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Image by Tabercil on Wikimedia CommonsA sad evening last night…

Way back in the mists of time (actually somewhat earlier this year!) it was announced that the ‘Legendary Gordon Lightfoot’ would be coming to Victoria this fall for a couple of concerts at the McPherson Playhouse.

Wikipedia says of the great man:

“Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music, and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.”

Now – it is probably fair to say that for many of us who hail from the UK (and elsewhere ‘abroad’) familiarity with both Mr Lightfoot himself and with his oeuvre are somewhat limited. The name I knew, of course, but I could not bring to mind any of his classic songs.

For the Kickass Canada Girl, however, it was a different matter. She grew up on Mr Lightfoot, and his compositions – as for so many Canadians – were woven into the tapestry of her upbringing. Not a second was wasted, therefore, in placing an order for two tickets for the aforementioned show, so that she might revisit old favourites and stir some memories in the process, whilst introducing me to something that I had previously missed.

So where – the gentle reader will doubtless be wondering – does the sadness come in? Well – the Girl and I did something that we virtually never do: we left at the interval!

Mr Lightfoot used to have a beautiful rich haunting baritone voice but sadly – on last night’s evidence at least – it is no more. In a form in which the words are pretty much everything, the strained croak with which we were greeted at the McPherson yesterday struggled to render many of the lyrics intelligible. In addition, Mr Lightfoot’s four-piece band were obviously under instruction not to provide too much competition and were dialed back almost to comatose. Given that none of them provided backing vocals either the man’s voice was left painfully exposed.

Checking his history on the InterWebNet I gather that over the years (Mr Lightfoot is 78!) illness has taken its toll and – though I would be one of the last people to suggest that he should not indulge his love of performing to the many appreciative fans who were clearly willing to overlook such frailties – I can’t help but think that he needs a little help. The Girl and I saw Burt Bacharach some years back at the jazz festival in Perugia. He was 80 at the time and – recognising that his own voice was shot – had surrounded himself with three gorgeous young vocalists (male and female) to handle such ‘chores’ whilst he amused himself (and us!) on the piano. It made for a stunning concert!

In the case of Mr Lightfoot the Girl was – understandably – really quite upset.  When the tenderly preserved memory of something that has played such a key part in one’s life is delivered such a rude awakening it can leave one somewhat shaken.

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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A couple of weeks back The Girl and I went to a movie.

Long term followers of these scribblings will know that I am not entirely enamoured of the cinema (confusingly called the ‘theater’ in Canada) experience. In our new Victorian life, however, things have been improved no end by the fact that – being retired (or semi-retired) – we can attend early showings in virtually empty cinemas. The provision of huge reclining loungers which enable one (with a little effort) to imagine that one is in the comfort of one’s own home also helps to ease the pain!

But I digress!

Now – I have actually forgotten the title and indeed much of the detail of the movie that we went to see, but this matters not a jot as the subject of this post is another matter entirely.

Waiting for the film to start we sat through the usual face-punching trailers for other movies – the which seemed as ever to comprise all of the ‘good’ bits smashed into one brief package. As I cowered on my recliner I became aware that the music track for one such was unexpectedly familiar. It took a moment in the unaccustomed setting but I eventually recognised it as the end of the ‘Your Move‘ section of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People‘ by the 70s progressive rock band – Yes.

I say 70s, but Yes are actually still going (those who have survived) in two competing incarnations. Though I was a massive fan of Yes back in the day I have to say that I don’t care much for the complex saga of their recent doings.

For me the very apex of the band’s achievement – capturing the boldness and excitement of their stage performances – was the 1973 triple live album – ‘Yessongs‘. My brother had a copy (he had a record deck, which I did not!) and I would badger him to play it at every opportunity. What I liked particularly about Yes live was the sense that they were always straining for something that was just out of reach. Sometimes they would hit the mark and the hairs would stand up on the back of my neck. Sometimes they would fall just short – like a surfer wiping out or a downhill skier crashing in a cloud of snow and ice – but the result was usually spectacular none the less. They certainly had a huge influence on me as a musician and writer.

