Jerome: Just One More Song!
Local, Social & Political History in the Repertoire of a Newfoundland-Irish Singer
Margaret Bennett - ISBN978-1-907676-13-0; 978-1-907676-15-4; 978-1-907676-14-7
A note of the collections
a song of the collection: The Bachelor’s Lament (Track 4)
Jerome: Style and Repertoire
Table of Contents
ISBN 'If there is no land or work, there are no people, no livelihood, no stories, no music, no songs...' (Gavin Sprott) This timeless Songs collection, recorded in Codroy Valley, Newfoundland, 1980 by folklorists Kenneth S. Goldstein and Margaret Bennett , is a tribute to singer Jerome Downey. This is not only a song book but is a Local, Social & Political History of Newfoundland's Codroy Valley. To appreciate the way of life in any part of Newfoundland, the reader should bear in mind that, until 1949, Canada was another country. Anyone born before that year, is, first and foremost, a Newfoundlander, belonging to a unique island with a long history - it has the distinction of being Britain's oldest colony. Given that Canada's newest province was less than twenty years old when Bennett first went there, it was very common to hear folk explain, 'I'm not a Canadian, I'm a Newfoundlander.' Thus, to understand the social, cultural and historical context of a song, it is essential to appreciate where it comes from, and especially to acknowledge the people who compose and sing the song.
In the Codroy Valley, the folk who have worked on the land or fished the rivers and coastal waters for nearly two centuries are a mix of Irish, English, Scottish Gaels, French and Mi'kmaq. For as long as anyone remembers, they have enjoyed getting together for 'a few tunes', songs, yarns and a cup of tea. The kettle is always on the stove and, more often than not, a few glasses appear from the cupboard and make their way to the kitchen table- they need no excuse for a ceilidh or a kitchen party, with accordions, bagpipes, fiddles, guitars, spoons and mandolins as well as songs that would lift the heaviest heart. To Jerome and his people, songs and music are way of life.
Since its foundation in 1968, Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore Archives has amassed an unrivalled collection of folksongs of the British Isles tradition. Thanks to its founder, Professor Herbert Halpert, Folklore students were inspired to make fieldwork recordings all over the province, thus helping to capture thousands of Newfoundland voices on reel-to-reel tapes. In those days, the trainee folklorist’s ‘Bible’ was Kenneth S. Goldstein’s Guide for Fieldworkers in Folklore, which was based on his own fieldwork experiences in the Northeast of Scotland. As a student, I found the ‘set reading’ to be a gift, for, besides practical advice, it provided a link with home and friends in Scotland. Furthermore, the book is introduced by Hamish Henderson, Scotland’s most renowned twentieth century folklorist, singer and poet, ‘father of the Scottish folk revival’ and stalwart of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies.
When he returned to the USA in 1960 and later became Professor of Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, Goldstein proved he was no armchair academic but one of the most dynamic fieldworkers ever. As the world of Folklore is small compared to that of other scholarly disciplines, there has always been dialogue between the finest minds and practitioners in the field. Such was the relationship between Herbert Halpert in Canada, Hamish Henderson in Scotland and Kenny Goldstein in the United States, that in the late Sixties and early Seventies – before email – students benefited from their joint friendships as well as their excellent teaching.
After nine years in Canada I returned to Scotland to find that Professor Halpert had already discussed with Henderson and Goldstein the fieldwork recordings I had made in the Codroy Valley while a graduate student (1968–1974). Out of those conversations came two important collaborations: the first in 1980 when, at the invitation of Professor Goldstein, I returned to Newfoundland to take part in Kenny’s mammoth recording project that eventually amassed approximately 4,000 songs. The second began in 1984, when I was appointed lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies, often referred to as ‘Hamish Henderson’s department’. As colleagues of two formidable folklorists – the first for less than a week, in the Codroy Valley, and the second in Scotland, for well over a decade – I was blessed to work with two of the most inspiring Folklorists the world has ever seen.
