Rita MacNeil & Frank Mills Join Forces For Tour

Two of Canada’s best-loved musicians are taking to the Trans-Canada Highway this month, bringing the songs of the season to fans from coast to coast.

While it is customary for Cape Breton’s Rita MacNeil to perform a tour leading up to the Christmas holidays, this year she is bringing along internationally renowned pianist Frank Mills.

The duo plays the Moncton Wesleyan Celebration Centre on Monday evening. The show starts at 7 p.m.

Speaking from Vermont, where he tends to a self-proclaimed ‘gentleman’s farm,’ Frank Mills has earned the right to work at his own pace.

As the composer of the multi-million selling and award-winning composition ‘Music Box Dancer,’ Frank began his music career as the piano player for The Bells before moving onto his solo career that brought him much acclaim.

He released a remarkable 28 records before retiring in 2000.

‘I turned 70 years old this past summer,’ Frank begins. ‘And not a day goes by that I don’t feel really lucky to be able to continue playing. I had sort of retired from touring 12 years ago, but a few years back, an agent asked if I had any interest in going out again. It was a marvellous opportunity to see if we could do it again.

‘Playing piano is a lot like riding a bike. In the few months leading up to this tour, I have practised more earnestly and you know, it has been a lot of fun for me to watch it all come back to me.

‘Once you have fallen in love with the lady of the stage, it is a hard habit to kick. I have friends of mine who were in business for most of their lives and they end up being lost when they quit. I am fortunate that I am still able to do this.’

It was in 2010 that his current tour mate Rita MacNeil was able to successfully coax Frank out of retirement to join her for her annual Christmas tour. Those shows, combined with a collaborative album entitled The Spirit of Christmas proved to be a bonafide hit with audiences all across Canada.

‘Performing these shows with Rita makes it incredibly easy to want to go back on the road,’ Frank says matter-of-factly.

‘For many years, I was performing three or four tours a year and would have to carry a twohour show all by myself. Playing these shows with Rita is a totally different scenario for me, though.

‘I feel very lucky to be able to say that we have an absolutely great time out there on stage. Plus it is my favourite time of year, a time when my brief childhood memories of the holidays are very strong.’

The soft-spoken MacNeil stays busier than Mills. Retirement is not a word in her lexicon yet.

A typical year for Rita includes a springtime tour, sporadic shows through the summer and then her Christmas tour.

‘I still enjoy being on the road and touring,’ she says from her home in Nova Scotia. ‘I don’t think I will ever want to retire from that.’

And really, one can’t blame Rita for not wanting to push the retirement angle right now. It is a well-documented fact that MacNeil toiled away in obscurity in Eastern Canada long before her 1987 breakthrough record Flying On Your Own . Since then, she has been one of Canada’s most enduring and humble vocalists, hosting the CBC program Rita & Friends while earning Juno Awards and other accolades.

Touring with Mills is somewhat of a dream come true for Rita, an opportunity that she never envisioned happening once, let alone twice.

‘I am really looking forward to this tour with Frank. He is such a great guy and a great musician. The first tour that we did together a couple of years ago was a great time. I certainly never dreamed that we would be able to do it again. To be able to share the stage with him is something I look forward to night after night.

‘Frankly, I am kind of amazed that people are still coming to the show at any time of year. The longevity that my career has had is amazing but without my fans none of this would be possible. I am so thankful that people are still coming out to hear the music.’

Article published in the November 24, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript