The Shyre were an electro jazz band visiting from Montreal. We’d been encouraged to attend by one of the band’s musicians. He was the kind of fresh-faced Canadian that we were happy to take a punt on. He had kindly offered a ticket reduction at the door. They were clearly slightly concerned about the attendance.
“Who’s your supporting band?” Ben, my Newfoundland based friend, had asked.
“No one,” had responded the musician. “We’re going to play three sets.”
He said this with a merry Canadian smile, though it transpires that this is not the thing to do on the St John’s music scene.
“That’s a mistake,” Ben commented to me later. “Newfoundlanders only show out for Newfoundland bands.”
He was right. The bar contained about twenty people. The capacity we well over one hundred. The band, to their credit, did not hold back. It was a great performance. I’ve got to say that the strange French mime performance in the second set did confuse me slightly, but the general take away was one of gratification, and our punt on an obscure electro jazz band proved successful.
In the third act, they broke into French. They were from Montreal after all. It turned out a member of the audience was French, they exchanged. “Your accent sounds weird,” joked the lead singer. “Where are you from?”
“France,” replied the audience member, which rather put pay to her jestfully critical tone.
“This is dangerous,” said Ben, turning to me. “It could all kick off here.”
“Why?” I enquired.
“Newfoundlanders don’t like it when people speak in French,” came the response.
It didn’t kick off, which was something of a relief at the time. Though in the retelling, I accept a fight would have been more climactic. Really the tale serves to highlight otherness of the Newfoundlander. There was a whiff of isolationist community about Newfoundland that could be both very warm and heartening, but then could also spill over into that slightly intolerant rustbelt sensibility. Community is the island’s blessing, but taken too far it all starts to feel a little Wicker Man. Though an ominous yet ingratiating Christopher Lee type does not appear to have taken hold of the island yet, which is almost a pity really.
We left the venue and passed the many gentlemen’s clubs and karaoke bars on our way for a taxi. It is a strange contradiction of an island, barbershop quartets performing in all the Gilmore Girls like wholesomeness by day and all the seedier aspects of Las Vegas by night. As we got into the cab I looked upwards the perfectly clear skyline. The stars glittered without a trace of pollution to obscure them, my eyes drifted down to the shadowed hills that encompass St John’s. Were they building something…some kind of wicker figure? Perhaps the Shyre hadn’t been so fortunate as we had thought.