Lillian Allen & the Revolutionary Tea Party Band
Lillian Allen often reminds us of the fact that you can pack an atomic bomb into a suitcase; in her five feet couple of inches, there is a power like that in a coiled spring. While performing her poetry an enormous amount of energy, experience and determination is released. Lillian’s work is above all a response to oppression; a state she knows first-hand as a black, a woman, an immigrant, a worker, a mother. Tag the adjective “poor” to all these categories and you get some idea of the experiences that Lillian talks, sings and yells about.
Originally from Jamaica, Lillian arrived in Canada in the late 60’s, worked at a series of dead-end jobs to put herself through school, and later worked as an organizer in Toronto’s black community She had been writing’ poetry before she left Jamaica, but the advent of dub which developed simultaneously in Jamaica and England in the late 70’s provided Lillian with a voice which flowed naturally from her community.
Dub poetry replicates with or without musical accompaniment, the rhythms of reggae music, using black Caribbean speech patterns and slang as its form of expression. In Lillian’s hands dub has become a weapon to fight racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms’ inherent in capitalism. And yes, there is anger in Lillian’s performance. But there is also humour and love. Lillian’s first book of poems, Rhythm and Hard Times, has sold in the thousands of copies. Her first solo album, Revolutionary Tea Party won the 1986 Juno Award for the best reggae record. We’re not sure who was more surprised: Lillian or the members of the music industry at the Juno Awards.
With Lillian will be the band that helped make the record, including Laurie Conger, Billy Bryans, Dave Gray from Parachute Club, as well as bass player Terry Lewis.
On a November afternoon a few years back, a group of singers and musicians took the stage in a theatre in Santiago, Chile. The occasion was a homage to the death of Chile’s nobel prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. They began the song with drums, then added guitars; by the time they started singing, the ten thousand people who packed the theatre were singing with them. For the first time in a decade El Pueblo Unido (The People United), hymn of the Popular Unity government overthrown by the military was being publicly sung in Chile.
That group was Amauta, one of the finest of the New Song groups to emerge Chile, a country that provided much of the inspiration for a movement that swept Latin America in the 60’s and 70’s . The New Song movement continues to be the most important force in contemporary Latin American popular music. The members of Amauta were children or teenagers when the military took power in 1973, killing among others Victor Jara and driving into exile many of the countries greatest cultural figures, including groups like Inti Illimani and Quilapayun. As part of the second generation of Chilean New Song, this group has helped rebuild Chilean culture. As members of other musical entities and since 1981 as Amauta, they have participated in a series of social and political movements that have been fought against the military dictatorship, playing in shanty-towns as well as theatres. Their music is based in the traditional music of Chile, but with other Latin American and international influences. Their songs include material by authors of pre-coup vintage, but mainly they reflect what is happening in Chile now.
We are proud to present Amauta. They are Manuel Acuna, Claudio Toro, Juan Valladeres, Jorge Campos, Ramon Narea, Patricio Lanfranco.
We will probably never fully appreciate how much we owe to The Weavers, the seminal American folk group of the 50’s who popularized everything from Goodnight Irene to On Top of Old Smokey; and also started a young women from Cumberland, England singing folk songs. That was in 1957. By the early 60’s, many British singers, including Frankie, had rediscovered the rich traditional material that the British common people had created over the centuries. But within a few years, Frankie had moved her repertoire into the present. She added material highlighting the contemporary reality of people whose roots were not dissimilar to those featured in the traditional ballads.
This fusion of the traditional with the contemporary, when coupled with an stunningly powerful voice, produced one of the finest of a generation of great British folk singers. But Frankie’s development did not stop there. The women’s movement influenced her to explore new and old expressions of women’s personal and social relationships. Songs about cotton mill workers of the last century are sung along with those written by and about the women at Greenham Common. She performs a large repertoire of songs by the German poet, Bertolt Brecht, and has worked extensively with Leon Rosselson and Roy Bailey. As an exceptional singer, she has been involved in a number of vocal workshops designed to help singers and non-singers liberate their voices.
When we first met Roy, we felt there was a certain schizophrenia that divided Roy the academic, from Roy the singer. But over the years it became clear that Roy is a very integrated human being. His commitment to analyzing and interpreting the world merely expresses itself in two different forms. Roy is the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Health and Welfare of Sheffield City Polytechnic – he is also one of the finest British performers of traditional and contemporary folk songs.
Roy’s career as a singer goes back to the early days of the British folk song revival. Since then, he has worked as a solo performer, with Leon Rosselson, or occasionally with accordion whiz John Kirkpatrick and others. His fairly regular trips to our hemisphere, have allowed him to develop one of the most impressive repertoires of contemporary songs on either side of the Atlantic. Few performers are as comfortable with the material of Charlie King, Si Kahn, and Charlie Murphy as they are with British writers ranging from Richard Thompson to Leon Rosselson. Over the last few years he has leaned toward contemporary compositions, but he remains a master of the traditional song. What unites his material is the same force that brings together his academic work with his performing. He is passionately committed to telling the stories of ordinary people.
Banco del Ruido
We caught this group at a fundraiser for Salvadorean earthquake victims in Mexico City, where they were the 17th to play in one of those benefit shows that seem more like an endurance contest. Yet, they brought an exhausted audience to its feet and won an encore. The more flighty among you might want to carry some weights to their performance.
Banco del Ruido (Noisebank in translation). specializes in the percussion music of Latin America, particularly Afro-Latin percussion. Founded in early 1982 as an experimental percussion workshop, the group became professional within two years and is now winning ever larger audiences in its home base of Mexico. The groups they have opened for read like a Who’s Who – from Ray Barreto to Tito Puente to Celia Cruz.
Their music has enormous variety; compositions for pre-Columbian percussion and wind instruments, Afro-Brazilian religious cult music, a salute to Cuba in Afro-Cuban style, and hot salsa adding bass, keyboards and other things, to the dozens of percussion instruments. This is a group that is stretching its creative wings and taking off. Banco del Ruido is Hector Infanson, Alfredo Bringas, Carlos Tovar, Enrique Rivarola, Alfonso Aguilar, Mario Alberto Torres, Jesus Mendoza, Alejandro Barrientos Silva.
Berline, Cray & Hickman
In the age of New Acoustic Music, where no instrument seems to be complete without an array of effects, peddles. computers, inputs, outputs and other gadgets that usually decide to go wrong at the moment of performance, it is always a delight to get to hear Byron Berline, Dan Crary and John Hickman. The combined talents of these three virtuoso musicians, make both traditional and contemporary tunes come alive in a style that highlights the power resting in well played acoustic instruments.
Byron Berline is a fiddler second-to none. His father was an accomplished fiddler and Byron carries on the family tradition playing this most important of all American traditional instruments in a way respectful of the past while opening up new possibilities. Dan Crary is one of the finest guitarists of our times. He is both an exceptional player and teacher. As a flat-picker he has few equals, either in terms of his technique or the originality of his ideas. John Hickman is that rarest of banjo players: one who has learned the secret of jazz – the proper notes to leave out. It strikes us that the banjo is an instrument that is often overplayed, and one of the delights of John’s playing is his spare style, which shows enormous taste.
Years of playing together have created an ensemble which seems to think with one brain, while doing some amazing things with its six hands.
For years we have wondered why Bim is so damned good. For years he has written great songs, given some stunning performances and shown exceptional taste in choosing other folks’ songs to perform and record. And finally it seems to come back to that old cliche, that genius is 98 percent perspiration and two percent inspiration.
Roy works at it like any other skilled tradesperson. He listens to all kinds of music and has an encyclopedic knowledge of late 20th century North American country and western, blues, and rock music. And he is critical. He reworks his songs like a goldsmith – filing and polishing until he has a song that contains all possible nuances of expression.
