Hello music lovers worldwide !
I turn 53 tomorrow, I don't mention this because I want you to send me happy birthday greetings, it's because we lost Gord Downie today, he was the same age as me and it made me think deeply about what's important and our mortality.
Three years ago I came close to death, I was lucky, after a week in hospital, I recovered from a brain aneurysm after some rehab, I was able to continue an almost normal life, Gord Downie was not that lucky, his illness and it's diagnosis left him in no doubt as to what lay ahead. Knowing this he carried on making music, making a difference in many ways including adding a white man's voice supporting the indigenous people of Canada who bestowed upon him the Lakota Spirit name of ' He Who Walks With The Stars ' in a ceremony before nearly 600 Canadian indigenous chiefs. Downie was revered by these people as he was with almost every Canadian citizen, for he had a knack of writing songs and poetry that touched every single one of us, not in the same way for everyone but uniquely felt by everyone, he once replied in an interview when asked what a particular song was about ' I Don't know, what does it mean to you ? That's what the song is about '
When I came to Canada I wanted to find out as much about Canadian made music and artists as I possibly could, I was pointed in the direction of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Gordon Lightfoot, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings and The Tragically Hip !
More than any of them I knew who the Tragically Hip were, they had charted in the UK and I was a fan, not of the devoted kind, but I liked their style and songs, I did not even know then that Bobcaygeon was a town here when ' The Hip ' immortalized it in their Juno Award winning single of that name. For a guy from Scotland to be in tune with their music and lyrics says a lot about the reach the band had, I was not the only one, hundreds of thousands of fans across the UK and Europe knew who they were and where they were from. To realize how the people of Canada felt at his passing you have to look no further than the press statement given by the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, in his statement he broke down, close to tears he said, ' I thought I could get through this, but I can't, it hurts a lot '
Justin Trudeau spoke eloquently for the nation, which is a shining example of how a leader should come across, thoughtful, respectful and sincere with his words.
I have stood in The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and gazed upon the framed Tragically Hip set lists and pictures of Gord on the wall, I remembered first hearing the band over the airwaves in Scotland and buying their music, I wondered what the lyrics were about and it made me think deeply and inquisitively, that's the mark of a great songwriter, he set out on his last tour of Canada knowing he was going to die, the band said his intention was to thank every fan across this vast country, remarkable strength.
Today I thank Gord Downie for being a part of my soundscape when growing up, for making me aware of things and places I had never even heard of far away in Canada, for making me think in different ways, for being an example of hope and courage, enabling me to realize that there are others around us that are worse off, and through that encouraging me to give back and be thankful for my life to this point.
Rest In Peace Gord Downie, He Who Walks With The Stars !
It's Time For Folk Music Ontario !
It's one of THE weekends of the year that I really look forward to. it starts out on Thursday 19th at the Folk Music Ontario conference, held this year in Mississauga, and continues until Sunday 22nd. In between my annual celebration of birth with friends from far and near.
I've attended this conference every year since 2011 and I love the warm welcome extended by the Directors and members alike, you really would be hard pushed to find a better organized event, it is the key event for Ontario’s folk, roots, and traditional music community. Over four days and three nights with over 700 delegates.
My favourite part of the weekend are the showcases where some amazing artists perform either on a stage as part of the official showcases or later in the evenings over two floors in the hotel rooms from late evening and into the early mornings as part of the unofficial showcases.
It can be quite overwhelming as a first time attendee as there is so much going on, it's hard to take it all in, I normally suggest to folk's, where possible, team up with someone who has been there before, tag along for the first morning or afternoon, find out what is going on and enjoy the experience.
This week I am going to give you a taste of some of the artists that I intend to see performing. This is their chance to pitch themselves to Festivals and venues across Canada, it's not only Ontario that is represented, there is always a large contingent of artists and music companies from Quebec, Manitoba and from the Maritimes in the East and B.C. in the west. There are also folks at times who travel from the USA and the UK.
From Blues & Roots Radio's point of view, we are there to meet artists who we play on our stations, most have new releases timed to be released within a few weeks of the conference or are pushing albums and EP's released over the summer. It gives us a chance to hear what's going on and meet with industry professionals from various sectors, whether it be managers, agents, publicists, record labels, festival organizers .... it really is great to put a face to the emails we receive on a regular basis.
So who will I be looking out for ?
There are always a number of artists that I know that are going to be there, but what I really love is finding a showcase from an artist that I am not familiar with.
