Cod and cul­ture

Jim Payne turned to song to tell the story

The Compass - - Sports - BY ADAM RAN­DELL THE BEA­CON Adam.ran­dell@gan­der­bea­con.ca

PRO­VIN­CIAL — As the fate of ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador was be­ing de­cided prior to 1992’s cod mora­to­rium an­nounce­ment, mu­si­cian Jim Payne was get­ting a first hand glimpse of the dev­as­ta­tion that was about to fall upon the prov­ince.

In 1990, Memo­rial Uni­ver­sity of New­found­land and Labrador (MUN) and the Coali­tion for Fish­eries Sur­vival had em­barked on a prov­ince-wide tour called Empty Nets: Find­ing So­lu­tions to the Cri­sis in the In­dus­try.

With fish sizes and catches di­min­ish­ing, the aim was to talk to res­i­dents in fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties through­out the prov­ince about what was hap­pen­ing in the in­dus­try. These ses­sions are avail­able for view­ing on YouTube page NFLD Archive.

Lead­ing up to the tour, Payne had been in­vited to at­tend the prov­ince-wide ses­sions as a per­former, do­ing a half-hour show be­fore dis­cus­sions got un­der­way and was asked to write a song about the then cur­rent state of the fish­ery.

Even then, “The writ­ing was on the wall, peo­ple could see it com­ing,” re­called Payne.

Payne had been hired to pre­form on the in­au­gu­ral run of the MV Joseph and Clara Small­wood, when he penned ‘Empty Nets’.

“I wrote the song, ba­si­cally, on the deck of the Joseph and Clara one af­ter­noon go­ing along the south coast. I got off the ferry in Port aux Basques and joined the group, I think that’s where the first fo­rum was held,” said Payne. “That was the im­pe­tus for the song, in the sense of hav­ing it ready for a cer­tain point.”

The Norte Dame Bay na­tive grew up close to the fish­ery, and in hear­ing what the peo­ple of the prov­ince were say­ing, Payne tapped into the raw emo­tion of the frus­tra­tion in scrap­ing by and the need for an­swers. Which is clearly ev­i­dent in the song’s sec­ond verse.

“You can blame it on the for­eign­ers, blame it on feds,

You can cast all the blame on each other in­stead;

But when all’s said and done, it’s still some­thing I dread,

To have New­found­land give up the fish­ery.

What of our com­mu­ni­ties, will they just die?

Pack up your duds, give the main­land a try?

But I’m stay­ing here till some­one tells me why,

I should put up with this mis­ery.” In re­flec­tion, he said, it turned out to be a fit­ting theme for the ses­sions, which are still vivid in his mem­ory.

“There was some pretty hot and heavy dis­cus­sions, but for me per­son­ally, it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence just to get the per­spec­tives of all the peo­ple who spoke,” he said. “There were a lot of highly per­sonal sto­ries of how peo­ple were be­ing af­fected by the down­turn of the fish­ery and a great deal of fear ex­pressed about what the fu­ture held for them.”

“For a lot of New­found­lan­ders who aren’t di­rectly in­volved with the fish­ery, you get a lot of your in­for­ma­tion through the news, but when you’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you’re lis­ten­ing to the per­sonal sto­ries of those af­fected by it, it had a much more im­me­di­ate im­pact,” he con­tin­ued. “So for me it was an education and a very mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You come to re­al­ize how much big­ger this is­sue was than what you got in a clip on the news.”

The song would be re­leased in 1992, the same year the dev­as­tat­ing blow that ended the em­ploy­ment of ap­prox­i­mately 28,000 peo­ple was an­nounced.

As a re­sult, the song has stood the test of 25 years, with Payne get­ting re­quests for it to this day.

“When you put a song out there you don’t re­ally know what kind of an im­pact that it’s go­ing to have, but that was one of the songs, cer­tainly at the time it had a big im­pact, it was kind of an an­themic song and peo­ple were re­ally able to re­late to it,” said Payne, who also noted that it be­came a song of choice when he played shows in the At­lantic Prov­inces, and in later in the U.K.

Mu­si­cal in­flu­ence

Empty Nets, along with Wayne Bartlett’s ‘She’s Gone B’ys She’s Gone’, are listed with MUN Li­braries Cod Mora­to­rium songs re­leased in 1992. The list also con­tains Stuffed Squids ‘Pack­age Song’ and ‘Mora­to­rium Blues’ at­trib­uted to 1992, but the re­lease date has a ques­tion mark next to it.

The songs were re­flec­tive of the time, but in the years to fol­low mu­si­cians drew upon the mora­to­rium for in­spi­ra­tion. Acts such as “Great Big Sea”, “The Ir­ish De­scen­dants” and nu­mer­ous oth­ers would re­lease mora­to­rium themed songs.

