RUM RAGGED – Gone Jiggin’ (LHM Records – LHM077)

Gone Jiggin'Newfoundland has a distinct identity. It’s an identity forged amid a history of colonisation and migration, with its oldest art form – its traditional music – playing a vital role. This musical heritage is richly celebrated in Rum Ragged’s fifth album, Gone Jiggin’.

I’ve felt a sort of connection with Newfoundland since my time working in the reference library at Poole in Dorset, where I helped family history researchers from both Poole and Newfoundland. The town had played a large part in in the early settlement of the island, and the profits of Newfoundland trade had a big impact on Poole. The English West Country in general supplied many of the early colonists. They were later joined by migrants from the southern most parts of Ireland and smaller numbers of Highland Scots. Inevitably, African slaves were taken there, joined in the 19th century by some escaped slaves. Add to this French Canadians and, of course, Indigenous peoples who’ve lived there the longest, and the result is a fascinating cultural mix, expressed most vividly in the Island’s musical traditions.

Rum Ragged are a quartet consisting of Aaron Collins on vocals, bouzouki, mandolin, tenor banjo, accordion, whistle, harmonica – Mark Manning vocals, guitar – Colin Grant fiddle, step dancing – Zack Nash tenor banjo. The album’s producer, Billy Sutton, also joins in with bodhran, bass, percussion, and vocals.

That Gone Jiggin’ is an album with a deep Newfoundland affinity, is established on the opening track, ‘The Road to Lushes Bight (Island Stock).’

Every little inlet every cove every rock,
Are the things that you are made of,
You are Island stock

With a harmony laden opening and chorus, this stomping anthem tells of a Newfoundlander becoming disillusioned with city life, away from his roots.

A standout track follows. With it’s fine whistle playing and use of the bodhran, ‘Paddy Hyde’ has a strongly Irish feel. Only a brief mention of the local currency, in dollars, gives away it’s North American origin. This darker and more haunting song tells of an ordeal suffered by an unfortunate fisherman. This is the first ever recording of this traditional song.

‘Ray Head’s/Harry Eveleigh’s/Mrs. Bell’s’ is the albums first instrumental track. It opens with a slow accordion sequence before the fiddle ups the tempo, and a cracking set of dance tunes develops. All three tunes are traditional and learnt from the playing of three local musicians, after whom the tunes are named. A great track brilliantly played.

There are some major mood changes on Gone Jiggin’, and we now move from a stonking set of dance tunes to melancholy ballad, with a narrative that will be familiar to lovers of folk song. ‘The Dewey Dells Of Yarrow’ tells of a farmer’s daughter who falls in love with her father’s ploughboy, only for him to be murdered by a group of local men, including her brother. This traditional song has a beautiful, and suitably sad tune.

A lively banjo and fiddle opening to the next track, heralds another mood change. ‘Thomas Trim’ is a lighthearted song with a jaunty tune. It tells of a local dandy, who doesn’t seem to be troubled by self-doubt – “Such a swell and dashing dude you don’t see every day”. The jollity continues on ‘Kelly And The Ghost.’ It’s another song with a very Irish feel, but whereas ‘Paddy Hyde’ has an emotional charge, this is fun. The ‘ghost’ who Kelly meets one night, turns out to be his wife enacting a plan to stop him going out drinking. Her plan works.

The fine fiddle and guitar opening to ‘Riley,’ has a melancholy feel, but this is another humorous song – a tale of friendship with a comically hapless hero and an upbeat tune.

A fiddle and bodhran opening to the next track, introduces another great set of high-octane dance tunes – ‘Joe Young’s/Red Rock Brook/The Earl of Hyndford’. The first two were learnt from local musicians, and the third is a Scottish traditional tune. Again, the musicianship on this track is terrific.

The tempo slows for another beautifully sung traditional ballad. ‘The Green Shores Of Fogo’ is a wistful and reflective going away song, in which the narrator knows he will dream of Fogo and those he’s left behind wherever he goes.

‘Lazy Afternoon’ does what its title says. This gentle love song is a delightful bit of ear candy that made me think of sitting in a beautiful garden on a summer afternoon, perhaps with a glass of something to hand. It’s beautifully sung and, with a tenor banjo taking a lead role, this is the most recognisably North American track so far.

The final blast of dance music follows, with tunes written by two legends of Newfoundland music. ‘The Viking Jig,’ by Minnie White, is a stonking Celtic tune. Emile Benoit’s ‘West Bay Centre’ is another great tune, with a slightly haunting vibe.

‘The Apple Tree’ has an infectiously upbeat tune and is another track with an American feel. In the lyrics, the narrator escapes from the stresses of the World in the titular tree.

I don’t care what happens to me,
I’ll just sit in the apple tree,
That my grandmother gave to me.’

But is it only about a tree, or does it speak of the wider comforts of home and family? I think it’s the latter, which echoes the spirit of Gone Jiggin’. It’s a very appropriate final track.

This is a hugely enjoyable album. The high-octane dance sets – driven by accordion, fiddle, and banjo – are pulsating. The songs – comforting, comical, and melancholy – are all beautifully sung. For fans of Newfoundland music, Gone Jiggin’ will be a delight. For anyone who’s not yet experienced the joy of the island’s music, this is a great place to start.

Graham Brown

Artists’ website:

‘The Road To Lushes Bight (Island Stock)’ – official video:

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