Masterless man goes solo on Christmas album
John Curran and a gathering of friends and family crammed into the old house on Sunny Hill for a time, following his CD release concert in Ferryland Nov. 28. Photo by Gavin Simms/Special to The Telegram
It's as if Christmas '08 never ended for John Curran. The tree came down, the snow melted, but the holiday music kept playing.
It's not that he found it especially difficult to part ways with the season. It was all part of a plan.
By the time Old Christmas Day came around last year, the local performer found he had some spirit left over. So, he figured he'd drag out the merriness and record a Christmas album.
It's something the leader of traditional Irish group The Masterless Men has been meaning to do for some time, as a solo artist.
He had to be certain the undertaking wasn't going to make him sick of his favourite season. And he also had to be ready to finally step out on his own, without a band of five others backing him up.
Curran's been a musician since he was crawling, or so he's been told. Coming from the Southern Shore, Irish music was in his blood long before any air reached his lungs.
He was raised in a house on Sunny Hill in Ferryland, where everything, but the walls, made music.
It's always been a common venue for a kitchen party, especially at Christmas. Curran says, if those walls could at least talk there's more than a few stories they could bounce around.
"It was a good place to gather during the holidays because my brother Wilf was always playing and he knew a thousand songs. People could rely on him to entertain, and my dad was a great singer. He didn't play any instruments, but he could make a room come to a hush by singing acapella," John remembers as clear as yesterday.
"Mom, even though she didn't play much at parties, she totally enjoyed music and she was the church organist in Aquaforte. She was always floatin' around making sure everyone had a drink or a sandwich or a bit of food."
He recalls being sent to bed on many occasions as a young boy, while a time was in full swing. He'd creep down to the bottom of the stairs soon after, where no one could see him and he'd sit and listen in peace. After so many years he'd get invited out to sing a song or two, then he'd scoot back to his warm spot on the steps.
Ode to Christmas past
The old house on Sunny Hill was a constant muse for John's new record.
Things have been different since his parents passed, but the house has come to prove it has a life all its own. It could have become less of a home, but it didn't. It's where the Curran family Christmas takes place to this day.
"Christmas to me, as a child, was all about home. And home for me is still Sunny Hill in Ferryland. We still go up there Christmas Day. We stay in here in Mount Pearl for Santa Claus and we're out to Ferryland by noon."
Back in the heyday of the old house, Bing Crosby would be the noise crackling through the speakers - the soundtrack for the season.
It's why Curran wanted his album of holiday standards, aptly titled, "Christmas … May Your Days Be Merry And Bright," to be simple and old-fashioned, in the same vein as Crosby's classic.
He didn't want to make a record heavy laden with instruments or anything beyond the basics.
He didn't want it to be particularly upbeat.
With a backing band consisting of multi-instrumentalist Greg Walsh, pianist Ray Walsh and bassist Robert Kelly, Curran made what he calls a true acoustic album.
"It's background music for when you're sitting around the living room with the Christmas lights on and the rest of the lights dimmed with family and friends."
He wanted to pay homage to those timeless songs and the memories that go along with them.
Way back when, Curran says he and his siblings didn't mail their letters to Santa. They'd write their letters up and throw them into the woodstove. They were told; when the smoke went out the chimney the messages would blow straight to Santa.
"Somebody was always picked to get in under the tree Christmas morning and their job was to hand out the presents," Curran says with a steady grin.
"Within 20 minutes there was a four-foot sea of paper filling the room."
His very first guitar was a gift from Santa. If not for Christmas there's a very slight chance he wouldn't have unwrapped the gift of song at all.