Shelley Neville and her dad John talk family, a shared love of music and what audiences can expect at this year’s much anticipated presentation of O Holy Night this December
Shelley Neville and her dad John are like the proverbial two peas in a pod. Laughing and winking at one another across the interview table at The Herald office as they go through old pictures, the two tease one another. The elder Neville doesn’t hear quite as well as he used to, and, like any good daughter would, Shelley gently teased her dad before repeating what was asked just a little louder. He takes it in good humour and laughs.
Down Memory Lane
“I’m 78. Not too bad,” he began with a wink. Taking a look back at his early days in the music biz is an interesting trip down memory lane.
Back in the day, John and the b’ys had it goin’ on. John used to play with a band called Gord Tracey and the Viscounts. With his good looks and Beatle-worthy hair and Elvis-enviable outfits, John and da b’ys had crowds rockin’ to the tunes.
“We were together for five years and played in the bars around. We started for fun playing at home as teenagers in the front room. At the time, I was playing with a band called The Impalas too, but one night I was scheduled to play with both bands, so I had to pick one. I picked the Viscounts.”
If you are of a certain age, you may remember John and his merry crew of musicians. “We were playing at the Kenmount Restaurant every weekend for six months. It was the only building on Kenmount Road at the time,” he remembered with a laugh.
John stopped playing after he got married. The year was 1968.
“I love being out in the country, and we played every weekend, so I couldn’t do what I loved, so I stopped playing for money and just started playing at the cabin.”
That decision probably helped map out his daughter’s life and instilled in her a love and an appreciation for music and what it can do.
“I remember back when she first wanted singing lessons. I said yeah, it’s a good idea. How much is it? Ten or 15 dollars it was, so I said OK,” John remembered with a laugh at how his investment paid off.
Shelley smiled. The lessons helped, but her parents sealed the deal, she said.
“The music at the cabin influenced me the most. Listening to the music and experiencing the fun and the joy, and feeling what music can do was magic. The place would be blocked and I didn’t see that kind of fun anywhere else,” she said.
She’s Like Her Mom
Like any good duet, Dad joined in. “We used to always be after Shelley to sing. She was shy, and she didn’t want to sing, but she would sometimes.”
Shelley was like her mom, Sylvia, they shared.
“Mom was a beautiful singer. She’d sing Paper Roses and Crazy and I Fall to Pieces. Dad would entertain all night but then he’d go, ‘Now Sylvia is going to sing,’ and she’d be on. Dad could sing and party all night long but mom was shy and quiet like me, and I’d think, ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’”
Interestingly enough, when it came time for Shelley to invite her dad up on stage with her, it was his turn to be shy and unsure. At least at first.
“It wasn’t the easiest task getting him up to perform,” Shelley shared.
When she first started doing her O Holy Night shows 10 years ago she knew she wanted her dad, and her brother Johnny, to be part of the festivities. Her father had performed once before with her on stage, when she was raising money for a trip to Italy, so she hoped she could interest him once again.
“I asked if he would come up and do some songs and there was some rejection first, but as proud as I am of dad, he is proud of me so he decided to help me and we worked on an arrangement of Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never coupled with ‘O sole mio and the audience went crazy for him.”
John is quite the performer. If you’ve never seen him in action, don’t miss the chance this year – Dec. 19 and 20 at the Arts and Culture Centre.
“Dad gets into it and the pelvis goes and everything moves and shakes and had we had ten more songs prepared that first time, we could have done all ten. The one song was just icing on the cake. The next year I did the very first O Holy Night and he was there with me.”
The show keeps growing and the audience, thankfully, eats it up.
“It gets better every year and dad is a big part of that because people say; is your dad going to be in the show? And every year dad says no, but he comes through. He came in last night with his guitar and said, so what are we doing on O Holy Night da year? I never really have to ask twice, because he is always ready.”
A Few Surprises
John isn’t just a lusted-after addition to O Holy Night, he’s also an avid moose hunter. The only reason he was available for this interview, he joked, is because he already got this year’s moose, so he’s ready to start rehearsing for O Holy Night.
While they can’t give away this year’s show, some songs he’s performed include Run Run Rudolph, and It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby. John and Shelley share a special father/daughter moment – “I love it when you sing Merry Christmas, Darling,” he said. She glowed.
Neville hopes the love they feel for one another warm the hearts of audiences at this year’s show. Old favourites will return; David Pomeroy and Cory Tetford are staples. So too are the Spirit of Newfoundland crew; Peter Halley, Sheila Williams and Darrin Martin. But be prepared for a few surprises too.
“The show is near and dear to my heart,” Shelley shared, adding that one of the reasons is because she gets to share the stage with her beloved family.
“My dad and my brother Johnny make the night. The two of them are like partners in crime, and I think, especially at Christmas time, when you share love, the audience feels that and it lifts them. And we can all use a little lifting at any time of the year.”
For more visit artsandculturecentre.com.