Bim comes from Dawson Creek in northern B.C. which is not exactly a centre of culture. But when he grew up there was always music – the Hanks (Snow & Williams), Wilf Carter, Elvis, Buddy Holly, and later Dylan, the Rolling Stones, etc. As an upstanding representative of his generation, Roy started off with rock and a band with the quintessential 60’s name Crystal Ship. He put in years of apprenticeship, playing for anyone who would listen, before the release of his first album in 1975. Since then, there have been four more records, a brush with rock stardom, and years of hard work. That has earned him both a loyal following and a growing legion of fans that include some pretty surprising members, like Bernice Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Lately Roy has been touring with Connie Kaldor and working away in his North Vancouver basement getting ready to record another album.
Tony Bird & Morris Goldberg
Tony Bird lust doesn’t fit any of the categories. After all, how many white South African songwriters are there floating around over here? The influences of his first twenty years or so continue to define his musical personality. Long before Paul Simon or Juluka, Tony Bird discovered the incredible sounds coming out of the townships. Tony takes the sounds he grew up listening to and adds his own artistic sensibilities, to produce a content and style like no other. He sings about things that are specific to Africa: landscapes and experiences that we can only imagine, as well as emotions and slices of life that are common to us all. His approach to the writing and to the rhythms of speech underline the fact that Tony is from somewhere else. His return is one of the attractions of this year’s Festival.
Morris Goldberg has been a favourite of ours since we first heard him perform with Tony Bird. A white South African jazz musician, he has spent most of his professional career backing up performers like Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte, as well as leading his own group, playing jazz from Johannesburg to New York. Morris is one of the most sensitive saxophone players it has been our pleasure to hear, as well as being a whiz on pennywbistle. He seems to blend effortlessly with whomever he is playing adding just the right embellishments to bring out the full potential of a song. Lately, Morris has been doing film work in Los Angeles, touring with Harry Belafonte, and playing on Paul Simon’s Graceland album.
Sandy Bradley & The Small Wonder String Band
Musician, auctioneer, dance caller, radio host, Sandy Bradley has been one of the mainstays of old-timey music in Seattle for many a year. We knew her first as a member of the Gypsy Gyppo String Band. The next time we saw Sandy, she had teamed up with Greg and Jere Canote. The Canotes hail from the Bay Area of San Francisco and have been playing up and down the West Coast since 1970. With Greg on fiddle and Jere on banjo, guitar, harmonica and sax, and Sandy on guitar and piano, this trio is first rate. They combine an intense dedication to their music with a whopping big dollop of humour. They seem to feed off each other on stage producing performances which are energetic and irresistible. The music runs from traditional old-timey, to movie cartoon sound tracks, to novelty songs, to blues. They are also a first rate dance band. If you want to know why old-timey music has maintained such a wide audience, take a listen. It doesn’t come better than this.
It’s not very often we get developing rock stars at this Festival. Usually, we don’t want them and they don’t want us. And we didn’t even know that Billy Bragg fit this description until a number of people informed us. We thought he was the young British singer who did such a good job on Leon Rosselson’s song The World Turned Upside Down. One who so powerfully rewrote Florence Reese’s song, Which Side Are You On, for the British coalminers, and whose own song Between The Wars was such a masterful evocation of the longing for revolutionary change, that it brought tears to our eyes. Those three songs were on one side of the first album we ever heard by Billy Bragg. Then, lo and behold. Rolling Stone reviewed his third album and compared him in one sentence to The Clash, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies of the Kinks, and Chuck Berry Well, that may or may not be.
For us, Billy Bragg is an exceptionally talented songwriter, an interpreter of other very good songwriters, a representative of a generation of performers with one foot in rock, the other in folk, and one who shows a commitment to music that says something about the world and about people’s lives. His experience was very much the same as millions of other British working class youth. Born in 1957 in East London he dropped out of school and learned how to play the guitar as a way to avoid working in a factory He played in some bands and ended up, when all else failed, joining the British Army That obviously wasn’t an answer and so he went back to the guitar.
Slowly and then more quickly Billy Bragg developed an audience which has now grown to the point where he tours widely and produces albums for major labels. In some ways, that’s no different from the story of a hundred other successful rock singers. But what sets Billy Bragg apart is his commitment to politics. His notion that the role of the singer is in part to acknowledge and reflect society has led him to become active in supporting a variety of campaigns. These range from support for the British miners, to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, to the fight to elect the Labour party in the recent British elections as part of the Red Wedge, a group of politically committed British performers. It is that commitment, combined with his talent, that led us to invite him to this Festival.
The hoop dance is one of the most difficult and visually exciting parts of the dance culture of Canada’s indigenous peoples. Done with two dozen or more wooden hoops, this Western Canadian native dance is both physically demanding and beautiful to watch. Billy Brittain, his five year old son Clifford and singer/drummer accompanist Robert Taypayosatum are from Saskatchewan. Over the years, Bill has gained a reputation as one of the finest exponents of hoop dancing. He has an ability to communicate the culture of his people through his art, by the stories he tells about the origins of the hoop dance, and through the sense of pride, dignity and beauty expressed by his dancing body The sense of communication between Bill and his son Clifford, as they work together, is a joy to behold. In a year where we wanted to represent a number of styles of dance from different parts of Canada and the world, we couldn’t think of a finer representative of Canadian native dancing than Billy Brittain.
Anyone who has ever seen our logo knows that this Festival has an attachment to birds. And by the way it’s a seagull, not a duck. Imagine our delight then, when we found out that a capercaillie is a big bird that lives in Scottish forests. a fact that is mere coincidence, and not at all why we hired the group. We’ve heard a lot of good music out of Scotland over the years. But we were knocked off our perch when we heard Capercaillie. Not only was the tape great (better than anything we’ve heard out of Scotland in ages) but when one of our intrepid staff members paused long enough from buying sweaters to hear the group live at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she confirmed the fact. This is one great band.
Capercaillie was formed about four years ago, following an impromptu session at the Mull Folk Festival, and is comprised of six fairly young, disgustingly talented members. Mainly they are from rural Northern Scotland, and this has shaped their music. Their influences are the Gaelic songs of the Scottish islands, the fiddle music of the Shetlands. and the Highland bagpipe tunes. The Gaelic vocals are as gorgeous as the instrumental music is hot and powerful. In a year where we are emphasizing the music of Scotland, and Scottish music in Canada. we count ourselves lucky to welcome Capercaillie. They are Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Marc Duff, Shaun Craig, Charlie McKerron and Anton Kirkpatrick.
What, you may ask, is the former entertainment editor of the Calgary Herald doing living in North Carolina making records of seditious political protest songs with accompaniment by members of the Red Clay Ramblers and the Violent Femmes? Why is this man touring the country playing a rake in concert? And charging money to hear this? Why did a CBC producer. having done a live show with Eugene Chadbourne. go out and get drunk figuring that he’d lost his job and had nothing left to lose? Well, Eugene Chadhourne is not your typical folkie, let’s just put it that way.
Even though he now has something like 75 recordings to his credit, he remains more of a rumour to many people than the ace guitar player, singer and songwriter we think he is. Eugene’s problem is that he does too many things too well, and too weirdly to fall into any easy categorization. His music transcends rock, jazz, folk, country and performance art, while drawing on all of them. Originally from the United States, Eugene spent a number of years in Calgary during the Vietnam wars, as a result of disagreement over the American government’s foreign policy There he began recording his somewhat eccentric collection of records and tapes that embrace and, in some cases demolish. almost every North American musical style.
Perhaps best known in jazz circles, we’d always thought of Eugene as somebody a little too far out there for what we do. That was until we seriously listened to a few of his records and realized we were just the spot for a talent like this.
