Internationally known pianist Frank Mills kicks off his 10-show tour of the Maritimes with a performance at the Riverview Arts Centre on Saturday evening.
And wanting to celebrate he holidays with his fans was a big reason why the award-winning composer came out of retirement.
The McGill University-educated Mills got his first taste of success as a member of the Canadian group The Bells, whose song “Stay Awhile” was a hit on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. He left the group in 1971 to focus upon making an instrumental album of his own songs.
After scoring a minor hit with his song “Love Me, Love Me, Love”, Mills greatest success was still around the corner. In 1976, Polydor released the lush, romantic ballad “The Poet and Me” as a 7-inch single. On the B-Side of that 45 was “a little funny piano tune” called “Music Box Dancer”. An Ottawa DJ spun the latter song for his listeners and the rest was history.
“Music Box Dancer” went on to become a number one song in 26 countries around the world, selling more than two million copies. The sheet music for the track would exceed 3 million copies sold.
As is typical for the life of a retiree however, Frank’s life has gently and gradually veered away from the concert stages of the world. After spending many years living in the Bahamas, far away from the harsh Canadian winters, Mills and his wife settled on a farm in Vermont. It is there in New England that Frank Mills, musician extraordinaire, becomes Frank Mills, self-proclaimed gentleman farmer.
“These days, the farmer in me is winning over the pianist,” Frank laughs. “My wife and I purchased a farm in Vermont that was originally a ski house. It is an absolutely beautiful area. We are surrounded by mountains. We have cows on our farm and make maple syrup in the spring. It has been a busy year but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am very fortunate to be able to do what I want to do.
“There is a wonderful phrase, ‘To everything there is a season.’ I couldn’t feel more assured of where I am at in my life. I don’t think it would be possible for me to recap the success I have found in my career. The creative juices haven’t necessarily stopped, they are just motivated by different things nowadays. Priorities change as you get older. I have tried to keep my life rounded and grounded. These days, I get a bigger kick out of walking around my farm than walking down the street to the CBC.”
Fortunately for music fans, Frank Mills the musician has temporarily won out over Farmer Mills. And while it is evident that he loves bringing his music to audiences all over the world, he insists that he never wanted music to be his only muse.
“I do continue to play around the home, however I was never one of those guys who is so engrossed in music that I bring my instrument to bed with me. I always wanted to maintain a diverse number of interests. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can cater to all of them.”
Frank’s annual holiday tour is now the only time of year that he takes to the road. He shares that this year’s holiday show will take listeners on a career-spanning run down memory lane via an intimate musical journey of stories, memories and music.
“The first half of the show is a musical journey through my life. The show starts with the first piece of music that I learned at age seven. From there, the show winds through my career to ‘Music Box Dancer’ and also includes a Beatles medley and of course, a lot of holiday music.”
While he looks forward to being back on stage, this year’s Christmas tour is the first time in a few years that Mills will not have a tour partner to share the stage with. That partner, beloved Cape Breton vocalist Rita MacNeil, passed away unexpectedly this past April. The duo routinely toured in the time leading up to Christmas
“This year’s tour is poised to be a whole different thing,” Frank says. “It was so great to have the opportunity to tour with Rita. She was actually the one who coaxed me out of retirement. I was the one bringing the piano players to the shows while she was the one responsible for bringing the vocalists. She was such a delightful person, easily one of the nicest people I have ever met.”
What: Frank Mills:
A Music Box Dancer Christmas
When: Saturday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.
Where: Riverview Arts Centre, 400 Whitepine Rd., Riverview
Tickets are $50 plus taxes and service charges. Advance tickets may be purchased at Frank’s Music (245 Carson Dr., Moncton), Jean Coutu (438 Coverdale Rd., Riverview) and Sobeys (1160 Findlay Blvd., Riverview)