One major product of Peacock’s ten years of collection work in Newfoundland was a three-volume songbook series entitled, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, which was published in 1965. The collection was comprised of what he felt was a reflective selection of the best songs that he collected, “I make no claim for the book’s completeness – even a collection ten times as big would not be ‘complete’ – but I do feel it is representative of Newfoundland’s repertoire of traditional and native song as it exists in the mid-twentieth century.” Peacock also wrote commentaries on the history and origins of the songs, as well as their development into various forms and diffusion across different regions.
In addition to this, Peacock wrote an introduction to the volume in which he contextualized the music and his collection efforts by describing the history of the island and his time spent there. Peacock’s descriptions in these books communicated a particular characterization of Newfoundland life and culture, and shaped the way in which the intended audience of the book, the Canadian public, understood the music of the island, and thus, he hoped, its people.
Peacock’s collection differed in its purpose and content from other songbooks about Newfoundland folk music at the time, in particular that of Gerald S. Doyle. Doyle was primarily a businessman, and a staunch Newfoundland nationalist. Doyle was aware of the popularity and abundance of European and British traditional songs on the island, the very songs with deep historical lineage that Peacock was interested in preserving. As you might remember from part 1 of this series, Doyle only compiled locally-composed songs into his songsters, which in most cases he heard from locals who he invited on his boat to sing for him when he was travelling to different outports in order to meet his customers in person and forge personal connections with them.
Unlike Peacock, who isolated the performance of the songs from their usual context, Doyle invited singers to perform as part of an evening of merry-making and music. Also unlike Peacock’s hardback three-volume collection, Doyle produced three paperback songbooks which were distributed for free to Newfoundlanders, and included advertisements for Doyle’s wide array of local products. Doyle focused on compiling fast-paced songs that were often humorous in content and recognizable for their true depiction of Newfoundland life as Doyle saw it (2).
Doyle’s efforts occurred within the wider context of post-war Newfoundland, in which the provincial government emphasized both culture and heritage in creating a tourism industry for the island. As Overton observes, “[e]fforts [were] made to stimulate small business and encourage people to take advantage of the opportunities provided through tourism by constructing restaurants, small motels, developing camping facilities and by providing recreational opportunities (fishing, boat trips). Other people [were] encouraged to work in these industries or to produce crafts and souvenirs.” (3) The emphasis was not placed solely on creating an image of Newfoundland that could be sold to tourists, but also on teaching locals how to behave in their communities and towards visitors as well as each other (4). In many respects, Doyle was an archetype of the Newfoundlander who believed fervently in the messages that circulated in this tourism discourse and who also understood how to monetize that belief.
Peacock was no Gerald Doyle, for he saw his work as, above all else, academic research in service of Canadian federalism. Peacock introduced his volume by characterizing Newfoundland according to its recent entry into Confederation. In the opening line of the volume, he described Newfoundland in terms familiar to Canadians, “England’s oldest colony, Canada’s newest province – this neat catchphrase has been used often in recent years to describe Newfoundland’s unique historical position in North America.” (5) Peacock’s description of the history of Newfoundland spoke to the age of the island, and its legacy as a colonial holding of England. Pushing even further into the past than European occupation, Peacock noted the Beothuk population of Newfoundland and their extinction at the hands of European settlers (6).
Noting the general lack of direct governance from England, Peacock described the rural outports where some people eventually settled as “tribal,” and attributed this characteristic to the isolation of the areas, likening them more closely with Indigenous tribes than with colonial settler cultures (7). This kind of historical representation of the island’s social geography was important to the claims made in the collection about the historicity of the folk music tradition captured in the rest of the volumes.
With hopes for a broad audience, Peacock insisted the three volumes were, “intended as a source book for musicologists, students of traditional verse, professional singers, and musicians, historians, and not least of all, for the general reader and that growing army of young folksong enthusiasts who are finding new meanings in old traditions.” (8) The young folksong enthusiasts that Peacock referred to were not just a scattered few who took a particular interest in folk music.
In his study of the folk movement in Nova Scotia, Ian McKay characterizes this as a fascination with Innocence, a descriptor which captures what these folk enthusiasts saw as the essential appeal to rural folk communities, “[t]he province was essentially innocent of the complications and anxieties of twentieth-century modernity. Nova Scotia’s heart, its true essence, resided in the primitive, the rustic, the unspoiled, the picturesque, the quaint, the unchanging: in all those pre-modern things and traditions that seemed outside the rapid flow of change in the twentieth century.” (9) This movement was concerned with the local only, and in the early stages enthusiasts took little interest in a wider national perspective (10). With this volume Peacock was much more interested in reaching as many people as possible, including the everyday population of Canadians.