Oscar Chavez & Los Morales
If anyone has a total grasp of the cultural diversity of Mexican music, it is Oscar Chavez. In numerable concerts, tours, and in dozens of recordings, Oscar Chavez has brought life to both the past and present of Mexican popular music, and to music from other parts of Latin American. From political parodies to an album of corridos (story-songs about the Mexican/U.S. border); from tributes to great Mexican singers of the 30’s and 40’s to a brilliant album of songs about Nicaragua: from an entire record of popular Mexican Christmas songs to an album of songs from Argentina, and on and on…
Oscar Chavez is as true a cultural ambassador as we could bring from Mexico. For years we had admired his work but we never thought he would come here. Then a mutual friend in Mexico suggested, “Why don’t you ask him?” And not only did he accept our invitation but he is bringing with him Los Morales, an exceptional group of three brothers. Playing a wide variety of music from many different regions of Mexico, Los Morales seem to have mastered all the styles and a number of instruments as well, from the accordion. to the harp. to a variety of guitars. We know that Oscar Chavez and Los Morales will present the incredible treasure trove of Mexican music with the pride and dignity it deserves.
Clann Na Gael
We like the dance that appears at this Festival to be exceptional and we think that Clann Na Gael fits the bill. Since 1979 this group has impressed both dance connoisseurs and the general public. A top-notch dancing ability coupled with enthusiasm and good communication with their audiences has earned them a reputation as the best Irish dance troupe in Europe.
This group is led by Barbara Slater, an exceptional dancer, who has qualified four successive times in the World Irish Dance Championships. She is known for her creativity and sense of style. But she is also a gifted instructor who will be bringing along four of her award-winning students. And they won’t be the only award-winners on stage. Clann Na Gael will be accompanied by two members of St. James Gate, winners of the World Champion All Ireland Band Competition. This band is based in San Antonio, Texas but don’t let that fool you. Jim Fox on fiddle and concertina and Sean Egan on flute and whistle will provide just the right accompaniment for these wonderful Irish dancers.
Clann Na Gael is Barbara Slater, Maggie Fox, Anne Marie Nevin and Diane Todd.
What could go hand-in-band with folk music better than stand-up comedy? After all, contemporary humourists. like their songwriting counterparts, follow the great tradition of popular entertainers who interpret the world in a way which reveals its foibles and contradictions. The first person who really brought this lesson home to us was Kate Clinton, who we were happy to have at the 1985 Festival. Kate is more than an entertainer, or even a good humourist. Her material transcends the audience for whom it was written. Much of her humour is feminist. And even those who thought that feminist and humour were mutually exclusive can be found laughing.
In the last few years she has broadened her sights to include ever wider spheres of human activity Kate doesn’t even fear our most sacred cows. Her Shop for Peace campaign, which culminated in a joint Canadian/American rendition of Do They Know It’s Boxing Day? is a nice example. She has described her work as “existential rubbernecking here on the Planet of the Guys.” The events of the last year have likely provided Kate Clinton with a wealth of possibilities. We look forward to her return with great expectation.
Although the guitar is more or less of European origin, its fullest flowering as an instrument used in folk or traditional music, has been reached in North America. Most of today’s great European folk-based guitar players tend to owe more to this continent’s folk revival than to the folk scene in their own countries. Perhaps it is the combination of North American technique, mixed with European aesthetics that has created so many excellent Europeans guitar players. One thinks of John Renbourne, Pierre Bensusan, etc.
Peppino D’Agostino is another who has absorbed the best that both continents can offer. Technically, he is a whiz. Born in Messina, Italy in 1956, Peppino is self-taught — there are not too many guitar schools in Messina. He started out mimicking the styles of 60’s rock groups. Then he incorporated influences from Italian and Irish traditional music, combined with classical, country and Brazilian styles. By the time he was 18, he was performing throughout Italy and had begun to write his own compositions. As a musician he has incredible breadth of vision. He can move from an Italian traditional tune to a self-composed tribute to American guitarist Robbie Basho, to some rag-time or jazz standards. He does each with consummate technical ability and great feeling. We think Peppino is going to join the ranks of the very finest guitar players anywhere, and we are happy to introduce him to Vancouver. Oh, by the way he can also sing… and it is beautiful.
It was while watching a presentation that included four or five dance troupes from Mexico and Central America that we realized the enormous influence Wallflower Order had on contemporary socially-committed dance. The impact of their work had extended far beyond their backyard on the US west coast.
The Dance Brigade is a group that emerged from Wallflower Order and then the Wallflower Order Dance Brigade. It is led by Krissy Keefer and Nina Fichter who are respectively a founder and a nine-year veteran of Wallflower. Their eclectic dance form moves from foundation in classical and modern dance to incorporate such stylistic influences as the martial arts, sign language, theatre and comedy. But what is really special about the company is their ability to give expression to some of today’s most challenging social conditions and movements. They have moved us to tears reduced us to helpless laughter and filled us with awe at the beauty of the movement of the human body By combining words and music with their dance, they create an impact that goes far beyond any contemporary dance we have ever seen. Their performance is indeed something very special. Welcome back Krissy Keefer; Nina Fichter, Tiona Gundy, Kim Epifano, Debbie Taylor.
There is a promo photo of Hazel Dickens that always reminds us of Margaret Bourke-White’s classic book of photographs called You Have Seen Their Faces. The qualities of pride, pain, sorrow determination and enormous strength come through in these photos of poor U.S. southerners taken in the 1930’s. It is these qualities we see in the Hazel Dickens photo. And in her case, at least, the camera doesn’t lie. For all these things are present in Hazel as a woman, and in her music.
Hazel is quite simply one of the best traditional singers alive today. Raised in a family of 11 children in the coal camps of West Virginia, Hazel lived many of the experiences about which she sings. She grew up in an atmosphere where music was an important part of her daily life. Her plaintive and emotive voice brings forth both sorrow and hope, providing a fabric for her music and a window on her Appalachian roots. Her songs have been used by Emmy Lou Harris and Linda Ronstadt and also for the sound track of the Academy Award winning documentary Harlen County, USA. She was one of the first traditional country artists to begin performing and writing songs exploring the reality of southern women’s lives. She has sung at benefits for coal miners, for welfare rights groups and for women’s organizations. This year she is going to sing for you. Consider yourself lucky.
Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
Ramblin’ Jack’s performing abilities now run the risk of being buried under the legends about him. After all, this is the guy who ran away from home to travel with Woody Guthrie. Bruce Springsteen snuck back stage to go to his dressing room. Rod Stewart sent him a telegram asking for his autograph, and Mick Jagger used to stand transfixed as Jack played in the subways of London. Bob Dylan learned from him, and so did almost all the other elder statespersons of the folk revival. It’s a good bet that he influenced a goodly percentage of the performers at any folk festival and that he was one of the first performers heard by many in the audience. Jack was there at the beginning, and Jack is here now; traveling around playing, singing and generally keeping the music alive. Born in Brooklyn, Jack ran away to see the cowboys and ended up working on a real ranch. In Japan they take people like Jack and call them National Living Treasures, and that is really what he is. He is a repository of country folk and contemporary songs. The man is the very antithesis of fad. If you are interested in the real thing, Jack can show you where it went.
Who else would stand up in front of a howling mob of 8,000 people to announce that there won’t be an encore? Who would kill time while a nervous musician checks their direct input box for the fourth time before taking to the stage? It is not an easy job folks, and this year we are blessed with three stalwart Festival veterans who will attempt to keep the show running smoothly They are: Bob Bossin, founder of Stringband. Canada’s shortest folk group, and its most long-lived, currently performing as a soloist and touring his one-man show Bossin’s Home Remedy for Nuclear War.
Kitty King, singer and bass player in Vancouver’s best bluegrass band, The Little Mountain Band. Teacher and role model, with great experience in dealing with the emotionally immature and getting her own way. Rick Scott, veteran of Pied Pumpkin and Pied Pear, solo performer and actor. Mr. Stage Presence himself.
Ferron has made a name for herself in all kinds of publications over the last couple of years. Rolling Stone gave her last album, Shadows on a Dime, a whole bunch of stars and rave concert reviews often reach us from here and there. But we were still surprised to see her name and her lyrics pop up in the federal Hansard, the House of Commons official word-by-word record of note. In the December 1, 1986 edition, Svend Robinson, M.P and Folk Festival fan from Burnaby, ended a speech in favour of including sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, with twelve lines from Ferron’s It Won’t Take Long. Welcome is the day when artists are quoted by politicians, rather than the other way around. We have thought for years that Ferron’s articulate, well-crafted and powerful expressions about the human condition could serve as excellent speeches on a number of issues.
