There are a fair number of CBC Radio hosts that moonlight as musicians (or, rather, moonlight as radio hosts). Randy Bachman. Rich Terfry (aka Buck 65). Grant Lawrence. Julie Nesrallah is a mezzo-soprano and who could forget Jian Ghomeshi and Moxy Früvous? Did you know that Tom Power - host of CBC Radio 2 Morning and Deep Roots - is quite the big deal in Newfoundland? His band The Dardanelles are "a new breed of folk musician with a wide sense of the world and a firm belief that Newfoundlanders can hold their own with the best players the world has to offer."
They'd play almost every week in Newfoundland, but have rarely made it to other parts of Canada - "the mainland" - until now. A short jaunt through Ontario got under way yesterday, and the band will be playing in Guelph tonight (November 8) and once again in Toronto tomorrow (Nov. 9). Last night, Tom and co. took their foot stomping traditional music to Hugh's Room in the west end of Toronto. CBC Live went along for the ride.
Now, I'd never been to Hugh's Room. When I told people I was heading there they said it was very cool. And it is, but it's not your typical music venue. With no standing room at all [hence the not-so-super photos of the show - apologies], all the patrons are seated at tables - and each one was full. I'd been kicking myself before the show for not getting any sustenance, but I needn't have worried. I had the fettuccini. It was delightful, but I did suffer some splashback with the sauce. Totally my fault.
Hugh's Room is a real music lovers place, and the respect shows. When the band took to the stage, the talking stopped. It would have been impossible to talk through the show anyway. Despite being seated, the crowd still got pretty rambunctious. Tom welcomed 'whoops' and 'yips' and wasn't shy himself. Between songs, Mr. Power gave us the back story to most - a great way to experience new music. It's a good thing Tom loves to talk... hey, he does it for a living. When Tom's not on the mic, his bandmate Matt Byrne, playing the bouzouki, takes over the vocal duties. And what a voice he has (listen to it on CBC Music).
In fact, the whole band is incredibly talented. Rich Klass on the bodhran and Aaron Collis on the accordion. Emilia Bartellas, on the fiddle, made me long to try playing it again. Tom himself is like a man possessed on guitar:
Tom plays with such fervour that I was actually quite scared he was going to hit poor Aaron in the head with the fret board. You see, this is the first gig The Dardanelles have played standing up. At one point, they played music that's "as close as traditional music will ever get to Deadmau5." I just wanted to stand up and dance with someone. That will happen on Friday at Toronto's Dakota Tavern, where the band take to the stage at around 7.30pm. In Toronto? Get there. In Guelph? The Dardanelles will play tonight, opening for the Kramdens. Who fronts the Kramdens? Oh, just another CBC Radio host - Craig Norris. They play the Army/Navy Club tonight (Nov. 8) at 8pm. There's one more gig on the Dardanelles' short Ontario tour - they play Sharbot Lake on Saturday (Nov. 10).
I pulled Tom aside from his many adoring fans (really) at the end of the night to quiz him about the show:
CBC Live: First time, in a while, playing on "the mainland" as you call it. How was the reception?
Tom Power: It was crazy. We never know how we're going to do when we play the mainland. People are so used to hearing Newfoundland music in Newfoundland, but when you come up here and if you're not necessarily playing the Great Big Sea hits, people tend to be kind of... maybe a little more recalcitrant, but I think that was our misconception. The more we come up here the happier we are and the more people seem to just enjoy music that comes from somewhere pure, which is where our music comes from.
My knowledge of Newfoundland music is lacking, but the impression that I'm getting is that it's one big community.
TP: Yeah, it is. There's not an insane amount of us who play, we're probably familiar with everybody. There is a really intense community and it comes from a really natural place. Before I moved to Toronto, we used to play every Friday night. Every traditional musician in St. John's would just come down and we'd play music together for fun. We've been doing that together for so long and The Dardanelles was born out of that sense of community.
Now you're in Toronto, how hard is it to get back every now and again?
TP: It wasn't hard, until tonight. I've got to tell you, b'y, it got to me tonight. I love Toronto very much, and it's my home right now, but... you're asking me at a really weird time. You get off stage and you kind of are Newfoundland... for a little while. Alan Doyle used to tell me that when people were buying his music, they were buying home. They were buying Newfoundland. They were buying culture. I felt that tonight, and it's kind of hard to go back to College Street now... but I will! I love Toronto, and I'm sure this will wear off soon. I get back way too much for someone who's complaining about not being home enough!
Tell us more about the band...
TP: We've been on the go for a long time now. We've had a bunch of different line-ups, but this is the band now. A couple of years ago we decided - we were playing Irish music and Scottish music and some Newfoundland music - we were just going to play Newfoundland music and embrace our culture. I'm happy we did. The band just seems to be getting better every day. We stood up tonight for the first time and I think it made a big difference. We're kind of straddling that line between being real, pure, traditional music and being Great Big Sea. We're always trying to straddle that line.
You're not on air for the rest of the week, but you're playing a few more shows?
TP: Tomorrow night [now tonight - November 8] in Guelph, Friday night at the Dakota and Saturday night in Sharbot Lake, Ontario. We can't wait.
Tell us why we should come along...
TP: The Dakota in particular... tonight was like our sit down, 'here is our two hour best Newfoundland music set'. At the Dakota, it's going to be a lot more of a party. The music we play was not meant to be sat down to. Even when it was played two hundred years ago, it was meant to be danced to. Why not dance to it? We're going to try and get some dancing going on Friday night. If you're in Ontario and you just want to let loose... early... come down and see us! We're going to be on at about 7.30...
They play Toronto's Dakota Tavern on Friday (November 9) at 7.30pm and the Sharbot Lake Inn in Sharbot Lake, ON, Saturday (November 10).