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The Sound Symposium’s Night Music event marked its 185th session on Thursday.
A live performance followed by an open jam, this monthly gathering has been going on for three and a half years in St. John’s, held at The Ship Pub.
Local psychedelic folk band Spring Var kicked off the 185th jam, playing a short but impressive set, covering their six-song self-titled EP, released in the summer of 2018.
The band’s name comes from a 2006 letter from Robert Forward’s grandfather, who proposed “Spring Var” as a band name, explaining that the term comes from cutting wood.
“The vast majority of this wood (timber) was ‘fir,’ the legitimate name as it is today and always was,” the senior Forward wrote. “However being NFLDers, it was corrupted to ‘var.’ And was cut in the spring of the year, thus – ‘Spring Var.’”
The five-piece band – comprised of Robert Forward, Amelia Harris, Michelle LaCour, Chris Scott and Christina Young – are multi-talented multi-instrumentalists.
The quintet frequently switched themselves around on the small stage to play various instruments — the electric guitar, drums, banjo, accordion, keyboard, twelve-string acoustic guitar, violin and bass.
Their sound is reminiscent of early Irish trad/folk music, spliced with Jefferson Airplane B-sides.
There’s a hint of alternative rock – think The Cranberries – infused with life-long influences of traditional Newfoundland music. One could imagine the late Laverne Squires being a fan of, or maybe even a collaborator with, Spring Var.
Spring Var’s short set ended with “Forty-Nine,” a spoken word performance about confederation and Newfoundland and Labrador history, leading up to present-day conversations about what it means to be a Newfoundlander or Labradorian.
Over psychedelic experimental sounds, Harris spoke of tourists, and the harsh, sometimes heartbreaking questions they ask, about why we live here, and why we don’t want to move away.
In the song’s final lyric, Harris might be speaking on a personal level, or on behalf of all frustrated locals tired of feeling like a spectator sport for come-from-aways: “Give me your money and leave.”
No one left after Harris uttered those words, however – many were excited for the upcoming free jam.
The first improvisational session featured two saxophones, a trumpet and drums, creating a free jazz feel. The horn player and one saxophonist swapped out for a bassist and guitarist, eventually leading to a full band rotation, with fresh faces stationed at the guitar, bass, drums, trumpet and hand drums. Another incarnation of the impromptu band saw horn, guitar, drums and bass accompanied by keyboard and accordion.
As a non-musician, the mere concept of a free jam is somewhat mindboggling to me. Applying the same logic, it’s like taking athletes from various sports, putting them in an arena and telling them to create a game and play it, on the spot and wordlessly. Could they do it? Seems unlikely.
Put a group of diverse musicians on one stage, however, and they’ll effortlessly create a brand new work of art. I don’t really believe in magic, but the Sound Symposium’s Night Music is pretty close to magical.