By James Sandham
Summer is a great time for music. There are festivals everywhere and on just about any given weekend there’s bound to be at least a few free shows to choose from.
Summer is also great for music because it’s the time of year when the lead-up to the Polaris Music Prize gets underway. The Polaris Prize, for anyone unfamiliar with it, is like the JUNO Awards’ younger indie cousin. Founded by executive director, Steve Jordan, a former artists and repertoire exec with Warner Music Canada and True North Records, the Polaris Music Prize is a not-for-profit organization that “honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity” in Canadian music. It “recognizes and markets albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history” and “it is adjudicated by selected music journalists, broadcasters and bloggers.”
The organization recently released this year’s long list, so we took a listen to the 40 nominees and chose a few who we think might win.
Daniel Romano has been nominated for his 2013 release Come Cry With Me. It’s his fourth album, the second time he’s been a Polaris Prize long-list nominee (his 2011 album, Sleep Beneath the Willow, was also nominated) and, as you’ll gather from the track below, the man is basically a country music genius. Following in the footsteps of country pioneers such as Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Hank Snow, Romano is known not just for his ability to compose a catchy tune, but also for his skill at penning lyrics so raw and resonant they could pluck your heart from your chest. For excellence in the craft of songwriting, he certainly deserves a shot at this award.
Daniel Romano – “I’m Not Crying Over You”
A Tribe Called Red is an all–First Nations (Upper/Lower Cayuga and Nipissing Anishinaabe) DJ crew from Ottawa that remixes traditional powwow music with contemporary club and electronic dance music sounds. The group’s first album was only released last year and they’ve now followed it up with this year’s Nation II Nation, thus earning them their second Polaris Music Prize long-list nomination. As the crew’s DJ NDN explains, he hopes the group’s music will encourage people to “Start learning about us. We’re here. We’re not frozen in the past. I don’t know why the idea of being First Nations always has to have some sort of feather involved…. When you think of a First Nations, or an Indian or any term that you want to use that has labeled us in the past, you always think of a Plains Indian from 1805. You don’t think of anyone today. What we’re trying to do, I think, is just to say that we’re still here. We’re contemporary and we’re doing cool stuff, so check it out.”
A Tribe Called Red – “The Road”
From Montreal via Gaspé, Quebec, Les Soeurs Boulay are real-life sisters who perform stripped down, minimalist folk music. Their debut EP ended up winning 2012’s Francouvertes competition, and now their new LP, Le poids des confettis, sits on the Polaris long list. Not bad for a couple of kids who started off posting bedroom recordings on YouTube just a few years ago. Beautiful and fresh with just a hint of country twang.
Les Soeurs Boulay – “Par le chignon du cou”
Described by Exclaim as “one of Canada’s most sought-after up-and-coming talents” and named by National Public Radio as one of the one hundred best bands to watch at this year’s South by Southwest Festival, it’s no surprise that this Vancouver-via–Newmarket, Ontario singer-songwriter, who is also a two-time 2013 JUNO Award nominee, now finds herself on the 2013 Polaris Music Prize short list. A purveyor of melodic pop, Georgas straddles a broad divide: sweet enough to be featured in a Walmart ad (2009’s “You’ve Got a Place Called Home”), but still edgy enough to rank alongside such indie acts as The Luyas and Majical Cloudz as Polaris nominees. The song below comes from her self-titled sophomore LP.
Hannah Georgas – “Somebody”
Last of all – but certainly not least of all – we’ve got to give some love to JUNO Award–winning singer-songwriter Old Man Luedecke, a.k.a. Chris Luedecke, of Chester, Nova Scotia. Despite touring the globe with his uniquely beautiful brand of roots music – not to mention his multiple JUNO wins – he’s not exactly a household name. But who knows, maybe a Polaris win will change all that. He’d certainly deserve it.
Old Man Luedecke – “I’m Fine (I Am, I Am)”
By David Ball
No summertime soundtrack is complete – wait, make that legitimate – without at least a few songs by The Beach Boys. But even better than listening to tracks from classic albums such as Smiley Smile and Pet Sounds at the cottage or around a pool is catching the legendary California surf-rock pioneers in concert on a hot summer day, which is exactly what happened on June 25, 1988, at the Kingswood Music Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland.
The Beach Boys have been on the road pretty much every summer since their inception in 1961. Even though their best days were well behind them and they were also missing Brian Wilson (the irreplaceable founding member was undergoing controversial psychological treatment and had also embarked on a solo career), anticipation was still riding fairly high for the 1988 tour thanks to the band’s recent induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their new single, “Kokomo,” was also about to be released; I’ll be forever stunned that the lightweight cut (composed by legendary folkies Scott McKenzie and John Phillips, along with Doris Day’s song Terry Melcher and Beach Boy singer Mike Love) from the even lighter weight Tom Cruise film, Cocktail, would go on to become the band’s biggest hit, even outselling their landmark pop culture offerings “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls” and many others.
By all accounts, the capacity crowd at Kingswood was treated to a generally pretty good – if not well-rehearsed – gig, even though my eye-witness spy/good pal claimed there was “too much Mike Love banter” between songs and that the sight of “Full House” star John Stamos helping his heroes out on bongos, drums and guitar became a bit of a distraction (the former 1970s teen idol and frequent Tiger Beat pin-up was an unofficial part-time Beach Boy in the late ’80s and early ’90s).
John Stamos with fellow cast members from “Full House” on stage with The Beach Boys circa 1988.
