Tag Archives: culture

Ron Hynes: the man of 1000 songs departs for Cryer’s Paradise

Ron Hynes photographed by Greg Locke

Newfoundland singer – songwriter, Ron Hynes, dies at age 64. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

GREG LOCKE
St John’s, Newfoundland, November, 2015

Newfoundland singer-songwriter and musical legend, Ron Hynes, died Nov. 19. He was 64. In an ironic coincidence there was a power failure in downtown St John’s around the same time. Across the bar I heard someone say, “I guess Ron turned the lights out when he left.”

Hynes’ music and writing marks a generation that began with Newfoundland’s cultural renaissance in the 1970s. It saw the rise of The Mummer’s Troup, Figgy Duff, Wonderful Grand Band, CODCO, Breakwater Books, Newfoundland Independent Film Co-op and visual artists such as Christopher Pratt, David Blackwood, Gerald Squires and Reginald Shepherd … and so many more.

Collectively, their art is the iconography of Newfoundland and, for the current generation, the touch stones and inspiration for the wealth of Newfoundland musicians, writers and visual artists that followed them. There are far too many to mention, but you see and hear them on Canada’s national TV, radio and in the print media almost daily, and some have international acclaim.

Little of Hynes’s work was the happy, cheery folk tunes most people think of when someone mentions Newfoundland music. His was the music of a story teller: tales of the realities of people’s lives; of the odd melancholy; of hard-won culture and existence in wind-blown sea spray, face up to the North Atlantic ocean.

Ron Hynes was known as The Man of a Thousand Songs, the title of one of his more well-known works. And as a songwriter Hynes was on par with the likes of John Prine, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt.

His most famous song, Sonny’s Dream, has been recorded by scores of musicians in dozens of countries. It is such a universal story that in many places it has entered into the local cultural canon as a traditional song. Many a Newfoundlander tells of being in pubs in Ireland, and getting into arguments when the song is played (and every pub musician plays it). They will say it’s a Newfoundland song. “No, no, it’s a traditional Irish song,” they are told. This is Mary Black’s fault. She had an enormous hit with it in Ireland.

Hynes’ life was not easy. There were bad deals with record companies (see his song, Record Man), the yoke of addictions, eventually a long struggle with cancer. But he wrote and sang right up to the end. He was working on a new album when he died.

“The body of work that he has left with us is such an enormous treasure for our province and for our people because it is us, it’s our stories and our songs,” said Alan Doyle, of the band Great Big Sea, in an interview. “We had somebody who could record our history in songs that he could sing at a concert and it’s just a beautiful testament.”

Ron Hynes outside The Rose & Thistle on Water St in St. John's, Newfoundland Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

Ron Hynes outside The Rose & Thistle on Water St in St. John’s, Newfoundland Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In 2006 I was assigned to photograph Ron Hynes for a magazine story. It would turn into a week long adventure through his world. Calling, connecting, missing, chasing him around the bars and coffee shops of downtown St. John’s. I went with him to shows, for lunch. We talked about the hard life of the artists in Newfoundland. I finally nailed him down to a formal photo shoot at the LSPU Hall. The one-time union hall became Newfoundland arts landmark, where so many of Newfoundland’s musicians, actors, performers and playwrights sprung forth, and where Hynes premiered Sonny’s Dream in a concert in 1977.

In that magazine article for Saltscapes, author Philip Lee wrote, “Ron will keep going so long as his favourite song is the one he’s about to write, so long as he feels there is another great one just around the corner. Every day that he is home he reads the words of playwright Samuel Beckett that he has tacked on his wall: Perhaps my best years are behind me. But I wouldn’t quit. Not with the fire in me now.

“I’ve never been able to escape Newfoundland,” Hynes told Lee, “The decision to stay there has coloured my work forever more.”

On Friday Nov. 20 there was a single candle lit by a statue of Hynes at the foot of George Street, the St John’s bar and entertainment district, where Hynes and his fellow musicians plied their trade for years. By any measure, it’s A Cryer’s Paradise.

Copyright Greg Locke 2015

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Links and recommendations:

Do read Philip Lee’s story, Man of a Thousand Songs about Hynes in Saltscapes magazine. It’s the best profile piece I seen to date about Ron Hynes.

Newfoundland’s Cultural Renaissance. …a history of art and culture revival.
Ron Hynes, personal website.

LSPU Hall (after the Longshoremen’s Protective Union)

Recommended videos: Watch Sonny’s Dream, below, and also:  Cryers ParadiseMan of a Thousand Songs, and Record Man.

