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Island artists bring energy and emotion to ECMAs

in Arts & Culture/Featured by

When the East Coast Music Award winner for ‘Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year’ was awarded to The Once last Thursday in Halifax, the popular Newfoundland folk trio was nowhere to be found. Having just come off the road days earlier from an extensive tour, member Phil Churchill was planning to represent the group at Sunday evening’s awards gala, but he was three days too late. On Thursday he was in Calgary visiting family.

“I didn’t know it was getting handed out (Thursday) because the last couple years it’s been handed out on Sunday night,” he said, speaking to The Independent on the phone from Halifax while getting ready to celebrate the end of East Coast Music Week (ECMW) 2013 with friends at the gala awards post-party. “So my three and a half year-old nephew was taking a dump in my lap the moment we won that award,” he added sardonically. “Not being there for it, as much as it makes me sad, I felt kinda rock star.”

It’s a comical irony that sums up the East Coast Music Association’s 25th anniversary event, for Newfoundlanders anyhow.

They showed, and it showed…

With St. John’s booming music scene and a slew of talent emerging from other parts of the island, the province was well-represented this year with Newfoundlanders nominated in more than a dozen categories and a handful of others recognized with special awards. In the end though, only one musical act – The Once – took home a trophy.

The Once (Churchill, Geraldine Hollett and Andrew Dale) led the pack with three nominations, while The Dardanelles and Chris Kirby received a pair each. Repartee, Long Distance Runners, Dwayne Côté & Duane Andrews, Larry Foley, The Heavy Horses, The Keats and Tonya Kennedy, Jud Haynes, HeavyWeather.ca and Fred’s Records rounded out the bunch with a single nod each.

The lone music and three industry awards (Haynes won ‘Graphic/Media Artist of the Year’, Fred’s Records was named ‘Music Merchant of the Year’ and Gret Big Sea manager Louis Thomas was given the ‘Manager of the Year’ award), however, were disproportionate to the enormous energy and buzz generated by Island artists.

On Thursday evening Newfoundlanders opened and closed the well-attended Warner Music Canada Roots Room show at the Casino Nova Scotia, where the ‘Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year’ award winner was announced (unbeknownst to The Once). On Friday and Saturday nights the MusicNL showcase saw popular venue The Carleton blocked, wall to wall, a line of people out on the sidewalk hoping to get in.

And at the gala Sunday evening Repartee and The Dardanelles delivered high-energy performances, Ron Hynes silenced the capacity crowd with an emotional speech as he accepted his ‘Director’s Special Achievement Award’, and Rawlin’s Cross, Great Big Sea, Louis Thomas and CBC producer Glen Tilley were each honoured with 25th anniversary ECMA awards. Stephenville producer Neil Bishop, who co-founded of Newfoundland’s first independent music studio in the 1970s, was honoured with the ‘Stompin’ Tom Award’. Tom Connors, the legendary Canadian folk songwriter and balladeer, died last Wednesday, on the opening day of ECMW, at the age of 77. His life and work were celebrated by many throughout the festivities.

On the rise…

After sweeping the MusicNL awards last October, the members of St. John’s pop band Repartee found themselves in the thick of things again with a ‘Rising Star Recording of the Year’ nomination for their debut self-titled album, and four performances over the five-days of ECMW.

Though Halifax songwriter Ben Caplan won the award, Repartee left the ECMAs with more than they had hoped for. “We’re getting crowds that are getting up and dancing just exactly like at home, so I mean it’s fantastic,” guitarist Robbie Brett told The Independent Sunday afternoon. It’s a huge difference from two years ago when we first played the ECMAs in Charlottetown, where … nobody knew our name and no one was there to see us. But now it’s like, wow, we have people coming up to us and asking when we’re playing again.”

Brett also divulged that the band has been writing songs for its next album and that singer Meg Warren was networking in Halifax over the weekend, in search of a producer and looking to book more mainland gigs for an upcoming tour. When they return to St. John’s the group will share the stage with Hamilton rock band Arkells at Memorial University campus bar The Breezeway on Saturday.

But they weren’t the only ones making a splash at ECMW. St. John’s rock band Long Distance Runners were nominated for the second consecutive year, this time in the ‘Rock Recording of the Year’ category for their first full-length record, Tracks. Nominated alongside heavyweights Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, The Stanfields and Wintersleep, lead singer Chris Picco says he was stoked with the nomination but didn’t expect to win the award.

“Just to get that nod, that was awesome man. It was a nice surprise just to be up there with all those established acts,” he said Sunday afternoon. The Runners played two shows Friday evening and the UPS Rock Stage Saturday night, where the ‘Rock Recording of the Year’ was awarded to Joel Plaskett Emergency.

“The show (Saturday) night, it was great to be playing in front of our peers and making new fans,” Picco said, explaining he also talked to some music festival representatives and that the band got a placement on the new CBS television show Golden Boy. “I think episode 10, our song ‘Black and Blue’ is gonna be somewhere in the show,” he said.

