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Sons of Erin

Sons of Erin; Newfoundland's Darling Since 1969

The Sons of Erin are proud of their latest CD. IT was recorded in eight days in Ralph O'Brien's living room. The Sons are (from left) Ralph O'Brien, John Barela, Jason Simms and Joe Tompkins. (Submitted photo) Ralph O'Brien sings the words to Lullaby as if he's the father in the song trying to get his young son to sleep.

The founder of the Sons of Erin explains that the song, featured on the first CD released by the group in 10 years, is a lullaby about Belfast. Written by Phil Coulter, the song is about a father trying to soothe his child as fighting erupts in Northern Ireland. The man cradles his son in his arms and sings to him as he rocks him to sleep. O'Brien says the father is telling his son not to worry, that everything will be all right.

"It's still relevant today," adds the Irish-born O'Brien. Relevant indeed, given the fact that last week a policeman was injured when a bomb exploded outside the entrance to a Roman Catholic primary school where schoolgirls faced shouting, stone-throwing Protestant protesters. The youngest member of the Sons of Erin, Jason Simms, describes O'Brien as the same fatherly type Coulter writes about in Lullaby.

"When someone young comes in to Erin's Pub to play, Ralph gives them advice and direction. He nurtures you along and creates a passage for young musicians," said the multi-talented Simms, who sings and plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, tenor banjo and the tin whistle.

"Interestingly enough, Erin's Pub was also a starting ground for some big names like the Irish Descendants and the lads in Great Big Sea," he added. O'Brien, who opened the pub in 1986, said a lot of Newfoundland's finest musicians got their start at Erin's Pub during talent night.

"They all played as individuals and then one saw the other and they teamed up with each other. So in a way we've been responsible for a harmonization and the growth of some of the bands, which is quite nice," he said. And while the Sons of Erin has been around for more than 30 years and members have come and gone, Simms said it's really O'Brien that people come to see.

"We're his supporting cast. People come to see him, the way he sings and tells his stories. The atmosphere he creates," he said. O'Brien is the only original member remaining in the Sons of Erin, which was formed in 1967, but it hasn't missed a beat since its inception. He said the band, which is the house band at Erin's Pub, has never been in hiatus and there has never been a time when the band wasn't playing. Good to See Ya is the band's 17th album - the third on CD. The last one was released 10 years ago.

"There was a certain band I wanted, and for the 10 years it was up and down and wasn't what I wanted, but through Johnny and Jason and Joe and myself I found it - a very good combination. So, we felt a CD was needed," O'Brien said.

"Recording a CD gives you a lot of confidence to do more, to record again. Because if you're out of it for a period of time you just wonder if you can cut it. I was very pleased with the results," he added. The other members of the band are John Barela, who sings, plays guitar and bass, and Joe Tompkins, who sings, plays piano accordion, strings and keyboard.

Good to See Ya was released two weeks ago and the CD release party is scheduled for Sept. 20 at Erin's Pub. O'Brien said this weekend the CD will be in music stores all over the city.

"We've done this one now and we're very pleased with it," he said. "It's a serious CD to a great extent because it was a major commitment, but there is a fun aspect to it. The fun was in doing it, working with accomplished musicians with a couple of special guests, like Darcy Broderick to play some fiddle, and Mr. Bodhran himself - Fergus O'Byrne. So it was a great treat to work with them. I did a bit of yodelling on it that's it," he said jokingly.

The 12-track Cd was recorded in an astounding eight days, something O'Brien attributes to the talent he was working with. "We accomplished an awful lot. It was a fabulous achievement to be able to do it in such a short time, but then again we were working with professional musicians who knew what they were doing and you didn't have to do the tracks three, four and five times," he said.

Barela said it also helped that they were prepared before they began recording. He said they practised and rehearsed and when they went into the studio all they had to do was put their own parts down on the tracks. Actually, O'Brien noted, the recording wasn't done in a studio, it was done in the living room of his home.

"We took the furniture out of the front room and music room and put it in the garage and rented Great Big Sea's studio and had Spencer Crewe as the engineer, and we did it in the house. It was gorgeous because you could go in and have a sandwich and a cup of tea," he said.

"It was a terrific atmosphere to work in because studios can be very intimidating when there's 20 fellas looking at you out through a window, and there you are stood in front of a mike - you don't know whether to ... I'll say no more," he said, cutting himself off. Simms said he was the only band member who had never worked in a studio before, but given the rest of the guys' experience, he had lots of help.

"It was a real learning experience to see a CD put together from start to finish. It's a lot of fun working with Ralph. It's an atmosphere that Ralph has created with the band, of having a good time. It's very comfortable and happy environment to be in," said Simms.

Don't bother trying to find Ralph O'Brien on the cover of Good to See Ya - he isn't there. In fact, none of the band members are on the cover. Instead, they chose cover art which depicts four little kids busking for change on Grafton Street in Dublin. It's an award-winning photograph O'Brien bought from the Irish Press.

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