Music Spotlight: Cordeen

Offering up a unique hybrid of accordion styles, Cordeen merges Newfoundland and Irish talents for a sound entirely all its own


Music is a great binder. It brings together friends, families, acquaintances and strangers. Music can cross oceans, borders, genres and races. It has  just so happened to bring together four world-class artisans of their craft from across the Atlantic to form a tightly knit troupe of button accordion aficionados.

Completely Unique

Cordeen is the culmination of that undisputed call of musical passions. Their debut album, perfectly titled Musical Bridge, is the coming together of worlds, the joining of notable Newfoundlanders Billy Sutton (of The Fables and Shanneyganock fame) and Graham Wells (formerly Irish Descendants) and their Irish contemporaries Connor Moriority and Benny McCarthy (of iconic Irish band Danú).

Together the four have forged a sound which brings out the best of their instrument of choice, the accordion, resulting in a sound rarely attempted by their peers and completely unique in a scene that breeds repetition and parody.

“Myself and Benny often talked about a project where it’s all accordions, a thing where it’s not just two or three accordions up there banging out,” Sutton said in a sitdown with The Newfoundland Herald. “Take the approach of four different parts, four components of an ensemble. I could be playing something totally different, a bass line, and we can split it up and actually make it more of an ensemble. This is very unique in that it’s the first of its kind that I know of.”

Sutton first met McCarthy nearly two decades ago at an East Coast Music Awards event. He and Wells began to form a friendship with the Danú founder in 2009.

Accordion Quartet

When Wells, who had been living in Ireland after completing a masters degree in Irish Music Performance, began performing accordion centered music with McCarthy and fellow practitioner Connor Moriority, the seeds of a larger idea were formed. They would put off performances in Ireland and Newfoundland before deciding to make the trio a four-piece, adding the diverse and multi-talented Sutton to the mix.

From there the quartet set out to record what would become their debut record Musical Bridge in May of 2016, with Wells and Sutton carving out two weeks to record in McCarthy’s studio in Ireland, with additional work, and mixing, completed by Sutton here in St. John’s.  

Newfoundland Debut

A subsequent slew of Irish tour dates followed, with the reception to the band’s lively and unique sound being overwhelmingly positive ahead of their official Newfoundland debut this September.

“They can expect song and music, a little bit of recitation, a little bit of comedy because we’re all so funny,” Sutton says of the tour, which sees the band hit up a host of markets across the island including Bay de Verde, Freshwater, Renews and Arnold’s Cove. “There’s traditional song and dance music from both islands and we’ve tried to marry it together in such a way that it’s not just an Irish set or set of jigs or whatever. We’ll pair a Newfoundland tune up with an Irish tune and see how it works together. We’re trying to marry it all together in that regard.”

The tour runs from Sept. 9-19 and serves as a prime time for Newfoundland audiences to experience Cordeen at the height of their musical prowess. Touring going forward will require some juggling, as uniting four busy musicians from across an ocean with numerous irons in the fire will require finesse, but rest assured all four men have made this project a priority.

“It’s tricky at the moment,” admits Sutton. “I’m involved in all kinds of stuff. It’s the kind of project where it’s only in its infancy yet. You wouldn’t be dropping everything and putting all of your eggs in this basket, because let’s get this going and see how it goes and move from there… For the first year we want to get it out there, get a few records out there and build it from there. Next year we’ll do it again and we might do another eight shows. We’re in no rush to go. We’ve got to walk before we run.”

Coming Together

If for nothing else, the coming together of Irish and Newfoundland styles and culture should be enough to lure fans of traditional music towards the direction of what promises to be a local mainstay in Cordeen.

“There could be a lot of arguments that our traditional music in Newfoundland was born in the South East and South West of Ireland,” Sutton explains. “There’s so many here from there it only makes sense. Over a few hundred years it kind of got altered a little bit along the way. Also the cultural ties, ties in speech. I haven’t been there a time where I haven’t had to tell someone, no I’m not from County Cork, I’m from Newfoundland.”

For Sutton himself, a production wizard and multi-instrumentalist, Cordeen is just the latest venture in a career chalk full of embracing the opportunities that come his way.

“I have no complaints,” Sutton says. “I don’t know how but the last couple of years I’ve kind of stopped worrying about work and money. I’ve been living for 20 to 25 years now, for the most part, not knowing what I’m going to be doing for the next month. It always seemed to kind of work out. I’ve had some tough years, but now that I’ve actually stopped caring about it something always pops up and jeez I’m going to be grand. I’m not in this to get rich, I just want to enjoy life.” 

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