‘Kirb’ing your enthusiasm & helping others…

Six-time ECMA nominee Chris Kirby, on the other hand, is no stranger to music award events. The Norris Arm native, who also has a pair of MusicNL awards under his belt, was nominated in the ‘R&B/Soul Recording of the Year’ and ‘Solo Recording of the Year’ categories for his latest effort, Wonderizer. The awards went to Charlie A’Court and Rose Cousins respectively, but Kirby was still smiling Sunday evening after the awards gala, because he produced A’Court’s latest album, Triumph & Disaster, which also earned the Nova Scotia musician the award for ‘Blues Recording of the Year’.

Kirby joined A’Court for a performance at the gala and shared his excitement with The Indy after the ceremony. “(Charlie) took a big chance on me because it was my first really serious project, and he took a chance on me because he believed I could deliver what he needed, and we won,” he said. “I consider these to be my first ECMA wins because we worked so hard on it and Charlie and I spent a lot of time together bringing the album to fruition.”

Another highlight for Kirby came with the response to the Friday evening “Soul Food Kitchen Party” event he organized to showcase musicians he has worked with under his indie production company Dipole Productions. The show featured A’Court, Kirby, Kim Wempe, Diesel, Keith Mullins and St. John’s newcomer Brianna Gosse, whose performance earned the 18-year-old a glowing review in The Telegram.

“There was definitely a little more pressure (to perform) this time,” Gosse told The Indy from the St. John’s airport after returning from Halifax late Sunday evening. “Every time I go on stage, once I get the first song out of the way then I’m usually good – it just becomes fun again. It was nerve-racking but it was mostly fun.”

Gosse also performed alongside Newfoundland artists Sherry Ryan, Katie Baggs and Matthew Hornell Friday afternoon for a live ECMA Radio recording at the Delta Halifax hotel. Currently in pre-production with Kirby for her debut album, she said she is hoping to record over the summer. The trip to Halifx for her first music awards week, she added, was a positive experience.

“I met some musicians who are interested in writing with me … and I met some people from SOCAN and different organizations who are interested in hearing my stuff,” she said. “It’s funny, I actually made more connections with Newfoundland musicians in Halifax than I ever did in Newfoundland,” she laughed.

OK, maybe a trophy’s not so bad

Churchill said one award out of three nominations wasn’t bad for The Once considering they got the one they wanted – ‘Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year’.

“When you think about an award to win, it’s the one for the record where you sit there and go, ‘What if everyone hates this? What if we hate this? What if we’re making the wrong call? Was this the wrong song? Can we play this better?’

“You experience so many things (during the process of making a record), and then a year after all that’s done, when somebody goes, ‘By the way, we listened to that – good job,’ it feels great man.

“The industry affirms that one little thing that’s left in yourself that you’re not quite sure of,” he continued. “You’re sure if you’ve written a good song, you’re sure if you’re played it well, you’re pretty sure if you’ve made a good record. Even when you put your first record out you just don’t assume anyone’s gonna listen to it, but after you’ve been at it for a while that’s an important thing to hear, and it makes you want to keep going, right?”

Hynes delivers an emotional speech

Awards and performances aside, it was Hyne’s speech at the gala that earned the most undivided attention as the crowd listened intently to Newfoundland’s preeminent songwriter speak in part from a piece of paper he held in his hands. At 62, the “Man of a Thousand Songs” has had a long and storied career, but is now facing the challenge of his life as he battles throat cancer:

This has always been my altar and I’ve always felt blessed … because I’ve been raised among the finest people in the world. Far too many years now the singer, the songwriter, the folk singer, the rock star, has been the icon of the age. Think about that. A long time, a long time. The rock star has been the icon of the age. But we have other icons as well, and we should remember them. So you remember the man who went to war, worked in the shipyards, went to the fishing ground that was failing, went to Labrador, Toronto, Scarborough, worked at the Ford Motor plant, Calgary, Fort Mac.

All…so their families at home had all they needed to live. And so for the most part we are a matriarchal society … How hard a job was that, to be a mother at home alone raising five or eight children without a man around? That’s iconic. These people are the ones who deserve the awards, the accolades.

Nowhere in the world is the songwriter held in such esteem as here in Atlantic Canada. As long as their work continues to reflect the lives of their people, who they were, where they came from, what they loved and why. During my recent illness it was a humbling experience, not only to  have my own province but an entire country in my corner. It felt pretty good. So I just want to say, thank you. Thank you. To everybody. Everybody! Okay?

Now, I am not ready to leave this altar just yet, but there is a small chance I may have to. So I want you all to say a prayer that that does not happen because, um – and sometime soon I’ll get to stand in that cruel and revealing fucking spotlight once again. And my heart truly longs for that, truly longs for that. So I’m not ready to say goodbye, but I am ready to say goodnight.

The ECMAs return to Charlottetown next year to coincide with Prince Edward Island’s centennial celebrations.

The Independent’s ECMW 2013 Photo Gallery: Photos by Graham Kennedy.

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