Once upon a time

Justin Brake
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The Once make their musical mark

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines "the once" as: "as soon as possible, right away."

Used in a sentence, one might say "Let's go see The Once the once."

The other "The Once," of course, is the young folk trio of Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, which is taking Newfoundland's folk music scene by storm.

Their self-titled debut record, released in July, has spent a number of weeks in the top position for album sales at Fred's Records in St. John's.

The Once (from left) Andrew Dale, Geraldine Hollett and Phil Churchill, launch their self-titled debut album Tuesday night at The Ship. Submitted photo

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines "the once" as: "as soon as possible, right away."

Used in a sentence, one might say "Let's go see The Once the once."

The other "The Once," of course, is the young folk trio of Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, which is taking Newfoundland's folk music scene by storm.

Their self-titled debut record, released in July, has spent a number of weeks in the top position for album sales at Fred's Records in St. John's.

In a period of just five weeks the band has sold nearly 1,000 copies, a visibly excited Hollett tells me as she, Churchill, Dale and I discuss the band, their album and early success.

Seated on a futon in the living room of Hollett and Churchill's downtown top-floor apartment, she tells me about how the couple met and began singing together, as she occasionally peers out the window at the rain.

It all began a little more than a decade ago, she says, when she and Churchill met at Grenfell College in Corner Brook where they were studying theatre arts.

"Phil was the first person to say to me 'You should belt it out. That's what people want to hear,'" she recalls, laughing.

The pair met Dale while working for the Rising Tide Theatre Company in Trinity.

Now, the three are singing their way into people's hearts in St. John's, around the island, and across the Maritimes.

"The chemistry was there from the start," explains Dale.

"If we had to make an effort to make music work between the three of us it probably wouldn't have gone this far, but because there was chemistry right from the start and things just clicked, we got a charge and just wanted to keep going."

The focal point of the group's album and performances are the jaw-dropping three-part a capella harmonies that characterize much of their music, an attribute that caught the attention of Festival 500 organizers, who later invited the group to perform during the 2009 choral festivities last month.

"I remember the first time (singing harmonies), we were having a few drinks and learning one of these songs, and going 'Let's sing it again,' purely for the enjoyment of hearing that sound again," Churchill says.

"From this moment on we're the tiniest choir in Newfoundland," he jokes.

With a solid cohesion and each member's strengths harvested - Hollett's strong, but silky smooth vocals, Churchill's guitar, mandolin and violin playing, and Dale's multi-instrumental capabilities, including bodhran, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, organ, accordion, bass, guitar, percussion, and piano -the only significant missing were the means to make a record.

As luck would have it, after a performance at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival in Nova Scotia last summer, the band received a generous offer to help finance their album from a stranger who saw their performance.

"It just capped off the whole weekend when a complete stranger believes in what you're doing so much, having just heard you that weekend, and is willing to offer up a substantial amount of money to make an album and help you go to the next level," says Dale. "It's a pretty good pick-me-up."

The album's content includes remakes of both traditional tunes like "Maid On The Shore," "Three Fishers," and "Willie Taylor," and contemporary material such as Tom Waits' "The Briar And The Rose," Amelia Curran's "What Will You Be Building," and a pair of Leonard Cohen songs, "Coming Back To You" and "Anthem."

Dale and Churchill each contribute original compositions on "Nell's song," which features the lyrics of Al Pittman's "My Handsome Lad."

"I like to say it's sort of a snapshot of where we've been and elements of what's to come," says Churchill, explaining the band's careful attention as to how to introduce their music.

"When we put out the album we were looking to show people that we're not about any one specific style of music," Dale says.

"It's still folk roots," Churchill adds.

"If we did heavy metal that probably wouldn't go over very well," jokes Hollett, prompting Churchill to add "To do a nice three-part folk version of a Metallica song, I always thought would be - 'Oh my god, what a beautiful song! What is that?'"

After sharing a laugh, the trio say they're already thinking ahead to the a followup album, which will include a more balanced mix of original compositions and cover songs.

Although, calling The Once's versions of tunes like "Anthem" and "Three Fishers" cover songs is highly misrepresentative of the work on their debut album.

"You listen to our three-part a capella version of "Anthem,"" says Dale, "we came up with our own arrangements and put our own stamp on it."

Despite having already sold nearly 1,000 copies of the album since July, The Once are finally hosting the official launch of the record Aug. 18 at The Ship Pub in St. John's.

Ten dollars gets you into the show, but $20 gets you in and a copy of the CD. If value is your thing, then take The Once up on the latter offer.

For more information visit The Once's web site at www.theonce.ca.

Organizations: Grenfell College, The Once, Churchill's Dictionary of Newfoundland English Fred's Rising Tide Theatre Company The Ship Pub

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Corner Brook Trinity Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • B
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I first heard this band at the Leonard Cohen Tribute concert several years ago. I thought they were fantastic then, and since then have heard them on the radio many times. I am sure they have a great future!

  • B
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    I first heard this band at the Leonard Cohen Tribute concert several years ago. I thought they were fantastic then, and since then have heard them on the radio many times. I am sure they have a great future!