 (the price includes a copy of the CD).

Now Fidler is looking for like-minded people who love the album as an art form … who love the album as opposed to a bunch of unrelated songs put together on a disc. He’s looking for these people to contribute to an indiegogo campaign to bring his dream to fruition. If that’s just gobbledygook to you, I’ll explain what it means.

Although production and mastering of the album are both complete, there still remains manufacturing and artwork of the final CD. So, if you go to the following site: www.indiegogo.com/projects/jim-fidler-s-new-album-rpm/x/653971, you can join up before Sept. 30 to be a contributor to this project. $25, for example, gets you a signed copy of the CD and lifetime membership into the Jim Fidler fan club. $100 gets you all that plus four more CDs to give as Christmas gifts for those special people on your list. $500 gets you nine CDs to give as gifts plus a signed limited edition print of the cover art. And $1,000 will get you a case of 25 CDs straight from the factory, a full set of all Fidler’s CDs signed, plus — get this — Jim will write and record a song just for you.

If you have questions, Lillian can be reached at: lillianfidlerdesign@gmail.com.

Before I finish up, I have to tell you my favourite Jim Fidler story. Unbeknownst to Jim, he had a half-brother living on the mainland. The half brother, named Scott, knew Jim existed and in the early ’90s, wanted to track him down. Scott knew that Jim lived in Newfoundland and had his girlfriend make calls to find a number for government records to try and find a record of Jim’s birth. Instead of birth records, however, the person on the other end of the line put her through to Fred’s Records by mistake. I’m not making this up.

“I’m trying to find a Jim Fidler,” she said by telephone from Toronto.

“He just left here a minute ago,” came the reply. Indeed, Jim had just left the store after signing a distribution deal with Duckworth Distribution for Pressure Drop, a reggae group for whom Fidler was the drummer and songwriter.

So, you know you live in a small town when a wrong number finds you your long lost brother. Jim, Lillian and Jim’s grandmother ended up flying to Toronto for Scott’s wedding. Scott has since visited Newfoundland several times.

Susan Flanagan is a journalist who’s on a roll with her blind friends providing fodder for columns. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

Sprite for the Blind feedback

Debbie A. Ryan, Vision Health Promotion and Communications with the CNIB Newfoundland and Labrador writes: “I read your article published in The Telegram on Tuesday, Sept. 17 and was really pleased with the topic and the passion you incorporated. I have since shared it with my communications colleagues across the country. They were equally impressed.

As someone who, like my colleague, Duane Morgan, is partially sighted, I seem to spend a lot of time trying to promote the importance of accessible communities in improving the quality of life for those who are blind or partially sighted. Unfortunately, sometimes it is an uphill battle because of the perception that a person who is blind or partially sighted is in fact totally disabled. That couldn’t be further from the truth. With a little support and training from CNIB and an inclusive community, we can do anything; we just do it a little differently.

Thank you for educating people about the little things that can make a big difference in the lives of those who live with any level of vision loss. We really appreciate it.”

Organizations: Think Pink, Duckworth Distribution for Pressure Drop, Vision Health Promotion and Communications

Geographic location: Newfoundland, George Street, Toronto

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