Kenneth S. Goldstein (1927–1995) was not only a scholar of international renown but also one of the most influential figures in the folk revival of the Fifties and Sixties. There can hardly be a singer or musician anywhere in the folk scene that did not listen to the Clancy Brothers, who were recorded by Kenny Goldstein – recognizing their ‘star quality’ he produced their first album. Kenny had the extraordinary ability to straddle the worlds of academia, the music business and the grassroots folk music scene. He was also involved in major festivals such as the Philadelphia Folk Festival in the USA and the Mariposa Festival in Canada.
Singers and musicians on both sides of the Atlantic have come under his influence, as he was driving force behind several groundbreaking records on the Celtic Music scene. Close to the end of his life, when I went to see Kenny and Rochelle, the visit was both poignant and memorable: he spoke with joy about his years of fieldwork. Among his Newfoundland recordings, a few names stood out for him as being outstanding – Jerome was one of them. If only we had had time to bring out a record of Jerome... If only…
Now (2012), more than thirty years after we recorded him in the Codroy Valley, Jerome is celebrated as an outstanding singer. His name and his songs will live on, not only among those who had the joy of knowing him and of hearing him sing, but also among those who listen to him for the first time. This book (with CD) has been a labour of love, with gratitude to all those who have enriched my life through songs and singing. May it be a fitting tribute to Jerome who generously shared his gift of song and love of music. As he himself was fond of saying, “If the Lord made anything any better He kept it to Himself!”
Margaret Bennett September 2012
Before the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway in 1966, the Codroy Valley on the west of Newfoundland tended to be regarded by outsiders as ‘fairly remote’. To people who belong to ‘out-of-the-way’ places, however, such terms are irrelevant in a community that is complete in every way that matters to the folk who live there.
The Codroy Valley nestles between the Long Range Mountains and the Cape Anguille Mountains. It stretches inland following an alluvial plain between two rivers: the Grand Codroy to the north, and the Little Codroy to the south. To local folk it’s always known as ‘The Valley’, as if there were no other valley in the world, far less Newfoundland. Breathtakingly beautiful as it is, the scenery is not what draws folk back – nor even the fishing and hunting, ‘second to none’. It is the people who leave the most lasting impression.
To appreciate the way of life in any part of Newfoundland, however, visitors should bear in mind that, until 1949, Canada was another country. Anyone born before that year is, first and foremost, a Newfoundlander, belonging to a unique island with a long history that features the distinction of being Britain’s oldest colony. Little wonder, then, that having grown up in the so-called ‘remote’ Hebrides of Scotland, I felt instantly at home among fellow islanders when I emigrated there in 1968. Given that Canada’s newest province was less than twenty years old, it was very common to hear folk explain, ‘I’m not a Canadian, I’m a Newfoundlander.’
This statement alone taught me that, to understand the social, cultural and historical context of a song, it is essential to appreciate where it comes from, and especially to acknowledge the people who compose and sing the song. On reflection, Gavin Sprott’s statement about Scottish tradition equally applies to Newfoundland, ‘If there is no land or work, there are no people, no livelihood, no stories, no music, no songs…’ In the Codroy Valley, the folk who have worked on the land or fished the rivers and coastal waters for nearly two centuries are a mix of Irish, English, Scottish Gaels, French and Mi’kmaq. For as long as anyone remembers, they have enjoyed getting together for ‘a few tunes’, songs, yarns and a cup of tea. The kettle is always on the stove and, more often than not, a few glasses appear from the cupboard and make their way to the kitchen table. Come Friday night, there’s sure to be a ceilidh or a kitchen party, with accordions, bagpipes, fiddles, guitars, spoons and mandolins as well as songs that would lift the heaviest heart. Then there’s Saturday and Sunday too – you never run out of songs to sing or neighbours who’ll stop by for a game of cards.
