BY GEORGE MACVICAR
The Southern Gazette
Bud Davidge was excitedly telling everyone the ‘Simani’ Christmas program recalling the Newfoundland mummering (or jannying) tradition would be aired on 16 CBC television stations from Montreal to Vancouver Dec. 29.
He was attending a Marystown Lions senior citizens’ Christmas party for the third year in a row at which he and Simeon Savoury were again providing entertainment for an enthusiastic crowd.
Bud had received a call earlier in the week from Dave Quinton of CBC’s ‘Land and Sea’ program informing him of the news. Simani had acted as hosts for a Christmas program last year, and Mr. Quinton said the reaction to the show was so good it had been offered to CBC affiliates across Canada.
The program will also be rebroadcast in Newfoundland this holiday period. (In fact, over the last 25 years the show has become an annual fixture in CBC’s Christmas offerings.)
“We’re interested in the feedback” from Newfoundlanders in particular all across the country, Bud said.
The ‘Mummers Song’, which Bud wrote, was recorded by the duo in the fall of 1983 and then placed on their ‘Christmas Fancy’ album produced in 1985. He said the reaction to the song was overwhelming, “and it hasn’t stopped since.”
When the two began performing almost 10 years ago – it will be 10 years in May 1987 – they agreed to do all their own material and jigs, which had not been recorded in the past.
Bud had “dabbled in poetry” previously and had his university degree behind him (he’s an assistant school board superintendent) but did not have any formal training in song writing. However, all the material on Simani’s four albums to date (‘Saltwater Cowboy’ recoded 1981; ‘Heaven By Sea in 1983; ‘Christmas Fancy; in 1985 and ‘Outport People’ last spring) has been written by Bud and only recently did they record a song that he did not write.
All his songs are based on experience growing up in an outport community in Hermitage Bay called Bay d’Nord, which like many other communities in the bay was resettled. Bud’s family went to Fortune to live, and he now lives in English Harbour West.
“I recalled images I had in my mind of home and used that experience as the basis of my songs. I know a lot of people had the same images and from the reaction to the ‘Mummers Song’ it became obvious to me afterwards the same experiences were remembered by others.”
The ‘Mummers Song’ was so well received it sparked a partial revival in many communities that Christmas (1983) of a tradition which had been banned by the Newfoundland government. In fact, it is still illegal today but traditions live in all of us.
Bud referred to the album ‘Outport People’ conjuring up the same images in people’ minds.
“That kind of thing, I feel, attracts most people in the province.”
Two other songs the group made popular were based on story telling with ‘The Loss of the Marion’ and ‘The Truxtun and Pollux’, both centred on the South Coast ties with the sea and disaster.
He noted Simani’s popularity is not localized to any particular region. The two have played in most areas of the province with the exception of Labrador, where travel arrangements are not convenient; St. John’s, the Southern Shore and the Bonavista Peninsula.
Although there have been requests from these other areas, the time factor is a problem.
Bud said “We started out doing our music as a hobby and it has been more than good to us; we’re more satisfied. The demands so far exceed what we can do.”
During the last two years, the two have been cutting back on their travelling and live performances. Because of their professional commitments and the Newfoundland weather, they do not perform in January, February and March.
They also take a month off in the summer to spend with their families and a month in the fall to go hunting.
Bud estimated they perform only about 26-weekends in the run of a year and manage a week to ten day stretch in western Newfoundland during the summer.
“I’m not being boastful, in fact I often wonder at it, but it’s fair to say we have not called a club to do a performance any more than 10 times in the past 10 years, although I can’t remember any.
“It’s not so much club owners are looking for us … there’s a big demand for live entertainment.”
Bud said the duo hopes to keep recording in the future and likely will stop travelling first.
“For the first time this year, we will be taking no Christmas or New Year’s Eve bookings.”
Sim, who owns his own general store in Belleoram, has set up a recording studio.
Bud noted “It’s state of the art equipment.”
The duo has recorded its last two albums there and are in the early stages of doing another album, in which the initial planning calls for involving other people who have not been recorded before, intermixed with Simani material. They hope to begin producing the new album in the spring.
The studio is also expanding its recording operations and has produced a number of records for groups like the ‘Fortune Sons.’
As well, Bud says the two would like to move into concert settings allowing for even more of their own material to be spotlighted. They have considered involvement with various school boards in their Newfoundland Culture courses but added this would be time consuming. Some schools have already requested appearances by Simani and last year the two did a performance at Gros Morne National Park, as part of the National Parks’ anniversary.
Although the pair has been performing regularly for 10 years, Simani’s first album in 1981 (‘Saltwater Cowboy’), designed as a souvenir of their musical career, started the performers on their way.
Bud reflected “We were not expecting it to be as big as it was but it turned out very big. The calls started coming in from Central Newfoundland and that was it.”
Simani’s popularity has since reached throughout Newfoundland and across Canada. Bud says a call from a Toronto record store manager recently indicated the Simani records outsold all other Newfoundland country-traditional artists in that store, including the highly profiled Eddie Eastman.
On the Burin Peninsula, a local music tape dealer in Marystown says the Simani tapes sell faster than any other artist his store carries.
The enjoyment people receive from listening to Bud and Sim perform is obvious by the turnouts to the dances they play for on the Burin Peninsula. Regular appearances on the peninsula are sold out weeks in advance.
With Christmas on our doorstep, there will be more than one occasion the Mummers’ Song will be sung.
As the song closes, so too will many a Christmas party … ‘Goodnight and Good Christmas, Mummers me dears. Please God we will see you next year’.