Toronto please, slow down. Canadablog #12

We’ve had some interesting drives in many big cities over the years. I remember once driving across a large square in Paris seeing four lanes of traffic heading towards me and Amsterdam was a laugh a minute – not only cars, but trams and stoned cyclists to contend with. But Toronto, why the rush? Man it was stressful. Cars, trucks, buses chopping in and out of lanes. Foot to the floor when approaching a red light and then slam on the brakes to bring your wheels of choice to a stop just the width of a gnat’s knacker from the rear end of the vehicle in front. And if you happen to be at the front of the line and you don’t then execute a start that Lewis Hamilton would be proud of when the lights change to green you get half a dozen horns blaring out behind you. TORONTO! CHILL OUT!! FFS!!!

We had three days in Toronto (T’rono as the locals say). We flew in on the Monday evening from Regina having played there the night before. We spent the night in a hotel close to the airport and then picked up a car on the Tuesday morning. All of the traveling was starting to have an effect and we were both feeling a little tired. That said we had the rest of the day free and Niagara Falls were just under two hours drive away. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

After having an excellent success rate on the Airb&b front so far, this one wasn’t so good. We had a “cosy” basement. The main room contained a kitchen sink, microwave, fridge, kettle, toaster etc and a huge bed. Aside from it all smelling a little fusty, it’s the bed that was the issue; it took up nearly all of the room. Kip managed to bang her knee on the side of the bed and head-butt the fridge at the same time. No mean feat for someone who’s just a smidge over five feet tall. Anyhow, the bed was comfy and we’d be out for the most part.

We were now on the final leg of the tour. Five gigs in five days and then heading home.

On the Wednesday night we played in Peterborough, Ontario, which is quite ironic as it was nearly two hours drive from Toronto, whilst Peterborough in the UK is only forty minutes from our house.

I need to have a word with myself when planning these tours. The Thursday night we were in downtown Toronto and the gig was originally set up by a guy who runs an agency in the Toronto area. We don’t normally use agents. It’s nothing personal; we just prefer to be responsible for our own cock-ups. This gig was a case in point. I’d sent the guy all of the info needed (photos, biog, YouTube links, tech-spec etc). He came back telling us that he’d arranged a gig with a local support at The Burdock, a regular music venue in Toronto. I kept checking the Burdock’s website and right up to us leaving Heathrow to start the tour there was nothing on there about the gig, despite several emails from us to the agent who kept assuring us that it was in hand. In the end I went direct to the Burdock, who came back to say that the room had been booked out for the gig, but they were still waiting on the info from the agent. Much swearing then ensued on our part. I re-sent all the info to the Burdock and to be fair, the guy at the venue was great, he made sure it went onto their website and the gig went ahead with a small but very appreciative audience. We’ll not be using that agent again.

Friday night restored our faith. We played Studio 13 in Hamilton. Well, if we’re being a bit nitpicky (it’s in the Oxford English), Studio 13 is about ten minutes outside of Hamilton in the countryside. Barbara and Urmas were our hosts and they put on concerts in their house. They have a lovely big room that can seat about forty folks and it has a PA and stage set up. The PA is linked to a beautiful recording studio that Urmas has set up in his basement where he and his assistant David record the gigs. The gig was well attended and well received and we were smiling again.

Urmas is a bass player and plays in several bands. Both he and Barbara have a real appreciation for their surroundings and do what they can to keep the local wildlife happy. Barbara helps to raise Monarch butterflies and had two ready for releasing into the wild. She’d named them Kip & Dave.

The following morning we had to be in Hamilton at nine o’clock for a radio show. This was when we realised it had not been such a great idea to sit up till one am chatting to our hosts. Still we spent a wonderful forty five minutes in the company of local legend Jim Marino, who has been presenting his Freewheeling folk show for over twenty years. Jim is a smashing chap with a real love for music and his enthusiasm is infectious. We sang a few songs, had a chat and Jim had a rant about politics. An excellent way to start the day.

