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March 2nd, 2016

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics, History & Media

All the Ways Justin Trudeau’s making Canada Canada again, Contrasted with the Trump Platform

Since Canadian PM Justin Trudeau took office a few months ago I've been cheering his work at bringing his country back…

Posted by Philip Turner on Tuesday, 1 March 2016

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January 6th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Canadian Books & Authors

George Elliott Clarke, a Stellar Ambassador for Canadian Poetry

Very pleased to learn via CBC News that George Elliott Clarke—”a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq heritage, whose work has explored the African experience in Canada”—has been named the new Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada. In 2006, I published the US edition of his amazing novel George & Rue. He is an immensely likable person with an ebullient, inclusive personality, and a hugely talented writer.
 
 
Video of Professor Clarke:

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January 3rd, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio

A Favorite Year-End Music List

The music blogger with the Twitter handle @PhillyPartTwo did a terrific year-end list, with 60 great songs. I tweeted about it earlier today, and am happy to share it here. He gives top billing to one of my most favorite bands, Rah Rah, who makes his two top faves songs from their 2015 album “Vessels.”

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December 12th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio

Another Tip of the Hat to Stompin’ Tom

This must’ve been a great live show—the tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto Thursday night. It was the third tribute to him since his death in 2013, at 77. A bunch of musicians and acts including Dave Bidini, Paul Linklater, Kevin Hearn, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Shawn William Clarke, Doug Paisley, Terra Lightfoot, Serena Martin, Ron Leary, and Wax Mannequin dug in to the songbook of the prolific poet who often sang about Canada’s overlooked places and people. For American friends, imagine if Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie were somehow fused into one dynamic and storied performer, that’s who Stompin’ Tom was. The whole show must’ve been superb, like this part (from the great write-up in Toronto Now by Sarah Greene, who also took good pictures (like the one below):
“Horseshoe first-timer Shawn William Clarke sang an obscure ballad called Isle Of Magdalen, while Paul Kolinski (of Heavy On The Willie) dragged a slow, dramatic build out of 1989’s I Am The Wind, demonstrating a whole other side of [the] Canadian icon.”
I hope to be in Toronto one year for this celebration, which was also a fundraiser for the worthy organization Bidini’s involved with, Street Soccer Canada, which fields a team in the Homeless World Cup, a real tourney that helps people use soccer, and travel, to turn their lives around. Bidini, musician and author, wrote ‘Home and Away: In Search of Dreams at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer.’

If you’ve never heard a Stompin’ Tom song, here’s a live version of “Sudbury Saturday Night,” from the Horseshoe Tavern, where Tom once played 25 nights in a row, writes Sarah Greene.

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November 23rd, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life

Frazey Ford Brings Her Soul-Soaked Sound to Joe’s Pub

Entering Joe’s Pub the night of Nov 11, I saw this great photo of the recently deceased Allen Toussaint, playing with Elvis Costello. It seemed a suitable inspiration for one of my most anticipated shows of this fall: Frazey Ford playing her first Manhattan show in several years. Ford’s recent album, “Indian Ocean,” is an infectiously listenable collection of songs that brings a unique fusion of Canadian folk and southern soul and R&B to listeners’ ears. The new record was triggered when filmmaker and Muddy Waters biographer Robert Gordon heard Ford’s warm, dusky voice on a Memphis radio station, and missing an ID of who he’d just heard, called the station for her name. Soon, he’d helped arrange for Ford to record at Royal Studios in Memphis, home base for soul master Al Green, where she got the chance to play with his backing band the Hi Rhythm Section, working with Green’s longtime producer Willie Mitchell.

When I saw the stage set-up at Joe’s Pub, I was glad to see room had been made for horn players, so I knew the sounds of the new album would be faithfully rendered in this show. When the band came out, I saw Ford, decked out in a retro-looking hat and sparkly pant suit, flanked by players on trumpet, sax, lead guitar, bass, and drummer, with a back-up singer and Ford playing acoustic guitar. The six-piece outfit made for a very full sound. They launched in to songs from the current album: “Three Old Trees,” “September Fields,” “Natural Law,” “Done,” and “You’re Not Free,” as well as “Bird of Paradise,” from her earlier album, “Obadiah.” Her stage banter was fun, and funny, centering on the “draft-dodging” hippie family she grew up a part of in Canada, having presumably fled the US at some earlier point. Just like her recorded work, I found her singing consistently interesting in this live show, with a broken sort of phrasing that always projects her lyrics into interesting sonic space. I highly recommend you check out Ford on the video of “Done” and on her current tour.
https://youtu.be/PXRrySTujn8

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November 20th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics, History & Media

What a Way to Start a Life Together!

