They spoke about it

Album information

Having spent my formative years in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I was very excited to introduce Ofra to this amazing Canadian province – one of the rare places to which her career had not yet taken her. We took a vacation in St. John’s in the summer of 2018, and she loved it so much we decided to buy a house and move here.

In the time following, Ofra has fallen in love with the beauty of the land, the spirit of the people, and the rare mystique of the culture. When we finished the Back to Bach album in the summer of 2019, we took a trip to explore some of the island. As we said “good-bye” to the Baroque album (much like having a child, once you’ve done your part, it’s time to let them go out into the world), we launched into researching the music of Newfoundland.

From the extensive list of music available to us, we have chosen a variety of material from unknown sources, to music borrowed from other lands, to songs and dances by some of Newfoundland’s most treasured writers.

A real challenge for me, as music arranger on this project, was to try to capture the essence of the original music while putting it in a context that made sense for Ofra’s solo cello. First and foremost, I wanted to ensure that I maintained the respect due this music. Also, I needed to find a way to introduce the cello in a way that added to these pieces without usurping the original nature of the music itself.

As the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the world in early 2020, we found ourselves able to immerse into this project, undistracted. As we all combined our efforts to develop this album, in isolation, we were thrilled with the contributions of our extraordinary guests: Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Heather Bambrick, Amanda Cash, Kelly- Ann Evans, Fergus O’Byrne, Kendel Carson, and Maureen Ennis.

With the guidance and contribution of Bob Hallett, we were able to compile a selection of songs, jigs, and reels that Ofra felt she really connected with and that told a story of what she has come to know and love about the province. I’m sure the time will come when she feels there is more of the story to tell. But this is what we have come up with, for now.

Mike Herriott St. John’s,
Summer of 2020


1. She’s Like the Swallow

Newfoundland traditional

This song was discovered in 1930 in Newfoundland by folklorist Maud Karpeles, who learned it from John Hunt of Dunville, Placentia Bay. Over the years it has come to be seen as one of the fi nest Newfoundland songs. Karpeles was so taken with the song that before she died, she declared, “my life would have been worthwhile if collecting that was all that I had done.”

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – flugelhorns, trombone, bass trombone, electric bass, percussion


2. Saltwater Joys

Wayne Chaulk (b. 1949)

Singer and performer, Wayne Chaulk of the band Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, wrote “Saltwater Joys” as an ode to his hometown of Charlottetown, Newfoundland, and the simpler outport life. It has become his best known song and one many Atlantic Canadians have taken for their own. Ofra is joined here by singer, and her daughter, Amanda Cash.

Amanda Cash – vocals
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – electric bass, percussion


3. Donald Willy and His Dog

Scottish traditional

This oddly named tune, which came to Atlantic Canada from the Scottish Highlands, is a favourite of fiddlers and pipers throughout the East Coast because of its simple yet hypnotic and sad melody. In this performance, the flugelhorn and cello engage in a back-and-forth dialogue, almost as if courting one another to dance.

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – flugelhorn, French horns, trombones, bass trombone, percussion


4. St. John’s Waltz / Cara’s Waltz

Ron Hynes (1950 – 2015)
Alan Doyle & Maureen Ennis

Ron Hynes, Newfoundland’s unofficial poet laureate, was a sharp observer of the people of St. John’s, and, like many here, he loved to walk along the docks. This song speaks of a simpler time, when foreign fishing boats still filled the harbour, Portuguese sailors played soccer in the piers, and a night spent waltzing in the bars was as much as anyone could ask.

“Cara’s Waltz” is a dance Maureen Ennis and Alan Doyle wrote to celebrate their mutual adoration of Cara Butler, an Irish dancer friend of theirs who performs with the Chieftains and many others. When invited to join in on this project, Alan suggested that this lovely waltz would perfectly complement Hynes’ song as an instrumental interlude. He was absolutely right.

Alan Doyle – vocals
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Maureen Ennis – guitar


5. Green Shores of Fogo

Newfoundland traditional

Folk song collector Kenneth Peacock encountered this song in the mid-1950s, sung by a woman he only knew as Mrs. Fogarty, whom Peacock suspected may be the “Katie” in the song, though she did not say so directly (her husband was present at the telling of this). In a career spent travelling Newfoundland’s every cove in search of music, Peacock felt this melody was the fi nest he’d ever heard. While the lyrics speak of a bygone age on Fogo Island, the melody is even older, based on Irish Gaelic songs long forgotten on either side of the Atlantic.

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Fergus O’Byrne – guitar, banjo
Mike Herriott – flugelhorn, French horns, trombones, bass trombone, fretless electric bass


6. Sonny’s Dream

Ron Hynes (1950 – 2015)

Ron Hynes was justifiably proud of this heartbreaking song, which he wrote about a relative in his hometown of Ferryland. “Sonny” was the youngest of a large family and had been left behind by his siblings to help care for their aging mother. The song has been recorded by hundreds of singers around the world, but Kelly- Ann Evans has made it her own.

