The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #28698 Message #1834472
Posted By: GUEST,Jeff Davis
14-Sep-06 - 01:00 PM
Thread Name: 10,000 Miles Away (On the Banks of a Lonely River)
Subject: RE: Bound To See My Mother 10000 Miles Away
In 1988, I had the chance to meet Fred Redden and the Lunenburg (Nova Sctoia)Folk Harbour Festival, and then, the next summer, went to visit with my good friend, Dick Swain. Over the course of the next three years we saw Fred several times and in November of '91 travelled up to see him again. We arrived to find that Fred had been hit and killed on the road right in front of his house just hours before we arrived. Dick and I stayed on for the week and were invited by the family to sing at Fred's memorial service. Neither of us sang "Claudy Banks" that day.
Fred was famous in the area as a piper, and the folk song collector, Helen Creighton, recorded quite a few songs from Fred, and he was one of the singers included in a film made about Ms. Creighton in the 1950's. Fred's daughter, Finvola, was recorded, too, and later travelled with Ms. Creighton to sing songs from the collection. Finvola later had a brief career on the folk scene but doesn't sing now. By the time I met Fred he was not playing the pipes because of his arthritis and his singing was somewhat taken for granted in the area. It was, to use Paul Brady's phrase, "nothing but the same old story:" a local singer, the bearer of a great body of songs, virtually ignored at home. It was a couple of Americans, Katy and Ed Belzer, who lived just down the road from Fred's town of Middle Musquidoboit, and not folkies, at all, who decided one day that Fred's songs might be worth saving. They started by writing down all his words and got him into a local studio where dozens, but by no means all, of his songs were recorded. It was, I think, the Halifax-based singer, collector and curator of the Helen Creighton collection, Clary Croft, who suggested Fred to the Lunenburg festival.
In the summer of 1991, Dick Swain was the program director at Pinewoods Folk Music Week, and invited Fred to the gathering and then got him an engagement at the Lake Champlain Folk Festival. These were to be his only appearances away from his native Nova Scotia.
Dick and I heard Fred sing "Claudy Banks" while sitting at the Belzers big kitchen table in '89 or '90. In the recording I have, Fred sings the verse tune with the chorus, that is, the same tune for both parts. Fred's wife, Sadie, remembered him singing it with the two parts that I sing. Apparently he sang it both ways. Fred seems to have learned many of his songs from his father, who had lived for a time in California digging for gold. All that can be said is that Fred might have learned "Claudy Banks" from his father. Fred knew quite a few songs from the Irish vaudeville stage
A recording of Fred's singing was released about ten years ago by the Helen Creighton Society and can be found through it). All of Fred's songs were in a major key and he didn't sing any of the old ballads that I expected. He said that he hadn't learned (or didn't perform) such songs because "everybody knew them." (Daughter Finvola's repertoire included quite a bit of older-sounding material than many of Fred's songs.) I have sometimes speculated--to myself until now--that Fred may have reset some of his songs in major to suite his audience, but I have absolutely no evidence of this.
I was an honor to have gotten to know the Reddens as well as I did. Fred was an amazing man who, like Bob Copper, was almost entirely self-educated and very well-read. When the local Senator died, he willed his entire library to a local young farm boy, Fred Redden. At Pinewoods Camp in '91, the disintegration of Yugoslavia was just beginning, and, in a place full of university graduates, masters degrees, Ph.D's, writers, historians, etc., only one person there, Fred Redden, really knew anything about that area. Fred had worked on road crews all over Nova Scotia with Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats and though they didn't like each other, they liked Fred and invited Fred and Sadie to picnics and gatherings of all sorts. Those contacts lead Fred to read up on the area and the more-or-less inexplicable conflicts between his friends. He sat at Pinewoods, sang old songs, and eductated us about what was then the world's hottest hot spot.
Over the years of working in the woods, as Fred did, he had developed techniques of selective cutting that are now widely recommended to foresters. Unfortunately the techniques weren't learned from Fred decades ago as they might have been had they been attending to anything but profit, but the industry is starting to come to use methods that Fred adopted years ago.
The Reddens are pretty widely scattered now. Only son Angus has stayed on the farm. Finvola doesn't sing but another daughter, Maureen still does. Another daughter lives on Prince Edward Island. The oldest son, Colin, was responsible for the underground digging fo the expansion of Boston's subway in the 1980's and is now living in Nevada, working for a mining company.