No need for an occasion; any time is good for a song, as I was to learn in 1968 when I first went there with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a quest to record Scottish Gaelic songs for a graduate studies project at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Department of Folklore. The Codroy Valley, with its profusion of songs in three languages, turned out to be a folklorist’s paradise that put me in mind of Hamish Henderson’s comment when he first went to record songs in Scotland’s berry-fields in the 1950s: ‘It was like holding a tin can under the Niagara Falls.’ Those old-fashioned kitchens, warmed by wood-stoves, still remain my all-time favourites, for no matter how fashions change, none can replace the atmosphere evoked there, or the comfort enjoyed. It was at one of those kitchen get-togethers, in the home of the late Anne Martin, that I first met Jerome Downey and his wife Rosie. The house, situated on the south end of the long bridge spanning the Grand Codroy River, is still a landmark, as are the white holiday cabins neatly strung out along the riverbank and frequented by tourists, fishermen and sportsmen. Jerome’s family lived on the opposite side of the river, on the same farm that had been home to the Downeys for several generations. The few miles of unpaved road was ‘no distance at all’ when it came to those kitchen ‘times’ and ceilidhs, for whenever there was a community or church event, Jerome would be invited to sing. When planning the annual regatta or the Codroy Valley Folk Festival, for example, folk would say, ‘We’ll need to ask Jerome,’ as if there was only one Jerome in Newfoundland. Indeed, when it comes to singing, to folk in the Valley there is only one Jerome – Jerome Downey. As his nephew Hector MacIsaac put it: ‘He’s a man you don’t meet every day.’
There is a house upon a hill
That is a bachelor’s hall
And the bachelor that lives in it
His name is Paulie Hall.
To my tippy-tippy-tippy tip-top, tip-top, tip-top Tippy-tippy-tip-top tay.
Now as I may tell you
I’m living at my ease
I go out just when I’m ready,
I come in just when I please.
I do all my own cooking,
And I wash and mend my clothes.
Sure on every second Friday,
Why, I polish up my stove.
Songs about bachelorhood abound, each with its own take on the woes, disadvantages, frustrations, lamentations misadventures as well as advantages, delights and freedom of the unmarried man. Best known among singers may be the English folksong, ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’, popularised in the 1940s by Burl Ives and still well known on both sides of the Atlantic. There may be no song on the subject better known to Folklore students or scholars, however, than this one, as it was the subject of a widely read study by John Szwed: ‘Paul E. Hall: A Newfoundland Song-Maker and his Community of Song’, one of three case studies that comprise the book Folksongs and their Makers, co-written with Henry Glassie and Edward (Sandy) Ives. In his introduction, Ray B. Browne hailed the work as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘trail-blazing’ as he concluded:
… in the thoroughness and newness of their approach and coverage, [these studies] bring new light to bear on the creative process, the sources and kinds of stimuli bearing on composition, the influence of the artists’ background and foreground. They are, therefore, both exciting and informative in their own right and are landmarks in the study of the creative process and the creator.
It is unlikely that Paul ever guessed how widely known his song or his name were to become when he invited the passing anthropologist into his home. Szwed’s vivid description records the event: “Paulie stepped out from behind a bush… and began a conversation… it was as though he had been preparing for my visit for decades… In Paulie’s house … I heard an autobiography as carefully fashioned as a bard’s epic.” It was on that visit that Szwed noted 20 verses of this song, which he discusses at length from the point of view of the anthropologist. He concludes his discussion suggesting that his “approach to understanding the song’s meaning does not exhaust the possibilities…. with its numerous allusions that beg for psychoanalytic interpretation.” Such analysis is outside of my field, as my folklore methodology is as ‘participant observer’ of general sharing of day-to-day life, which includes community events, family occasions and kitchen ‘times’ where music and songs are interspersed with anecdotes and jokes. Among the singers and listeners, however, I have not heard (or asked for) discussion or analysis on the ‘hidden meaning’ of a song described as ‘just to tease’ or just for fun. There is no doubt, however, that recording the song-maker on his own, as Szwed did, without an audience or a sense of ‘performance’ of the song, completely changes the dynamics between fieldworker and ‘informant’.
