Check The Once members’ arms this week and you’re likely to find bruises. Winners of four MusicNL awards last year and fresh from a tour of Ireland with Amelia Curran, the folk music trio swept the Canadian Folk Music Awards last weekend, taking home the Traditional Album of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year awards.
Still, they haven’t quite gotten used to their success and are pinching themselves to make sure it’s all real.
“I still feel like the bottom’s going to fall out of it all. I always do, that’s just my personality,” Geraldine Hollett said. “Every step of the way I’ve thought, Oh, at least we’ve gotten this far. And it just keeps growing and growing.”
It wasn’t music which originally united Hollett with Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale — it was theatre. The three were members of Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity during the summer of 2004 and, on their days off, starting playing music together, just as something to do.
“We played little gigs on our time off, and by the time we got back to St. John’s, it was like, ‘You know, maybe we should keep it up a little bit, do the odd show,’” Dale said.
Each contributing their individual strengths — Hollett's smooth vocals, Churchill’s guitar and violin and Dale’s impressive talents on a range of instruments, including bouzouki, bodhran, banjo, accordion, guitar and piano — and performing incredible harmonies, the trio made themselves official, recording a demo and choosing a name out of the “Dictionary of Newfoundland English,” when efforts to come up with one otherwise failed.
According to the dictionary, the phrase means “as soon as possible; right away.”
“I always thought ‘the once’ was one word: dwunse,’” said Churchill — who ‘s also a comedian and member of The Newfoundland Dance Party sketch comedy troupe.
“We saw it in the dictionary and it just sounded good.”
On tour sometimes, though, the group is mistakenly called “The Ones” — something that drives the three of them up the wall.
“Can you imagine if we called ourselves The Ones? I think, ‘Shit, you people think we think that much of ourselves?’ Imagine — ‘And now, traditional Newfoundland group, The Gods,” Churchill joked.
While they’re classified as folk/traditional music, The Once’s style is all their own. They mix old, traditional tunes like “Three Fishers” with Queen and Leonard Cohen covers.
After spending the summer and early fall touring the province and doing gigs with local comedian John Sheehan, The Once headed to Ireland last month, where they played a series of shows with Curran. Performing in a country where they were unheard of, and performing traditional Irish tunes, was a little daunting, the trio said, but they were invited back and plan to return in the new year.
Since it was released in August of last year, The Once’s self-titled debut CD has earned them unending accolades. In addition to the MusicNL and folk music awards, the group has a 2010 East Coast Music Award nomination and won the Galaxie Rising Star award. They’ve signed a record deal with Borealis Records in Toronto, performed at various folk festivals across the country and the United States, for national CBC Radio programs, and at Atlantic Canada House during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Where do they go from here?
“Gower Street United Church,” Dale said.
With some hot apple cider and gingerbread, The Once is hosting their second Christmas ‘Time’ at the church, with special guests Kim Stockwood and actor/comedian and Churchill’s fellow Dance Party member Jonny Harris Dec. 2-3.
The group plans to break away from the album music they’ve been performing over the past year — although they will do one or two songs — and will showcase some new original music as well as traditional Christmas tunes, along with a little storytelling and comedy.
“There’ll be some crossover with (Harris’) stand-up,” Churchill explained.
Hollett, Churchill and Dale plan to head back into the recording studio in the new year, and hope to have their second CD released early next summer. They’ve already got gigs booked across Canada, in the U.S. and in Europe, but aren’t yet at liberty to say where.
Some of the songs on the new CD have been written and others are in the works, but the group’s trademark contemporarily-arranged sea shanties won’t be left out.
“The really old songs that we do, we do them because they’ve stood the test of time and because they’re good songs, essentially,” Dale said.
Tickets for The Once’s Christmas “Time” are $20, and are available at O’Brien’s Music Store on Water Street.
As a special Christmas bonus, the first 200 adult tickets sold will include a free child’s ticket. Tickets are $22 at the door, and showtime is at 7:30 p.m.