In May 2018, we did a short but highly enjoyable tour in Newfoundland, a place with which Paul was already somewhat familiar, having played there on three previous occasions with Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly at Féile Séamus Creagh. Séamus was an outstanding Irish fiddler and singer, who spent five years in Newfoundland; such was his impact on the local community that, after his death in 2009, it was decided to set up an annual festival in his honour.
Newfoundland has a strong connection with Ireland, going back to the 1600s – or even earlier, if one accepts the story of the voyage of St Brendan in the fifth century. Although it is one of the world’s largest islands (108,860 square kilometres), it has a population of only about half a million; but among them are some of the friendliest and most engaging people on the planet – a selection of whom were of great assistance in planning this tour (Gerry & Shari Strong, Lee and Katie Dunne, Susan Walling, Rob Brown and Michelle Brophy).
Our first gig was to be at the “Trails, Tales & Tunes Festival” in Norris Point, way over on the west side of the island. From Dublin, we flew in to the capital, St John’s, on the east side, on 15 May; we spent a pleasant couple of days there hanging out with new and old friends, and also – most importantly – met Julie Fitzpatrick, who had very kindly agreed to lend Reidun a nice harp for the tour.
View of St John’s from Signal Hill.
It was a bright day, but there’s always a cool breeze on Signal Hill!
It’s a long, long drive from St John’s to the west coast. Fortunately Reidun’s partner, Barry Lynch (great multi-instrumentalist and singer) was with us to share the driving, and Gerry & Shari Strong put us up for a night in their holiday house (Gerry’s old family home) in Little Bay, about three-quarters of the way along. Here’s a map showing our route:
View of Little Bay from Gerry Strong’s old family house.
Friday 18 May
After a great night of tunes and chat in Little Bay, we hit the road for Norris Point; and there was still a good long way to go! As we neared our destination we entered mountain country (Gros Morne National Park), and at the highest point before descent to Norris Point, we stopped to admire the snow and the hanging valleys, left behind by glaciers. The scenery was spectacular all the way down to the sea – a fjord, actually, with wonderful snow-capped mountains all around.
Spotted this sign as we entered Norris Point – Reidun was not deterred!
We drove through the village of Norris Point and stopped for lunch at The Cat Stop (so called because a catamaran stops there to collect passengers for fjord cruise).
View from upstairs in The Cat Stop, Norris Point.
After lunch we drove the short distance to our accommodation in Neddie’s Harbour, in a very nice house with great views of sea and mountains. From there we made contact with the festival team, and after we’d done our sound check in the town hall, we were happy to come back to the house, relax and enjoy the view.
View from our house in Neddie’s Harbour.
We even had a festival flag on our deck!
The “Trails, Tales & Tunes Festival” is a big event, spread over ten days, with (as the title suggests) a mix of outdoor activities, spoken word events, and music, and more besides: http://www.trailstalestunes.ca/. We were scheduled to perform in the opening night concert, which proved to be a highly enjoyable event in the town hall. First on was local man Dave Shears, a great singer and raconteur. We were up next, followed by Stephanie & Angie Payne, and The Kubasonics finished the concert.
In happy mood, backstage at the town hall.
Amala onstage in the town hall.
Local radio man Gary Noel recorded the concert and kindly shared the recording with us. Here’s a link to a Youtube clip of some excerpts from our set:
Saturday 19 May
After a late breakfast at the lovely Old Store café, we were pleased to be part of “Celebrate the Sea Day @ Norris Point Waterfront”, a series of performances in the Cat Stop from noon to 5:00pm. First up were Stephanie & Angie Payne, followed by us at 1:00pm, joined by Barry on low whistle. We also enjoyed hearing a set by festival organiser Shirley Montague on guitar, with flute player Jeff Anderson.
It was another beautiful day, so we went for a long walk up the hill beside the harbour – fantastic views. Then it was chill-out time back at the house.
Barry and Paul in The Old Store café, Norris Point.
View from the hill above the harbour.
Another view, showing The Tablelands.