For Kenny, hearing Jerome sing ‘The Bachelor’s Lament’ was one of the highlights of his visit, as he had not heard it sung before that. Thirty years on, the recording of Jerome is singled out as one of the gems from two summers, and over seventy hours of tape, now archived in the Special Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Folklore and Ethnography Archives in the ‘Kenneth S. Goldstein Recorded Sound and Manuscript Collection’:
This is one of our more extensive holdings, and to date only the collections made in the years 1978–1980 have been made fully accessible through cross-indexing… Many of the works are native to Newfoundland, and the songs of Frank MacArthur [son of Allan MacArthur] are of particular interest… Students interested in John Szwed’s article on Paul E. Hall, in Folksongs And Their Makers, should note that ‘The Bachelor’s Lament’ discussed there is recorded on tape T-80-00002-114. Jerome Downey sings this and other songs by Paul E. Hall, as well as songs by other local composers.
During that memorable session, Jerome had already sung two other local songs when Kenny asked him if there were ‘other song-makers around here’:
Jerome: Paul Hall, well you’ll know him?
Jerome: Well, I try one of Paul’s… [he sings a shorter song, ‘Mary Kate White’]
KG: So Paul Hall wrote a lot of songs?
Jerome: Oh quite a lot. All local. Very local, though. He wrote one on himself, that’s probably the best one he wrote.
KG: Sing that one.
Jerome: Well, it’s long, it’s awful long. I might break down and have to have a spell… Oh, well, this is ‘The Bachelor’s Lament’ and it’s by Paul Hall.
Then, tapping his foot to a steady beat, Jerome effortlessly sang twenty-three verses with expressive phrasing and remarkable breath control. (Listen for those verses sung in one breath.) His sense of enjoyment is evident, as his is engagement with the song, the audience and the song-maker. Though Paul Hall was, by then, no longer alive, Jerome seemed to reflect some of the sport they had once shared, adding to the fun by extemporaneously naming a young women in the company (Karen Farrell) just to catch her by surprise and tease her. So successful was he that, to record a track without extraneous exclamations, he had to sing it again. (His second ‘take’ was equally effective, as he changed the name yet again, though this time the laughter was stifled till the end of the song.) When the mirth subsided and Kenny asked about Paul, he too was taken by surprise, as Jerome segued from his response into an amusing story – a true story that began, ‘I remember one time…’ And so, having set the scene, it’s over to the story on the next track.
What is it about a voice, a singing style or the ability to capture an audience that all add up to what is recognized as ‘star quality’? Given his uncanny instinct in that field, if only he were still with us, Kenny Goldstein would have been the ideal person to respond. On the uncut fieldwork recordings, Kenny’s energy, lively enthusiasm and appreciation are unmistakable, as much ‘preserved for posterity’ as the songs and the qualities that emerge in Jerome’s singing.
A ‘good voice’ may be described in terms of being melodic, tuneful, flexible, warm, resonant, and so on. Nevertheless, possessing such a voice does not necessarily qualify the singer to be known as ‘a good singer’. More curiously, a singer can have an out of tune, technically ‘bad’ voice, yet may be regarded as ‘a good singer’. Jerome, however, was clearly blessed with a good voice and, from boyhood, was known as one of the finest singers in the Valley. Listeners sense that he has a ‘presence’ about him that reflects a deep connection to his songs. His delivery or performance may seem so natural that the listener scarcely notices his outstanding breath control that gives him enormous scope to interpret a song. Rather than disrupt a line or a sentence with an intake of air, Jerome could effortlessly sing an entire verse in one breath, if that is what makes best sense of the meaning. Singers who seem to spend their lives working on phrasing and breath control may envy his capacity to retain that breath; even across a natural pause or musical ‘rest’ it never becomes an excuse for a quick gasp of air.