By the way, Brian Wilson re-joined his old bandmates Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, David Marks and Al Jardine in 2011 to help celebrate The Beach Boys 50th anniversary, but the enigmatic genius subsequently quit, again, the following year.
International pop sensation Corey Hart collapsed from exhaustion shortly after a gig in Sudbury, Ontario, on June 26, 1987. The remainder of the Canadian leg of his world tour was cancelled after doctors ordered him to rest for three months.
You gotta think that Hart’s health scare didn’t shock his family and friends, given that the Montreal-born hitmaker hadn’t taken a day off since 1983, the year before the singer-songwriter became a superstar with his breakthrough single: “Sunglasses at Night.”
One of my many eccentricities is that I’ve kept almost all of my concert ticket stubs from the mid-’80s onward (it’s a shame I didn’t keep the ducat to my first-ever concert: Loverboy with Bryan Adams in 1981). Some of these shows are indeed noteworthy or, at the very least, fun to reflect back upon (Kings of Leon, Alice Cooper and Sinead O’Connor); while others are historic (The Who, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, The White Stripes, Wilco etc.).
So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce a brand-new semi-regular topic: “What Concert Did I Attend This Week?” (Note: I’d like to debut the mini-feature with a bang, but this will have to do.)
I never expected I’d see my first-ever Steve Miller concert a good three decades after the release of his last hit of any importance: “Abracadabra.” But there I was, in attendance at the blues rocker’s June 30, 2010, stopover at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre. I must admit, I had to be talked into going to this show, good seats and free ticket notwithstanding, mostly because I grew tired of listening to Miller’s well-known anthems (that is, virtually every cut from his blockbuster Greatest Hits 1974-78 compilation) a good 25 years ago.
I don’t blame Miller though, because his songs are unquestionably top notch – timeless in fact. Nope, blame me and my friends for playing the heck out of his greatest hits back in the ’80s and big classic rock radio stations’ never-ending reliance on the Miller songbook, from the late ’70s right up to today. On a related aside: I challenge anyone out there to find just one album-oriented rock station in North America that can go just a few hours without playing “The Joker” or “Jungle Love.”
Even though Miller’s last sniff at the charts was in the early ’80s, thanks to rock radio the Milwaukee-born guitarist’s 40-plus-year legacy is more or less intact in the 21st century. His annual tours generate impressive crowds and remain remarkably profitable. Case in point: the 11,000 or so fans of all ages filling the seated section of the Molson Amphitheatre (I know for a fact that he attracts far more fans at the Lake Ontario venue than many of today’s hot hip acts normally do).
So, did I end up having a good time at the concert? Indeed, I did, and apparently so did Sun Media music critic Jane Stevenson, although my rating is a little higher than her above-average three out of five stars.
I must say, witnessing a still-in-top-form rock legend rattle through famous singles such as “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Jet Airliner” proved to be a real treat (he charged new life into his old standards, which came as a pleasant surprise). And Miller is still a potent lead guitarist, so I enjoyed the concert on that level too. Heck, I think I just persuaded myself to see Steve Miller again.
Here’s another brand-new semi-regular topic I’d like to debut in TWIMH: “Truth is Sometimes Stranger Than Fiction a.k.a. You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!”
About 400 people attended a schizophrenia fundraiser on June 30, 1996, in Peterborough, Ontario, hosted by JUNO Award–winner Ronnie Hawkins. Not only were fans at the one-day event entertained by The Hawk (one of Canada’s great live acts), but Willie Nelson and Ringo Starr also made surprise performances. No wait, it wasn’t actually them. Both superstars were actually impersonators who had been invited on stage by The Hawk. The concert went off without a hitch and nobody was the wiser until the hoax was revealed the following day.
Next week: Canada Day, BTO and Bachman 2.0
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Corey Hart
By James Sandham
So, if you were reading the blog last week, you would have seen some of our prescient picks for shows to see at this year’s North by Northeast Festival and Conference (NXNE). One of the best parts of the fest, however, is the new stuff you discover unexpectedly along the way. With over a thousand acts performing it’s impossible to see them all, but here are a few we hadn’t heard of before the festival that really stood out.
I used to really like hip hop. These days, not so much. I thought that as I’d grown up my tastes had just changed; turns out that I’ve just been listening to the wrong rappers – because Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ is just that: bad assss. At only 18 years of age he’s bringing back the 1990s boom-bap style, a hip-hop genre in itself, apparently, named after the bass drum/snare-heavy beats of ’90s New York City acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One. See, we’re learning things! And here you thought NXNE was just a rowdy rock ‘n’ roll piss-up.
Joey Bada$$ – “Waves”
Béatrice Martin, who played The Great Hall last Thursday, is a tattooed 23-year-old Montrealer – and new mom! – better known by her stage name, Coeur de Pirate. She sings beautiful French pop ditties inspired by the sounds of 1960s France and has been credited with introducing la chanson française to a new generation of youth.
When she’s not revitalizing musical genres, dropping albums (like Blonde, her 2011 release and second LP from which the track below comes) and raising kids, she designs clothing for 3 Suisses. So… what were you doing when you were 23?
Coeur de Pirate – “Adieu”
Toronto-based duo Alvvays is comprised of Molly Rankin, the daughter of the late John Morris Rankin of The Rankin Family fame, and Alec O’Hanley, who brings his own musical bona fides as the former guitarist of Two Hours Traffic. Together they create drifting, hazy dream-pop tunes that are sweet, fun and melancholic. There’s not much info on them available, but based on the track below, they sound like something promising.