 

Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays  and occasionally writes for our reports, magazine pieces, and blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries, including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com

 

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Life goes on in rural Newfoundland

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Bringing the sheep back from the summer community pastures on the island at Tors Cove on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. A practice that has been going on for more than 200 years. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

 

GREG LOCKE
September, 2015

Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland– Travelling around Newfoundland this summer I began seeing signs of life, culture and a society I thought were lost forever.

The cod moratorium was thought to be the death of rural Newfoundland. The outports are estimated to have been emptied of more than 50,000 people. Boats, houses, property …entire villages, abandoned. Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic cod fisheries attracted local and international fishing fleets for almost five centuries before the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in July, 1992. By then, once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near extinction, and officials feared they would disappear entirely if the fishery remained open. The moratorium put about 30,000 people in the province out of work, and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities.

Except … it didn’t.

On the wharfs and in the twine lofts people are living their lives and following the old ways. In Tors Cove, just a 30 minute drive south of the capital, St. John’s,  Howard Morry was bringing his sheep back from the islands where they spent the summer grazing safe from dogs and coyotes. …the way it’s been done for generations.

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Community party in a fisherman’s twine loft Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In Bay de Verde, fish were caught and parties and feasts went late into the evening. Just like the days in 1990 and 1991 when I spent all my spare time travelling the island documenting a fast disappearing culture. The sun sinks into the ocean, the moon lights the cove and the winding pathways through the village as people gather around the music and laughter from the sheds where coolers full of beer rattle with ice and deep fryers and barbecues sizzle with lobsters, crab and cod fish.

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Old historic houses, shops and fishing buildings are being restored in once booming places like Bonavista, Fogo Island and Elliston. Towns like Eastport and Glovertown are awash in new construction and service industries.

Newfoundland has been discovered by well-heeled and adventure tourists. They paddle in expensive kayaks alongside local fishermen in the new trendy hot spots.

Sure there is gentrification in the remote bays and coves, but the old ways remain. The new comers learn how to survive from the old timers and the few young Newfoundland people who were not meant to live in the cities of western Canada.

What happens when a government abandons its people? Do they disappear? What happens when the contract, trusts and social bonds between politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and the community its suppose to serve is broken?

In the years leading up to the destruction of the cod stocks, fishermen were warning the politicians and scientists that the fish stocks were disappearing, catches abnormal and erratic. These were not the fishermen with large offshore trawlers — the high-tech fishing factories — but small-boat fishermen living in the villages who fished close to shore, immersed in fish habitat and habits.

Officialdom turned a deaf ear. The message was that stupid uneducated fishermen don’t know anything. They lack biology degrees. They are ignorant of the machinery of politics.

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Fishermen from Bay de Verde, Newfoundland catching their small allocation of cod fish in Conception bay. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

More than 25 years later, Newfoundland rural culture survives in small, wise, pockets. They have learned a lot about the politics of Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. More than they would care to, probably. The small-boat fishermen were proved right about the cod stocks.

In recent years those few still fishing are telling the politicians and scientists that cod catches are up, that the fish are the largest seen in more than 30 years.

They want to a return of a small, specialized, sustainable cod fishery for inshore fishermen and fishing communities. They are backed with science and expertise in sustainable fishing from groups as diverse as the fishermen’s union, World Wildlife Fund and independent biology and social scientists. All are working together on plans for that commercially viable, sustainable, community based fishery which the government doesn’t want to hear about it because its model is a fishing industry for a small number of large multinational food companies.

And DFO scientists, bureaucrats and politicians are still not listening.

It’s no surprise that all trust and respect has broken down between Newfoundland’s people, and the government, and scientists. And as the government, politicians and industrial fishing companies continue to abandon rural Newfoundland, it’s nice to see that the old ways are still remembered.

Life will carry on, regardless of the destruction wrought by the interlopers.

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 Copyright Greg Locke 2015

 

Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays, reports for Dispatches, writes and photographs Think magazine pieces, and contributes to the blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com

Related:

Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery, by Greg Locke

It’s a cold foggy day in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Just 20 kilometers south from downtown St. John’s, it feels much further. There is not much activity or many people out and around the few remaining wharfs and twine lofts that once were buzzing hives of fishing activity ringing the harbour. Today, there are just a few frozen tourists looking to make photos of a Newfoundland that doesn’t exist anymore.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.

 

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