There may be few singers in the world better qualified to discuss Jerome’s style of singing than the legendary Cathal McConnell from County Fermanagh who grew up in a dynasty of traditional Irish singers and musicians. Despite decades of travelling the world with ‘The Boys of the Lough’ and also as a solo singer and virtuoso flute-player, Cathal is as much at home by the fireside as he is on the world stage. Equally loved in Scotland, where he has lived for over forty years, Cathal is always keen to listen to other singers and new songs. After listening intently to the recording of Jerome, Cathal had this to say:
I never heard him before in me life but I’m very impressed …I can picture him in me mind, a big, country man. He’s obviously a very, very natural singer. He knows his own style, and it just flows, it’s so casual. He makes difficult singing sound easy…[what strikes me about him is] his long phrasing … very good breath control. I’m quite amazed… there’s examples in Ireland, like Brigitte Tunney, Paddy Tunney’s mother, singing ‘As I Roved Out’. And she sang a long phrase – he demonstrates first the line – by-line phrasing and then sings a two-line phrase in one breath] – it’s very difficult to do. Jerome’s singing is effortless and melodic; he’s an outstanding singer, a singer’s singer. When you listen to this man you get an insight into something that’s older and very valid… Definitely, without question, he’s a singer’s singer.
When Christopher Underwood, Professor of Singing at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, listened to the recording of Jerome, he had this to say:
He represents one of the great strengths of traditional folk singing, which comes from a real individual. We hear through his voice the events of his life and a strong sense of character imbues all he sings. His voice has a strength and natural resonance…
As with Cathal, Jerome’s approach to singing shows remarkable focus, not only in his singing but also in his listening, as every word matters to him. A ‘parrot fashion’ style of repetition is alien to him, for, just as in storytelling, the entire piece has to make sense. Jerome was perfectly capable of reproducing lyrics exactly as they were written, such as with ‘The March of the Cameron Men’; but as often as not there was no print version of a song. He would therefore absorb it as if it were a story, occasionally modifying a word or line to make better sense.
In ‘The Galway Shawl’, for example, folk who know the song will catch the ‘change’ to the first line, usually sung “In Oranmore in the County Galway”. Yet only people familiar with that part of Galway would know of the existence of that little village. And so Jerome sings ‘Erinmore’, which has sounds like it is rooted in Ireland. As Hamish Henderson said of the great ballad singer Jeannie Robertson, who had a similar approach, Jerome displayed ‘active participation’ in the songs he chose to sing. At times, for the sake of amusement, or ‘sheer devilment’ (pronounced ‘divilment’), Jerome surprises his audience with slight changes to allude to an ‘in joke’ or to make some subtle point (we may only guess). He sings directly to his audience, whether it be only one or two people or a big crowd. As he has always performed locally, he has the advantage of knowing most, if not all, of his audience. In watching Jerome’s facial expression as he sang, as well as listeners’ response, there seems little doubt that textual changes became one of his ways of staying connected to his those present.
If there happened to be an opportunity to catch listeners off guard, Jerome would take advantage to good effect. Two of the songs in this collection stand out as examples of the dynamics between singer and listener, in both instances the sudden changes are intended for amusement. He sang ‘I Am a Roving Peddler’ early in the session, and then later, Kenny asked him to sing it again. (He may have detected some extraneous noise and wanted a better recording.) In the first version Jerome sang the phrase ‘where the charming women dwell’ but on the second ‘take’ that line became ‘where the great big women dwell’, sung with more gusto and suppressed laughter. In ‘The Bachelor’s Lament’, Jerome sang a verse where, much to the amusement of his audience, he would name one of the women in the company, catching her out unexpectedly. Occasionally, when the very suggestion of a young woman eyeing up this old bachelor made a teenage girl or newly married woman blush with embarrassment that could cause even more mirth. Such was the case when we visited Jerome with Karen Farrell, the young wife of a former neighbour. Everyone knew that Karen and Brian had been going steady since she was in her teens, and he was her only boyfriend. So, on the first ‘take’ Jerome sang, “There’s Karen Farrell watching me, she’s the devil for the boys!” On the second, he completely took me by surprise by singing, “Now there’s Margaret Bennett watching, she’s the devil for the boys!” Happily we all laughed, particularly Kenny.