Alvvays – “Next of Kin”
Vancouverite Jay Arner played a couple of NXNE gigs, and I was really taken by his synth-heavy drone-pop sound. He kind of reminds me of Pulp. His debut album is set to be released this summer by Mint Records, and so far everything I’ve heard from it, including the track below, seems pretty solid. Arner is definitely a hidden gem in the NXNE rough.
Jay Arner – “Midnight on South Granville”
Last of all, while NXNE is always a great way to stumble across your next favourite band, it’s also a great way to come across some more out-there kind of acts – maybe not the kind of thing you’d listen to on the regular, but the sort of stuff you walk away from a little confused, perhaps, but glad you got to see it. Count British multi-instrumentalist Laura Moody among this camp. Incorporating cello, laptop loops and even a bit of beat boxing, she delivers the kind of surprise difficult-to-pigeonhole performance that keeps this festival fresh. I’m already looking forward to next year.
Laura Moody – “Oh Mother”
By David Ball
Legendary vocalist and radio host Kate Smith died in Raleigh, North Carolina, on June 17, 1986.
Born in Virginia in 1907, the “owner of a thunderous contralto” (All Music Guide) signed with Columbia Records in 1927 and scored her first hit five years later with “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”; the single sold over 19 million copies. Between 1927 and 1946, Smith released dozens of memorable records for Columbia, including “River, Stay ’Way From My Door,” her Top 5 1932 collaboration with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. The London, Ontario, big-band leader also backed her on another hit, “Too Late,” which was released later that same year.
Pretty darn impressive, I must say. But the best was yet to come…
Smith has the rare distinction of becoming an American icon twice during her lifetime thanks to “God Bless America.” Her definitive 1938 rendition of the 1918 Irving Berlin composition became the unofficial national anthem during the Depression era and was an important rallying cry when the United States entered the Second World War in 1942. But nobody – and I mean NOBODY – saw “Kate Smith: American Icon 2.0” coming, mainly because it has everything to do with Canada’s favourite pastime (and I don’t mean voting, saying “sorry” or whining about the weather). It’s hockey of course!
Before the Philadelphia Flyers’ home game on December 11, 1969, the NHL team’s brass decided to play the original recording of Smith’s “God Bless America” in order to motivate its players and fire up the fans packing the stands in the old Spectrum. Well, the Flyers won, so management started playing the song more often, noticing that the team was winning more home games than not; the song soon became the Flyers’ go-to anthem in lieu of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Smith’s status as a good-luck charm and inspirational anthem singer (easily the equal of the Montreal Canadiens’ legendary orator Roger Doucet) was cemented when she started doing live performances before big home games. Her first-ever appearance came as a total surprise at a game between the Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 1973. Her emotional performance of “God Bless America” brought the house down, and the Flyers ended up beating the favoured Leafs 2–0. Smith did the song again at Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals on May 19, 1974, and lo and behold, Philly beat the Boston Bruins 1–0 to claim its first-ever Stanley Cup (as a lifelong Bruins fan, I felt sick writing that).
As of spring 2011, the Flyers’ home record when “God Bless America” is sung live or played is an impressive 94 wins, 26 losses and 4 ties – although it clearly didn’t help them too much in the 2012-2013 season, eh?
Flyers fan or not, Smith’s surprise performance at the Spectrum in 1976 should give you chills.
She made more live appearances over the years and, since her death, a video of Smith singing “God Bless America” is often broadcast before important home games, usually joined by Flyers’ current anthem singer, Lauren Hart, who is introduced as follows: “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we ask that you please rise and remove your hats and salute to our flags and welcome the No. 1 ranked anthemist in the NHL, Lauren Hart, as she sings ‘God Bless America,’ accompanied by the great Kate Smith.”
In 1987 the team erected a statue of Smith outside of the Spectrum, probably located somewhere near the life-size bronze effigy of Sylvester Stallone’s most famous character, Rocky Balboa. Kate Smith, the Hockey Hall of Fame located in downtown Toronto awaits your arrival (hopefully in the not-too-distant-future).
CBS’s “Toast of the Town,” rebranded years later with its more famous moniker, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” began entertaining North American television audiences on June 20, 1948. Starring the often imitated (“We have a reeeeeeally big shew”), never duplicated and truly unforgettable Harlem-born host, the hour-long variety show is widely considered the most influential and important music-themed program in television history (with all due respect to “American Bandstand,” “Soul Train,” “Hee Haw” and even SCTV’s “Mel’s Rock Pile”).
The show’s massive home audience and worldwide exposure made it a great outlet for established acts to showcase their talents. More importantly, the program was a bona fide star-making vehicle and was subsequently responsible for kick-starting the careers of many of the day’s rising and/or undiscovered talents. Here’s a snapshot of some of the more memorable, historic and even infamous moments that took place during the program’s 23-year-long history, starting with some Canadian content.
Wayne and Shuster were handpicked by Sullivan and signed to an unprecedented one-year contract in 1958. On a guest list that totals a whopping 10,000 or so, the legendary Canadian comedy team appeared on the program a record 58 times. Count me impressed! Coming in second place with a solid 50 performances is, and I kid you not, Italian sock mouse puppet Topo Gigio.
Red-hot Ottawa-born teen idol Paul Anka made his Ed Sullivan debut on September 8, 1957, and sang his breakthrough hit “Diana” (taped at Madison Square Garden). It went over so well that the 16-year-old upstart returned to the show less than two months later and performed his No. 1 hit again! In total, Anka appeared on the program 15 times.
