"The Punters have been and always will be an all-Newfoundland-band," says Larry Foley, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist.
The band rolled through town earlier this week with their new album Will You Wait number one on the East Coast. Their reputation as a must-see live act preceded their shows at the Starfish Room and the Boot Pub in Whistler.
Anything but predictable, the Punters thrive on diversity by bringing different dynamics into their sound as the situation warrants. "When we first started playing we were probably the only band in St.John's to play all five of the downtown clubs -- we cut our teeth being able to cater to different kinds of rooms. Inevitably we do the same songs, we just do them in different order."
Foley grew up about an hour outside of St. John's and was introduced to traditional music through his grandfather William Foley who sang the old songs without accompaniment. "He didn't believe in singing with a guitar -- he hated it. He thought it spoiled the sound having a guitar in it." Contributions from William Foley and Larry's great uncle Philip can be found in published Newfoundland song collections. Figgy Duff also drew on the latter as a source for material.
Working on a Masters in Sociology, at Ireland's University College Cork, Foley developed his interest in traditional music as a way of tracing his family's roots. "I wasn't studying music in school but while I was there I had a couple of mentors -- really really good players -- my goal was to learn how to accompany instrumental music. I made myself a student of the Irish guitar for a year and a half. I kind of left my Strat up in my parents attic for five years."
By the end of his stay in Cork Foley was performing gigs with players such as fiddler Seamus Craigh. "I met him in a pub the first night I was there. I'd known who he was from Newfoundland but I'd never met him until I was over there." Tracing his roots was one thing but by the time he arrived back in Canada Foley was ready to rock out.
Together for five years, the Punters mix of traditional and modern styles clicked early on. "From the getgo there was just a spark about it," says Foley. "We were just as into rock music -- played "Smoke on the Water" in high school like everybody else. This band was always about mixing it up and blurring the lines."
Will You Wait, their third album was produced by Gary Moffet of April Wine fame. Not necessarily the first guy you think of when discussing traditional music but that worked in the band's favour. "We were really ready to do a different kind of record and he was 'OK, guys, you've got these qualities about you that make you different from anybody else -- don't be so quick to dismiss them.' He really made us appreciate again what it was we had."
The result includes original material from Foley and new band mate Chris Bastone as well as some classic Newfoundland tunes from the likes of Johnny Burke and Dermot O'Reilly. The cover of Ray Davie's "Come Dancing" fits right in with the other material but also suggests there is life outside St. John's George Street clubs. "We always get called a Celtic rock band but all we ever wanted to be was the Punters."
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