By Michael Barclay - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
Michael Barclay on the musician who was ‘more punk rock’ than most punk rockers
Stompin’ Tom Connors, who died yesterday at age 77, was a larger-than-life Canadian icon—there is no questioning that. But as with many legends, most of what we know is caricature, cartoonish, parochial and, yes, occasionally puerile. Few of us know the depth of the man known for writing some silly songs that soundtrack a map of Canada. Stompin’ Tom was—is—a DIY icon, a national poet, more punk rock than 99 per cent of musicians using that term, and the man who loved this country more than any politician ever could, more than any fellow artist ever did.
Stompin’ Tom came of age after Canada’s centennial, shortly after we finally got our own flag. It was a time when anything seemed possible—primarily because nothing was before that (as the 1951 Massey Commission took pains to point out). We were just discovering our literary voice. Our folk and rock musicians were making serious indents in the U.S.—though often not sticking around to lift up those next in line. We were just starting to make our own films. (Tom’s To It and At It scored a key sequence in the SCTV parody of 1970’s Goin’ Down the Road, where wide-eyed Maritimers walk down Toronto’s Yonge Street.)
By Michael Barclay - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
Michael Barclay catches up with the lead singer of the Hurtin’ Albertans
There’s a famous story about Willie Nelson being invited to the White House by Jimmy Carter, and sneaking off to smoke a joint on the roof while Secret Service members looked on. Sadly, the part about Carter joining Nelson for what the songwriter calls an “Austin torpedo” is only a rumour (denied by both parties), though one beloved by heavy-lidded High Times subscribers ever since.
Willie Nelson is a hero to Alberta country singer Corb Lund, though not for his marijuana advocacy nor even necessarily for his music. Lund, who has spent several stints living in Nelson’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas—a singer/songwriter mecca and countercultural hotbed—most respects Nelson’s ability to unite “hippies, cowboys and bikers” at his shows.
Likewise, in a North American zeitgeist where politicians delight in exploiting a rural-urban culture war, Lund is the rare country musician who unites Fort McMurray oil rig workers, Toronto tree-huggers and everyone in between: classic rockers, hardcore country fans, campus radio geeks, and anyone who loves a good yarn, regardless of musical genre.
By Michael Barclay - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:01 AM - 0 Comments
The veteran band celebrates 25 years with box set and staging their own tribute night
Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo laughs and says, “When I think of the mistakes that we have made over the years and that we’ve survived, it’s ridiculous.”
It’s also miraculous. To be any kind of band for longer than five years is a major victory. To be a band for 25 years is a formidable feat, especially in this country. But to be a successful Canadian band for over 25 years putting out new albums that routinely go gold and platinum is—well, now we’re really only talking about two bands: The Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo.
Blue Rodeo played their first gig in Toronto in February 1985, after Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor returned from New York City. They released their first album, Outskirts, in 1987. Unlike The Tragically Hip, who are exactly the same age and have maintained the same lineup since day one, Blue Rodeo has a large extended family of ex-members and star collaborators who have bolstered the core trio of Cuddy, Keelor and bassist Bazil Donovan. Some of those showed up at an intimate show at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio for some live karaoke, performing the band’s greatest hits, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Outskirts and a new box set compiling the group’s first five albums.
By Michael Barclay - Friday, November 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Dundas, Ont. native has a new electronic album, and it sounds good at home or in a dance club
It’s every musician’s worst nightmare, and it’s one Dan Snaith witnessed first-hand: seeing a stage collapse and take a life. It was June 2012 at Downsview Park in Toronto, where Snaith’s band Caribou was set to open for Radiohead on the last North American show of a tour that put Snaith—a native of Dundas, Ont., who started out making bedroom electronic music—in front of his biggest audiences to date. What should have been a triumphant hometown show turned tragic, when Radiohead’s drum tech, Scott Johnson, was killed in the collapse; three other technicians were treated for injuries.
“My wife and I were standing behind the stage when it collapsed,” says Snaith. “For a long period of time, whenever I closed my eyes, it would be what I would see. It was devastating, a horrible day. There are a lot of people involved in Radiohead’s team, and I gained a whole new respect for the way they conducted themselves in the face of this tragedy.”
Though that day’s gig was cancelled, and the next leg of a European tour was postponed, the show, as they say, must go on, and Snaith played his final gig with Radiohead just two weeks ago. In the meantime, however, he spent any downtime he had in 2012 on an entirely different project, one with much more scaled back ambitions.
Snaith started writing and recording tracks in a single afternoon, on his way out the door to DJ gigs in his adopted hometown of London (where he’s lived for the past 10 years after moving there to get his Ph.D. in math). Unlike the layered, carefully arranged electronic and experimental pop music of Caribou, the new material Snaith recorded under the name Daphni was designed for dance clubs: not for big stages, and not for his touring band, which can swell up to seven people. Not even necessarily for listening at home, although Daphni’s debut album, Jiaolong, has achieved that rare, impossible thing: an album that works as well in a club as it does
By Michael Barclay - Friday, October 26, 2012 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Sam Sutherland
The world does not need another book about punk rock, full of self-righteous mythmaking, railing against mainstream culture and grossly exaggerating the importance of a three-chord song played with youthful fury in 1977. What the world does need, however, is this particular book. Canadian music of any genre rarely gets mythologized; rarer still is it done as well as it is here. Sam Sutherland strikes the balance between an enthusiastic fanboy, a meticulous researcher and a masterful magazine writer; each of his chapters conveys maximum information in minimum time—with plenty of vomit, violence, electrocution and decidedly dangerous characters to fuel the narrative—and dispels the myth of a conformist Canada drowning in dreadfully dull culture.
Sutherland also does what so many Canadian cultural histories fail to do: document scenes in every province without coming across as tokenistic. You think it was hard to be a punk in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver in the ’70s? Try Edmonton or Fredericton or Meat Cove, N.S.; those stories are often more entertaining for their sheer absurdity. The country’s biggest punk names (D.O.A., Pointed Sticks, Teenage Head, Viletones) all get their due, but they’re never the whole story; Sutherland also points readers toward other essential books to flesh out the narrative, such as Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt. Now-unlikely players like k.d. lang’s manager, Larry Wanagas, and Liberal party attack dog Warren Kinsella are also paid respect.
Far too many rock books cop out with oral histories; Sutherland plays up his strength as a storyteller without ever seeming desperate to impress with academic analogies. Even if you’re a reader who will never track down the music discussed here, even if you’re tired of hearing 50-year-old rounders at the bar waxing nostalgic about their punk-rock past, Perfect Youth is still a fascinating read about making something out of absolutely nothing. It’s a crucial contribution to our cultural history.