Next up was a six-hour (very tired!) drive to Renfrew. This meant us once again taking on Toronto’s finest drivers. Thankfully we came away unscathed. Not so the person in front of us at some traffic lights – we watched him raging at the driver who had just removed his left wing mirror with a deft swipe as she was cutting him up.

Neither of us had any idea what Renfrew was like. As we were driving through the outskirts I found myself singing a few lines from a Tom Waits song, “They hung a sign outside this town. If you live it up you don’t live it down.” It had that kind of a feel to it.

The venue was called Batstone’s Northern Ramble and for some reason I was expecting the back room of a pub. I was wrong. It’s an old church that has been converted into a fantastic music venue and is the home of its owner Dean Batstone. One look at Dean and you’d think he’s a bit of a rocker who’s been around the block a few times and that may be true. I don’t know his back story, but I do know he’s an excellent songwriter who has many tours of the USA under his belt and he has some top-class musicians playing on his albums. He is also renovating a 1970’s executive coach that is going to be the coolest tour bus on the planet.

The evening was kicked off by a talented local lad by the name of Jordan Dubeau and again it was a little low on numbers. But those who were there were very enthusiastic and the sound in that place was just fantastic, you could hear everything as clear as a bell. At the end of the night after the punters had left, Dean and I got the guitars out and had a few minutes swapping songs. Had it not been for us having an early start the next morning to get to the final gig of the tour, I could have happily carried on jamming all night and we vowed to set up a gig with the following day clear the next time we get over there.

We were billeted with a lovely lady that night. Angie volunteers at the venue and is a great company. She claims to be sixty six, but could easily pass for a good ten years younger. She works as a house painter, lives alone in a very tastefully decorated house (her own work) and gives shelter to itinerant musicians. She also has a cat named Merlin who thinks he’s a dog.

Our final gig was in Quebec, our fifth province on the tour. Rickk’s Room is a Sunday afternoon show in Wentworth-Nord. They do a matinee show as it’s a little out of the way and many of the folks that attend the gigs will drive two hours or more to get there. We’d planned to arrive there for 12pm ahead of a 2pm start. Cecilia (Cee) had sent Kip a text earlier that morning telling us not to follow the GPS as it would take us down a 17 kilometre road that resembles the wild mouse rollercoaster at Skegness. We picked up the message as we were bouncing down a 17 kilometre road that resembled the wild mouse at Skegness. Two lost fillings, one bruised knee and four war-weary shock absorbers later we arrived, just twenty five minutes later than planned. Said road is called Chemin Kilmar. Cee calls it Chemin Killacar. However the leaves were on the turn and the views were gorgeous.

Rickks’s Room is, err, a room built on the side of Rick and Cee’s house. It was originally a double garage and Rick converted it into a concert venue that can seat sixty people. When I asked Rick what he did for a job his response was “I make shit”. He clearly makes good shit, it’s awesome – decked out with posters, album covers and photos from gigs they’ve been to and there’s a stage with a piano and a PA. As with so many of these venues, these two put on several gigs a year for the love of it and whatever money they take on the door goes to the musicians.

Cee was fourteen and Rick fifteen when they had their first date. They went to a local record store and were accompanied by one of Cee’s friends who was at the gig that afternoon. Forty five years and two kids later they still share a love for music and a beautiful house with a dog, a cat, a great hifi system and no TV.

The next day we had one final event to look forward to before returning the car and then catching our flight home that evening from Montreal airport.

Thirteen years ago we went to Barbados for Kip’s brother Bob’s wedding to his wife Cathy. Cathy is Canadian and in addition to her family, some of her friends had also flown in to attend the wedding and then stay on for a few days holiday as did we. We hit it off with one couple, Mary and Craig and a few years later hooked up again with Mary via Facebook. Mary and Craig live in Montreal and after swapping a few messages we met up with her on our way to the airport. Unfortunately Craig couldn’t make it due to work commitments, but it was great to see Mary again and thirteen years fell away in the blink of an eye.

