Hit with The Once
Coley’s Point native strumming for success
When Andrew Dale was kid a growing up in Coley’s Point, he immersed himself in all sorts of music. On Saturdays, he would jam on heavy metal and alternative rock songs with friends in Bay Roberts, and the following day he would be whisked away to St. John’s for music lessons on the double bass.
“Saturdays was Metallica, and Sundays was Mozart,” he laughs.
But Dale, who represents one-third of the nationally renowned traditional folk trio The Once, was also paying attention to the Irish and Newfoundland folk songs well-loved throughout the province, listening to the IrishNewfoundland radio programming on Sundays.
His passion for folk music has been paying off in major ways over the last two years. Dale has been a busy musician with a variety of groups in the St. John’s folk scene, and has worked steadily in theatre, but now he is devoting almost all his attention to The Once.
The band features Dale, Phil Churchill and Geraldine Hollett. Since releasing its self-titled debut CD in 2009 (it was re-released nationally this year by Borealis Records), the band has been winning over fans with their creative interpretations of traditional folk songs, along with more contemporary numbers by the likes of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.
Following a recent tour of Ireland, the group returned to Canada just in time to win a pair of trophies at the Canadian Folk Music Awards — Traditional Album of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year.
The trail to Dale’s musical triumphs started with his parents, Ira and Sylvia, who enrolled him and his older brothers Stephen and Chris in music lessons at an early age.
“At one point, around four or five years old, I was doing voice lessons, pianos lessons, and violin lessons,” says Dale, who also sang in the Grace United Church choir led by Florence Littlejohn.
His love of music continued through all levels of school, and after graduating from Ascension Collegiate in 1999, Dale made the move to St. John’s to major in voice at Memorial University. By that point, he was already performing traditional music, and his interest continued to grow, even as his school related studies focused on opera and classical music.
It was during his time at MUN that Dale discovered his musical weapon of choice, the bouzouki, a stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body and long neck.
“It was a love at first sight kind of thing,” says Dale, who will soon have a new bouzouki specially made for him by Ron Belanger.
He made first contact with his The Once bandmates in Trinity, where all three have worked with the summer theatre company Rising Tide. It was through a dinner theatre performance that Hollett introduced Dale to the traditional song “ Three Fishers,” which appears on The Once CD.
The group took inspiration from The Voice Squad, an Irish trio who sang old Irish and English folks songs in three-part harmony.
“ That was a big inspiration for us early on, and we just sort of started by learning a couple of their arrangement, and that got things moving for us,” says Dale.
A few small, one-off gigs by the trio in the Trinity area were well received, and once all three moved to St. John’s, their musical collaboration continued. Natural sound “I’ve never been in a group or sung with two people where there was so much natural chemistry,” says Dale. “ There’s a really special blend with us, for whatever reason.
“ Beyond the actual timbre of the sound, when we work on songs and start to incorporate harmony, it just kind of happens. It’s almost embarrassing how easily it does come together sometimes — not to say that we don’t work hard, because we do put a lot of thought into the arrangements.”
The quality of the group’s singing, which is often led by the untrained voice of Hollett, has captured the attention of the general public and the media. In September, The Once’s debut CD received a three-star review in the Globe and Mail, and the band toured Ireland in the fall. It was Dale’s third tour of the country, but his first with The Once.
“Each night, starting off, there was an audience of people who might not know us from Adam and Eve, but then a few songs into it, you’d see smiles start to emerge from people and ears perking up. By the end of the night, everyone was into it, and even maybe singing along on a couple of songs they might recognize. You go from a feeling of uncertainty to this sense of community.”
Dale says the experience at the Canadian Folks Music Awards in Winnipeg was somewhat surreal.
“I’m fans of all the other people in the category they’re naming,” he says, speaking about the Traditional Album of the Year nominees. “ You’re kind of sitting there wondering how we’re even on this list. This is crazy. And then they call our name, and we’re shaking our heads thinking, ‘ Wow, how is this possible?’ But then again, we go up in disbelief, but everyone in the theatre is going mad and hooting and hollering. Maybe we do deserve to be here.”
The Once’s busy schedule, which includes a series of Christmas shows at the Gower Street Church in St. John’s Dec. 2-3 and a performance at St. George’s Heritage Church in Brigus on Dec. 5, will only get busier in the new year. Dale says the group intends to record its second album, which will include original compositions alongside more traditional numbers.