Peacock’s interest in reaching a broader Canadian public was framed in part by his role as an employee of the National Museum, distinct from other, freelance collectors. Once Newfoundland became part of Canada in 1949, it also became a collecting focus for the National Museum. His interest in disseminating this music was one shared and encouraged by Barbeau, who was known for his unique interest in preserving folk music specifically in order to reach a wide audience with the research (11).
The revival of folk music in Newfoundland during the period in which Peacock was there doing his fieldwork was grounded both in a strong sense of regionalism brought about by Confederation, as well as a sense that industrialization and development put distinctive local traditions and history at risk of disappearing. This fostered a desire in young urban musicians in Newfoundland to connect with the music of their past in order to both preserve it and encourage its continued performance and enjoyment (12). Not only was Peacock aware of the role he and his collecting efforts played in the context of the National Museum, but he also recognized the economic timing within the rising interest and demand for folk music:
“The search by discerning professional folksingers for a more authentic approach comes at an opportune moment, for folkmusic has suddenly become big business in North America and will have to compete with the other commercial products of the music ‘industry.’…Simplicity, directness of image, honesty, melodic subtlety – all of those things which originally appealed to minority groups of artists and intellectuals – have been lost in the process of bringing folksong to the mass consumer audience of our technical culture with its seemingly incorrigible addiction to synthetic emotionalism.” (13)
Peacock thus hoped to add some, in is eyes, much-needed “authenticity” to true folk music enthusiasts by offering them what he perceived as “originals.” Because of the academic and museological environment in which he did the work represented in the three volumes, it is clear Peacock did not see the making and selling of the books as contributing to the commodification of folk music and culture that he lamented. Instead, Peacock intended these books to be an education about and gateway into an authentic Newfoundland folk tradition that all could learn and appreciate.
Besides the music, readers learned about the society and culture from which, Peacock explained, this music originated. He describes outport culture as unchanging, even after Newfoundland’s new status as a province of Canada. The “tribalism” which he referred to pertained to his perception of Newfoundland as an idyllic place in which doors were not locked, children were raised by the entire community, and the heavy labour was shared amongst the locals equally: “Far from forcing everyone to conform to some preconceived formula for ‘correct’ behaviour, outport culture adapts itself readily to the bizarre and extraordinary, even welcomes it. Let us hope these rare attributes will not be lost but will have a civilizing influence on the technical revolution which Newfoundland is now belatedly experiencing.” (14)
This romanticization of Newfoundland outport life was not unique to either Newfoundland or Peacock. Between 1920 and 1950 in particular, Canadian society experienced a surge in anti-modernist sentiment, which held traditional rural cultures to be unchanging, natural, innocent, and picturesque in their isolation. This sentiment was a response by largely bourgeois intellectuals repulsed by the economic and technological changes of the period. The rate of change was sought to render ‘authentic’ experiences impossible, and held what they perceived to be traditional folk cultures as the antithesis and solution to this (15).
Peacock made an attempt in the introduction to offer a balanced account of Newfoundland culture, conceding that there were, in fact, cities and towns that contained modern elements not unlike the mainland. Peacock argued that the “authentic” culture of Newfoundland was only to be found in the outports: “It is ironic that while most urban (and would-be urban) Newfoundlanders are busy aping the latest fads and fashions of the mainlands, researchers like myself are travelling about the outports bringing back Newfoundland’s only authentic culture to the mainland’s ‘avant-garde’ coffee-house cultists.” (16) In saying this, Peacock seemed to have in mind places like Toronto’s Yorkville, a key place for the emerging folk music revival in Canada in these years.
Indeed, the songbooks were published in the midst of a folk music revival in Canada (as elsewhere) that intrigued but also concerned Peacock with respect to how these new artists treated tradition. For folk musicians in the Yorkville scene, their interest in folk music was based less on wanting to preserve a dying tradition and more on a desire to carve out a new identity that was contrary to what was popular both on the music charts and in society. Folk music in these communities was a medium through which musicians communicated their ideas on everything that was wrong with society, responding to the political struggles of the day. The movement was characterized by a “bohemian intellectualism” that was rebellious in its tone and intent (17). Peacock’s work with the Museum sought to preserve traditional music on the basis of its historicity, and gave it value based on this alone. In preserving the music, the aim was to preserve the traditions of a way of life that was in danger of vanishing.