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”It’s a wolf, it’s a wolf” Canadablog #11

From Saskatoon we took a steady three and a half hour drive to Fort Qu’Appelle. By Canadian standards (and that of our Aussie friends) a three hour drive is akin to a trip to the local shops for us Brits.

The journey was largely uneventful. We tried and failed to get a decent cup of coffee* (come on Tim Horton you can do better). As mentioned in a previous blog Canada has a really good micro-brewery scene and produces some excellent ales. The coffee scene hasn’t yet caught up (I’m writing this just after having a really nice coffee in a cafe in Toronto #toofewandfarbetween). Whilst on the drive saw a train, which lead to yet another chorus of “Canadian Pacific, carry me ten thousand miles………”

But then a real moment of excitement; I saw in a recently-cut wheat field what, at first glance, I thought was a sheep, which I thought odd as you wouldn’t expect to see a lone sheep in a wheat field. But as we got a little closer I realised it was a wolf. In true David Attenborough style I said “F**k me did you see that? It was a f***ing wolf”. Kip’s Attenboroughish response of “Get the f**k outta here” made me suspect that she had probably missed this magnificent spectacle, at which point we swung a u-turn (having checked sixty miles in both directions – this is the prairie!) and headed back down the road. We slowed down going past said field but there was no sign of him/her, so we continued a little further down the road and did another u-turn (having checked, ya da ya da ya da….) and as we were passing the field again we spotted him/her. Too far away to get a photo, but definitely grey and about the size a large German shepherd. Just as Kip said it was unusual for one to be on its own, we saw another and then one more.

We have been somewhat remiss with the wildlife count on this trip, but so far as I remember, to date we have seen:

  • Wolves (three)
  • A white-tailed eagle, plus lots of buzzards and brown kites
  • Hummingbirds
  • Three banjo players
  • Blue jays (and grey jays too)
  • A Clarke’s nutcracker
  • A whale
  • Golden-mantled ground squirrels (plus loads of very dark grey squirrels)
  • Flocks of Canada Geese (no shit Sherlock)
  • Chickadees
  • Deer – large and small
  • One elk – dead
  • Bison
  • Dippy whippy fish stabby wader birds
  • Llamas (If you travel the A66 toward Penrith, there’s a cafe that has llamas in an adjoining paddock and it’s called the Llama Karma Cafe. It also has a B&B attached called the Llama’s Pyjamas).
  • (Evidence of) beavers – ie gnawed-down trees and a dam. Damn beavers were hiding.

Back to the story.

We found Fort Qu’Appelle (it was where they said it would be) and then The Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts, the magnificently named venue for that night’s gig. Inside we found Brian Baggett setting up the PA. Brian is a musician and his specialty is the Chapman Stick. Check out this beauty (video here) and please don’t let me see one of these on eBay – it could result in a broken nose. Also in there was Jim Harding – we were to be staying with Jim and his partner Jan that evening. Jim explained that the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts was an old church and was due to be demolished when a group of local volunteers took it on and turned it into a community resource. They have a dance studio, performance space and arts studio. Another fine example of what can be achieved by like-minded people when profit isn’t the motive.

After the soundcheck we went to Jim and Jan’s place which is a beautiful house up on a hill, overlooking a lake and built by Jim. It’s actually built into the side of the hill which helps maintain heat in the winter and keeps it cool in the summer. Jim and Jan are both in their seventies and looking great on it. They’re very politically (Jim used to be the local Mayor) and ecologically aware and are passionate about climate change. As nice as it was to do the gig, the real joy was spending time with these folks (and their two dogs)

The following morning Jim took us for a walk up the coolie with the dogs (Anna & Beau, both rescues) He showed us the old cabin that was originally built and lived in by Métis

Jim lived in this place through a long Canadian winter whilst building their house. He admits he got cabin fever (depression) during his time in there and obsessed about getting as much natural light into his new house as he could. The result is stunning.

*Toronto has made me drink my words. Two coffees on the same day that pinned my eyebrows to my fringe (metaphorically speaking of course, as my fringe is now located between my shoulder blades).