Steppenwolf (comprised mostly of Canadians) performed a pre-recorded “Born to Be Wild” on August 17, 1969.
Elvis Presley made his historic and controversial gyration-filled first appearance on July 9, 1954. Sullivan clearly wasn’t a fan: “I don’t know what the fuss was all about,” he said. “For instance, the business about rubbing the thighs: he rubbed one hand on his hip to dry off the perspiration from playing his guitar.”
Buddy Holly warred with Sullivan before his second appearance in early 1958. The conservative and prudish host didn’t want Holly “and his Crickets” to perform “Oh Boy” because he considered it “too raucous.” Sullivan lost the battle, but he ended up turning down Holly’s amp and mispronouncing his name during the intro. Oh boy, indeed!
“Oh Boy” by Buddy Holly and The Crickets on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” January 25, 1958.
During their landmark first trip to North America, The Beatles performed the first of three consecutive Sullivan Sunday gigs on February 9, 1964. The broadcast drew a then-record 73 million viewers and became a milestone in the history of pop culture, opening the doors to the British Invasion.
The Beatles’ historic first appearance on the show on February 9, 1964, their music “enhanced” by screaming girls.
The Rolling Stones were forced to change the lyrics of their hit “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to the more Sullivan-appropriate “Let’s Spend Some Time Together,” much to the derision of Mick Jagger (see his in-song reaction below).
“Let’s Spend Some Time Together” by The Rolling Stones, 1967.
Fast-talking standup comedian Jackie Mason was kicked off the show for allegedly giving Sullivan the finger. Jackie has never been funnier.
The Muppets made their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on September 18, 1966. In total, Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s puppets appeared on the program 25 times.
Kate Smith was on the show 20 times; no doubt she aired out “God Bless America” on more than a few occasions!
Bob Dylan walked off the show during rehearsal in 1963 because CBS officials didn’t want him to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues.” By the way, it’s an excellent song.
Sullivan tried to muzzle The Doors during their rendition of “Light My Fire” in 1967. The often combative host wanted Jim Morrison to sing, “Girl, you couldn’t get much better” instead of the original, “Girl, you couldn’t get higher.” Sullivan believed a compromise had been made; unfortunately (for both him and CBS) Morrison sang the offending lyric – and with enthusiasm. The rockers were banned from the show seconds after the song’s final note.
The Doors at their rebellious best.
Sullivan was a groundbreaking promoter of black artists. His favourite act was The Supremes. The Motown girl group appeared on the show 14 times and Sullivan helped introduce their music to the larger white audience.
Clips of some of The Supremes’ best performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Ed Sullivan died on October 13, 1974, but his legend will live on forever.
Page befriended his future BNL partner Ed Robertson in 1988 after a Peter Gabriel concert. The newfound duo first started collaborating later that year when they were counsellors at a Scarborough music camp. Barenaked Ladies recorded its debut EP Buck Naked (issued on cassette tape) in 1988 (the band consisted of only Page and Robertson).
With the addition of Andy and Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart (a current hockey rival of mine in my winter beer league), the expanded BNL scored its breakthrough with the low-fi indie effort The Yellow Tape in 1991. Some of the band’s best-loved songs are on this five-song recording (most written by Page), including “Be My Yoko Ono” and “Brian Wilson.” On a related note, one of the group’s greatest tunes is its 1991 cover of the Bruce Cockburn classic “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” I think it’s better than the original… and I looooove the original!
The music video beautifully captures the essence of wintertime in Scarborough during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Before the wildlife activist and proud New Democrat Party supporter’s tenure with BNL came to a highly publicized end in 2008-2009, Page was instrumental in the band’s overall success. He is also gifted with one of the most distinctive – and best – singing voices this country has ever produced. Page and his former bandmates have amassed six Top 10 Canadian albums (1992’s Gordon and 2000’s Maroon reached No. 1), sold over 15 million records worldwide, become tour headliners and won many awards, including seven JUNOs.
Steven Page has since embarked on a solo career and his first studio album was released in 2010.
Next week: A new semi-regular feature called: What concert did I see this week?
“Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” by Wayne and Shuster, from “The Ed Sullivan Show” (1958)
By James Sandham
Well Toronto, it’s a big week you’ve got here. Not only are there all of the usual neighbourhood festivals that sprout like crocuses with the onset of the warm weather, but this week you’ve also got the Luminato Festival (which begins Friday), the MuchMusic Video Awards (on Sunday) and, of course, how could we overlook the event that has all audiophiles drooling, the 19th annual North by Northeast Festival and Conference (NXNE).
Already in full swing, the weeklong party features 1,000 bands, 30 films, 50 stages, 65 interactive sessions, 150 comedians and 60 different artists. That’s a lot of stuff, so here are a few of our recommendations on the best acts to check out.
Well this one’s just a no-brainer. It’s the one show that everyone’s talking about, the festival’s big, headline act – and the best part, of course, is that it’s going to be free! Yes, that’s right, for the low, low cost of zero dollars, you can come on down to Toronto’s premier public concert venue, pack yourself in tightly with several hundred other fans and take in the Brooklyn-based quintet’s incredible live show. The video below comes from their latest release, Trouble Will Find Me, which just came out earlier this year.
The National – “Sea of Love”
Toronto native Daniel Benjamin and collaborator/co-conspirator Maddy Wilde have been making music together for most of their lives. As Moon King, the two singers weave dream-like harmonies over buzz-saw guitars and electronic percussion, their live performances capturing a raw-nerve intensity that has been said to verge on the ecstatic. Check out the video below for a taste of what to expect.
