About this time last year I attended a stag party that was hosted in a remote cabin in the Newfoundland wilderness. Knowing there were no hydro lines, the boys carried in an electric generator just to power a full band kit which they set up in the cabin’s immense living room. And I mean a full on rock and roll set up that included a complete drum kit, amplifiers, electric guitars, microphone and speakers – big speakers! Now I don’t know if anyone took a role call so there’s no way to ascertain exactly how many of us were in attendance, but I’m guessing there were about 3 dozen fellows out for the weekend. Regardless, the boys were set up and playing within an hour of our arrival and the music never stopped for three full days. The minute one fellow put down his guitar or stepped away from the drums, someone else was there to plunk their arse down and join right in with whatever song happened to be playing. And they were good.
Most people recognize that there is a disproportionately high level of musical talent shared among the people of Newfoundland. More than 30% of the performers in the Canadian Opera Company are Newfoundlanders, we have more musical recordings than any other district on the planet and in a worst case scenario Newfoundlanders can keep a beat with a set of spoons if no other instrument is on hand. There are some who might argue that our musical penchant comes from years of isolation and the need to amuse and entertain ourselves. Others suggest that our weather dictates an inordinate amount of time spent indoors which would increase the likelihood of practicing their craft. Others believe it’s the tight family unit and sense of community which enhances the opportunity to teach and learn. And still others defer to our Celtic heritage and an innate appreciation for sound and its translation into music. I tend to think all are highly influential factors though a recent incident lends me to place a little more emphasis on the latter.
A great friend of mine is a member of the ‘Hutton’ family here in St. John’s. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Hutton’s are an outrageously talented family of musicians, singers, artists and performers who have graced the stages of Newfoundland for generations. One of the cousins plays with the Texas Jazz orchestra, another leads a renowned rock band, one owns and performs in a local dinner theater group and their grandfather owned one of the first music shops in St. John’s. They perform at nearly every formal event in the city and have even played for the Royal family.
Not my buddy. He is a great athlete, he’s smart, and a good family man – but he’s the devil incarnate. All our lives he has kept me and our friends in uproarious fits of laughter with his zany antics. Growing up he was always up to something impish and whenever he was about we were certain to spend a lot of time on the edge – whether it was scaling the face of Topsail Mountain or ambushing a ‘Metrobus’ with an arsenal of well packed snowballs. Needless to say, we really didn’t have the time to bother with any kind of instrument – Until recently.
Another friend of ours has a well-equipped recording studio in his house and he and a few of his band mates were practicing when my buddy and I made an unscheduled visit. We shot the breeze for a bit but the boys were intent on playing so we sat back to enjoy the show. We clapped along contentedly but it didn’t take long before my man picked up one of the many guitars that were strewn about the room. Watching intently he started to pluck away at the strings and before you knew it he was following right along on their lead. As he gained confidence his playing grew more intense and our friend finally asked
“I didn’t know you played guitar?”
“Well how are you doing that?
“I don’t know!”
I suppose you’d have to agree that it’s just in him. Or as I love to suggest, Newfoundland Idol takes on a whole new meaning –Newfoundland IDLE!