Turpin's Trail brings East Coast spirit to Kingston

Local folk band carried on Canadian music tradition close to home

Turpin Trails will perform at the Brier Cup on March 4.
Credit: 
From Turpin Trail's Facebook

The deep acapella voices of Turpin’s Trail ring out in perfect harmony over the band’s layered instrumental arrangements.

For almost 10 years, the East Coast-inspired Celtic folk group have been bringing their Irish roots and love for Newfoundland’s musical tradition to their hometown Kingston’s stages.

The group will be performing a free show this Wednesday at the Brier Patch, the musical tent for the Brier Cup (one of Canada’s largest curling competitions), which is being hosted in Kingston from Feb. 29 to March 8.

The local four-piece ensemble plays more than a dozen instruments collectively. Made up of Queen’s grads, members include Chris Murphy (B. Ed ‘01) as lead singer, also on the guitar, mandolin, banjo, bodhran, and accordion; Bryan Flynn (ArtSci ‘91, B.Ed ‘07) on the fiddle; Jon McLurg (B.Ed ‘14) on the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and cajon; and Noah St. Amand (ArtSci ‘97) on the upright bass.

Although the members’ paths never crossed during their time at Queen’s, their mutual love for the sounds of the East Coast, their friends in the Kingston music scene, and their family ties brought the band together. Brothers-in-law Murphy and McLurg have been friends for 20 years, and they met Flynn and St. Amand through folk clubs and mutual friends. However, it wasn’t until the quartet began to play together that they really hit their stride.

“I had an opportunity to go down to Cape Breton to work on an album,” Murphy said in an interview with The Journal. “When I came back, I wanted to form a band to promote that album, but it was just a solo album. It was my project. I picked up Brian, and then Noah, and started playing together. Then Jon joined, and it really clicked. We’ve been together ever since.” 

Murphy credits the members’ Irish heritage and classical music education for the variety of instruments they’re able to pull out on stage. Growing up around this style of music familiarized the band with lesser-known instruments, like the Irish bodhran drum. Flynn grew attached to the Celtic style during his tenure as drum major of Queen’s Bands in 1991, and he’s been playing traditional tunes ever since. 

“It’s a very natural form of playing,” Murphy said. “I love when we get the fiddle tunes going. Even if they don’t know the music, it’s not hard for people to just love the beat and get into it that way.”

While over the years the group has spent most of its time close to home, performing primarily in Kingston and surrounding areas, they’ve always made time for a foray down to the East Coast, touring Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. Each member’s love for Newfoundland has been fundamental to the genesis of Turpin’s Trail.

The band’s name comes from a hiking trail on Fogo Island, Newfoundland’s largest offshore island and the home of the Brimstone Head Music Festival, where Murphy has played  regularly since 2009 with a variety of bands. When it came time to choose a band name, they wanted to pick something that was significant to them but might not mean much to the majority of listeners. They settled on Turpin’s Trail after St. Amand declared it the best hike he’d ever been on shortly after the band formed.

Turpin’s Trail bring their own flair to a wide variety of musical styles, showcasing their technical proficiency in instrumental pieces that draw on traditional Celtic dance melodies and leaning on their vocal abilities in acapella pieces. Listeners can hear this in the band’s rousing rendition of “Northwest Passage,” a Canadian classic by musician Stan Rogers, who also drew on the country’s rich musical history for inspiration.

Both their covers and original music are layered with sounds from the wide variety of instruments and the band members’ own voices. Their work calls back to a tradition of community, collaboration, and comradery at the root of all folk music.

For Murphy, this musical style speaks to audiences and allows the band to branch out from endless ballads on love and loss.

“[It’s] very easy to listen to and it’s very harmonic and easy to sing along with. I love the stories [...] It’s just a much greater palette than just ‘damn, my baby left me.’”

The group’s latest musical project is a live recorded album featuring Turpin’s Trail’s musician friends, including Joe Sexton, the Newfoundlander who introduced the band to Fogo Island. The album promises to be more organic than their previous two studio-recorded efforts. Instead of recording each instrument by itself, the performers will just be recorded as they play together.

“Sure, there’s a lot that can go wrong just from a technical perspective,” Murphy said. “But you don’t necessarily need everything to be absolutely perfect. Then it just doesn’t have much life to it.”

 

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