Moon King – “Only Child”
Hailing all the way from the east end of Toronto, this quartet of hard-rocking women will be making the trek across town to rip out the tunes at the Rivoli on Friday night. Let’s just hope they don’t get carded at the door, because all four members are still in high school. Drawing influence from Patti Smith, Elastica and the White Stripes, the girls recently had their video added into heavy rotation on MuchMusic, and next month they’ll be playing the Vans Warped Tour. Not a bad way for these girls to kick off their summer vacation!
The Beaches – “Loner”
Speaking of female rockers from Toronto, here’s another great band (even with a couple of male members thrown in for good measure). They just wrapped up a gig last weekend as part of Dundas West Fest and the good times don’t stop as they storm the NXNE party on Saturday. Think garage-y, shoegaze-y rock-pop. Just what the summer ordered.
The BB Guns – “Pennie Lane”
Last, but not least, how could we overlook the Optical Sounds crew, purveyor of Toronto’s finest psych and garage rock? B-17, the latest group to join the independent micro-label, contains members from a few of the label’s affiliated acts (including The Hoa Hoa’s, Action Makes and Easy Target) and delivers a darker kind of reverb-heavy rock that you can still count on to set a party off.
B-17 – “Pay Back My Mom”
By David Ball
Ian and Sylvia, Murray McLauchlan, Gordon Lightfoot and 8,000 others turned out on June 11, 1989 to protest the provincial government’s $350 million Oldman River Dam project under construction near Pincher Creek, Alberta, located 210 kilometres south of Calgary. The peaceful conscious-raiser featured a three-hour concert by the three legendary folk acts, interspersed with speeches by “rock star” biologist David Suzuki and author and wildlife activist Andy Russell.
The government claimed that the dam was needed to help farmers in southwest Alberta irrigate their drought-ravaged fields. Environmentalists – with the support of the nearby Blackfoot/Peigan tribe – countered that the project would destroy the river and its ecosystem.
Guess who won?
The Oldman Dam was completed in 1992, but came as advertised: that is, it provided water for farmers. However, the dam’s long-term environmental impact is another, yet-to-be-written story.
Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster was born on June 13, 1972. The multi-award-winning musician and member of the Order of Canada was born in the rural community of Troy, located in Inverness County, Nova Scotia. Before her teens, she was already a master of Cape Breton fiddle music (loosely described by yours truly as a variation of Irish Celtic and Scottish folk music combined with traditional Down East jigs).
It’s not too surprising that the one-time winner of the Canadian Country Music Association Awards’ All Star Band Award for Fiddle was a quick learner, as she comes from excellent stock. Her uncle and mentor is legendary Cape Breton fiddle music pioneer Buddy MacMaster and her cousin is JUNO Award winner Ashley MacIsaac. (She’s also a distant relative of The White Stripes’ Jack White.)
The talented instrumentalist and singer made her on-stage debut at age nine. By the tender age of 16 she had released her debut, Four on the Floor. During her three decade–long professional career, MacMaster has produced several gold-selling albums, entertained audiences around the world and collaborated with many famous artists, including The Chieftains, Garrison Keeler (on his radio program “A Prairie Home Companion”), Yo-Yo Ma (her contribution on the trail-blazing cellist’s 2008 album Songs of Joy & Peace won a Grammy Award), banjo innovators Béla Fleck and Alison Brown, fellow fiddler Alison Krauss, renowned bassist Edgar Meyer, The Rankin Family and children’s entertainer Raffi.
In recent years, MacMaster has begun experimenting with other music styles, such as pop, rock, bluegrass, classical and jazz; however, fans of her more traditional side need not worry because, as she stated as recently as 2012: “no matter how it comes out, it always has the Cape Breton groove.”
On June 14, 1994, Massey Hall celebrated its 100th anniversary with an all-star concert and the almost as important grand opening of its first bar, Centuries, located in the building’s somewhat claustrophobic basement. For more on the hall’s legacy, along with some of my personal favourite concert experiences at the Toronto shrine, check out this past edition of “This Week in Music History.”
The legendary performing arts theatre and National Historic Site of Canada (dedicated in 1981) has seen its fair share of good and not-so-good shows since its 1894 birth. The well-meaning 100th anniversary concert falls somewhere in the “good” section, even with the participation of then–Ontario premier Bob Rae rocking a tin drum during a rendition of Mozart’s “Toy Symphony.” Hey, at least Mr. Rae’s segment gave folks a chance to stretch their legs and head down and check out the new bar.
The legitimate artists on the night’s bill – who were responsible for filling the 2,750-seat auditorium for the 100th anniversary celebration – were Gordon Lightfoot and Blue Rodeo. I hear Keith Richards is already booked for Massey Hall’s 200th anniversary bash, as will be a cryogenically unfrozen Rob Ford (Toronto’s current headline-grabbing mayor).
Music festivals of all stripes and sizes are a dime a dozen, especially in this day and age, and the one that started them all (and is still the best) commenced on June 16, 1967… and folks, it ain’t Woodstock.
Counterculture, a mass assemblage of hippies and the backdrop of the Vietnam War were underlying themes of the two most historically important rock concerts ever staged. However, Monterey International Pop Festival signified rock ’n’ roll’s turning point (that is, it proved to the world that the burgeoning music genre wasn’t just a fad or trend), whereas Woodstock came to symbolize the end of peace and love – hammered home by the tragic deaths of both fests’ rising stars, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
But if you judge the two three-day festivals on the merit of performances alone, Monterey is the hands-down winner; plus, it didn’t have Wavy Gravy or Woodstock acts Joan Baez, solo John Sebastian and unwanted 1950s revivalists Sha Na Na.