Sunday 20 May 2018
In the morning we did an interview with Gary Noel at the studio of Voice of Bonne Bay Radio. Again, he kindly shared the recording with us. Here’s a link:
After that, we got on the road to Lewisporte for the next gig: another long drive (see map)! The weather had turned cold and wet, but the welcome from Dean and Stevie in Citadel House was warm. Citadel House – formerly the Salvation Army Citadel – is their home, but it is also a lovely intimate performance venue and a recording studio for their independent record label (working mainly with Newfoundland artists). The room has excellent acoustics, and the venue’s reputation has grown to the point where a discerning, responsive audience is pretty much guaranteed. Check out the website:
We had a lovely gig there that night. Stevie recorded some of our set:
(“Mimi and the New Generation Polkas” by Eoin Duignan, and our own tune, “Rêve d’Automne”)
(Irish traditional hornpipes, “The Galway”, “The Golden Eagle” and “The Independent”; “Captain O’Kain” by Carolan)
Monday 21 May 2018.
Dean and Stevie were kind enough to let us stay on an extra day so we could do some sightseeing. So we took some time off to explore the coast from Lewisporte up to Twillingate and beyond. The weather had improved, sunshine had returned, and it was a very pleasant drive. From a headland north of Twillingate we were lucky enough to see both whales and icebergs! Admittedly, the whales were far off, and all we really saw were their spouts; and the icebergs were also very far off on the horizon over by Fogo Island… but it was thrilling just the same.
North of Twillingate.
Tuesday 22 May 2018
Next destination was Glovertown, where we were to play at The House of Diamonds Art Centre the following night: https://www.houseofdiamondsart.com/.
Glovertown turned out to be yet another attractive small town on the water, and we were pleased to see the venue right in front of us on our way into town. We met the genial proprietor, Kevin Blackmore, and arranged to call back for a few tunes later on. After dinner and a good long walk on the Diamond Trail in the park nearby, we returned to the House of Diamonds to meet Kevin and local musician John Gosse; Kevin and John are also keen naturalists, and were able to identify for us some of the unfamiliar birds we had seen on our rambles. We had a very enjoyable evening with the two lads, sharing tunes and songs. John has a great store of traditional Newfoundland fiddle music, and it was fun finding similarities between that repertoire and the Irish tunes. Kevin writes fine songs, some comic, some serious, and also has another life as the lead man in the comedy trio, Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, who are very popular all across Newfoundland and Canada: http://buddywasisname.com/. Barry, who had travelled with only a tin whistle, was delighted to play a fine old banjo of Kevin’s (earlier, back in St John’s, he had been equally surprised and pleased to play a tune on Rob Brown’s uilleann pipes). We really enjoyed the evening; an unexpected treat for us.
House of Diamonds Art Centre, Glovertown.
Session in House of Diamonds: L to R, Kevin Blackmore, Barry, Paul, John Gosse.
Wednesday 23 May 2018
The actual concert was very enjoyable – a full house, and a receptive audience. We played in the same room as the previous evening, which also functions as an art gallery. Afterwards we invited questions, and as usual there was a lot of interest in the harp (the one so kindly loaned by Julie Fitzpatrick). As Reidun commented, nobody ever asks about the guitar! (For anyone who is interested – it’s a 1981 Martin M-38, tuned DADEAE.)
Question time in House of Diamonds.
Thursday 24 May 2018
We woke to a white and silent world – there had been a heavy fall of snow overnight. Of course snow is no big deal to Newfoundlanders; snow ploughs were out early, and people seemed to be going about their business more or less as normal. But we had some work to do. Our rental car was just a bump in the general whiteness in the yard, so that had to be cleared, and also we had to clear the driveway – the snow plough had just heaved the snow off the street and piled it up at the side, blocking the entrance.
Morning in Glovertown!
That job done, we set off back to St John’s at a leisurely pace, to bring Barry to the airport so he could get back to Ireland for his own gigs.
