Shining their ‘Eastern Light’

Tara Bradbury
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The Dardanelles bring their fresh take on Newfoundland traditional music across the island

The Dardanelles, (from left) Matthew Byrne, Tom Power, Aaron Collis, Emilia Bartellas and Rich Klaas are currently on their inaugural Newfoundland tour. — Submitted photo

Tom Power’s recipe for a Newfoundland tune, done The Dardanelles style: one traditional jig/reel, a dash each of acoustic guitar, bouzouki, accordion, fiddle and bodhran, a few “weird” chords and a generous helping of the kind of energy usually seen only in punk bands.

“That’s just enough noise, and just enough rock ‘n’ roll,” Power explained.

The Dardanelles — Power on guitar, Aaron Collis on button accordion, Emilia Bartellas on fiddle, Matthew Byrne on vocals/guitar/bouzouki and Rich Klaas on bodhran — have been “changing the way you think about traditional music since 2005,” their website says, with dynamic and unique instrumentals and ballads, bringing a new quality to Newfoundland music.

They’ve just started their very first Newfoundland-only tour, in support of their latest record, “The Eastern Light.”

As with their 2009 self-titled album, produced by Power’s brother-in-law, guitar virtuoso Duane Andrews, “The Eastern Light” draws inspiration from some of the province’s legendary musicians, like fiddler Emile Benoit and accordion player Rufus Guinchard.

It’s a matter of looking deeper into playlists and repertoires to find tunes that other bands haven’t taken on, Power said, and giving it their own flare.

“The Eastern Light” was produced by Irish guitar master John Doyle, whom Power said knew nothing about Newfoundland music when he arrived.

“Outside of traditional Irish music circles you wouldn’t know him from Adam, but when you get inside the circle a little bit, you understand how influential a guy he really is. He really pioneered the idea of rhythmically playing this music, paying a lot of attention to the various rhythms that are associated with this music,” Power said.

“The most important thing about the tune is that you just drive it and drive it and drive it and drive it. He’s never afraid to put weird chords behind it and he’s really not afraid to make it sound like a rock ‘n’ roll song without compromising the integrity of the music.”

That includes, for The Dardanelles, leaving out the drum and bass — something Power said they appreciate in other artists’ renditions of traditional tunes, but have no intention of ever doing themselves.

The result is a CD the group is proud of, with songs that are both new and familiar at the same time.

The Dardanelles have long been playing gigs across the country, and have performed at most major Canadian folk festivals, including Winnipeg, Mariposa and Vancouver. Mainland audiences have a different expectation of Newfoundland music than the folks back home, Power said, and are “starved” for a bit of authentic folk music.

“They don’t know they’re starved for it,” he said. “When we’re on the mainland and Matthew gets up and says, ‘This is a song my great-uncle sang to me growing up and it’s been passed on,’ they’ve only heard of things being passed on like that. Up in Canada, more power to them, but you get a lot of bands playing Newfoundland music or Irish or what they call Celtic music. They like it, and they learn it off records and it’s sometimes embarrassing, because they put on accents and they don’t really get it. When we get up there and we actually are of this music and we’re where this music comes from, that is quite amazing to them.”

Newfoundland traditional music might not seem like the obvious choice for a group of twenty-somethings, but Power insists the members of The Dardanelles gravitated towards it as teenagers, the same way others might be interested in heavy metal or pop music. For Power, who hosts CBC’s “Deep Roots,” why he likes traditional music is a huge question.

“I love the rhythm, I love the passion, I love the drive, I love the energy. I love that it comes from a pretty honest place. I love that in a lot of cases, these tunes weren’t composed for any kind of commercial idea whatsoever. I love that they were really functional — in some of Rufus Guinchard’s tunes there’s an extra beat added to a measure, not because that’s how he wanted it to sound necessarily, but because that had to be added in order for the dancer to get his right foot back on the floor to start the dance again,” Power explained.

The Dardanelles’ gigs on the current tour are a mix of pub shows and theatre performances. Some shows will be high-energy, danceable gigs, while in others, the group will highlight their softer side. The members are looking forward to playing to crowds at home, and showing them that local traditional music is perhaps not always what they think it is.

“I’m tired of being told this music is really important,” Power said. “It truly is important, but that’s not really the point. The point is the music is really great.”

The Dardanelles played Friday night in Corner Brook and will play tonight in Stephenville before heading on to Rocky Harbour, Killdevil, Trout River, Clarenville, Eastport, Carbonear, Bonavista and Cupids.

More information is available online at

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: The Dardanelles, CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Winnipeg, Vancouver Canada Corner Brook Stephenville Rocky Harbour Trout River

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Recent comments

  • Unfortunate Son
    August 18, 2012 - 20:57

    I'm just curious how some bands in NL, if they play traditional music, get gov't subsidies for travel, air play, interviews on local media, etc, when they're just doing covers no different than the 2 piece band down at the Stetson tonight.