Ryans Fancy remembered in new retrospective

Denise Flint
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A piece of television history is about to be revisited. In the 1970s Canada didnt know a lot about its newest province. It had only been a little over 20 years since Newfoundland and Labrador had joined Confederation. But then three Irishmen moved to St. Johns from Toronto to go to university and ended up teaching the entire country what it meant to be a Newfoundlander.

Denis Ryan, Fergus OByrne and the late Dermot OReilly, who made up the band Ryans Fancy, starred in the eponymous television series. It aired on CBC television just before the hockey game and brought the unique culture and communities of Newfoundland and Labrador to the rest of the country as the threesome toured the province and met her people.

The final show was broadcast in 1983 and the group broke up around the same time. While Ryan moved to Nova Scotia, OByrne and OReilly remained here, stalwarts of the local music scene. Though time passed, people in this province still remembered the show fondly.

A 2001 recording of material from the show was well received and in 2004 the band picked up the ECMAs lifetime achievement award, delighting fans with an impromptu performance when they came on stage to pick up their prize. Finally, the sudden and unexpected death of Dermot OReilly in February once more brought memories of the long-defunct band back into the forefront of the public consciousness.

As a result, programmers at the CBC decided the time was ripe to broadcast a six-part homage to the old series. Titled Ryans Fancy Remembered, the show, which starts April 16 and runs every Monday until May 21, will feature archival footage from the 1970s series and is co-hosted by Fergus OByrne and CBC personality Krysta Rudofsky.

OByrne had a hand in picking some of the footage and he describes his role as that of someone who can explain what it was like then to an audience that may be too young to remember it for themselves.

We chose footage to represent a fair chunk of the province, OByrne says. Its not just about Ryans Fancy. For example, theres an eight- to 10-minute clip with Canon George Earle from Change Islands. We brought him back there to reflect on the changes that have happened in the Change Islands.

For OByrne, some of the most moving footage shows scenes of the fluorspar miners in St. Lawrence, many of whom died as a result of the toxins they were exposed to.

They were great singers and storytellers and very candid about what was going on in their lives and knowledgeable of the fate they were facing. I have a lot of mixed feelings looking back at it now, he says.

When asked about any scenes that stand out, OByrne pauses for a minute before admitting: If I had to pick a favourite scene, it would be the last run of the Bonavista to Labrador. Its just me and Dermot coming down the gangplank singing a shanty Time To Leave Her.

The final episode of the series will be dedicated to Dermot OReilly and feature footage of him performing some of his original songs in Torbay with his children, and current musicians paying tribute to him.

For now, the show will only air locally, although it may be picked up elsewhere at a later date.

Im just delighted theyre showing it, says OByrne. There were so many people who are gone the generation before us and the show documents them, what Newfoundland was like then and how things have changed in the last 30 years. Its a true look at what the province was.

Ryans Fancy Remembered begins Monday night at 8 p.m. on the island and 7:30 p.m. in most of Labrador.

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Toronto Nova Scotia Change Islands Torbay

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