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No, it’s not a hoodie; it’s a bunnyhug. Canadablog #10

The drive from Calgary to Saskatoon took around eight hours with a couple of stops. The landscape was very different from what we’d seen over the past few days with long straight roads and flat fields as far as you could see. It was surprising to see so many wheat fields still being harvested this late in September.

Our destination was the Wolf Willow co-housing complex. It’s an apartment block for folk aged fifty-five and over that’s been set up by a cooperative of like minded people. Everyone has their own apartment, but there’s a communal lounge, relaxation areas, laundry, a workshop, a gym and even a sauna that was built by the folks who live there.

They also have a couple of guest bedrooms for visitors and that’s where we were staying for the next two nights.

Wolf Willow hosts about seven or eight gigs a year and it’s similar to a house concert only a little bigger than most. Murray is the chap who organises the events and he’d succumbed to my barrage of emails begging for a gig. He did a fine job – the gig was a sell out and Murray’s planning was also meticulous.

We received an email with a detailed timetable of events.

    Thursday. Arrive between 5-6pm.
    6:30pm dinner with Murray and Noel (Murray’s partner) (the food was gorgeous and we got to try another fine Canadian ale).
    Friday 8:30am breakfast with Mary-Lou (hello Mary-Lou, goodbye waistline 🎵🎶)
    10:00am Bicycle tour of Saskatoon. Murray had borrowed a couple of bikes and he and Noel gave us a guided tour. We had no idea that Joni Mitchell was born in Saskatoon .

Kip preventing the Joni Mitchell Boulevard sign from falling over

    12pm tea and muffins in the innovation centre
    2pm Return to Wolf Willow for a Nanny nap (we ain’t getting no younger)
    5pm Sound check (thanks Al)
    6pm a snack (and another fine Canadian ale)
    7:30pm gig.

As I’m sure you can imagine dear reader, we’ve had many interesting discussions about politics on this trip and (not that anyone has actually said it) we get the impression that most Canadians think the Brits have gone nuts. Murray and Noel being no exception I’m sure. Both are politically astute and very interesting people. They gave us the lowdown on the political situation both locally and nationally, which lead onto a long and interesting conversation. That said, the fact that excited me the most was that in Saskatoon the article of clothing that we call a hoodie, they call a bunnyhug. Isn’t that brilliant? Nobody seems to know why, but it is. They also have the saying “the cat’s pyjamas” which we excitedly explained would translate to “the dog’s bollocks” if you came from Mansfield. Thus proving that we can hold our own on an intellectual level wherever we may be in the world. We also explained the derivation of the word Cockwomble (as in “our prime minister is a lying, law-breaking ……..”)

Murray, Noel and our intwepid twavellers.

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What did the Romans ever do for Canada? Canadablog #9

When you’ve driven 170 kilometres and then join a highway and the Satnav says turn right in 438 kilometres you know it’s going to be a long day. I didn’t think that the Romans had made it to Canada, but these were the longest and straightest roads I’d ever seen. Maybe I had missed something.

I began writing this on the journey from Calgary to Saskatoon but I was thinking more about what we’d just left behind than what lay ahead. We had returned to Steve and Helen’s place in Calgary on Monday evening and had to be in downtown Calgary by 9am on Tuesday for a radio appearance on The Six String Hour with Erin Ross. This may seem a little early for singing (the show actually started at 10am) but it was nothing compared to what Steve did. Steve played a two hour solo set between 7am and 9am without a break at a coffee bar in town to raise money for charity. He also volunteers on a community housing project that helps to build affordable housing for disadvantaged people. We need more Steves in this world.

When we were here last week we were chatting about how we enjoyed jamming with other musicians but rarely get the chance these days. Steve then invited some friends round and on the Tuesday night there was eight of us a-humming and a-strumming down in the basement.

The next day Steve and Helen took us to Banff – the views were amazing. We had lunch at the Chateau at Lake Louise and then hiked up the trail to the Tea house at Lake Agnes.

The lovely Steve & Helen

It really was a day to remember.