What a way to launch their life together—a Toronto couple canceled their swank wedding reception, got married at City Hall, then donated the money saved to sponsor a Syrian ‪#‎refugee‬ family of four, while encouraging friends and family to donate, too. Most of their goal has been met, and now, it being so public, I’m sure they’ll go way over the top. A true feel-good story on the CBC website.

This story is meaningful to me for many reasons, even beyond the generosity the happy and handsome couple have shown to people in need, and the example they’ve set for the rest of us. In 1991, when my wife-to-be and I were deciding how we’d be married, we had some money provided to us by our families, and instead of holding a big reception we used it to travel in Italy for six weeks, a honeymoon for the ages. We backpacked and took trains up and down the country, from Bergamo in the north down south to Rome, with stops along the way in Florence, Arezzo, Siena, Padua, Perugia, Verona, Venice, and places too tiny to remember. Kyle is a painter, and spending so much time seeing Renaissance art and architecture was a veritable graduate course in seeing for her, and for me, too. Here we are during that long honeymoon of ours.

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November 11th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life

Hollerado Kicks out Some Jams w/an Assist from Swiss Water Decaf

As a regular listener to CBC Radio 3 since 2009, I bet I’ve heard Hollerado’s music dozens of times, with hundreds of plays collectively, and I’ve always enjoyed their hook-rich songs. And yet, somehow, I had never seen them live. That’s why I was really excited last Thursday afternoon when 2014 Radio 3 Fan of the Year Regina Sienra, aka Reginula—who lives in Mexico City, and who guest-blogged on Honourary Canadian earlier this year—placed this item on my Facebook wall:

I didn’t know anything about the venue, Swiss Water Coffee Studio, but since it was being promoted as a free show, that didn’t concern me much. When I arrived, on the south side of Houston near Lafayette St, I found a bright, clean pop-up space whose walls were painted with promos for Swiss Water, which I learned is a coffee company that specializes in making coffee they pledge is the most caffeine-free of any decaf, and the very best of that variety. In fact, Swiss Water (Twitter: @swisswater) was actually offering free cups of their brew right there in the space. Though I’m a longtime black tea drinker, and a coffee-avoider, I accepted a paper cup from a barista in a Swiss Water apron and took a few sips. I found it pleasant enough, quite aromatic, and it didn’t leave me feeling as if I’d just taken some rocket fuel onboard. I was glad Swiss Water had decided to use a live rock show to promote their coffee and their brand identity, which includes a philanthropic element, Grounds for Healing.

Waiting for Hollerado to take the stage, I began chatting with someone I noticed arranging tables, getting the space ready for the show.  This I learned was Patricia Johansen-Mitchell, who told me she’s with a company called Strategic Coffee Concepts. She explained her company was working on the branding exercise with Swiss Water, for this, their first foray in to NYC. She said the pop-up space opened on Oct 30 and would run through Nov 8, serving Swiss Water decaf every day. Having left home without a pen, Patty kindly loaned me one. When I checked out Swiss Water’s Twitter feed, I saw they’re actually a Canadian outfit, located in Burnaby, BC.  It didn’t seem incongruous that Hollerado was playing the space—at a minimum the company and the band have Canadian roots in common, even though the latter hails from Manotick, Ontario—now based in Toronto— while the company is out west. Waiting for the band to begin, I situated myself at a table and set up my notebook and iPad. I noticed some fellas who looked like they could be in the band, so before they got on stage I walked up and introduced myself to, it turned out, lead guitarist Nick Boyd. I gave him my card and explained I write two blogs, including this one where I write about Canadian bands, authors, politics, media, and related topics. Moments later, the lights dimmed, Nick and I signed off, and it was time for the show.