Ferron comes from Richmond, B.C. and like many great poets, there seems to be nothing in her background to account for such an acute eye for human behaviour. She is a songwriter whose phrases and images stick. Ferron is able to express things that are universal, in words that most of us can never find. And that is what makes a great artist.
Ferron will be accompanied by noted L.A. session artist Novi Novog.
Cathy Fink is on her way to becoming a sort of Renaissance-woman of American folk music. That is a long way from the Montreal subways where she gave her first professional performances in the early 70’s. Cathy came to Canada from Baltimore and for five years she toured North America with Duck Donald as a great bluegrass and old-timey duet. Since 1979, Cathy has been living in Washington D.C. where she has honed her skills as a champion banjo-player, a great fiddler and a singer of everything from 30’s and 40’s jazz to women’s songs, to original compositions. She is also a consummate children’s entertainer, record producer and organizer. Cathy has helped women like Olabelle Reed and Patsy Montana bring the roots of country music to new audiences.
In the process she has given over 3,000 concerts across the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Increasingly she has specialized in songs from the rich tradition of women in country music. She is one of those few performers who can take an enormous variety of material and put it together in a way that makes sense.
Lately she has been working a lot with Marcy Marxer, of whom you will read more below. Cathy and Marcy will be joined here by Nancy Katz, a Seattle folk scene mainstay and bass player.
Four the Moment
These days the sources of inspiration for folk groups are as varied as the performers themselves, but we have Sweet Honey in the Rock to thank for the existence of Four the Moment, a group of young women from Halifax, Nova Scotia. In August of 1981 they launched their careers by singing Joanne Little, a Sweet Honey song, at a community benefit. Today, the group is winning audiences from one end of the country to the other and they have just finished recording their first album.
Their music is a fusion of folk, gospel, blues and soul. Increasingly, their lyrics are their own. They sing about being black in Nova Scotia (perhaps Canada’s version of Mississippi), about unemployment, and about black history; from the black slaves brought to Canada to songs about black gypsum miners in Nova Scotia. With their music they are telling this country and the world about one of those pieces of history left out of the books but kept alive in the form of songs. They’re great singers and they are getting better and better. We are proud to welcome to this Festival for the first time, Delvina Bernard, Kim Bernard-Morris, Andrea Currie and Debby Jones.
Gaelic Cape Breton
Cape Breton is one of the few regions of English speaking Canada where a real horde of traditional music and song still exists. That is why we are delighted to present a group of Cape Breton singers, dancers and instrumentalists.
In the early 19th century Cape Breton Island, off the eastern Nova Scotia mainland was settled by Gaelic speaking Scots, many of whom emigrated because of the political, economic and religious pressures of the Highland Clearances. They arrived with few possessions and no English, but brought with them a highly evolved oral and musical folk tradition. Their culture flourished during the 19th century and it has survived to this day a loyalty to Gaelic culture has made them unique in North America. The songs. fiddle playing and step dances at the core of the Gaelic Cape Breton culture have given folklore collector and researcher. John Shaw, much to study over the last 25 years. We asked him to bring some of the best of the older traditional performers along with some of the younger generation to Vancouver. We are proud to introduce you to Cape Breton in this way Gaelic Cape Breton is Harvey Bea ton, Alice Freeman, Willy Kennedy, Dave MacIsaac, Allan MacLeod, Natalie MacMaster, Maxie MacNeil, John Shaw and James Watson.
Sheila suggested we bill her as a stand-up Canadian. Okay what can you say about somebody who started her first professional gig at the age of 17 as Anita Bryant wearing rotten fruit? Although she gets categorized as a comedian. basically Sheila Gostick stands up and talks about what is relevant. That she can make you laugh is what separates art from social anthropology or political science. The fact that Sheila draws on the insights of feminism for a lot of her material gives a certain twist to what she does. Her experience playing everything from pro-abortion rights rallies, to a stag party adds up to an artist unafraid of any situation. This fearlessness adds to the brilliance of her work.
Unlike many comedians who have “bits” worked out, Sheila improvises; each show is different. Often she’ll work through a bunch of newspapers from whatever town she’s playing, to make her show topical and relevant. That entails taking risks. But these risks have paid off to the point that Sheila has developed a reputation for being one of the most interesting artists around. She’s also toured this country enough to have some great takes on who we are: from Wayne Gretsky – “He’s my kind of guy: wealthy and not home” – to Newfoundland. “They are so polite you could throw yourself in front of a car and they don’t run you over; they wait for you to cheer up.” – to our reported Canadian dullness “I think they made a mistake when they made the flag red; I think they were thinking beige.”
If the role of an artist is to hold a mirror up to reality, we think that many will be surprised by the reflections produced by Sheila Gostick.
When we hired The Horseflies for this Festival, we were looking for a to p-notch, old-time string band. On the basis of their record, we figured they would do the trick. Heck, they were nominated for best old-time string band in 1986 by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America. Their first record was nominated for best old-time recording by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors. But, when we heard a tape of their new Rounder Records release, we were at first shocked and then overjoyed. This was obviously much more than an old-time string band.
Their approach to old-time music is a soulful and expressive one, and while it is firmly rooted in the traditional fiddle music and song of the rural American south, it also reflects the influence of other musical genres. The Horseflies play a variety of traditional dance-beat fiddle tunes, sing old songs, perform original material with a contemporary edge, and a selection of pieces with roots in other traditions. They’ve got both respect for the past and an ear for the present and the future. They can do straight old-timey music with the best of them, but when they take a traditionally based song, like their own compositions Who Throwed Lye On My Dog, or The Human Fly, you start hearing Philip Glass and some other very other un-old-time influences. The combination is sheer magic. The Horseflies are Judy Hyman, Rkh Stearns, Jeff Claus and John Hayward.
For most people the term Scottish folk-singer perhaps conjures up music from the countryside: those great ballads, love-songs, perhaps some Robert Burns. But there is also another Scotland which includes the urban tradition and the rich history of the Scottish working class, like those of the Red Clyde, as Glasgow’s shipbuilding industrial zone was called. And men like workers’ leader John McLean who was jailed for opposing World War One from a class perspective and not out of pacifism, and who was welcomed back to Glasgow by tens of thousands of workers, the same workers who stopped Churchill’s intervention in the Russian civil war in 1921.
This is the tradition out of which Arthur Johnstone comes. Between 1968 and 1978. Arthur sang lead vocals with the Scottish folk band, The Laggan. Since then, Arthur has performed as an unaccompanied singer with a vast repertoire of Scottish. Irish traditional and contemporary songs, political songs of the Scottish working class and abroad, and even the odd humorous song. He also founded the very successful Star Folk Club in Glasgow, is an engineering shop steward and a steward’s representative on the Glasgow District Committee of the Amalgamated Union of Engineers. We think Arthur Johnstone is going to introduce you to some unfamiliar, but great Scottish songs.
Whether it be an all out attack with words sharp as a stiletto on “political pimps” or a heartbreaking celebration of jazz pianist Thelonius Monk, Clifton Joseph takes his poetry to the stage with an energy that strikes you like a hot blast. and a vulnerability as surprising as it is effective. It is all there, right in front of you: emotions stripped bare. Clifton is originally from Antigua in the West Indies. He’s been performing his poetry in Toronto and beyond for the past ten years. He has worked in schools, nightclubs and political/cultural events, in Canada, the United States and Britain. While he is often described as a dub poet, he is more.
His poetry is laced with all the black musical influences in the New World: jazz, R&B, calypso. funk and reggae. His work reflects the experience of growing up black in a big Canadian city, and is also influenced by the community work he has done with innercity kids in Toronto. Problems of immigrants and racism are real issues which find expression in Clifton’s work. He delivers his message with anger, power and humour. He has published a book of poetry and has just finished his first record. Along with Lillian Allen and several other Toronto-based dub poets, Clifton is creating a Canadian/Caribbean culture that is beginning to have an impact across this country and beyond.
