It’s Time for Another One: Folksongs from the South Coast of Newfoundland—Ramea and Grole
In 1967 and 1968, Jesse Fudge from Grole, a small fishing community on Hermitage Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland, was taking classes for a B.A. in English and folklore at Memorial University. Fudge was on leave from his teaching job in Ramea, a community close to Grole. For his folksong assignments from Herbert Halpert and Neil Rosenberg, Fudge recorded singers in Grole and Ramea, and submitted the tapes, transcripts, and a report. As was routine with student materials, the collection wound up in the university’s Folklore and Language Archive.
Audio and print excerpts from the Fudge collection comprise the heart of It’s Time for Another One: Folksongs from the South Coast of Newfoundland—Ramea and Grole, a CD-and-booklet package produced in 2005 by the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP) at Memorial. MMaP is headed by ethnomusicologist Beverley Diamond. According to the back cover of the CD booklet, MMaP’s mission is “to initiate and enable music research within the academic and general community.” It’s Time for Another One is the first of a series of MMaP offerings of Newfoundland song materials of various provenances and eras.
The package offers two audio components: the field recordings (a brief instrumental passage, some fourteen song performances, and four short tracks of talk relating to some of the performances) and “rearrangements” of three of the field-recorded songs commissioned by MMaP, all performed by musicians now working in the Newfoundland music scene. There is also a forty-page booklet with excellent introductory [End Page 85] information on collector Jesse Fudge and his two communities, photographs and short biographies of the singers, two maps (including student Fudge’s splendid, hand-drawn and labeled sketch of Grole), song notes, and lyric transcriptions.
The field recordings are superb: unaccompanied kitchen and sitting room performances of material that consists mostly of that glory of the Newfoundland singing tradition, locally composed songs about contemporary events. There is variety of tone and subject matter: ballads of tragic loss (“A Cold December Day”) and disasters on the sea (“The Eastern Light,” “Old Smite”); comical ditties about smuggling (“The First of October”) and the fishermen’s union movement (“Coaker’s Dream”); old songs from off island (“On the Banks of the Clyde,” “My Brother John and I,” “Lather and Shave”); humorous songs about recent incidents (“Penney Fair in the Cove,” “Taking Back Gear in the Night,” “Long Pond,” “Squarin’ Up Time”); a song introducing a grade school concert (“We’re Mighty Glad to See You”); and a bawdy song (“Sal Stopped Up to Iron Some Clothes”). The quality of singing ranges from charming to highly competent to first rate: Gordon Kendall—in his time a fisherman, welder, and carpenter—stands out as one of the finest traditional singers I have heard on record.
Diamond’s decision to interpolate modern versions into a compilation of field collectanea is a departure from the traditional time-capsule approach. The juxtaposition of old and new, she writes, was introduced “to present several views about the meanings of tradition and modernity” and “to remind us that ‘tradition’ is never static but always reshaped by new technologies, social circumstances, and aesthetics” (p. 1). She provides extensive notes (six pages, fully one third of the introductory text) detailing how the revival singers (if I may use that term) chose their material and decided on their respective approaches to presenting it.
Their approaches are quite different from one another. Jim Payne resings Robert Langdon’s “The First of October,” adding guitar accompaniment. Pamela Morgan and Graham Wells overlay Robert Child’s existing recording of “Sal Stopped By to Iron Some Clothes” with a vocal harmony line and an accordion part, respectively. Glen Collins, Monique Tobin, and Mark Power produce a collage consisting of free-floating audio samples from “A Cold December Day” and sung and spoken-word snippets from other sources to convey the “theme of loss.”
The audio part of the project, then, is an attempt to break new ground in packaging traditional song. By including the modern material, the project reframes and calls attention to the publishing act itself. It dons a postmodern meta-mantle, summoning up current theoretical notions that music not only is in constant flux but also is subject to multiple and equally valid interpretations by many stakeholders. Diamond writes, “The CD puts forward, not just a story about communities, but questions about how we represent them . . . how we redefine the sounds, styles, and contexts of performance in order to make a statement about the relationship of past and present places or people” (p. 2).
Whatever the success of the package in meeting these goals, the print component detracts from it. The transcriptions, which are Fudge’s originals, are grievously inaccurate. Words are left out everywhere, and there are numerous mishearings: “enough” becomes “he knawed,” “his hod” is given as “his shawl,” “queen” as “king,” “imported” as “important.” The notes, which are not Fudge’s, often display a lack of serious knowledge of traditional anglophone North American song. “My Brother John and I” has been collected (in Missouri and Quebec); the “roots” of the drop-D tuning run far deeper than the 1960s folksong revival; a love token found on the dead soldier’s body in “On the Banks of the Clyde” does not make the song consistent with returning soldier/sailor/broken token ballads, as the notes allege; further, it would have been useful to know that the version here is sung to the tune of the American country standard “The Precious Jewel,” a clue to the influence of country music in Newfoundland song traditions; “William Coaker’s Dream” would have been more aptly discussed in the context of the popular tradition of devil- and dream-based songs (“The Ploughboy’s Dream,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “Joe Hill”) than “treason songs” and the “coded language” of “rebels.” The notes also give the impression that [End Page 86] the writer has read more about Newfoundland song than listened to it. An accordion plays a tune on the first track: it is all one tune, not several, and it is not “I’s the B’y,” as reported. The “tragic theme” of men going through the ice puts “Cold December Day” only tenuously in the same category as the much lighter weight “Tickle Cove Pond”; however, it would have been appropriate to mention that its air resembles that of another true masterpiece of tragic balladry, “The Rose in June,” a Scottish disaster-at-sea ballad that has been collected only in Newfoundland (by Peacock and by Goldstein) and recorded by revival singers Louis Killen and Ian Robb.
One gets the impression that the MMaP was under pressure to push this first product of their series out the door hastily. This may have caused the lapses in the booklet’s text editing, where, for instance, a song’s three last verses are printed twice. It may account for certain unfortunate production choices, such as not transcribing the spoken passages (if they’re important enough to have as audio, they should be there in print) and not providing a glossary to help the listener with arcane terms. It may also explain why aspects of the design seem not to have been thought through: song notes and song transcriptions appear awkwardly in separate sections of the booklet, and none have numbers that correspond with the audio tracks. Users must flip among a lot of pages to coordinate what they are reading and hearing.
In all, It’s Time for Another One may well serve nonfolklorist classroom teachers seeking a single product for a unit on folksong or Newfoundland singing traditions. The vintage audio component would certainly satisfy the needs of any scholar of traditional music. Younger listeners may find the modern interpretations more listenable than the older versions on which they are based. And while it is doubtful that any folklorist (let alone a traditional song scholar) needs this package as evidence “that ‘tradition’ is never static but always reshaped by new technologies, social circumstances, and aesthetics” (p. 1), perhaps it will, as Diamond hopes, continue to inspire “the traditional/modern discussion” among some of its listeners, as the inside back cover of the disc’s packaging states.
Reel-to-reel Recordings of American and British Songs, Ballads, and Instrumentals Performed by Toru Mitsui in 1963–1966, in Japan, and: Reel-to-reel Recordings of American and British Songs, Ballads, and Instrumentals Performed by Tsuyoshi Hashimoto & Toru Mitsui in 1961, 1965, and 1967, in Japan (review)