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Wren Music representatives perform for Cupids 400

It is a Monday night in downtown St. John's. On Water Street, past Shamrock City, past the Irish bars on George Street, in a pub called Erin's - a group of English musicians play some tunes.

They have circled a pair of the dark, wooden tables. Their tune is lively. Feet are tapping along beneath three tables at the opposite end of the bar.

It is a Monday night in downtown St. John's. On Water Street, past Shamrock City, past the Irish bars on George Street, in a pub called Erin's - a group of English musicians play some tunes.

They have circled a pair of the dark, wooden tables. Their tune is lively. Feet are tapping along beneath three tables at the opposite end of the bar.

In the circle: Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke work their fiddles, Paul Wilson rapidly strums his guitar, David Faulkner adds some pipes and some locals positioned around join in with whistles, an accordion, fiddles and drums.

The instruments are laid down as Marilyn Tucker names a song in her West Country English accent and begins to sing.

The evening at the pub is a rare night off in a tight schedule for the British collective of concerts and workshops, Cupids 400 events.

The group are here to remind us of our musical roots in England. They are roots sometimes overshadowed by the presence of all things Irish - found in the sphere of popular traditional music as much as in the bar names of the downtown.

Explains group name

Earlier in the day, the group sat down with The Telegram in a home on King's Road to tell the tale of Wren Music and the English-Newfoundland folk connections.

Wren Music, "it's not our group name. It's the organization we all work for," Tucker said. "Wren Music is a music organization and we work throughout Devon with different people and with all types of music. The people we work with are all ages, in all sorts of social and community situations and the music we work with is people's music, so a lot of English traditional music."

The organization is led by professional musicians (this group that has made the trip to Newfoundland). These artists take the lead in various community-based projects.

"Nick and Becki run an orchestra for us, Dave runs two folk orchestras - we call them folk orchestras because it's a lot of people rather than a band," Tucker said. "So people from the community who may have learned violin at school and haven't had a context to play come together and all play each week, like an evening class."

Anywhere from 30 to 50 people from the community attend each of those orchestra meetings.

In addition to the three folk orchestras, Wren Music has three adult choirs, three children's choirs, three children's instrumental bands, regular weekly youth groups and hosts music festivals in the county of Devon. The organization is also caretaker of the Baring-Gould collection, a catalogue of upwards of 650 folk songs collected from the people of Devon, England.

To close festival

As part of Cupids 400, the musicians have completed a series of concerts in Dildo, Winterton, Bay de Verde, Carbonear and Cupids. They will give a final concert on Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Brigus Heritage Church. The event will mark the close of the Cupids 400 Muses and Minstrels arts festival.

Earlier in the week, the musicians held a one-day workshop for children on traditional music, beginning with a look at music popular in the earliest days of the colony.

"That stuff was published around Shakespeare's time, ... 1596, 1609, 1610. There was a great lot of publishing over there in England and that would have been John Guy's time when he came over here," Wilson said. "Some of the songs ... have existed from then until now and are still sung all around the place, so it is a direct line back 400 years in the blink of an eye."

Wilson and others from Devon have come to Newfoundland as ambassadors of English folk in the past. In fact, Wren Music has been part of exchanges between this province and the United Kingdom for over 25 years.

"We met (Newfoundland and Labrador folk musician) Jim (Payne) in 1983 and it was very exotic, this Newfoundland music. Then we found it was very much like English - you could trace the English roots in it," Tucker said. "You would find there were versions of songs here that would exist as versions there - and we're talking about folk songs that exist in the oral tradition."

The versions changed in different ways. Sometimes the lyrics were different in places, sometimes the tunes, sometimes both.

"As (the music) is passed on, even in England, there are variations of the different songs. But when they come to Newfoundland, the place names become Newfoundland place names and things like that and sometimes the stories change," she said. "There's a song Jim (Payne) sings called the 'Double Sledder Lad' which is about hauling wood out of the woods. In England, it's about Jim the carter lad and he's carting goods from village to village. So the context of the song changes."

Album available

While the children who took part in the workshop with the Wren Music collective may not remember the songs they have learned a year from now, while those who attended the concerts may not remember a song title or tune, there is an album available to prompt their memories.

"Shore to Shore: From the West Country to the New Founde Land" was created specifically to mark the Cupids 400 events and centres on the England-Newfoundland connection.

It includes songs recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador by Jim Payne and Fergus O'Byrne as well as songs from English counties of Devon, Dorset and Somerset, recorded by Wren Music.

The song "Oh Write Me Down, Ye Powers Above," for example, is a traditional Newfoundland tune arranged and recorded for the album by Payne and O'Byrne. "This song is known in Dorset, U.K., but was collected in Newfoundland in 1958 by Kenneth Peacock from the late Charlotte Decker of Parsons Pond, Great Northern Peninsula and published in 'Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, Volume Two.'" states the liner notes.

"The Double Sledder Lad" - the traditional song Tucker noted as being similar to 'Jim the Carter Lad' in England - has also been recorded by Payne and O'Byrne. According to the liner notes, the song was adapted in Newfoundland in modern times, to describe activity in the logging camps feeding the paper mills of Corner Brook and Grand Falls.

Then there is the Minnie White/ Rufus Guinchard track of "Sally's Jig/ Skipper Lost His Guernsey." The song shows Newfoundland traditions making their way back to England. "Rufus travelled to the West Country several times and loved it there," states the song note. "Several of his tunes have infiltrated the West Country instrumental repertoire in recent years."

The folk orchestras of Wren Music have also learned some of the Newfoundland songs. "They all know two or three Newfoundland tunes at least," Wyke said.

"One of our choirs sings Jim's song 'The Capelin,'" added Tucker.

"There's four or five Newfoundland song pieces floating around the choirs and half a dozen around the orchestras and sometimes - the joy is - when two or three orchestra members get together in a pub with a glass of beer, sometimes they kick in a Newfoundland tune. So we're actually seeding the stuff and it's springing up all over the place," Wilson said.

In other words, "we like to see ourselves in a long line of the culture being shared," Tucker said.

The more the musicians share while in Newfoundland the better, as far as Payne is concerned. Anything to raise the profile of English folk in the province.

"Once you get out, say on the Northeast coast (of Newfoundland) and parts of the Northern Peninsula, I mean a lot of the songs that have been collected by folklorists over the years, especially a lot of the ballads, a lot of them have their roots in England," he said.

Payne added many English-rooted Newfoundland folk tunes are available in "Songs of the Newfoundland Outports," the title is available on CD-Rom from Payne's Singsong label.


Organizations: Wren Music, The Telegram, Brigus Heritage Church

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, England, West Country Devon St. John's Water Street Shamrock George Street Bay de Verde Carbonear Dorset United Kingdom Somerset Corner Brook Grand Falls

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