Hailing from St John’s, Newfoundland, The Fables were the brainchild of ex-Irish Descendant D’Arcy Broderick on accordian and guitarist Glenn Simmons (ex Wonderful Grand Band) in the mid ’90s. They rounded out the group with multi-instrumentalist Billy Sutton, Clyde Wiseman on bass, and drummer Dave Fitzpatrick. Before long their blend of traditional Celtic favourites with a fresh, new spin made them staples up and down the east coast, and then they made their way into the interior.
Their self-produced debut album, TEAR THE HOUSE DOWN, was in the stores in the fall of 1998 and was instantly met with critical praise, and despite relatively minimal promotion, still sold 30,000 units. They won the 1999 SOCAN Song of The Year for the title track, and along with an evident influence of Irish traditional material, there are also some British sounds, some rock ethos, and even a bit of country-pop. One of the highlights is the fine integration of tunes and instrumental hooks into the songs. With several tracks, it’s the vast instrumentation that rescues the song from sinking into an ordinary pop-country warp, evidenced in the cultural lament “Fish Out of Water,” an emotional rendering of the oft performed ode “Sam Hall,” and three instrumental medleys that keep the pace of the record on track and bridge the gap between the old and the new. Also noteable was the kickin’ version of the Newfoundland anthem “Heave Away” with the electric guitar leads, and the heartbreaking “Lilly.”
Like other Celtic hotspots around North America, Newfoundland has also had its share of questionable knock-off bands doing the Irish/Nashville/pub thing, a trap that Simmons said the band consciously avoided. But pegging down exactly why ‘Newfie tunes’ are so popular across North America, and the origins of Canada’s love for the genre is a daunting task.
“It’s hard to diagnose what it is that makes people like any particular style, or piece of music over another. It’s like asking why you like carrots. You just do, or you just don’t,” he laughed. “Something innate kicks in, or it doesn’t. As for why the east coasters play the Celtic thing more authentically, it’s because we’re closer to the source. Also, there hasn’t been the mix of cultures here that you might see somewhere else … so it hasn’t been watered down. Why it’s so popular outside the Maritimes – it probably has to do with the fact so many people have emigrated over the years to other parts of the country.”
He added, “Also, the fact that so many communities here remained so isolated from the rest of the world. That has contributed to a lot of people playing instruments, I believe. We’ve been creating our own entertainment for a long time down here, and still do compared to other sections of the country, probably.Outside of the fact that Newfoundland has a very strong identifiable culture here that comes out of 500 years of history that includes hardships that can rival pretty much anything that has been written since the beginning of humankind, a chilling, ominous powerful ocean in my front yard, a very strong-willed, colourful and quick witted people, it’s not without inspiration for sure.”
In 2000, they picked up their first East Coast Music Award for Entertainers of the Year, the most prestigious because it’s voted on by the public. That same year, the re-enactment of the historic Viking landing at Lance aux Meadows, Newfoundland was another highlight of the band’s performance portfolio, televised to a worldwide audience with a reported 300 million viewers.
Their follow-up album, A TIME, earned them their second ECMA, for Album of the Year. Busting at the seams with cutting edge electric guitars wrapped in the warmth of traditional instruments, the record featured another blend of traditionals like “Buy Us A Drink, “As I Roved Out,” and “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” and the interplay between fiddle, mandolin, and electric guitar is kept together by a solid and tight backbeat. Shortly after the release of their third album in 2002, ST JOHN’S, Tidemark Records went bankrupt, leaving the band $40,000 in the hole – a blow that nearly spelled the end to the band. All the off-stage and backroom drama meant there was no support whatsoever for the album, and despite what would become crowd favourites like the title track, and the traditional favourites “Jolly Rovin’ Tar” and “The Ryans and the Pittmans (We’ll Rant and We’ll Roar)”, the album came and went without a whisper. Still, they performed in front of 30,000 people in Niagara Falls at that year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, with around 8 million people throughout Canada and the eastern US seaboard watching at home.
For the next few years, they slowly dug their way out of the hole Tidemark left them in, touring as much as they could, and even made stops in Afghanistan to play for the Canadian troops in Kandahar and in Kabul in 2006. But the lengthy hiatus had everyone venture off to do outside projects. When they regrouped, only Sutton, Simmons, and Broderick remained. They recruited Ian Chipman, Byron Pardy, and drummer Mike McDonald, and began work on their fourth album. But by the time recording for KINGS & LITTLE ONES was nearly finished in Sutton’s home studio in late ’06, Broderick had grown tired of the road, and was also less than happy with the creative direction of the album, and quit. So after filling the void with Glenn Hiscock, they took a trip back to the studio to re-record Broderick’s lead vocal tracks.The end result wasn’t as Celtic as the rest of their catalogue, and also featured more original numbers and less traditional ones, a decision based on the feeling that recording traditional pieces were restricting the band’s creativity.
When the album was released the next spring, the result was a generally upbeat collection of songs that featured a blend of Celtic overtones with contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. The lead-off “Not Forgotten” was the band’s nod to their fans, letting them know they were back on the music scene. The politically driven “Fisher” was about a fisherman who loses everything after trying to simply catch a fish to feed his family. Another original tune that became an instant hit was the patriotic anthem, “This Is Our Home.” Sutton also wrote a song on his own for the first time, and “The Pipe Track” was actually three breakneck roller-coaster instrumentals, one into the other. “The Darby Ram,” a traditional song spiced up with new arrangements by Sutton, is reminiscent of past Fables work, as were the other covers – “Breakwater Boys” and “Whiskey, You’re The Devil.”
But feeling burned out and after nearly two years of exhaustive touring, Simmons felt it was time to do something different, and pulled the plug on the group in 2010. He reunited with the reformed Wonderful Grand Band, and a year later embarked on a solo career, releasing his first solo album, SWEET VANILLA AND ASSORTED FLAVOURS.