Ten Pound Fiddle Welcomes Newfoundland Guitarist to the Robin Theatre

Friday, February 8, 2019, 7:23 am
By: 
Christopher A. Wardell

Most musicians seek out the music that defines them, but it’s safe to say the music found Matthew Byrne (pictured above). The Newfoundland-based guitarist, storyteller, and interpreter of traditional songs was born into a family of musicians where the main focus was sharing songs with each other.

Byrne will perform as a part of the Ten Pound Fiddle’s concert series February 9 at the Robin Theatre in Lansing’s REO Town.

The musician grew up surrounded by traditional music – ballads, shanties, and tunes, and he learned by watching both his parents and grandparents.

“I learned to sing by watching those around me as a child, and especially from my parents who are both singers,” Byrne said. “My early guitar playing was influenced by my father. He got me started with the basics and I am self-taught beyond that. My interest in traditional songs certainly comes from this upbringing. My mother often says that both my brother and I were humming traditional song melodies in the cradle before we were old enough to actually speak the words, so I was certainly born into it! My grandparents were also singers with repertoires of wonderful ballads. Much of my repertoire has been ‘inherited’ from a singing tradition that extends back through my family.”

Byrne is the recent winner of a Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year for his latest release, 2017’s Horizon Lines. The highlight of the album is the traditional “Long Years Ago,” which is a song Byrne learned from his mother, who learned it from his grandmother. Byrne refers to himself more as a seeker of traditional songs as opposed to a typical singer-songwriter, and this played into the album.

According to Byrne, most of his inspiration comes from other folk musicians he admires and those who know how to maintain the integrity of a traditional song while still adding something original and unique – John Doyle, Martin Simpson, Kate Rusby and Newfoundland singers like Anita Best or Jim Payne, just to name a few.

“I’m not a folklorist or ethnomusicologist, at least not officially,” Byrne said. “And I’m not a purist. I’ve pored over the nuances of the pub song cannon as much as the obscure murder balladry. I am intrigued by the dual storylines that every traditional song offers. One being the story within the song, and the other, the story behind the song - of how it came to be and find its way to me. What attracts me to a traditional song is the right combination of melody and language that reveals a truth. Sharing my fascination with these songs reminds me of a time when oral tradition was the primary source of entertainment and the clever and peculiar ways of using words that would seem contrived if written today, are so satisfying when delivered in the context of a traditional song.”

His current tour of the U.S. has him performing two shows in Chicago before heading to Lansing. After that, Byrne will perform in Alberta, Canada, before heading to Montreal for the Folk Alliance International.

Dylan Rogers, Director of the Robin Theatre, was happy to work in collaboration with the Ten Pound’s Booker Sally Potter in helping to bring Byrne to Lansing.

“I can always rest assured that the Fiddle is bringing in top-notch acts,” Rogers said. “The Robin is a bit smaller than some of the other venues they use, but we’re flexible and easy to work with. That gives us the opportunity to bring in great acts that might not be available on Fridays, the Fiddle’s usual date. Also, the listening room environment here is perfect for small ensembles or solo acts like Matthew Byrne.”

Byrne is looking forward to the show at the Robin Theatre, and he said folks can expect a lot of storytelling and a discussion about his musical upbringing, as well as a lesson on the Newfoundland Folk Music tradition.

“My live performance is meant to bring audiences on a journey through the lineage of my repertoire and share what these songs have revealed to me,” Byrne said. “Every show is certainly unique because every audience is different and I elaborate on certain things based on what ‘strikes a chord’ with audiences in different areas. I’ll often let audiences shape my set list to a certain degree and that keeps it interesting for me as well!”

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