Naturally, on our return from the cinema I engaged the InterWebNet to revisit the ‘The Yes Album’ version of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People‘. I must have listened to this track dozens of times over the decades, but this time I noticed something of which I had not previously been aware. Toward the end of ‘Your Move‘ the backing vocalists (Chris Squire and Steve Howe) are faintly but unmistakably to be heard singing:

All we are saying – is give peace a chance

A tribute to John and Yoko mayhap?

So – although this little homage has always been on the track I only just now heard it!

How weird is that?

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Image by Andy Dawson ReidEven so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”

Haruki Murakami, ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Summer is at its height and that must perforce mean that Wednesday evenings are spent in Pioneer Park, Brentwood Bay, chilling with friends on the greensward, dining al fresco and listening to some good music.

The season was caressed into life at the beginning of July by the smooth but soulful stylings of The R & B Toasters and the Butterhorns from Vancouver. These guys are all old hands and could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep. They feature one of the tightest rhythm sections I have heard in a good long time and for an outdoor gig their sound was exemplary – punchy and tight. I expressed my admiration to the bass player and drummer at the end of the show and they admitted that they had been playing together for a very long time.

Week two brought us Auntie Kate and the Uncles of Funk. Auntie Kate sings the blues and The Girl and I have seen her before – The Girl many times! We both agreed that she was in even better voice than we had heard previously. There is obviously something in the Vancouver Island summer air that brings out the soul in a performer.

We were looking forward to week three as – it seems – were many other inhabitants of the Saanich peninsula, evidenced by the extensive crowd staking out their spots in the park well before kickoff time. The focus of this interest was Dustin Bentall and the incredible Kendel Carson. Dustin has been mentioned in these dispatches before – being the son of Canadian superstar Barney Bentall – and Kendel is his even more talented other half. We have seen them both with The Caribou Express and if expectations were high they were well lived-up to. Kendel has a gorgeous voice and is a hugely gifted fiddle player – not to mention being ‘awful easy on the eye!’ – as they saying (probably) goes.

Week four’s offering – Echo Nebraska (pictured above) – were always going to struggle to match the Bentalls. They have a decent singer but the rest of the band are a perhaps little one dimensional and they still have much to learn. They are yet young though…

As can be gleaned from the image above, the bands currently play on a small temporary stage just outside the Brentwood Bay library. As of next season they will instead grace a purpose built and very beautiful permanent stage (construction of which has just started) courtesy of the fundraising and organisational efforts of the Brentwood Bay Community Association. Kudos all round – say I – for such a splendid campaign and fantastic effort.

We are in little doubt the the remainder of this season will match the standards set thus far – which means that we are all in for further treats!

Good-oh!

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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap  to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…

 

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“More than 80 theatre artists from across Canada descend on Fernwood this March for the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival – an opportunity to see some of the best theatre in the country.

With love, from scratch, and with some of the country’s best theatre artists, we build, rehearse and create our plays in our own home, a renovated 19th century church in Fernwood – Victoria’s most interesting neighbourhood.”

From The Belfry‘s website

Victoria is blessed to have such an energetic arts scene!

To The Belfry last night to catch one of the shows in the theatre’s annual ‘Spark‘ festival. This excellent festival runs for nearly two and a half weeks in March and offers a number of full length productions in rep in The Belfry main house and studio theatres, in the Metro studio and in other locations across the city.

As I have mentioned before in these marginalia the Kickass Canada Girl and I have season tickets to The Belfry’s regular season and this year we took advantage of the accompanying reduced price offer to pay our first visit to the festival as well. It proved a most interesting evening.

