Local Newfoundland expats will have a chance to immerse themselves in some music from back home through a concert by eminent traditional folk duo Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne on Saturday, March 10.
The concert comes about one year after O’Byrne came to perform an Irish at Heart concert at Knox United Church to a packed hall.
O’Byrne will be back at Knox with traditional Irish and Newfoundland music, but this time with Payne, his musical partner and collaborator.
The duo began performing together after filling in for a group that, at the last minute, couldn’t take the stage during a folk festival O’Byrne and Payne were helping to organize.
“We said we’ll go on and do something,” said O’Byrne. “We have a shared repertoire, so we’ll just go on and see what happens.
“Somebody said to us afterwards, ‘Gee, that sounded great, you should do more.’”
It’s been about 20 years since that happened, said O’Byrne, and the two have continued to play together and tour various parts of the world, while also working solo.
After last year’s concert at Knox, O’Byrne said, he’s excited to be back and performing with Payne.
“(It was) a roaring success,” O’Byrne said of the previous event, where he was joined by Knox organist and music director Jenny Vincent for a few tunes, as well as several other local musicians.
Locals will once again be providing some extra depth for the March 10 concert, while Payne will add a great depth of Newfoundland folk music knowledge and his own songs to O’Byrne’s Newfie, Irish and Celtic tunes.
“It’s really a half-and-half concert,” said O’Byrne. “When myself and Jim are on stage, we swap back and forth on songs. And Jim, being from Newfoundland, he has a great understanding and a great awareness of the traditional music, but also he’s a consummate songwriter, and he writes in the traditional vein.”
Some of Payne’s compositions are so authentic in their traditional sound that audience members have confused them for songs they heard as children, O’Byrne said.
Asked how he accomplishes that, Payne said it’s a difficult question to answer.
“I write what I feel, and while a lot of my songs have been embraced by Newfoundlanders as songs that express what a lot of us feel, I don’t write with the idea that I’m trying to make it sound like an old folk song,” he said.
Payne’s love of Newfoundland and Labrador folk music came from growing up with it.
“I grew up in a family where music was a way of life,” he said. “I don’t ever remember starting in music; I started singing at the same time as I started talking, learned to play instruments as I was growing up. And while, as a teenager with a rock and roll band, I was, and still am, into a lot of different types of music, I recognized that the traditional folk music of the province really was the only source of information about ordinary people, their history, way of life, and the struggles they had in trying to survive on this outpost in the North Atlantic.”
O’Byrne, originally from Ireland, said he “got the bug” at about age 13 or 14 in Dublin.
Watching the Chieftains and the Dubliners perform had an impact, he said, and as the folk revival was going on, he took to the music.
He immigrated to Toronto at 19 years old and people started offering to pay him to play.
After moving to Newfoundland, O’Byrne said, he said he found people were so free in passing on their skills and songs that he felt the need to keep passing them on to others.
Both he and Payne are dedicated to passing on folk music to younger generations and run programming to that end (through one such program on Fogo Island they originally met Jenny and Paul Vincent, who now live locally and invited them to play at Knox).
“When I was growing up, there were no computers. Even TV was a rarity, and my family didn’t get electricity until I was in Grade 10,” said Payne. “So I learned a lot about our history through song and story when there was no other option for entertainment.
“Today, with all the options young people have to learn about the world, it’s important that young people still become grounded in their own culture and learn about their collective history through the culture in the same way as I and countless generations before me did.”
O’Byrne said there’s also an important social value to being involved in music.
“Playing music is as much a social gathering as it is a piece of work,” he said. “If you’ve got music, you’ve always got a friend,” be it those who gather around to hear you play, or, when there’s no one else around, you’ve got your instrument to play.
For the March 10 performance, doors open at 6 p.m. with Newfie appetizers to sample, and the music starts at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $37.50 and can be purchased at the Mulberry Bush bookstores in Parksville or Qualicum Beach, online through the Port Theatre or at the Knox church office, 345 Pym St. in Parksville.