Some of the artists that I do know that are showcasing include
The Young Novelists
Johnny & June meets Simon and Garfunkel – Toronto based americana husband and wife duo The Young Novelists are known for their beautiful harmonies and songs culled from their small-town roots. After the release of their second full-length album made us strangers, they’ve been touring Canada and the US relentlessly, earning accolades wherever they go. They were recognized as Emerging Artist of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, won the Grassy Hill Songwriting Competition at the Connecticut Folk Festival, and were recently named finalists at the NewSong Music Competition. They're third full-length album is set for release in Spring 2018.
Honing his remarkable talent since the age of three, Donnell has literally spent his entire life with a fiddle in his hand. From learning his initial skills from his parents, to training his ear to learn tunes from fiddlers both in person and on recordings, to developing his own style within the borders of his family band Leahy, Donnell has single-handedly created a new genre of music, known simply as “Leahy.” Combined with his mesmerizingly strident, exultant, and high-energy performances, this has become Donnell Leahy’s musical signature.
No matter if he is performing with Leahy, alongside is wife - Canadian fiddler Natalie MacMaster - or solo, audiences lap up every amazing moment of Donnell’s riveting performances, filled with, as Natalie describes, “intense power, [while] maintaining the sweetness and tone” of the fiddle. “He is absolutely precise and articulate – a must see to believe.”
Since the release of her debut album in 2015, Ontario-based singer-songwriter, Annie Sumi, has criss-crossed Canada charming audiences with her brand of musical storytelling that spans folk, roots and ethereal vocalization. Like a travelling minstrel, she has a way of breathing in all the beauty of nature and the subtleties of life, and breathing out musical tales that inspire, enchant, or reach deep into the soul.
Annie released her debut album, Reflections, in the spring of 2015. The record charted on college radio for 10 straight weeks and a few of the album tracks earned airplay on CBC radio, from coast to coast. She earned a Best Singer-Songwriter nomination at the 2015 Toronto Independent Music Awards and four nominations at the 2016 Hamilton Music Awards, including Best Contemporary Folk Recording, and Female Vocalist of the Year.
She will be releasing her next album, called ‘In the Unknown,’ in October, 2017.
Ian Sherwood’s fifth studio album “Bring The Light”, produced by Daniel Ledwell, is filled with the same hooky cleverness that has endeared Sherwood to his audiences. This time, the deft work of Ledwell’s production brings Sherwood’s songs a new dimension of beauty and depth.
Guitar, saxophone, huge songwriting and a voice that won him a 2013 Canadian Folk Music Award for Contemporary Singer, Ian Sherwood Brings The Light to every stage he stands on. A born story teller and a constant creator, his music dances the line between folk and pop. His live performances thrive on intimacy. Whether it’s a theatre show or large festival stage, his persona is irresistible and completely destroys fourth walls.
When not touring the UK, US or all across Canada Sherwood produces for other artists as well as for theatre, film and television. He most recently won a 2017 Robert Merritt for Outstanding Original Score for the play “Tompkinsville”. He was named Best Male Artist of the Year by the 2012 International Acoustic Music Awards and was the 2008 and 2010 Music Nova Scotia Musician Of The Year.
That is just a small sampler of the official showcases, more amazing talent will be on show in the shape of The Small Glories, Murder Murder, Jon Brooks, Erin Costelo and many more.
I have as always been given a few inside tips on who to go and listen to like
Amy has taken some time out from Prince Edward Island's ' The Beck Sisters ' to spend time with her newly born daughter, Rachel will be touring with a new, fantastic band to promote her upcoming solo record.
Influenced by countless British and North American artists of the 60s onward, Ronald’s music has been described as “Canadian folk with British roots.” Ronald first got hooked on songwriting at age 15 when he put to music a poem he wrote in high school, but he only started to go public in his thirties after emigrating to Canada from England. In recent years, Ronald’s “keenly luxuriant voice and immaculate songcraft” (The Georgia Straight) have won him numerous accolades including a nomination for “Songwriter of the Year” at the Canadian Folk Music Awards for his Timeline album. 2017 saw Ronald’s fourth album, Fragments, released on esteemed Canadian folk label Borealis Records ahead of national and international tour dates. In live performance, Chris draws on his abilities as a highly skilled singer, storyteller and musician to deliver a unique and captivating show.
I have not even scratched the surface, there are so many fabulous artists going to be there. I'll give you an update if I survive the weekend .... :)
There is some really amazing news coming from a great friend who is travelling all the way from New Brunswick to be at the conference, his name is Mike Biggar and he has just finished a busy summer touring season, this will be his first time at FMO and we'll be chatting about an upcoming project that he will be doing which will involve Blues & Roots Radio ... watch this space as we hope to announce the news next weekend !!
Until then I will leave you with a track from his album ' Go All In '
Until next time