The show that we had selected – Toronto’s Outspoke Productions’ “SPIN” – started at 8:00 of the evening in the main house, but for those who chose to arrive early a number of ten minute ‘mini plays’ could be sampled in odd nooks and crannies around the building. The Girl and I saw three – ranging from an interesting audio production for which an audience of three donned headphones in a tiny ‘broom cupboard’ to listen to a monologue whilst rifling through a treasure box of memorabilia – all the way to a Mohawk woman of a certain age shocking the genteel burghers of Victoria with knowingly racist humour.

SPIN” was itself an intriguing disquisition by singer/songwriter/actress/poetess Evalyn Perry on the early history of cycling – the invention of which turns out to have been a major feminist event. The show featured – and this was a first for me at least – a bicycle percussionist! By this I mean (should you require clarification) a man who uses a bicycle and its component parts as a sort of drum kit rather than someone who plays percussion whilst riding upon a cycle!

We enjoyed the show greatly and found the story of Annie Londonderry (not her real name!) – the first woman to ride a bicycle around the globe – both fascinating and moving. We felt, however, that as a whole the piece needed a little structural work; that perhaps the balance of the material was not quite right for the length of the show.

Very grateful as ever that we have such splendid endeavours on hand to inspire us.

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Image from Pixabay“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain

Following on from the reminiscences of my last post… and in an effort to demonstrate that these meanderings are not as purely random as they sometimes appear to be…

Back in the day I was (and still am in a somewhat desultory sense) a bass player. In common with many novice musicians I proudly acquired my first bass with no thoughts as to what to use for amplification. Later – once I had grown out of the usual home-made setup cobbled together from various bits of domestic electronica – I set about finding a bass rig that would give me the biggest bang for my bucks.

As detailed in my earlier disquisition concerning PA systems, received wisdom at the time was that an extravagantly sized loudspeaker cabinet was required to produce the desired bottom end, with the speakers themselves also being as large as possible. I ended up with an impressively chunky setup loaded with 18″ speakers.

The band in which I was playing at the time had found itself a semi-permanent rehearsal location in a ramshackle outbuilding that formed part of a nursery located in the middle of nowhere. Tucked away in the midst of a swathe of decaying greenhouses we could safely leave our equipment set up and ready to go, so that we could crack on with rehearsals with the minimum of fuss. Further – one of our number was the proud possessor of a van!

Once that band had succumbed to the habitual form of musical entropy I was obliged to downsize my bass rig. I was driving a Mini at the time (my first proper car) and the equipment had to be sized accordingly. Over the years since I have tinkered with various different setups, but when we packed all of our goods and chattels into a container to head for BC in the summer 2015 the box that I loaded was still a weighty lump.

Having payed for its conveyance to Canada I was not best pleased to discover that there was no way of easily converting it to operate on 110V! The manufacturer had gone out of business and no parts or circuit diagrams were available.

I am – as always – the luckiest of chaps, however, and she who is possessed of all wisdom agreed to help me purchase a new amplifier as my birthday present.

Well – you will be unsurprised to hear that technology has undergone its usual magical transformation in the thirty years since I last went shopping for such and it is now possible to purchase a tiny, tiny wee box that can miraculously produce more bottom end grunt than any rig I have ever owned. This thing is minute, it weighs next to nothing but is built like a tank and there can be no doubt that this little mutt could easily take on the big dogs… and probably win!

For those who demand technical details this is a Traynor (solid Canadian brand not found much outside these shores) small block SB110. The amp provides 100W and the cabinet is rear ported and loaded with a single 10″ speaker and a tweeter.

This thing is seriously loud for such a small unit and has no shortage of room-rattling bottom end.

How is that even possible?

 

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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain

Way back in the mid-1970s when I was in my early twenties and playing in the sort of wildly optimistic band that so many of us did back in the day – only one thing was certain… none of us had any money! One of the effects on the musician, of course, was that we had to make do with whatever cheap and cheerful equipment we could cobble together.