Si Kahn is not first and foremost a singer, songwriter or performer. That may seem an odd thing to say about a man who has made half a dozen records, written hundreds of songs and had lots of them recorded, and who turns down more gigs than he has time to play But it’s true; Si is first and foremost an organizer. In the tradition of organizers like Joe Hill, Si uses his musical abilities to talk about what needs to be done, about the people he has worked with and loved and the places he has been. Si runs something called Grassroots Leadership, based in Charlotte, N.C. It is a movement that helps organizations fighting for the needs of the south’s poor and working people. He has also written a couple of books on organizing for grassroots leaders.
We think Si’s work as an organizer has flavoured his writing with a rare combination of intense power and simplicity His songs are meant to reach ordinary people in an immediate way -that’s what organizers have to do. Si’s songs touch on almost every sphere of human activity and experience; from love songs to songs about his family to songs written for strikes. Recently, Si joined Jane Sapp and Pete Seeger in recording a double album of songs about and from the American working class. It is one of the best things we have heard on this subject since the days of the Almanac Singers. Si’s schedule keeps him so busy that he doesn’t have time to do many festivals. We are always honoured when he picks ours.
Connie Kaldor is probably the best thing to come out of Saskatchewan since socialized medicine and wheat co-ops. As a songwriter, Connie is capable of creating moods that rival the French impressionists; she can take you to a riverbank in rural Saskatchewan and two minutes later drag you with her on a tear around town looking for the action. Her song about the destruction of the Metis Nation of Louis Riel will probably someday be sung as an anthem while Take Bock the Night, about the dangers omen encounter when they go out after dark, is sinister enough to make your flesh crawl.
We are glad that Connie now lives Vancouver because that means we get to hear her more often. She is one of this country’s best songwriters. But she is also a consummate performer. She takes the stage with both pride and vulnerability, a combination that produces performances startling in their intimacy. She is also very funny Her repertoire of country songs and polkas go down like jellied salad at a community supper. If you think we are waxing a bit over-enthusiastic, you haven’t heard Connie perform live before.
Ian Kennedy is one of those well-kept secrets of folk music. He is, quite simply one of Scotland’s national treasures, a highland fiddler extraordinaire and a fascinating historian and storyteller. For over 40 years. he has been performing and teaching throughout the Scottish highlands. He has won many of the major Scottish fiddle championships twice, and the championship cup at the National MOD. He spends as much time instructing Scottish fiddle as he does performing and he has been responsible for passing on a highland fiddle tradition to a new generation. With his wife Mary Kennedy accompanying him on the piano, Ian delivers the straight goods — single-malt fiddling. if you like. He has only recently made the hop across the Atlantic to tour North America. It is with unadulterated glee that we look forward to hearing him.
In 1954, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and C.I.A. head Allan Dulles, conspired with some Guatemalan generals to overthrow the Reformist democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. This they did. The coup happened before any of the members of Kin Lalat were born. The repressive regimes which followed 1954 have produced a Guatemalan resistance which has lasted to this day.
Kin Lalat is a part of this. In the early years of this decade, the group was formed by young Guatemalan cultural workers. Their aim was to keep alive the traditional music of Guatemala and to sing about the struggle waged against the dictatorship. Driven into exile, the group toured the world effectively renouncing the crimes of the Guatemalan regime. Then they disbanded to pursue other activities. But a couple of years ago. several members of the original group reformed and now they are back on the road. The group has the same goal and their songs still have a compelling power. Now based in Nicaragua Kin Lalat are both artists and spokespersons. As artists they represent a culture under attack. They speak for a movement that dates back to Eisenhower and before to the Spanish Conquest, to a resistance by the people of Guatemala that ever continues.
Until recently, Dagmar Krause was known to us primarily for her work with some very obscure European art/rock bands with names like Slapp Happy and Art Bears. Then we heard her recording of the songs of Bertolt Brecht and invited her to play the Festival As an astoundingly good singer with a truly wondrous feel for Brecht we felt that she belonged here.
Her background certainly seems a bit Brechtian; she began her singing career at age 14 in the nightclubs of the Reeperbahn in her native Hamburg The Reeperbahn has a reputation as one of the seediest streets in the world. It is the kind of place that conjures up images of George Grosz drawings. She became involved in Hamburg’s music/film/art avant garde and since the 70’s has lived Britain where she has worked with a number of groups. In 1978. she started a London production of Brecht and Wiell’s Mahagonny, which was directed by Jason Osborn. This collaboration resulted in both a show and a recording of Brecht songs with Dagmar singing and Jason accompanying her on piano. She has taken Brecht to the stage of the Berliner Ensemble theatre in East Berlin, a theatre Brecht founded where she was hailed as the outstanding living interpreter of Brecht songs. We have presented Brecht at this Festival before, but we think that with Dagmar Krause and Jason Osborn we will finally be able to give the master his due.
Alison Krauss & Union Station
Every now and again when we wonder whether or not folk music in its various forms is a dying art, along comes someone that restores our faith in the future. Alison Krauss is one who did that this year. When the folks from Rounder Records played us the rough mixes of a record by Alison Krauss & Union Station. we said. ‘Great stuff? Where have these people been hiding?” When we found out the band was formed late in 1985 and that Alison is only 15 years old, we were truly knocked out.
By the time she was 14, Alison who comes from Champagne, Illinois, had won the state fiddle championships of Indiana Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as the fiddle contest at Winfield, Kansas which is one of the big ones. She had also done enough other stuff to fill the CV of a performer twice her age. She truly an exceptional musician and singer Her fiddle playing is not just the result of some kind of technically’ bright kid She shows a musical maturity far beyond her years and seems equally at home with traditional and progressive country music Union Station is a hot bluegrass band who last year won the contest to find the Best New Bluegrass Band in America. They are Dave Denman on mandolin, Lonnie Meeker on guitar, Mike Harman on banjo and John Pennell on bass. When combined with Alison’s fiddle and vocals, we think this group is going to leave its mark in the bluegrass and country music scene.
Every now and again something happens that makes the task of plowing through the hundreds of records and tapes that we listen to worth it. Eddy Lawrence’s album showed up in the mail one day in winter. Black and white cover, hand-lettered, it had “low-budget, artist-produced” written all over it. In fact, on the back it literally said just that. But after hearing the first verse of the first song we let out a yelp of delight. Then we waited while Say It In Southern drew to a close. After that, each song sounded better than the one before, or so it seemed. We immediately picked up the phone and asked Eddy Lawrence if he’d like to come to this year’s Festival. Only later did we find a rave review by the Village Voice’s Robert Christigau. It seems Eddy does have a few other fans.
The record is a collection of songs about life in the U.S. south written by a southern boy who now lives in New York. All we know about Eddy is he can sing, play a mean guitar and mandolin, and write some of the best songs we’ve heard by an American southern songwriter in years. There are great images in his music and songs that take unexpected turns. But what strikes us most about his songs is their truth, simply but masterfully written.
Laurie Lewis & The Grant Street String Band
Sometimes it’s hard to break old ways of thinking. For years every time we thought about Laurie Lewis we heard a fiddle. It was a great fiddle, a distinct fiddle, a fiddle with personality a fiddle we had heard with Holly Near, Barbara Dane, Robin Flower, and Laurie’s own Grant Street String Band who we loved at this Festival a few years ago. Laurie remains one of the best fiddle players around but lately other aspects of her musical personality have begun to show a strength which, while not overshadowing her instrumental abilities, certainly give them a run for the money.
Laurie Lewis’ singing and songwriting abilities have been developing at an astonishing clip. Certainly her last record, Restless Heart, highlights her talents in all three areas. Based in Berkeley, Laurie has been a big part of the local old-timey and country music scene for many a year, playing music and repairing violins. Slowly but surely she has developed into an all round great musician, singer and songwriter. This year, she is joined by the Grant Street String Band’s exceptional musical skills. Hot dog! The Grant Street String Band is Mark McCormack, Tom Rozum and Markie Sanders.
