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NICHOLAS MERCER: A couple of Fine Lads

Port au Port East's Donovan Conran (left) and Stephenville's Philip Hardy are the Fine Lads. They'll be playing a set of shows on the west coast in March.
Port au Port East's Donovan Conran (left) and Stephenville's Philip Hardy are the Fine Lads. They'll be playing a set of shows on the west coast in March. - Contributed

You could say the Fine Lads were drawn to each other.

A traditional music playing duo based in St. John's, the Lads have been doing the pub thing for the last couple of months.

Made up of Philip Hardy, from Stephenville by way of Port aux Basques, and Donovan Conran of Por au Port East, the Lads are the east coast's newest purveyors of Irish-Newfoundland traditional music.

They had played together before, but that was several years ago.

They reconnected late last year after life — as it tends to — pushed the pair apart. Conran stayed around the Port au Port area, playing shows wherever he could, while Hardy spent a couple of years in Alberta before moving to St. John's.

"It was just like we were back in high school playing," said Conran.

In October, Conran moved to St. John's and the two found each other again via social media.

Hardy messaged Conran shortly after the latter moved to the capital city, asking if he'd be interested in playing a couple of shows.

That turned into the Fine Lads. The duo is making their first trek west as a functioning group next month as they played four shows revolving around the Saint Patrick's Day weekend in Corner Brook, Stephenville and Port aux Basques.

"It wasn't weird (that they got back together), it was more of a blessing," said Hardy.

Perhaps to understand where the Lads are going, it is probably best to start in the past.

This connection isn't a new one between Hardy and Conran. They didn't find each other by answering a classified ad looking for like-minded musicians.

Instead, they first started playing together in high school. The pair started jamming together in a small classroom off of the music room on the first floor of Stephenville High. They were in the same music class, but a little more advanced in their playing and as a result, the teacher gave them some extra space to play for the length of the class.

That was in Grade 11.

Surrounded by old music gear and a couple of chairs, they played anything that came to mind. Whether it was country or classic rock, Hardy and Conran spent a couple of hours a week getting used to each other's styles.

The next obvious step from there was to start performing on a stage somewhere. That opportunity came via a couple of variety shows in their home area.

Being able to play an instrument in high school meant house parties usually became impromptu concerts.

Chances are they were asked to strum a couple of songs while the rest of the kitchen — these parties always end up in the kitchen — belted out the lyrics.

If there were social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram around back then, Hardy and Conran may have gone viral.

Their style developed from those parties.

The loud voices of their onlookers meant they had to play a little bit louder to be heard. It meant strumming a little bit harder to pull every note out of their instruments.

Nowadays, Hardy tends to break his guitar strings regularly and Conran is almost at that level.

That energy should serve them well given they’re mostly playing traditional songs.

They're songs that are meant to get people off their bar stools and onto the dance floor.

You can't do that by solemnly standing on a stage and singing the words.

The audience demands energy from the stage and vice-versa. You might say a traditional music show is a chemistry equation where stage energy plus audience energy equals a good show.

When Hardy and Conran got back together in the latter stages of 2018, there was no way to know who their music would fit.

Turns out, the spark didn't leave them.

It was probably akin to riding a bike or playing the opening chords to “The Irish Rover.”

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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