YouTube pick (#33) – Peter Emberley

I arrived in British Columbia, Canada in 1971, fell in love, got married and briefly moved to Halifax. While down East it was almost impossible to avoid the Celtic influence in Maritime music. The Irish expatriates, in groups like the Sons of Eiren and Ryan’s Fancy, while they recycled the songs and tradition of Ireland and Britain, they also infused their music with a healthy dose of local Canadian content. One song of note that I came across was Peter Emberley as performed by Ryan’s Fancy. Often the composer of Folk Songs are not known but in the case of Peter Emberley we know it was written by a Boiesetown, New Brunswick  farmer named John Calhoun. The song is the story of a young man born in 1863 in Alberton, Prince Edward Island . In 1880 when he was seventeen  he left Alberton to find work as a lumberman in the New Brunswick woods of the valley of the South West Miramichi.  In the winter of that year he was fatally injured at Parker’s Ridge while loading logs in a yard and he later died in Boiesetown. For over a century the song has been sung throughout Atlantic Canada and in the lumber camps of Ontario  and it has kept alive the memory and story of Peter Emberley. The melody is a variant of a popular Irish Ballad. The song spread further afield when Bob Dylan made free use of it in his  Ballad of Donald White. As a side note my paternal grandfather was killed in a similar accident in far away Australia in the early part of the 20th century so the song has a particular resonance for me. My father was five years old at the time and I never got to know my grandfather. The melody is a variant of a traditional Irish ballad and there a multitude of lyrics and versions out there but it is not well known around this area. May be it is time to change that.

 Here are a couple of versions of the song. The most recent version by the Wakami Wailers is particularly strong but The Ryan’s Fancy version is still my favorite. Strangely enough, to my ear,  Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Donald White sounds the most “authentic”. Go figure ………

 

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