Kelly-Ann Evans – vocals
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – trumpets, French horns, trombone, bass trombone, percussion


7. Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s

Otto Kelland (1904 – 2004)

Otto Kelland was sitting at his desk one day when out of the blue he recalled a conversation he had overheard between two fishermen. Struck by an idea for a song, within 20 minutes he transformed their words into one of the most beautiful and stirring of Newfoundland songs, its soaring melody now a favourite of singers and players from many lands.

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – piccolo trumpet, trumpets, flugelhorns, French horns, trombones, bass trombone, percussion


8. Two Ronnies

Ronnie Power

These two jigs by The Irish Descendants’ whistler/ guitarist/bouzouki player, Ronnie Power, feature this album’s producer, recording engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Herriott on solo flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet.

Mike Herriott – solo flugelhorn, solo piccolo trumpet, French horns, trombones, bass trombone, percussion
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos


9. The Cliffs of Baccalieu

Jack Withers (1899 – 1964)

Jack Withers wrote this song before World War II for a radio play that dramatized life aboard a fishing schooner. Withers wrote and performed other songs for the show, but “The Cliffs of Baccalieu” was so popular that it quickly spread around the province and has been recorded many times by a wide variety of artists. Who better to sing it here than Fergus O’Byrne, who first recorded it in the early 1970s with his band, Ryan’s Fancy.

Fergus O’Byrne – vocals, guitar, banjo
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos
Mike Herriott – French horns


10. Harbour Buffett Double

Baxter Wareham

This Newfoundland reel is attributed to Baxter Wareham, who was born and raised in Harbour Buffett and is known for his extensive work with the great fiddler Rufus Guinchard.

This performance features the “slow” session version with Kendel Carson and Ofra forming a “fiddle band” of two fiddles and a cello. The “fast” session is counted in by Bob Hallett, heard here on accordion, to join Kendel and Ofra in forming a classic kitchen-party band.

Kendel Carson – fiddle
Bob Hallett – accordion
Ofra Harnoy – cellos
Mike Herriott – electric bass, percussion


11. Mussels in the Corner

Newfoundland traditional

“Mussels in the Corner” is a mainstay of local dance music, the most familiar tunes in the province. It is a “single,” a unique Newfoundland style of tune descended from English Morris dances and Irish polkas. “Mussels” is so well known that it even has a number of verses, and across the Island there are dozens of variations.

In this rendition, we join fellow patrons of our favourite pub as the band plays and the “rowdy pub crowd” comes in off the street. Their revelling quickly quiets down at the end of the song as a roving gang of cellists get set up to perform the next popular pub song…

Bob Hallett – accordion, mandolin, Irish flute
Ofra Harnoy – cellos
Mike Herriott – electric bass, percussion
Rowdy pub crowd: Anne Whelan, Kevin Woodbury, Bonnie Hayward, Robin Hayward, Marc Thoms, Maureen Lawton, Lisa Sells, Amanda Cash, Ofra Harnoy, Kendel Carson, Matt Kelly


12. Barrett’s Privateers

Stan Rogers (1949 – 1983)

Stan Rogers wrote dozens of songs, but none have the power of the legendary “Barrett’s Privateers.” The song has surpassed its origins in the Halifax dockside bars, becoming one of the most recognized songs in the Atlantic Canada songbook. From Sherbrooke to Kracow, wherever sailors and singers gather, the thundering chorus of “Barrett’s” gets them on their feet.

With Ofra recording 11 different tracks to form this large cello band, her solo cello leads the rest of the group through this tale of a hapless young sailor. Our hero finds himself in over his head as a member of Elcid Barrett’s crew on a voyage that leaves him with nothing but regrets.

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos


13. Petty Harbour Bait Skiff

Newfoundland traditional

No one knows who wrote this old song or how it came to enter the Newfoundland songbook, but there is no questioning the haunting grace of its melody or that it belongs in the cello’s repertoire. Very few Newfoundland songs tell of death on the sea with such poignancy and beauty. St. John’s jazz chanteuse Heather Bambrick joins Ofra in the telling of this chilling tale.

Heather Bambrick – vocals
Ofra Harnoy – solo cello and ensemble cellos


14. Lonely Waterloo

Newfoundland traditional

This old British folksong, written shortly after the Battle of Waterloo during the Napoleonic Wars, was preserved on Fogo Island by a number of traditional singers. Songs of tragedy were very precious to the older singers, and this one, which speaks of a young lover receiving grim tidings of her true love, was one of their favourites.

Ofra Harnoy – solo cello
Mike Herriott – solo trombone

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Ofra Harnoy
Mike Herriott
AN 2 8909 On The Rock
AN 2 8909 On The Rock

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