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Matthew Byrne – Storytelling through Song

I have read and reviewed a lot of books by writers from Newfoundland over the years. There is a rich literary culture in Newfoundland, and there is also very much a musical culture. In Newfoundland it has been the tradition for family and friends to gather and make music – it is in the blood.

My husband and I had the good fortune a few years to be invited to a party in St. John’s where we meet some of Newfoundland’s most talented musicians. This was a gathering of musicians, young and old, family and friends of Joe and Linda, and of their sons Matthew and Alan. Everyone there sang a song, played an instrument or recited a poem or story – it was an amazing evening and my first introduction to the truly astounding talent of Newfoundlanders, young and old. The next day I headed to Fred’s on Duckworth Street and loaded up on CDs by many of those I met the evening before.

As Matthew says “music is in my blood”. His father, Joe, and his uncle, Pat Byrne, and their friend Baxter Wareham are some of Newfoundland’s most revered musicians. Their recording, made 35 years ago, Towards the Sunset, is still one of the most moving you’ll ever hear.

“Both my parents are from ‘resettled’ communities”, says Matthew Byrne, “these were once fishing villages that have now ceased to exist. Dad was a singer and guitarist, who recorded an album, and Mom was a song collector as well as a singer, and between them they had a huge repertoire that included songs from my grandmother, my great aunt, my great uncle. My mother recorded and wrote down songs from them and our neighbours, and I’m so grateful she did that.”

In 2010 Matthew Byrne released his first album, titled Ballads. He was also performing as a member of the Dardanelles, a band that takes traditional music and ratchets it up a notch.  By 2014 Matthew quit his job at Memorial University to pursue a career as a musician. His second album Hearts & Heroes earned Traditional Album of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Folk Music Awards and widespread praise in North America and abroad. 

Taken with his music, we have followed Matthew Byrne’s career, attending performances and over time we have become friends. His most recent album Horizon Lines explores a unique repertoire of songs from both sides of the Atlantic and continues Matthew’s journey through his own unique musical lineage.

“These songs are windows into the lives of those people, and the time and place in which they lived. The ballads all tell a story, of course, in a way that’s unique. And so, by keeping these ballads alive, this way of telling a story becomes a story in and of itself.” Matthew says, “For me, it’s always been that combination of a beautiful melody with a beautiful story – whether it’s about love or going to sea – which draws me to a song”.

Horizon Lines features not only traditional music from the past, interpreted by Matthew Byrne, but songs and music he has composed himself. Wedding Waltz was composed for his own wedding last fall, and the ballad Adelaide tells the story of an aunt he never knew, a song guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes one and all.


Some in Parry Sound may think the artwork on the cover of Horizon Lines looks familiar, and will discover that it is taken from the painting Iceberg Off Bonaventure Head, by Alan Stein.

Matthew Byrne will perform at Trestle Brewing Company on Wednesday 14 November at 7 pm. If you have not bought your ticket yet don’t wait any longer – you won’t want to miss this event!

“Matt’s interpretation of traditional songs is somehow fresh and ancient at the same time. And his voice is friggin’ perfect”.  Alan Doyle


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