Wavy Gravy’s most famous speech, which he magically turned into a career
It’s true that both events featured most of the same headliners – Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Paul Butterfield, Country Joe and The Fish, the Grateful Dead and others – but these big-name artists were in much better form at California’s Monterey County Fairgrounds than they were almost two years later performing in front of 400,000 people at Max Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York.
Speaking of Hendrix…
His blistering 41-minute heavy blues Monterey gig was his North American coming out party and easily beat his tired and sparsely attended Woodstock capper. For my money, nothing in rock’s illustrious history will ever top Jimi metaphorically giving the middle finger to the conservative white music establishment as he sacrificed his Stratocaster during “Wild Thing.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967
Need more convincing? As great as The Who, Janis Joplin and Hendrix were at Monterey, Otis Redding, making his first big public appearance, was even better!
Otis Redding at Monterey International Pop Festival 1967
I almost forgot about Canadian content! Our country had a subtle showing at Monterey Pop by way of two members of southern California’s Buffalo Springfield, along with one-quarter of The Mamas and The Papas.
Monterey Pop’s closing act, The Mamas and The Papas, with Denny Doherty on lead vocals – and lead man-dress
The former group consisted of Toronto’s Bruce Palmer and Winnipeg-native Dewey Martin (not present at the gig was Buffalo Springfield co-leader and Canadian Music Hall of Famer Neil Young), while the latter folk-pop outfit was co-led by Halifax’s Denny Doherty (the late singer-songwriter was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996).
Next week: Kate Smith and Ed Sullivan
“Tullochgorum” by Natalie MacMaster, Live 2007
By James Sandham
So somehow it’s already June and The Junction Trio’s popular Post Industrial Wednesdays series has come to an end – for this year, at least – concluding last Wednesday with a presentation of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet.
This wrapped up the series’ fourth season at St. Anne’s beautiful Byzantine church, so we decided to take the occasion to catch up with the Trio’s Jamie Thompson, flutist, musical instructor and general head honcho of the Post Industrial series. We wanted to know how this whole thing began, how he feels about the success of the series and how, exactly, he got involved in another of his interests: urban exploring.
It all happens to be a very interesting – and interrelated – story, indeed.
Q: So the Post Industrial Wednesdays series has been running for several years now – how did it start and what inspired its inception?
A: The Post Industrial Wednesday Series happened though chance encounter. The Trio had been looking for a place to record and we were driving around in my ’79 Mercedes wagon heading for an abandoned warehouse in the Junction. I suddenly recognized St. Anne’s Anglican Church from a Jane’s Walk that I happened upon a few years earlier. We approached the church just as some of the staff was leaving. One thing led to another and Lance Dixon, the priest at the time, was soon riding with us in the ‘79 Mercedes across town to the subway, having extended an invitation to record in the sanctuary any time the next day.
This is a classic example of how serendipity has played a key role in shaping our work as a trio. St. Anne’s was just entering a period of community outreach after almost being closed down, so little did we realize that this would evolve into an ongoing collaboration. Through our series and fundraising efforts, we have contributed several thousand dollars toward the St. Anne’s reconstruction campaign.
Q: What about yourself? How long have you been playing music and how did you first get into classical music?
A: Like many musicians, it was the sound of the flute that drew me in. Although my musical roots have been quite eclectic, I really had no relationship to classical music early on. I think that’s why it holds such power for me. There was always something strange about classical music, an otherness or a “difference” about it. It ended up being a gateway into my personal expression and creative thought, and an engagement with my culture and history.
The flute, especially, dating back several thousand years, is as close to a universal language as one could hope to find. It offered expression and was a kind of puzzle, something to puzzle over. Maybe it was a form of procrastination or escape, but I became addicted to the math of music, the problem solving involved, the striving for perfection that was as much as a reward as a kind of curse.
I began a process of debunking the perfection mythology embedded in so much of classical music practice. If things are “perfect” they can become lifeless or lacking soul and emotional connect for an audience; the result might be extremely beautiful, but without an element of risk taking – so where is the excitement? This is the cause that inspires my current flute practice and the Urban Flute Project [one of Thompson’s musical side projects].
Q: What is your goal with this series? What would you like to accomplish or what would you like people to take away from the experience?
A: My goal with the concert series is to create a new experience for the listener. I’m proud of the homegrown nature of the series: its elements of collaboration, its spontaneity, its juxtaposition of styles and, generally, its pushing of boundaries.
Also important with the performances is jettisoning any trace of elitism or orthodoxy that persists in classical music today. Fortunately this “precious” aspect of classical music is shifting and it’s exciting to be part of that changing scene, to bear witness to the rich musical opportunities that Toronto has to offer and to perhaps play an active role in generating a public space for musical experience and understanding. At the heart of what The Junction Trio tries to establish is a genuine approach that is at once personal and engaging, and facilitates a personal and deep-listening experience for the audience.
Q: What about challenges? What are the big ones you’ve faced in organizing these recitals and how have you overcome them?
A: There have certainly been challenges along the way – although, looking back over the last few years, every obstacle that has come up has created unique opportunities for growth. An example of that was when Lucas [Tensen – a founding member of the Trio and player of cello/pots and pans orchestra] took a couple of months off to attend Ayahuasca ceremonies in Peru, which left us scrambling for a replacement cellist. This started a pattern of inviting guest musicians to our performances, which has forced us to perform in new and innovative ways.