Some years ago while browsing in a record store in California, we came across a series of records featuring the different instruments that play a role in the folk and popular music of Brazil. Knowing just enough Portuguese to understand that Vialao means guitar, we grabbed one of the records with that simple title. It turned out to be a superb solo recording of Celso Machado playing Brazilian guitar. A few years later, a former Festival volunteer, who had taken a job as a bank clerk in Brazil, suggested we hire this great guitar player she had met. You guessed it – Celso Machado. Given Celso’s wandering ways, it took a few years before we managed to get him to the Festival with his brother Carlinhos last year. They were great and it is without hesitation that we welcome him back.
Celso is a true virtuoso in performing the varied and intricate Brazilian guitar styles. He plays music by some of Brazil’s greatest composers, from the classical works of Villa Lobos, to the tunes of contemporary composers like Vinicius De Moraes, and others who unleashed the samba upon an unsuspecting North American audience. His integration of the percussive traditions of Brazil, hitting the guitar’s body and strings to expand the instrument’s possibilities, is a wonder.
Mike Marshall’s Modern Mandolin Quartet
Mike Marshall is known as one of the premier mandolin players in contemporary acoustic music circles. As a member of the David Grisman Quintet and more recently as part of Montreux, Mike has been a moving force in bringing together different styles of acoustic music. A while ago, Mike mentioned this little group of mandolin players he had put together and suggested we should bring them to the Festival. We took his advice because this is one of the more intriguing ensembles we have heard in a long time.
For people who remember mandolin orchestras as ethnic curiosities, this quartet will come as a surprise. Much of their repertoire is classical, drawn from composers ranging from Bach to Bartok. Along with Mike Marshall the group includes Dana Rath, who has worked with a number of klezmer and jazz groups as well as the Berkeley Symphony, Paul Binkley, whose musical credentials range from the San Francisco Symphony to being a semi-finalist in the 1986 Guitar Federation of America’s national competition, and John Imholz, who has performed on a variety of instruments in a number of musical ensembles and has done much work with dance ensembles, including the Joffrey Ballet. With mandolin, mandola, mando-cello as well as the dreaded guitar, the group combines great material with musical virtuosity and a good dollop of fun.
The fact that Marcy Marxer trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts may account for that special something that graces her stage presence and story-telling technique. Her music is evident whether she is playing the guitar, the mandolin, the hammered dulcimer or the ukelele. She has played music since her childhood in Washington, D.C., and she often teams up with Cathy Fink as half of that great duet. Lately she has shifted her focus from old-timey, bluegrass and country music to polish her skills as a performer for children. A regular artist at the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Performing Arts, Marcy works on incorporating the performing arts into the daily curriculum.
Her first album, called Jump Children has recently been released on the Rounder label to rave reviews. Her repertoire for children ranges from traditional favorites we can all sing along with, to original songs that deal with a child’s daily life. School is out, but we figure you will have no trouble with this equation, Marcy Marxer = magic, music and mirth.
John McCutcheon is one of those performers who seem tailor-made for festivals. This guy has got more facets than the Hope Diamond. We first came across John’s work on some recordings of mainly traditional music on the June Appal label. We were impressed by his singing and by his banjo and fiddle playing. But his approach to the hammered dulcimer really caught our ear. An interest in contemporary music was always apparent in Johns work and he did some great versions of Si Kahns songs, among others. While his strengths as a performer of traditional music have not disappeared. John has lately been developing his talents as a composer and he has taken a decidedly political turn. His songs deal with contemporary issues such as the crisis of the American farm. Central America, and the labour movement. And if these songs are an indication of what is to come, we think John will make as deep a mark as a writer as he has as a musician and singer.
John has also been busy recording three albums of music from Nicaragua and touring as part of a show called Signs of the Times, with Si Kahn and sign-language interpreter Susan Freundlich. Performers, like John, who are able to link the traditional music of working people with the day-to-day issues that affect us all are always a source of satisfaction to us. We think you will agree.
One of the joys of putting together a Festival like ours is introducing artists who have created, shaped and influenced folk music. Patsy Montana is one of the greats of country and western music and has been since the 1930’s. When she recorded I Want To Be A Cowboys Sweetheart, in 1935 she became the first woman in country music to have a million selling record. She played on the National Barn Dance Radio Show out of WLS in Chicago. one of the big country shows. She also helped bring the yodel into country music. She used to follow Hank Williams every Saturday night on the Shreveport, Louisiana Hayride show, a program where many of country music’s greatest stars began their careers. Patsy was part of it from the beginning and she has influenced hundreds of those who have come since.
She has been singing ever since she was a little girl growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with ten brothers. Maybe that is where she got the determination to be one of the first women to take centre stage in country music. Lately, Patsy has begun to work with some younger women performers who to some degree see her as a role model. Her appearance here has generated phone calls to our office asking. The Patsy Montana?” So folks, settle back and count your selves lucky to get to hear one of the first and still one of the finest. As they say, she is one of the women who “wrote the book.”
There’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that most of a generation of brilliant black blues-piano players, from Roosevelt Sykes, to Professor Longhair, to Blind John Davis and Little Brother Montgomery, are dead. These inventors of a style of music that won world-wide audiences have almost entirely left the stage. And most young, black musicians seem little interested in carrying on the blues tradition.
The good news is the generation of young, mainly white musicians who learned, often first-hand, the music of the giants of blues. Mark Lincoln Braun (a.k.a. Mr. B) is one who is helping the blues-piano live on. Mr. B is not an assimilator, but rather an interpreter. His music is not an exercise in documentation – in his loving hands the tunes of great black musicians from Jimmy Yancey to Pete Johnson are re-created. As Mr. B. performs his own compositions, you can almost see his teachers look down and smile. From his home in Ann Arbor, he has ventured across North America and over to Europe, helping a great body of music survive into the next century. We’re happy to be able to bring him on his first visit to Vancouver.
Holly Near with John Bucchino
After 13 records and countless tours and concerts over the last 15 years, it’s a wonder that Holly hasn’t decided to pack it in and head back to northern California for a well deserved rest. Even more amazing is Holly still has the creative energy to move in a whole new direction with her latest record, Don’t Hold Back, an album which combines the tender and the erotic. But then, Holly Near has never been short on energy or creativity. As a writer, she has addressed enough issues with her songs to earn the adjective “encyclopedic.” As a performer, she is truly one of the finest we have seen on the stage. She attains a special intimacy with her audience that you usually only find in cabaret settings.
Holly Near has also taken most seriously the challenge of building cultural bridges with Latin America, performing. touring and recording with groups like Inti Illimani from Chile and Moncotal from Nicaragua. Her latest songs deal with human rather than political relationships (if you can separate the two), and we are waiting expectantly to be able to hear them live. Joining Holly at the Festival will be pianist John Bucchino who manages to provide just the right accompaniment to Holly’s voice and words.
What happens when a couple of traditional musicians and singers, coming out of one of Ireland’s best folk revival groups, the Bothy Band, meet up with a couple of Irish and American classically trained jazz players? We think the result is lovely. This rare group makes us think there may yet be some hope in “new acoustic music.” Nightnoise performs mainly original music which builds on, rather than buries, the traditional sources on which much of it is based. As individuals the members of Nightnoise are clearly virtuosi.
Meet Micheal O’Domhnaill who comes from a family of traditional Gaelic folk musicians. He was one of the founding members of the Bothy Band and later he worked with fiddler Kevin Burke. On guitar, whistle and keyboard Micheal has long synthesized traditional music with a modern sensibility, and still finds time to do a lot of work with the Irish Scottish ensemble Relativity Micheal’s sister, Triona Ni’Dhomhnaill, is another founder of the Bothy Band and one of the finest voices in folk music. After the Bothy Band she worked with Clannade, led Touchstone, an exceptionally interesting Irish/American fusion band, and continues to work in Relativity as well as Nightnoise. (Don’t miss her in a workshop of Gaelic songs at this Festival – that’s a hot tip!) Billy Oskay plays violin, viola and keyboards. Classically trained, he spent the past decade playing more jazz than anything else. He is also the composer of much of Nightnoise’s music. Brian Dunning comes from Dublin. He studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Boston’s Berkeley College of Music. Brian plays flute exceptionally well. Together they have come up with an approach so distinctive that we won’t even try to describe it – you will just have to hear them for yourself.
