Not too long ago, Newfoundland folk Songstress Joanna Barker released a striking 4-song EP entitled a Sudden Flame. Its opening two tracks build wonderfully, thanks in part to some very innovative drumming by Steve Doyle.
The last two songs showcase Barker’s talents with a guitar and microphone: she has a sophisticated, fluid approach to guitar reminiscent of Laura Marling, and Barker’s smoky, rich voice shines like the sun throughout the EP. Another trait of Barker’s is her penchant for telling a story in a song. And as far as the origins of a song goes, the story behind “Michael Power” is quite the story.
“Michael Power” off A Sudden Flame by Joanna Barker
“This song really wrote itself,” Barker says.
“Michael Power was my Great Great Great Grandfather. There’s this real legend-of-a-story behind how he came to Newfoundland from Ireland. The story goes that he was arrested and sentenced to prison in Ireland. Like many young, Catholic Irishmen at the time, he was put on a boat and shipped off to Australia to serve his sentence. Only, he never made it to Australia.
“Allegedly, the ship he was on went down and he saved the Captain’s wife. He was subsequently pardoned for whatever his offence was in Ireland and set free. Seeing as Newfoundland was nearby, he built a home on Bell Island and that’s where the following generations of Power’s lived until my mother left when she was a teenager. It always seemed like folklore and wildly unbelievable. But my cousin Bobby Power traced the family tree and found documents of our Michael Power being put on a ship bound for Australia as a prisoner. So that backed up the beginning of the legend as truth, and we know he came to Bell Island.
“It just leaves the guts of the story up for discussion. My mother’s sister actually has a different understanding of what happened, but that is the version my mother told me and it completely blew me away so that’s the version that made it to the song. The boys in the band and I actually recently arranged this song with drums, bass and mandolin so there may be another recording of it yet!”