Helen and Steve were an absolute delight, a lot of fun and both fine musicians. As we were saying our goodbyes I definitely heard Helen say “you must come back and see us sometime” That’s all we need 😬

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Now that’s an unusual road sign….Canadablog #8

I know what you’re thinking – Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump would make a catchy song title. Of course it would and I was well on the way to writing it. I’d got a catchy little hook and a nice riff going on the mouth organ with a country sort of a feel to it and then I find out that Chris While and Ashley Hutchings had beaten me to it. Their version of what was going to be my song was recorded on Acousticity by the Albion Band back in 1993, just beating me to the tape by a mere twenty six years.

We saw this road sign while travelling from Calgary to Lethbridge on Highway 2. I like Canadian road names, we’d traveled along Springbluff Boulevard and Deerfoot Trail South on the way to Highway 2. In Sleaford where we live we have Electric Station Road, which is very nice but not quite so cinematic.

This is Derrick

Last Friday night (13th Sept) we played the Rocky Mountain Folk Club In Calgary. The gig was organised by our hosts Steve and Helen Goodchild and, as happens so often to us and many more fellow travellers, they opened their house to us, gave us a key and made us welcome. Steve told us that when The Young’Uns stayed there Sean wrote some of the ballad of Johnny Longstaff on their kitchen table. He really should have used a note book in my opinion, but each to their own. Steve and Helen are both fine musicians and Steve lent me a banjo for the gig that night. Then, as we were to be returning to theirs for a few days from the Monday, he let me hold onto it for the next two gigs. I’d been getting severe shakes and a nervous twitch as a result of banjo separation issues and Steve’s kind gesture has made me normal again. (What do you mean again? – Kip)

Saturday was Lethbridge Folk Club and, as with Friday at Calgary, the gig chugged along nicely and folks were very complimentary. That night we stayed with John and Nicole – John was in Celtic Roots, the band that opened up the night. We’ve found that Canadians do basements on a grand scale. We’ve often had the run of a full apartment bigger than my Mum’s old flat down there. Such was the case at John and Nicole’s.

Sunday night in Medicine Hat was something else. Piet & Ina Visser are a whacky pair and very lovable with it.

They put on concerts about once a month in their garage-come-barn (it has garage doors but is a big as a barn), which they call The Olde Jar Bar. Unusual doesn’t come close. The place is decked out with posters, paintings, photos, banners and all kinds of stuff that they’ve collected over the years. The gig was a sell out which was very nice, but what was surprising is that 75% of the audience hadn’t been there before. This meant that many of the regulars didn’t get tickets, so Piet broadcast the gig live on Facebook so they could watch for free. link here

The evening started with a set from Connie Johns who’s a talented songwriter as well as having a great voice. Connie has had a rough time of it recently which is pretty tough, but it has produced a couple of very good songs that she aired for the first time. Every cloud Connie………

The gig selling out was obviously good news and as our fee was to be the door take we received a lot more than we were expecting. This more than made up for the fee we lost due to the gig in Penticton being cancelled. It was a smashing night and some of those who attended are planning to catch us again further down the line.

The next morning I was talking to Piet about the town of Medicine Hat and I was saying that it’s a great name for a town. He told me that early in the twentieth century (when the town became prosperous due to the discovery of huge reserves of natural gas) some of the locals wanted to change the name to something more modern, to reflect the town’s new-found wealth. A lady then wrote to Rudyard Kipling (who had once visited Medicine Hat) asking him to intervene. Apparently he wrote a letter imploring them to keep the name of Medicine Hat, (read about it here) and they did. I then told Piet about a song I’d written, based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. He asked if we’d sing it, and so we did. It also went out live on Facebook.

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Every cloud, Oh my look at that view…..Canadablog #7

After the high of Tuesday night, it was time to get back down to earth and pack the bags, load the car and get on the road to Kelowna, where we were playing The Milkcrate Record store that night.