“It’s not un­like other events, we are a peo­ple who write and sing songs, folk mu­sic has been with us since the early set­tlers came here, it’s a com­mon way for peo­ple to be able to ex­press them­selves.

“New­found­lan­der’s and Labrado­ri­ans are very for­tu­nate that it’s such a part of the so­cial fabric that we are able to ex­press our­selves through mu­sic,” said Payne.

“But there is no ques­tion that the mora­to­rium spawned a large num­ber of songs from a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives… Even to the point of where a num­ber of peo­ple be­came mu­si­cians, look at ‘Folk of the Sea’, they had a re­ally big im­pact and went a long way to­wards bring­ing the mes­sage of how it has af­fected peo­ple to a large (au­di­ence).”

The in­flu­ence of the mora­to­rium is some­thing that can still be found in New­found­land and Labrador artists to this day.

Payne thinks the long-term af­fect of the reper­cus­sions play a fac­tor in that longevity.

“We’re still feel­ing it in so­ci­ety, so it stands to rea­son that it would still show up in cul­tural ex­pres­sion, other than mu­sic a lot of books have been writ­ten about this as well,” he said.

By Jim Payne

Get up in the morn­ing at a quar­ter to four,

Try not to make much noise as you go through the door; Jump in the boat, you can hear the gulls roar,

At the start of a brand new day. Fire up the en­gine, you’re ready to go,

Head out the har­bour, you don’t want to be slow;

What’s out there today? Well, you never know,

Just hope that it turns out okay. But it’s empty nets, ‘cause that’s what he gets,

When you’re out on the wa­ter no time for re­grets;

Those empty nets that’s what he gets,

How’s a poor fish­er­man to pay off his debts,

When he goes out each morn­ing to haul empty nets?

You can blame it on the for­eign­ers, blame it on feds,

You can cast all the blame on each other in­stead;

But when all’s said and done, it’s still some­thing I dread,

To have New­found­land give up the fish­ery.

What of our com­mu­ni­ties, will they just die?

Pack up your duds, give the main­land a try?

But I’m stay­ing here till some­one tells me why,

I should put up with this mis­ery. Of those empty nets, ‘cause that’s what he gets,

When you’re out on the wa­ter no time for re­grets;

Those empty nets that’s what he gets,

How’s a poor fish­er­man to pay off his debts,

When he goes out each morn­ing to haul empty nets?

Here’s to the plant worker, toils on shore,

And waits for the fish­er­men to catch a few more;

And then pack it up for the gro­cery store,

Till it ends up on some­body’s ta­ble.

“Be­cause of the way so­ci­ety has changed, the num­ber of peo­ple who ba­si­cally packed up and moved to Al­berta re­ally took off af­ter the fish­ery — some com­mu­ni­ties prac­ti­cally emp­tied out of work­ing age peo­ple. How can they feed mul­ti­tudes with fishes so small?

How can they feed fam­i­lies with no fish at all?

Get down on your knees for a mir­a­cle call,

But we’ll stick to it for as long as we’re able.

Those empty nets, ‘cause that’s what he gets,

When you’re out on the wa­ter no time for re­grets;

Those empty nets that’s what he gets,

How’s a poor fish­er­man to pay off his debts,

When he goes out each morn­ing to haul empty nets?

Here’s luck to the fish­er­man, he’ll need it I know,

As he bobs on the ocean, God bless his poor soul;

May good for­tune fol­low wher­ever he goes,

To keep him from debt load and dan­ger.

And wher­ever you live, no mat­ter which bay,

May bankers and loan boards not stand in your way;

May you bring home a boat­load each sin­gle day,

And to poverty ever be a stranger.

No more empty nets, ‘cause that’s what he gets,

When you’re out on the wa­ter no time for re­grets;

Those empty nets that’s what he gets,

How’s a poor fish­er­man to pay off his debts,

When he goes out each morn­ing to haul empty nets?

Those empty nets, ‘cause that’s what he gets,

When you’re out on the wa­ter no time for re­grets;

Those empty nets that’s what he gets,

How’s a poor fish­er­man to pay off his debts,

When he goes out each morn­ing to haul empty nets?

Source: Gest Songs of New­found­land and Labrador

“I think that some­thing that had such a tremen­dous im­pact on the so­ci­ety at the time, the af­fects of that can’t help but be felt for­ever, re­ally, in a sense.“

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

New­found­land and Labrador mu­si­cian Jim Payne re­leased ‘Empty Nets’ 25 years ago. The song’s re­flec­tion on the then cur­rent state of the prov­ince’s fish­ery, which was fol­lowed by the mora­to­rium, is still re­quested to this day.

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