Hollerado played a generous, full set, more than an hour, during which they exhibited a lively stage presence, joking and making good-natured fun of each other. Menno, a sandy-haired player in the middle of the photos is the rhythm guitarist, lead vocalist, and seeming front man, though he is far from the only singer, or participant in japes with the audience. He was flanked on his right by the aforementioned Nick Boyd, while Dean Baxter on bass took the place to Menno’s left, and behind those three, drummer Jake Boyd stamped out the beats. Nick Boyd’s lead guitar was recessed in the band’s mix, but it never disappeared, and made for an interesting, atypical guitar tone. Baxter’s bass was tasty and audible throughout, even though I was standing on the side away from his position. Group vocals with rousing choruses are one of Hollerado’s signatures, and lots of them were sung this night by three or all four of their voices. The sound is brash and very loud, at moments, but amid the fierce attack the vibe created is nonetheless always genial, pumping out memorable melodies that lodge nicely in the mind’s ear. They traversed much of their catalog, playing “Firefly,” “Good Day at the Races,” Pick Me Up,” Riverside,” “Desire 126,” and “Juliette,” all of which can be heard at their CBC Radio 3 band page, and a couple new songs I hope to hear on an upcoming album. Hollerado seems remarkably stable, for a rock band. They’ve been together as a four-piece since around 2007, and have a label, Royal Mountain Records, that puts out their albums, as well as the big bands Pup, and Alvvays, at least in Canada.

 

After the show I met Swiss Water’s CEO, Frank Dennis, another friendly presence in the space. Like me, he’d loved Hollerado’s set, and we had a pleasant chat about favorite Canadian groups. As the band began packing up their equipment, I waved good night to them, and walked next door to a bar for a beer. Once I had a pilsener poured for me, I took out my little bike light, and began reading my book, Riverside Drive, a crime novel I’ve been enjoying, by Windsor, Ontario writer Michael Januska. A few minutes later I looked up and there was Hollerado, carrying their instruments and coming in for a beer with, I learned, a couple of Brooklyn musician friends who had also been at the show. The band members saw me, too. Menno and I began talking enthusiastically about the outcome of the recent Canadian elections, and I accepted their offer when they asked if I’d like to join them at their table. We continued talking politics, then Nick and Jake and I launched into a discussion of favorite super-groups from the 1960s-’70s—Cream, Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin, among others. We talked about drummers, and drumming, and I told Jake about a close friend of my college-age son—a very talented drummer—who’s joined the US Army so he can play in the Army band and travel the world making music. Jake had heard of that opportunity, and pointed out he must be a superb player, since candidates must go through competitive auditions before they are offered a spot in the Army’s musical outfit.

We also discussed one of my favorite Canadian musicians, Matt Mays, as I regaled them with an account of the time when, in the wee hours one early morning at Toronto’s Cameron House, country rocker Sam Cash invited Mays to share a mic with him, including a heartfelt rendition of Neil Young’s “Helpless,” with which everyone in the bar sang along; a book I’d recently edited by Toronto science journalist Elaine Dewar, Smarts: The Boundary-busting Story of Intelligence; the classic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, and The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, an anthology of classic genre fiction I agented by Lawrence Ellsworth, one of D&D’s early creators; the CBC Radio 3 community, including friend Russ Gordon whose music blog is Go NORTH to Windsor, SOUTH to Detroit; and dogs, since Nick showed a photo of his new puppy, which prompted me to mention the great black Lab of my teens and early adulthood, Noah

After one last Lagunitas IPA, I bade farewell to the band, and wished them all well as they flew back to Toronto the following day for a show the next night. I hope Hollerado come back to NYC real soon, so I can hear them again, and let other live music fans here know about the fun show they put on.

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October 29th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Personal history, Family, Friends; Travels

#TBT Road Trip through Eastern Quebec, Fall 1987

These chilly and wet autumn days are reminding me of a solo road trip I made from NYC through New England and in to Quebec in the fall of 1987. I made it all the way out to La Belle Province’s far eastern regions, to the Gaspé Peninsula, the lobster tail-shaped region that juts out in to the Atlantic Ocean, where it was chilly and the scenery spectacular, from Parc Forillon, a little-known jewel of Canada’s network of national parks that’s along the ocean, to the majestic Percé Roche (aka le rocher percé or ‘pierced rock’), which I’ve written about here on this blog. I had a timer on my camera and was able to take these pre-social media selfies. 

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