The journey was fine, no dramas and we pulled into Kelowna mid afternoon and went to the venue which really is like an old fashioned record store with racks of vintage and brand new vinyl. They have a stage setup in the shop window and put on gigs in the evening after the shop closes. A quick chat with Richard who runs the store and then off to find the Airb&b. We had a room booked with Daniel and his wife Akiko. Daniel is Canadian and Akiko Japanese. They let a bedroom in their flat, it was cosy but they were both very welcoming and we got along fine.

We then picked up an email from The Dream Cafe, the venue we were due to play in Penticton the following night, saying that they were very sorry but they were cancelling the gig as the advance ticket sales were low. This was a bit of a pisser to say the least. The venue has a great reputation and several musos on this tour had told us how we’d done really well to get the gig. We were really looking forward to it, but you can’t win em all. We reminded ourselves that this is our first tour out here, nobody knows us and we’ve had gigs cancelled in the UK for the same reason. It is something of a curse for the promoters of gigs that people very often don’t buy tickets in advance and then turn up on the night. If you’re the promoter who has to cover the hire of the venue this causes a lot of stress. More often than not these gigs are put on by volunteers who have no budget and they’re doing it for the love of it.

However, as it was, it turned out to be something of a blessing. If we’d played Penticton on the Thursday, we’d have had a nine hour drive across the Rockies ahead of the gig in Calgary on Friday night. Now we had all day Thursday to do the drive and were able to enjoy the journey (which took longer than expected due to roadworks). The scenery was amazing, woods, mountains, lakes and for the most part all in glorious sunshine.

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What are we doing here? Canadablog #6

I’ve said it scores of times, but I really do believe I’m a lucky so and so.

I was sat on stage at The Roundhouse Arts in Vancouver with Kip on my right and Ben Mink on my left. “Ben who?” you may say. Read on my friends, read on.

Ben was a long time collaborator/producer and band member of KD Lang. And he was talking to the audience about playing live at the Grammy awards with KD. They were playing her big hit Constant Craving, (which they had written together) and Ben was playing guitar in the band. He said, “I was very nervous; we were doing just the one song and the show was going out live on American TV. I noticed someone on the front row tapping their foot in time with the song. I looked up and the foot belonged to Paul McCartney”.

The song won the Grammy that night – just one of many awards he’s received. He has also produced and/or performed on recordings by Roy Orbison, Alison Kraus, Bruce Cockburn, Elton John, Feist, Daniel Lanois and many, many more.

You may be wondering how the hell did we get to be on stage alongside this man. That is exactly what I was thinking. I refer you back the first line – I’m a lucky so and so.

The evening was a part of a concert series called “Songbird North, where writers show and tell,” put together by Shari Ulrich which receives sponsorship from the Songwriters Association of Canada. Shari gets four songwriters together (including herself) and each takes it in turn to chat about a song and then sing it. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I’d emailed Shari by mistake. I thought I was emailing a venue promoter (Shari was performing there) but I’d clicked on the wrong email address. Aside from being one of Canada’s most highly respected singer/songwriters Shari is also a genuinely lovely lady. She emailed back giving me the correct email address and several other recommendations and offered us the Songbird gig. Lucky or what!

The day of the gig we were out walking in downtown Vancouver and came across the British Columbia entertainment walk of fame. A series of plaques set in the pavement honouring those who’ve made waves in the entertainment industry. This was genuinely the first plaque we noticed.

Also on the bill were Warren Murfitt and Kate Main (Murfitt & Main) two Vancouver-based writers/performers who have amassed a fine collection of Country/Western Swing songs. As well as being a smart flat-pick guitarist, Warren builds guitars in his warehouse in Vancouver which also doubles up as a live music venue.

Shari introduced us all and then sang the first song, after which we took it in turns to sing a song and and joined in with harmonies etc on others where it fitted in. Kate played some smokey double bass on a blues that Kip sang and Shari put some fiddle on our song Far Off on the Horizon.

Ben then introduced a friend to the stage, CR Avery. If Tom Waits and Lou Reed had got drunk and produced a love child, it could have been C.R. His performance was stunning.

To quote Frankie Valli “Oh what a night ”

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