A matter of degrees

Geoff Younghusband and the search for the Kevin Bacons of Newfoundland music.

I know you’ve all sat around the kitchen arguing over whether Sandy Morris is credited on more records than Ron Hynes. Maybe you’re just wondering how many versions of “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” are floating around in the recorded history of Newfoundland. Perhaps you’re trying to figure out what year the first Liz Band EP was released. Well, the Centre for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) is here to help.

(By the way: Ron by 1, 43, and 1994.)

The Discography of Newfoundland and Labrador (DNL) is now online at the Memorial University libraries website (www.library.mun.ca/qeii/cns/discography.php) Compiled by the CNS and incorporating Michael Taft’s earlier “A Regional Discography of Newfoundland and Labrador 1904-1972” published in 1975 by Memorial University’s Folklore and Language Archive, DNL is a fairly comprehensive database of commercially released recordings by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

As of yet, it only includes CD’s, cassettes and 33 1/3 LPs, so all you 7” and 78rpm single fans will have to keep arguing over which songs are on Schizoid’s “Beer Thief” EP or what Omar Blondahl song that was on the old Victrola at your cool Uncle Andrew’s place.

You can search the database by names, song titles, subject, year of release, or the catch-all “search everything.”

It can be damn frustrating to browse through, though. The controls and layout are far from intuitive and take a while to get used to. In this great Googley world, we’ve come to expect better, more intuitive search engines. There is no quick genre search, no spelling correction or suggestions. That means “Squid jigging ground” won’t get you where “jiggin’” will. When you get over 200 results it doesn’t sort them at all, and I was pleasantly frustrated that Trailer Camp’s 2005 release “Hope You Didn’t Sleep On The Violator” kept coming up at the top for me.

Searching the database is far from intuitive, but it’s all the more rewarding when you finally get the hang of the peculiarities and find the title of that Wet Cheese Delirium track you were looking for.

I did a blank search and got 2155 titles, so some areas are comprehensive. Folk music, for example, has over 900 entries… Ron Hynes appears on 56 Titles… and there are 97 hits for “I’se the b’y.”

Others, however, are seriously lacking. The punk genre has only eight releases, and several seminal recordings are overlooked (Tough Justice’s “3 Seconds of Silence” cassette, for instance.)

But most of the titles are well documented and their entries are chock full of details. In cases where the CNS got their hands on a copy, everything is there. Every last credit, song title, track length, publisher and biographical note has been recorded. They even went to the trouble of hyperlinking all of the musician’s names so you can follow them down the family tree. It leads to many dead ends but it can be a fun way to waste an afternoon.

So! I suggest a new game: Six Degrees of DNL. Name any two artists, song titles, album titles or subjects and try to find the quickest path between the two through the DNL—shortest path wins.

I got from Dog Meat BBQ to “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” in 4:

Dog Meat BBQ “Close Enough For Rock n Roll : Warts and All” via sax player Craig Squires (1) to Colleen Power’s “Lucky You Are” CD (2) to Larry Foley (3), who appeared on Colleen’s album as well as a compilation CD called “Our Songs: Favourite Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador” (4) featuring “Squid Jiggin’ Ground”!

The database is a ongoing project, and they welcome feedback, corrections, additional titles and information to help expand the database. So if you can’t find a path between two points that you know exist, then you can add a branch to that tree. Email Colleen Field—cfield@mun.ca—with input or questions. You could even drop a copy of the missing local release off at the CNS in the QEII library.

While you’re there you should check out some of the releases they have at the library, like CD 0263 – Dick Nolan’s “Pretty Girls of Newfoundland.”

The DNS is a wonderful database with an unfortunately mediocre interface. A wikipage for viewing and inputting data would be great. The easier it is for those of us with releases missing from the database to contribute, the more likely we are to add that information.

But since all that data is there and is searchable, I issue a Six Degrees of DNL Challenge: Find the quickest path between Harry Hibbs and The Novaks. Post your paths by leaving a comment here. Winner can pick the next challenge.

On your marks: go!

2 comments

My last word on blogging.

Courtesy of Tom Tomorow and salon.com: http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2009/03/03/tomo/

3 March 2009

  1. Geoff · March 3, 2009

    Harry Hibbs to the Novaks: post your path here

  2. Geoff · March 3, 2009

    The DNL has gone under construction and playing 6 Degrees is difficult at present. Hopefully they will improve it and it will be even more awesome when they come back online.