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.

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