Don’t seem like Christmas until “Any Mummers Allowed In?” is saturating the airwaves and being belted out in bars across the island.
The classic Newfoundland Christmas tune, usually called “The Mummers Song,” was released in 1983 by Simani, a two-man band from Fortune Bay. Bud Davidge and Sim Savoury originally pressed 2,000 copies of the single, which they distributed themselves. That first round of ‘45s sold out completely before the song even got on the air, and since then it has basically become the quintessential Newfoundland Christmas carol.
Folklorist Gerald Pocius unpacks the cultural significance of the song’s instant popularity in “The Mummers Song in Newfoundland: Intellectuals, Revivalists and Cultural Nativism”. His twenty-nine page essay on the song makes it pretty clear that Pocius is Simani fan, he thinks Davidge is an exceptionally talented songwriter, but he also says Simani released their song at the exact right moment to make it big on mummering.
He writes that “Any Mummers Allowed In?” debuted in the wake of the rise of ‘cultural nativism’ in Newfoundland – which he describes as a time when academics and townie artists suddenly turned their attention to Newfoundland culture (Pocius seems a little bitter about this).
“The Mummers Song” is also about celebrating Newfoundland culture, but for Pocius it has an authenticity that some other initiatives aimed at revitalizing mummering lacked. He points out that Davidge was describing an activity that regularly took place in his family kitchen in Bay du Nord.
My favourite part of Pocius’ essay is his account of the song blowing up that first Christmas. He describes Davidge and Savoury driving from Bay L’ Argent to Marystown for a gig in early December, flicking on the radio and realizing their song was going to be huge, “Bud and Sim turned on the radio; they remembered the disc jockey remarked, ‘I got requests here a foot high for a new Christmas song we played here this morning’…When they tuned into the other local station the disc jockey was ‘tormented off his head’ by the number of requests he was getting for the song.”
The band scrambled to get more ‘45s pressed before Christmas, although it turned out there was no need to rush – the singles kept selling into the spring. Simani later released a Christmas album featuring the song, which continued to sell copies every Christmas for years after its release.
The Mummers Festival website, run by the organizers of the annual Mummers parade in St. John’s, credits Simani with helping to usher in a new wave of mummering. The site explains that since “The Mummers Song” came out, “Any mummers ‘lowed in?” has become the typical greeting for mummers all over the province, whereas it used to be the more traditional “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year.”
The writer adds, “And it’s not unusual to see a mummer toting a boombox with the Simani CD on repeat.”