Jerome’s sense of timing was one of the features that characterized his performance and delivery, not only in his songs but also in his stories. For that reason, his short anecdote about Paul E. Hall is included, complete with the lead-up of general conversation and Kenny’s questions. On the surface, it is ‘only’ about a man who dresses up in his Sunday suit on a weekday, so when Jerome meets him he asks if there is a special occasion. But listen to his impeccable timing; the pauses are as crucial as the text. In this sense also Jerome was both gifted and intelligent, finely tuned to his audience as well as to the story or song. (Pay attention, singers, for herein lies the secret of the singer who can hold an audience regardless of the song or the story it tells.) In Jerome’s singing we begin to understand the meaning of the maxim, “Timing can be everything”.
Acquiring a song repertoire is dependent on taste, personal choice, aptitude and enthusiasm as well as cultural and social setting. It cannot simply be a matter of family environment, for within the same generation, tastes may vary widely. As the youngest of four singing siblings with an age-range of two and a half years (twins in the middle), I became aware from an early age that, despite shared surroundings, not all siblings shared taste in song or for unaccompanied singing. And this was also the case in Jerome’s family, with individual repertoires developing accordingly.
Kenneth S. Goldstein discussed ‘repertory’ in terms of a singer’s personal history as well as relationship with the audience, which, on this occasion, consisted of only four people. Jerome’s rapport with his listeners was immediately evident and the songs he sang largely reflected his own choice. Occasionally a question or topic in general conversation reminded him of a song which he then sang. In all, there were twenty-three songs, which, for those inclined to classify, consisted of ten local compositions (mostly satires); three broadside ballads (or variants); three Country and Western songs; two Newfoundland songs (composed outside the Valley); two music-hall songs; (or variants); one ‘concert’ song learned at school; and one classic (Child) ballad. Singers might view them in terms of a set list, and, apart from the omission of any sacred songs, they can fairly be said to represent the eclectic mix that comprised Jerome’s repertoire. The range also fits accurately with his brother Joe’s observation that Jerome’s selections “always seemed to reflect the more traditional songs and local compositions of the home-grown Valley songsters.”
In 2007 when I asked Jerome if he had a favourite song, his response resonated with the experience of many singers: “I did have a good many favourite songs through the years, but then sometimes your favourite song gets left behind.” Whether we sing or not, songs relate to our lives. They become closely associated with particular times, people, places, events, even exact moments, such as when and where we first heard a song – “They’re playing our song!” – or the voice that first sang it – “and nobody can sing it like that”. As life moves on, a favourite song can get ‘left behind’ sometimes without being noticed, and, once in a while, intentionally. If a song begins to evoke pain, it’s time to move on. Very soon, however, another song comes along with the kind of impact that motivates the singer to learn it.
the Singer and The Song-makers
Jerome – The Man Himself
Style and Repertoire
Learning a Song
Local Songs, Wordsmiths and Tune-finders
Paul E. Hall
Micky J. MacNeil
Song-makers in Tradition and Transition
Following the Line of Tradition
Getting Close to the Edge
twins towns: Channel & Port-Aux- Basques
The Songs & A Story
02-The Badger Drive
03-The Anti-Confederation Song
04-The Bachelors Lament
05-Paul E. Hall story
06-Pat Malone Forgot that He Was Dead
07-The Road to Dundee
08-John Park he had Nar’ One
09-There’s a Bridle Hanging on the Wall
10-Teaching McFadden to Waltz
11-Five Boss Highway
13-I am a Roving Peddler
15-Mary Kate White
16-Paddy Haggerty’s Old Leather Breeches
17-Come All Ye Jolly Hunters
18-The Cameron Men
19 & 20-On the Wings of a Dove
21-The Sealers’ Song
23-The Thomas Cat
24-Micky Jim MacNeil
26-Wee Cooper o’ Fife
Index of titles and first lines