The Original Balkan Jam
While the quality of the Yugoslavian export which provided this group with its name has, we think, gone downhill over the last number of years, the musical group has been on a roll. They are probably the best band playing eastern European music in the country If you are ever in Victoria on a Monday night, make sure to drop by Pagliacci’s, a restaurant where this group has been performing since 1982. The Original Balkan Jam has a very nonsectarian approach to what they do. While they are still loyal to the Klezmer and gypsy tradition they have also incorporated Greek music, including Rebetico, which just about nobody knows how to perform, even in Greece. They have been known to fool around with jazz, blues and even tangos, and they do it with a mitt full of instruments ranging from the accordion, and the bazouki. to the recorder and a bunch of other stuff. While they have diverse musical interests, their approach is always respectful of the music: which saves them from being dillettantish and puts them in the eclectic category For years we have meant to include this group at the Festival and we finally got around to it. Welcome David Harris, Derek Hawksley Pat Lawson, Alex Olson and Marty Reynard.
The Oyster Band
Some musty correspondence in our files testifies to our attempts to bring this group to the Festival. Last time we tried they chose to do a 14 city tour of Brunei instead of coming here. Then at a record fair in the south of France, we shared a few $7 hot dogs with some representatives of their new record label, Cooking Vinyl. Thanks in no small part to their efforts, and helped by a generous donation from the British Arts Council, the band is finally doing its first tour over here. We are their first date!
In England The Oyster Band are regarded as about the best there is. They began as a dance band in the 1970’s and have grown both popularity and musical breadth of vision. Their material ranges from traditional English folk songs to excellent compositions by the band. Their latest album rekindles the sense of excitement we felt when we first heard Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span almost twenty years ago. They are folk/rock at its best, combining real feeling for the tradition with superb contemporary musical abilities. They are very much part of the new English folk “roots” revival. They have joined performers like Richard Thompson and Billy Bragg in anti-apartheid concerts and they have also played for five and one half hour country dances at folk festivals. They can sing and they can play, and we suspect they are going to be one of the hits of this year’s Festival. The Oyster Band is John Jones, Ian Keary, Russell Lax, Alan Prosser and Ian Telfer.
In this country there exists a great deal of interest in new acoustic music, fusion music, roots rock and the like, but most of the groups that get talked about are from ‘away’. Meanwhile in a situation that is almost stereotypically Canadian, we have one of the best groups of this genre struggling to survive in Toronto.
Rare Air began as Na Cabarfeidh in 1978. That is when Grier Coppins, Pafrick O’Gorman and Trevor Ferrier, all award-winning members of Toronto’s best pipe bands, hooked up with Japanese/ Canadian guitarist Richard Murai to create something they have called “Celtic funk”. Their heretical approach to their Canadian/Celtic musical heritage incorporates a love of the traditional music of Scotland, Ireland and Brittany with great instrumental abilities. Their particular fondness for the highland pipes, percussion and guitar is linked with their jazz and funk sensibilities to create a sound unlike anything we have ever heard before. Lately they have been expanding the tradition by composing original pieces. And maybe they are finally beginning to reach the audience they so richly deserve.
We had Na Cabarfeidh at one of the first Vancouver Folk Music Festivals. Since then they have grown in their musical vision and so have we. It’s a delight to have Rare Air at our 10th Festival.
For years we have wanted to bring an Italian group to this Festival. We put that word out to our friends in various parts of the world, and last December we got a tape from Leon Rosselson with a cryptic note saying, “This may be what you’re looking for.” Two minutes into the tape we were jumping up and down, dragging people into the office shouting, “Listen to this!” A half hour later we phoned Italy and asked Ritmia if they would please, pretty please, come to the Festival. The result is the first, and we are sure, not the last, visit to Vancouver from Alberto Balia, Daniele Craighead, Enrico Frongia and Riccardo Tesi. Ritmia, which means rhythm in Italian, is four musicians who have been active for years as soloists and in various other Italian folk music groups. What brought them together was a deep interest in the musical traditions of central and southern Italy and Sardinia.
Italy’s wealth of traditional music constitutes the basis of the group’s work and provides a continual source of Inspiration for the elaboration of new musical ideas. We are particularly enchanted by the Sardinian influences (Sardinia has some of the most unique vocal and instrumental styles in the world).
Ritmia is recognized as one of the leading “progressive” folk music groups in Italy. It is easy to see why. The combination of Alberto’s guitar wizardry, Riccardo’s accordion playing (other accordion players we’ve met speak his name with awe), Enrico’s singing and Daniele’s sax and keyboard playing produce a sound that we love. We are proud to be able to include Italian music at the Festival this year, and frankly we don’t think there could be a better introduction than Ritmia.
Leon Rosselson is a great thinker. That his thoughts are expressed in songs is, we think, a fortunate accident. Otherwise his ideas would probably be lost in some academic journal with a circulation of nine. As expertly crafted songs, Leon’s thoughts reach tens of thousands. His songs have the power to move. They are songs full of passion, humour and love, even if Leon occasionally tries to hide these qualities with the peculiar acerbic wit common to the English. Who else could take the writing of Gerard Winstanley one of the leaders of the Diggers, the radical fringe of the English Revolution of the 1640’s, and turn it into a song; a song that Billy Bragg recorded and used to reach more folks in three months than had read Gerard Winstanley in the previous three centuries.
Lately, he has devoted himself to two new programs of songs: one deals with the English/American revolutionary writer Thomas Paine. The other commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War through poetry, memoirs and songs of the International Brigades, as well as through Leon’s own compositions. It is hard to think of anyone else who could tackle so many tricky subjects.
And that is why we continue to invite Leon to Vancouver: to hear the thoughts of the thinker and to listen to the songs of the singer.
We were playing some records of performers coming to the Festival for our publicist. We said, “We are going to play you a song about a chicken, and you are going to cry” We detected a look of disbelief in her slightly cynical publicist’s face. Six minutes later, as we both wiped tears from our eyes, she said “Who the hell was that?” It was Tom Russell.
Tom is an award-winning songwriter who has slowly been building up his credits as a writer and performer since the 1970’s when he was half of a duo called Hardin & Russell. Lately, folks like Nanci Griffith and Ian Tyson have been recording his -work, and we think Tom may be about to get some of the recognition he deserves. His songwriting is full of visual imagery of the highest order. In Gallo de Cielo, (the chicken song mentioned above), Tom describes the epic struggle of a Mexican farm labourer to hit it big with a one-eyed fighting cock. Even after repeated listening, you still want the guy to win, and you still hang on every phrase – it’s like being at the movies.
Maybe cinematic is the best adjective for Tom’s songs. Done in a country style, the subjects range from being stood up for a date in Norway, to eating chile. And Tom can also sing. In fact, we think Tom’s versions of his songs are good or better than the more well-known singers who have covered them. Tom is originally from California but now makes his home in New York City. He tells us that he performed in Vancouver many years ago. We think it is high time he got back here.
