Nfld. & Labrador·Parkway Sessions

How Rum Ragged is finding and preserving traditional Newfoundland songs

Mark Manning and Aaron Collis of Rum Ragged are always on the hunt for music, but the songs they’re looking for aren’t online or in record shops.

‘It’s important that it gets recorded and gets remembered,’ Mark Manning says

Rum Ragged — Colin Grant, Aaron Collis, Mark Manning and Zack Nash — perform in CBC Newfoundland and Labrador's Studio F as part of the Parkway Sessions. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Mark Manning and Aaron Collis of Rum Ragged are always on the hunt for music, but songs they're looking for aren't online or in record shops.

Manning says when he was growing up in St. Bride's on the Avalon Peninsula's Cape Shore, he'd often pick up songs that he'd heard at house parties, from family or other musicians in the community. 

When he realized that many of these songs were not widely known beyond the Cape Shore and had never been recorded, Manning says he began searching out songs from other areas of the province as well to keep them from disappearing. 

"We're always still looking for them, everywhere we go, not only in our homes. We've been to Fogo Island before and sat down with some people there who had some stuff that we never heard tell of," he said.

"Everywhere we go we try to dig that stuff out, because it's important that it gets recorded and gets remembered and doesn't go off to the wayside like so many songs and tunes have before."

It usually doesn't take much persuading to get people to share songs from their community, he said.

"When you walks down the road with a guitar and an accordion, you gets a few invites, you don't really gotta knock," Manning said with a laugh.

Watch Rum Ragged perform Doucet's, recorded as part of the group's Parkway Session:

Doucet's, a tune from western Newfoundland, is an example of some of the music that Manning and Collis have found, and goes to show how the tradition is shared between musicians

"That's a tune from a fiddle player in Stephenville called Gus Doucet. I don't know much more about it than that," Collis said.

"I learned it from an accordion player named Geoff Butler [of Figgy Duff], but he learned it, I guess, from Gus. I never met this fella Gus, but he's from Stephenville. There's a great tradition over on the west coast of fiddle playing, especially around Black Duck Brook, like Emile Benoit and those players in the French style."

Manning said the group hadn't ever recorded a set of reels, but they used the tune to kick off a set on their latest album, The Thing About Fish.

"Doucet's was something Aaron brought to the group," he said. "That's kinda the way it's always been going with the tunes, Aaron brings them in and builds around them as we're recording."

Collis and Manning both aim to find lesser-known Newfoundland and Labrador traditional music and preserve it through performances and recordings. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Collis said much of the music they find can be incomplete, leaving a lot of room for interpretation.

"When we first get the tune or the song, it's pretty bare bones in the first place," he said.

"You'll have a tune with no chords or anything, so you have a clean slate, basically, for backing. And then for songs, you might hear someone just sing a song with no guitar — just a capella — and you have to just imagine what you could do with it, which leaves a lot of options, which is fun."

Parkway Sessions: Discover more music

Every two weeks, CBC Newfoundland and Labrador will bring you new performances from local talent, recorded live in Studio F in St. John's.

Tune into more Parkway Sessions, and other performances of music from Newfoundland and Labrador, on our YouTube channel.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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