One of the musicians we engaged in Lucas’s absence was hip-hop cellist Rafael Kuerti, a.k.a. Rumplestiltz, who joined us to play Bach’s Trio Sonatas and to perform electric cello with a rapper from his band Babylon Warchild. This unique collaboration and intentional contrast of styles has emerged from the transformational and experimental premise of the Urban Flute Project that we continue to explore.
But organization and management of the series has, quite frankly, been exhausting, though that’s more than compensated for by the incredible team effort of the Trio and guest musicians. We have also been very fortunate to establish St. Anne’s as a home base, and they have been very supportive in facilitating a barter arrangement and partnership that is beneficial for everyone involved.
Q: On a completely different note, I read that you’re into urban exploration. I wasn’t expecting that! Can you say a few words about that and what attracted you to it?
A: Urban exploring, well that’s a long story and, in a way, it’s something I’ve done all my life in one form or another. You know, pushing boundaries, entering forbidden spaces. It’s important to bear in mind that the nature of classical music is based on revolution and rebellion against tradition.
In light of this, it occurs to me that entering places that are off limits and playing classical music in places like abandoned warehouses is the perfect setting for the revolutionary music of CPE Bach or Beethoven.
The image of a haunted farmhouse I explored as a kid in eastern Ontario springs to mind. This might have been my first-ever urban adventure. There was something transformative about walking through a derelict structure and being confronted with danger and risk – loose planking and treacherous half-rotted staircases. This was long before I ever heard the music of Bach and way before I began my flute studies, but the emotion was all there, contained in the sense of abandonment and ruination.
We listen differently when we flirt with danger. The senses are heightened and there is a certain kind of foreboding. Isn’t that the signal of a new and visceral experience that only music can strike up in us?
I have found that playing flute in desolate, empty spaces can be refreshingly revelatory and transformative. Perhaps it might even be an ecstatic or life-changing experience in the way that confronting ruins, forgotten spaces or things can be altering. This is what comes together for me, this profound shift that occurs in entering a new space. It’s meditative, expansive and liberating. Even the smells can be addictive, like the distinct odour of dust and drywall debris at the deserted church over on Jones Avenue, for example, that’s now being turned into condos.
We live in a predominantly visual world, so it’s easy to forget, for example, that early churches were built for their acoustical properties. The Urban Flute Project takes on these types of acoustical landscapes or architectures as central to the performance of music and sound.
When I began the Urban Flute Project in 2003, I quickly discovered other individuals and organizations who shared a similar approach to music-making – people interested in both expanding the boundaries of music and fostering a community engaged in cross-disciplinary and hybrid musical practices: musicians like Oliver Schroer, Ben Grossman, David Shelly and his Treeotica project, and such organizations as New Music Concerts, The Music Gallery and New Adventures in Sound Art, to name a few.
To wrap up here, my work individually, as well as with The Junction Trio, has renewed my enthusiasm for music and how music can be relevant and made accessible to a broad-based audience. I have become a different, more versatile musician through engaging with Toronto’s improv scene and playing in several different music collectives – including the psychedelic band, The Starfires. Playing in a band has inspired me to explore all kinds of musical venues, performance artists and light shows. So-called classical music certainly has its work cut out!
By David Ball
At the 49th annual Tony Awards held at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City on June 4, 1995, controversial Canadian film and theatre producer Garth Drabinsky and his reworking of Show Boat took home five awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director (Harold Prince). Drabinsky’s acclaimed $8-million blockbuster began its successful run in 1993 at the North York Performing Arts Centre (now known as the Toronto Centre for the Arts or, as I like to call it, “The House that Mel Lastman Built”) before sailing off to Broadway the following year.
The former member of the Order of Canada (Drabinsky had his membership revoked in 2012) is no stranger to the spotlight or to run-ins with the law. He began building his multimedia empire in the 1970s, producing soft-core “blue movies” (a then-staple of Citytv’s late-night programming), but eventually switched over to making respectable domestic mainstream films, such as The Changeling (it scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid; still does) and The Amateur. In 1979, he co-founded Cineplex Theatres, which essentially introduced the multiplex experience to Canadians; the first, uncomfortably small multiplex was located in the basement of Toronto’s Eaton Centre shopping mall. Cineplex eventually merged with the Odeon chain in the mid-1980s to become the North American theatre juggernaut Cineplex Odeon.
In the late 1980s, Drabinsky and his company Livent started producing live theatre in Toronto (the ambitious impresario staged several shows at the historic Pantages Theatre, a building he conveniently owned), as well as in Vancouver, Chicago and New York City. Some of his best-known productions include The Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Fosse.
Livent went bankrupt in the late 1990s and Drabinksy was subsequently convicted of fraud and forgery in Ontario Superior Court for “misstating the company’s financial statements between 1993 and 1998” (courtesy of sometimes trusty Wikipedia). In the summer of 2009, the Toronto native was sentenced to seven years in prison, but the length was later reduced to five years; he was released on day patrol in February 2013.
Legal and criminal problems aside, Drabinsky is still active in the theatre industry. His most notable recent production was the Tony-winner Barrymore, starring Christopher Plummer. He also finally returned to the big screen, but this time as the subject of a documentary that premiered at last summer’s Toronto International Film Festival: Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky.
Here’s an easy question for most of you.