In his three volumes, Peacock also described the process of folk music fieldwork, and situated it within the space of the National Museum. In particular, Peacock addressed the tensions between the impulse to collect and preserve everything versus the careful selection of representative samples of a culture:
“Some search for only rare material of special significance; others collect literally everything that pops into an informant’s mind…[t]hough I am not a member of the rare-gem school, I do think collectors should be more ruthless in sifting out poor material at the source before it can clutter up our already overburdened and understaffed archives. This has been my approach in building up the National Museum’s Newfoundland collection, though I must confess I did find a few duds when choosing material for publication.” (18)
While Peacock claimed that his attempts fell into the approach of trying to collect as much and as broad examples of songs as possible, his description also indicated that he was selective in terms of the quality of songs. The introduction did not specify what constituted a poor quality folk song, but what was clear was that Peacock had a conception of this, and knew the types of songs he wanted to collect. Indeed, in this quest for quality, Peacock also noted that, while in general he tried to copy down the songs as exactly as he could, he would make changes where there were “obvious mistakes.” (19)
While his museum collections and radio broadcasts were intended to (re)present Newfoundland to all of Canada, the publication of the songbooks was at least in part intended to contribute to both the preservation and re-creation of “traditional” folk music in Newfoundland. In fact, unlike his skepticism about Toronto-based, “avant-garde” coffeehouse folk singers, Peacock was enthusiastic about how his songbooks were interpreted by Newfoundland-based artists. Guigné notes that Peacock’s songbooks became an influential resource for Newfoundland musicians focused on finding and performing what they perceived to be their cultural roots (20).
One Newfoundland band in particular, Figgy Duff, relied heavily on Peacock’s songbook. Figgy Duff used Peacock’s volumes as a resource for songs that they adapted into a new rock-based sound that was growing in popularity. It was decidedly a mixture of the “old” and the “new” as a cultural form called, revealingly, “trad-rock.” For Figgy Duf, though, the goal was to re-present distinctly Newfoundland music to a late – and even postmodern – audience. To do so, the “traditional” Newfoundland music epitomized in Peacock’s songbooks was fused with a more contemporary sound inspired by British folk-rock (21). In doing so, Figgy Duff and other demonstrated the malleability of the traditions of Newfoundland folk music, sharing the same concerns for “authenticity” that motivated Peacock but also reconciling that with a desire to create their own art.
Interestingly, while Peacock’s songbooks had been published for some time, and circulated widely amongst folk enthusiasts and musicians in Newfoundland and Canada, the songs were not recorded into a compilation until the 1980s, at the instigation of former Figgy Duff member Kelly Russell. By 1979, Russell had founded his own recording company, Pigeon Inlet Productions, and in 1982 he met Peacock’s contemporary and fellow-collector, Edith Fowke, at the annual meeting of the Canadian Folk Music Society being held in St. John’s, where he was invited to perform. Fowke suggested that if Russell ever found himself in Ottawa, to contact Kenneth Peacock to listen to his original field recordings, unreleased bu the Museum up to that point (22).
Unbeknownst to her, Fowke’s advice had great historical resonance for Peacock. For much as he has listened to Marius Barbeau’s original field recordings of Indigenous music for inspiration for his own compositions, here Russell turned to Peacock’s fieldwork for much the same. And like Peacock before him, Russell found inspiration. So much so, in fact, that Russell offered to produce some of the material into an album. Songs of the Newfoundland Outports was released as an album in 1984. Guigné notes, in her interviews with Peacock about this event, that he was thrilled that Newfoundlanders were in fact were in fact interested and enthusiastic about his collection (23).
In the next installment, I’ll wrap up my discussion of Kenneth Peacock and the Newfoundland Folk Music Revival by reflecting on the personal experiences that I had with this music while writing my Major Research Essay.
- Kenneth Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, Volume 1, (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer and Controller of Stationary, 1965): XXI.
- Anna Kearney Guigné, “Kenneth Peacock’s Contribution to Gerald S. Doyle’s Old-Time Songs of Newfoundland (1955),” Newfoundland and Labrador Studies 22 (2007): 116.
- James Overton, Making a World of Difference: Essays on Tourism, Culture and Development in Newfoundland, (St. John’s: ISER Publishing, 1996): 104.
- Ibid., 118.
- Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, XVIII.
- Ibid., XVIII-XIX.
- Ibid., XX-XXI.
- MCKAY., 30.
- Gillian Mitchell, The North American Folk Music Revival: Nation and Identity in the United States in Canada, 1945-1980, (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007), 31.
- Andrew Nurse, “Tradition and Modernity: The Cultural Work of Marius Barbeau,” 15-16.
- Lise Saugeres, “Figgy Duff and Newfoundland Culture,” (PhD Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1991), 81-82.
- Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, XXIV. In this respect, Peacock’s sensibilities were somewhat different from the entrepreneurial Gerald Doyle.
- Ibid., XIX.
- Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009): 30-31. Se also: Stuart Henderson, “‘While there is Still Time…’: J. Murray Gibbon and the Spectacle of Difference in Three CPR Folk Festivals, 1928-1931,” Journal of Canadian Studies 39 (2005): 139-174.
- Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, XX.
- Stuart Henderson, Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 87-88.
- Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, XXII.
- Ibid., XXIII
- Guigné, Folksongs and Folk Revival, 225.
- Ibid., 223.
- This interestingly paralleled Peacock listening to Barbeau’s original field recordings, in order to find inspiration for his own work.
- Guigné, Folksongs and Folk Revival, 226-227.