Friday 25 May 2018
Next destination was Freshwater, Carbonear, where we were welcomed again by Gerry & Shari Strong, this time at their permanent home. It’s a beautiful area, and we had a good long walk around it. Forgot to take pictures, so this is one from the Internet.
View of Freshwater (photo from flickr.com).
After a fine dinner with Gerry and Shari and friends, we were in great form for our concert in the Freshwater United Church Community Centre – a return visit for Paul, who had played there the previous September: https://www.facebook.com/FreshwaterConcerts/.
Saturday 26 May 2018
In the morning, we headed back to St John’s for a free lunchtime concert in Fred’s Records, a great independent record store which welcomes in-store performances: http://www.fredsrecords.com/. We were happy to meet up again with several of our St John’s pals, as well as with Mary Coogan – guitarist with Irish-American band Cherish the Ladies – and her husband Bruce (Joanie Madden kindly arranged free tickets for us for the Cherish concert the following night).
Fred’s Records, St John’s (photo by Fiveprime).
Here’s a clip from our performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkHnc6-MYNM
(“Miss Hamilton” by Cornelius Lyons; Irish traditional hornpipes, “The Galway”, “The Golden Eagle” and “The Independent”)
No roadies on this tour, we have to do our own carrying!
(Photo by Susan Walling)
That evening we had a concert in the beautiful surroundings of the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre, Conception Bay: http://manuelsriver.com/. This was organised by Janet Coombes, a prominent member of the Newfoundland harp community, and we were delighted to have a good portion of that community in the audience. Q&A with Reidun afterwards was extensive!
Guitar and harp waiting to play in Manuels River Centre.
(photo by Len Penton)
Sunday 27 May
The last gig of the tour was in Renews, south of St John’s on “The Irish Loop”, which you might say is Newfoundland’s equivalent of The Ring of Kerry – a scenic route with much history. On the way we stopped at Ferryland to have a look at what is regarded as the best preserved early English colonial site in North America, the Colony of Avalon. It was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert (the First Lord Baltimore, a title derived from the town in County Cork, of course – that is, from Irish lands confiscated in the Munster Plantation – not the American Baltimore, founded later by the same man). More information here: http://colonyofavalon.ca/
Renews is a community of great spirit. We were to play in MerryMeeting hall, a combination of art & craft gallery, coffee shop and general social hub run by John and Rita Chidley. We were surprised to open the door and hear a load of people speaking Irish! This was a visit by some people from the North American Gaeltacht in Ontario (http://www.gaeilge.ca/) – not there for our concert, alas, just passing through. After waving goodbye to the visitors, John took us on a brief but fascinating tour of the area. He has a great knowledge of history, local and beyond, and is an excellent guide, as well as being a painter of considerable merit. We’d love to have spent the day with him, but we had to cut it short and get back to the hall for our gig at 2:00pm.
For more on Renews, see http://www.downhomelife.com/article.php?id=1969.
In MerryMeeting Hall, Renews.
Rita Chidley dealing with an enquiry.
Paul with John Chidley.
Opening the concert were two of the Dunne family, from Ferryland, Maxine and her son Lee, accompanied by Jimmy Ryan; great songs and lovely accompaniment. Here’s a Youtube clip of The Dunne Family with “Capelin Time”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJhM-ELTVRU.
Next, at Paul’s request, John Chidley did one of his famous recitations, to general hilarity. Then we did our concert set for the last time on this trip. It was great to finish in this wonderful place with these lovely people.
Huge thanks to the many people who helped us so much in organising this tour, with venue suggestions, accommodation and all sorts of things: Gerry & Shari Strong, Lee and Katie Dunne (thanks for the loan of the car!), Susan Walling, Rob Brown, Michelle Brophy, Julie Fitzpatrick (thanks for the loan of the harp!), Janet Coombes, John and Rita Chidley, Shirley Montague at Trails, Tales & Tunes, Dean and Stevie Stairs at Citadel House, Kevin Blackmore at House of Diamonds, and Tony at Fred’s Records. Hope to see ye again soon!