It is a sad truism concerning the arc of the musician’s career that, at the point that he (or she) is young and just learning to play, he (or she) must do so on some hideous old nail of an instrument that makes everything a hundred times more difficult than it need be. Of course, should he (or she) eventually become established as a musical legend, able rip out licks and riffs even whilst comatose – then the manufacturers of the most precious, the most beautiful, the most infinitely playable of musical contrivances dispense them like candy – utterly free of charge – to those who no longer have any need of such largesse… in the pursuit of ‘celebrity’ endorsement!

‘Tain’t fair!

But where was I? Oh, yes…

So – when it came to trying to cobble together a PA (Public Address) system such that – if nothing else – our delicate (some might say fey – this was the 70s!) vocals might be heard, we were obliged to beg, borrow or steal what we might. The bottom end was a different matter. Bass bins were expensive, hard to come by and people didn’t just give them away. We had to build our own!

Image from Wikimedia CommonsI carried out extensive research at my local library (for the InterWebNet had not at that point been invented) into the acoustic design required to reproduce low frequency signals at a reasonable volume. It turned out that we would need to build bass ‘horns’ of which – because of the length required to deliver frequencies low enough – the horn parts themselves would need to be ‘folded’ if the enclosures were to be confined to manageable proportions. My calculations (and it must be said that maths was never my strong suit) suggested that the unfolded length of the horn would need to be some where between fifteen and twenty feet! The resultant boxes were enormous and weighed a (metaphorical) ton each.

Image by Rudolph Schuba from Wikimedia CommonsNow – if you have been to a large concert anytime recently you will have observed that the PA system simply comprises a number of curved columns of small(ish) units suspended from the ceiling. This interestingly fragile looking contraption is called a Line Array. Not only are these modern systems really rather elegant, but the sound produced is any number of light years advanced from the distorted offerings of yesteryear. There is simply no comparison with the systems in use at the first gigs that I attended back in the early 70s, for which either side of the stage would be girt with huge stacks of bass and other cabinets (I went to one gig at which the support act had their own massive PA stacked in front of the main act’s system. There was a very long intermission!).

The point is – when it comes to gear (and technology) – everything has changed.

But why am I telling you all this? Just a tease, of course, for the next post!

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Er – pardon?

One of the issues concerning which I consulted my new doctor (details here) during my introductory interview with him at the start of November was the mild but persistent tinnitus with which I am now cursed – though in my left ear alone!

This ‘irritation’ takes the form of a constant high pitched whine or whistle at a level such that, though it is apparent when in quiet surroundings, I really don’t notice it at all for much of the time. Its presence did – however – focus my mind on the fact that I have never actually had my hearing checked.

This little message from the gods was reinforced by our recent spate of attendances at musical soirees of one sort or another. As far as I am concerned my hearing is in itself unimpaired, but I am increasingly aware that my ears get tired more quickly these days after an evening of listening to music – or should I spend too long in the studio.

My doctor – being, as he is, admirably proficient at his job – did as he should and suggested that I visit an audiologist for a hearing check. This – following some initial research on the InterWebNet – I duly did.

The good news is that my hearing is perfectly good, with the exception of a slight dip in performance for my left ear at high frequencies. Given that this corresponds pretty closely to the range in which I have tinnitus it is most likely that other signals are being slightly masked thereby.

In conversation with staff at the audiologists I raised the question of investing in some ear protectors, for those occasions on which which I attend concerts or other events at which the sound levels can be uncomfortable. For the musician it is essential that ear protection should attenuate the audio signal without compromising the frequency response thereof. In other words – such protection should make the music quieter without altering its tone or timbre.

These devices are certainly available but are, as you might expect, a sight more expensive than simpler equivalents and must be made to fit the individual ear. I decided that my hearing is too important to me not to be treated to the best and I was duly tested, measured and an order placed.

I took delivery of my new ear-pieces just the other day (see the above illustration) and jolly splendid they are. The silicon based moulding sits snugly in the ear and the attenuation capsules can be changed for those of other values should the need arise.

Now to see if they do the job…

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