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Gin Lane is a band that has existed in many varying formats for the better part of the last 15 years. The band was started by three musicians who started learning and performing fife and drum at three different historic sites: Fort George, Fort Henry and Fort York. Despite this initial bad planning the history1  group had all met by 1987 and performed some fife and drum music together. Quickly it was realized that 18th and early 19th century fifing and drumming were somewhat limited in scope (for long-term entertainment of a crowd anyway), but the music written to be performed on those instruments was abundant. Playing through various period music manuals at work led to learning and performing on different instruments (bodhran and tin whistle mostly). This led a variety of gatherings, (most of which had a required competitive drinking element) and might loosely be described as practices. A general enjoyment of performing this music together led the group to busque by the Eaton’s Centre, the occasional bar, (between other bands’ sets) and at a few re-enactment events. In embryonic band form the group recorded some tunes on the tape “The Fifes and Drums of the 41st Regiment of Foot” 1990 recorded at Fort George.

In May of 1993, the group officially formed as the ‘Three Big Dummies’ for the first time, opening for the band Tanglefoot at Fort York’s Simcoe Landing event. Playing a 7 song opening act incorporating War Pipes, fife, tin whistles, gong, snare drum, and bodhran. (You’ve never heard “Kevin’s Polka” until you’ve heard it on War pipes, Gong and Snare drum)

Following the ancient folk musicians’ creed that you should form the band first and then learn some instruments, in the next year, the band began purchasing, learning and incorporating several new instruments, the Scottish small pipes, the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer, Irish Flute, and Hammered Dulcimer.

Undeterred by not knowing how to play their instruments well, in 1994 the group recorded a demo tape and changed the name of the Band to ‘Malarky’ a name that no one liked but was somehow calculated to make a better impression than the Three Big Dummies. (Unlike many of the other suggested names- Pinocchio Pants, Magenta Placenta and Wildwood Fudge)

history2The recording featured the tunes “Follow me down to Carlow, Austen Barretts/The Milkmaid, Shebeg and Shemore, We brought the summer with us (Thugamar)/Song of the Chanter/Albina, and the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The tape was a full 15 minutes in length and was reviled as being too damn short.
In the years that followed the band played at Canada Day at Fort George, many re-enactments and at the 94 and 95 Fiddlestix folk music festivals at Fort George. In 95 they opened for the Barra MacNeils (also at Fort George).

Gathering fame and fortune as easily as the average person acquires monkey foot fungus, the band played a variety of hotspots in the Ontario/Upstate New York regions. Some venues you may have accidentally seen them at are Tottenham, Bradford, Fort Mississauga, Fort Stanwix, Fort Ticonderoga, Carnegie Hall, Fort York, Fort George, Fort Niagara, MacKenzie House, Spadina House, the Angel Inn, Schoharie, King City, Kitchener City Hall, Bellvue
retirement home, Riverview Hospital’s long term palliative care unit, Sydenham, Carp (okay just outside), Black Creek Pioneer Village, Montgomery’s Tavern and Eganville. (O.K. not really at Carnegie Hall)

In 2001, in fine tradition the band put out
another recording (” The Idle ‘Prentices”) and changed its name again. This most recent incarnation is known as Gin Lane (from William Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ pictures of the 18th century). Beer Street shows the industrious hard working and responsible folks and Gin Lane the debauched, drunken and hopeless cases of humanity. I’m not sure why we picked the latter over the former…


The Idle ‘prentices was recorded at the African Hit Factory in Niagara on the Lake (Ontario, Canada) by Frank Ditillio. Contact us to contact Frank. Cover image is an edit of photo by Eric Lorenzen

The new recording features the tunes:

  1. The Preest in his Boots/ Highway to Dublin
  2. Follow me down to Carlow
  3. Give Me your Hand
  4. The Cunning Young Girl
  5. Sheebeg and Sheemore/ Blewitt’s Jig /Wind that Shakes the Barley
  6. Major’s Maggot
  7. Hey Johnnie Cope are ye Wauken yet?
  8. King of Laios/ Fanny Power/ Plangsty Charles Coote
  9. Joan’s Placket
  10. Cuckoo’s Nest
  11. Sing song / Paddy be Aisy
  12. What Pain I’ve Endured Since Last Year, Clearances Lullaby
  13. Who will Dandle my Mary
  14. We brought the Summer with us/Song of the Chanter/Albina
  15. Over the Hills and Far Away
  16. The King’s Health
  17. Brian Boru
  18. Spanish Ladies