Using the following pop culture clues, please name this pivotal decade: wanton decadence; a rapid widening of the gap between rich and poor; forgettable fashion statements (including acid wash, mullets and black-wearing Goths looking pastier than Bela Lugosi); the gut-wrenching American League Pennant collapse of the Toronto Blue Jays; the proliferation of afternoon talk shows; eye-sore architecture; Britpop, hair metal, Madonna and Milli Vanilli; John Hughes and The Evil Dead; MuchMusic and MTV; Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo; “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show” and “The Kids in The Hall”; “Blackadder” and “The Young Ones”; compact discs; “Coach’s Corner”; and The Tragically Hip.
The decade in question is the 1980s. Was there any doubt? I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention another underlying trend that helped define that era: the all-star benefit (see: Live Aid, Farm Aid etc.).
The second Prince’s Trust Rock Gala took place on June 5 and 6, 1987, at Wembley Arena in London, England. The star-studded event was held at the behest of Prince Charles in order to raise money and awareness to aid disadvantaged British children. “The Man Who Will Probably Never Be King” founded his Prince’s Trust charity in 1976; the first-ever concert was staged in 1982.
The highlight of the two-day event was not the presence of Princess Diana (nobody ever gets too jacked to see Prince Charles, unless you have a big-ear fetish) or even enthusiastic sets by big-time rock acts including Eric Clapton (his comeback was in full swing by this point), Elton John, Phil Collins, big-only-in-the-United-Kingdom Midge Ure and Alison Moyet, and Canada’s own Bryan Adams (the Canadian Music Hall of Famer sang his most recent single, “Hearts of Fire,” plus helped out U.K. rock legend Dave Edmunds on the Dion and The Belmonts cover “The Wanderer”).
“The Wanderer” by Dave Edmunds and Bryan Adams at the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala in 1987
Nope. Trumping everything at the benefit was the reunion of the normally reclusive George Harrison and his former bandmate Ringo Starr.
Even though the old friends were joined on stage by too many mugging meddling cooks – Elton John, Phil Collins (I’m pretty sure Ringo was more than capable of handling the drum duties ALONE), Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, that big-faced bassist dude from Level 42, a bunch of backing vocalists and a gawdawful horn section – the two ex-Beatles still put on a pretty great show featuring the iconic Fab Four classics “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (with Clapton reprising his White Album lead guitar role). The concert was broadcast live on television and was made available on home video. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s worth perusing, in all of its kitschy and cringe-worthy 1980s glory, although some of it still holds up fairly well by today’s standards.
Guns N’ Roses brought its already notorious Use Your Illusion tour to Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition for a two-night stand on June 7 and 8, 1991. The hard-partying Los Angeles hard rockers’ stopover in the Ontario capital was in support of their bloated platinum-selling studio albums, Use Your Illusion I and II.
With 198 shows from January 20, 1991, to July 17, 1993, the tour was one of the most successful and loooooongest ever staged. Given the band’s well-earned debauched reputation, it’s no surprise that the tour was dogged with controversy almost from the get-go: late start times; cancelled gigs; riots (see: Montreal, Vancouver, Missouri); erratic performances; band infighting; Axl Rose being Axl Rose etc.
But what overshadowed the two-and-a-half-year-long road show was the abrupt departure of founding member Izzy Stradlin. GNR’s irreplaceable rhythm guitarist discovered sobriety during the tour and in turn found that performing with a clear head amid all of the other superfluous nonsense was impossible, so he decided to quit.
Hey, at least Toronto fans got to witness the thrilling guitar combo of Izzy and Slash hammering out “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Nightrain.” Incidentally, Stradlin’s last appearance with GNR before he was replaced by Gilby Clarke was on August 31, 1991, at Wembley Stadium.
I wasn’t at either CNE show (not a fan), but two of my friends attended the one on June 7. Although Don Lucey admits that his mind is a little fuzzy regarding specifics (I think he’s still recovering from being forced to drink overpriced domestic ale at the venue instead of his much beloved Guinness), here’s what he told me the other day: “Good show. It wasn’t long after the Vancouver riot. Axl was a good frontman then and already into his bicycle shorts phase. Sebastian Bach (GNR opening act Skid Row’s Canadian-born lead singer) spent his time slagging hair metal bands. Slash and Izzy were a great 1-2 punch. Slash climbed Axl’s piano for his solo at the end of ‘November Rain’ and also played the Godfather theme solo.”
Of course, you’d have to use illusions or be afflicted with Axl’s delusions to think that the group that calls itself GNR nowadays is the real GNR (Axl is the lone original member, not unlike Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington, although the rest of that still active and heavy touring southern rock band are all dead).
What are the odds that a famous person gets run over by someone even more famous? Well, in the case of Ben Vereen, the odds turned out to be a little too good.
On June 9, 1992, the respected actor, dancer and singer was nearly killed when he was hit by a car driven by JUNO, Grammy and Oscar Award–winning Canadian record producer and composer David Foster. Vereen was walking along the well-travelled Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu, California, in the wee hours of the morning when he was run over by Foster. No charges were filed against the Victoria, B.C., native (he passed sobriety tests).
What was Vereen doing wandering around a dark highway in the dead of night? Well, the versatile and multi-award–winning entertainer decided to walk home after crashing his car into a tree six hours earlier. Vereen suffered life-threatening injuries, including a severely broken leg, and endured several months of rehabilitation. Vereen said the incident actually saved his life because he had developed a debilitating alcohol addiction following the death of his daughter.
Next week: Monterey Pop and Natalie MacMaster
“Nightrain” by Guns N’ Roses during the 1992 Use Your Illusion tour in Tokyo, Japan (with Gilby Clarke on rhythm guitar)