At first we thought the story must be some kind of classy hype – a big build-up for something that didn’t really exist. An English record producer wandering around the campgrounds of a Texas folk festival hears a young woman singing. He records the songs on his Sony Walkman Professional, takes the stuff home to England and plays it on the radio. The phones light up, so he sends the woman a contract, releases the record, and it zooms right up the independent charts. The budget for the tape was about $2.50, you can hear crickets and cars in the background, and they call the thing the Texas Campfire Tapes. It sounds a bit improbable, but in this case, the legend-in-the-making proves true. We have resisted the temptation to compare this tape to the early Dylan stuff, but it is a bit like that. Not his first record, but more like some of the bootleg tapes that turn up from before the first record. And since we wanted to feature some younger performers– the “going-to-be’s” of folk music, we decided to bring Michelle Shocked to Vancouver. She certainly has the necessary biographical credentials. Michelle is an army-brat – one of those kids who grew up everywhere from Bavaria to Gilmore, Texas, where her military step-father retired. She started listening, at the age of 14, to the likes of Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly. She left home, changed her name to Shocked when she got arrested at a demonstration, and started wandering around. Getting involved in politics, working with pirate radio in Amsterdam, the Green Party and squatters movements in Europe, she has done the kinds of things that lend themselves to the writing of great songs. But they do require careful listening.
It may be her army brat background that has fostered her odd way of looking at things and her indomitable will. Whatever it is, Michelle Shocked is someone that we think you should hear.
Spirit of the West
Every few years we wonder if younger musicians and songwriters have decided that rock is where it’s at, and that folk music and contemporary songs that come out of the folk tradition are old hat. We never really believe it, but every now and again it seems that all the names are the same, folks who have been around the scene for years. Then, all of a sudden, a whole new crop is ready for picking. With new writers, new groups and new approaches we realize that the future is in safe hands.
Spirit of the West are a Vancouver’ group that fits into an international movement known as rogue folk. This movement is once again regenerating folk music. Their music is based on a love for the groups of the Celtic folk revival, and the folk/rock performers of the late 60’s and 70’s. The content of their songs ranges from B.C. politics, to historical ballads, to the pubs of North Vancouver, where the group is based. Over the past few years they have been touring, recording and generally honing their skills, while developing a reputation as one of this country’s new politically committed folk-based groups. Take a listen to who has been living in our own backyard. Spirit of the West is Geoffrey Kelly, J. Knutson, John Mann and Hugh McMillan.
Themba Tana & African Heritage
Themba Tana has been exploring the traditional music of his native South Africa and other African countries for well over a decade. He spent several years travelling South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, collecting instruments, songs and stories. He was the founder of one of South Africans most exciting dance and percussion groups, Amampondo. He composed the music and directed the dancers for Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in 1980, and won a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival for his composition and performance of the African score for the film The Grass is Singing.
Then he moved to Vancouver which is a long way out of the mainstream of African music. But Themba has managed to introduce the songs and tunes of his travels to thousands of people here through concerts, festivals, teaching and recording. Other musicians tell us he is one of the most sensitive and technically accomplished African musicians they have ever heard. He combines a love for the culture of his native Africa with an extraordinary ability to reach people with sounds they have never heard before.
Appearing with Themba will be Albert St. Albert, who hails from Los Angeles, and Sal Ferreras, who grew up in Puerto Rico. These two add the Afro-American content that makes the group something really special. Albert is known as one of Vancouver’s finest percussionists, he has worked with almost everyone. Sal divides his time between writing his own compositions, composing and -accompanying various contemporary dance groups, and producing concerts of percussion music like Drum Heat.
The Topp Twins
We have one of our Festival volunteers to thank for introducing us to The Topp Twins. Originally from New Zealand, she would drop by the office every couple of years with a tape or a report on a live performance, saying These people are great – you should get them.” We always hesitated because of the travel costs. Finally our volunteer said, “They are coming to the States”. So we had a little telephone chat with one of the sisters and discovered that New Zealand’s equivalent of the Canada Council had made it possible for Jools and Linda Topp to get within 1,000 miles of Vancouver.
The Topp Twins are something brand new for us. All we know about New Zealand is that it is far away, has banned nuclear weapons, and considers Australia to be the world’s most dangerous superpower. We think The Topp Twins are going to fill in the rest. For years they have been part of the peace and women’s movements, writing songs and touring, and lately making a television special which has won them a nomination as Best Artists by Television New Zealand. They also love to yodel, and do one of the nicest parodies of country music we have ever heard. Whether it be powerful songs that helped drive nuclear weapons out of New Zealand (and how many performers can say they did that), or humourous send-ups of almost everything, we are delighted to present some of New Zealand’s finest. It is also great to have performers whose last name, height and eye colour are exactly the same.
It has been almost nine years since Shari’s only performance at this Festival, when she joined Rick Scott and Joe Mock in one of the last appearances of Pied Pumpkin, a band that still has a cult following. Since then. Shari has been busy as a solo performer, songwriter, winning a handful of Juno awards, moving to the States for a while, co-hosting a television show with David Suzuki, and making a couple of records along the way.
Every now and again we would tentatively raise the question of the Festival, but Shari was still working on overcoming the beads and bare feet image which her tenure in Pied Pumpkin had stuck her with. Now back in Vancouver for keeps, Shari seems to have found a middle ground between the rock and the hard place that is folk music. We were delighted when she gave us a call this year and said “Can I play at the Festival?” Given that we have always felt Shari Ulrich is one of the finest singers, songwriters and performers in the country, we didn’t need to be asked twice. In our humble view, the glitz that various record companies and managers used to promote Shari hid a truly superb artist. Her songs are profound and powerful, and on stage there is no one better. There is just so much more than Shari Ulrich the pop singer, and we are happy to have the chance to reveal it.
Under the Moss
Under the Moss plays Canadian traditional and contemporary music, with a good strong grounding in the Celtic tradition. If they lived in the Maritimes, they would probably have more concert, radio and TV work than they would know what to do with. Stuck in Vancouver, the land of the singer/songwriter, the group ekes out a precarious existence that belies the fact that they are a great band. In fact, they are probably one of the best kept musical secrets in this neck of the woods. As an instrumental group, they are hot players who can hold their own on fiddle, flute, guitar and mandolin. They are one of the few groups who do a Stan Rogers’ song well – and many have tried. While most of their material is drawn from traditional sources and other writers. the group also composes its own instrumental tunes. Pat Smith is the first person to write a really good song about British Columbia’s own train robber. Bill Miner. Recently the group recorded their first album Raking the Coals, which was released last October. If you want to take a musical trip across this country, enjoy a good listen to Under the Moss. They are John Haugh on guitar and vocals. Victor Smith on fiddle, flute, guitar. pennywhistle and vocals, and Patrick Smith on pennywhistle, mandolin, flute and vocals.
Winston Wuttunee & Rainbow Bridge
Winston Wuttunee describes himself as a Native entertainer. This is probably as good a description as any, although it doesn’t nearly begin to describe the talent and experience that make up his musical personality. His first musical training was as a clarinetist with the Canadian Guards’ Band in the army. In the early 70’s Winston worked at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College, developing programs to promote positive self-awareness and identity for Indian students through music. This led to concerts, television shows and the development of Winston’s exceptional skills as a children’s performer.
But Winston also has a profound understanding of traditional Native music. and the relationship between Native Indian spirituality and culture. He is one of those rare individuals who is able to integrate his consciousness as a Native artist with a firm grounding in western music and performance techniques. On stage he can be extremely funny one minute and extremely powerful the next; moving from a song about Louis Riel. to one about the fate of Native people in this country He also has an incredible sense of place and has written a number of evocative songs about the Canadian north and west.
Winston will be joined by his great band Rainbow Bridge. They are Richard Denesiuk, Amy Eustergerling, Honey Hill, Eric Wuttunee and Rena Zaremba.
Takeo Yamashiro & Marcia Hidemi Takamura
One of the joys of living in Vancouver is this city’s large Asian community. The strong Asian culture here exists on the own support it receives from its community and not on the sufferance of western audiences. In the Japanese community Takeo Yamashiro is regarded as one of the finest artists. If Takeo had stayed in Japan, he would probably be one of the leading traditional music performers there. After years of studying the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). Takeo was promoted in 1971 to the title of Uchideshi (protege and successor) of Master Kofu Kikusui, Kikusui School, Kyoto. He also received the professional name Rempu (lotus wind).
Since coming to Canada, Takeo has worked as a social worker with the Tonari Gumi Japanese Community Association. We thank the heavens that he continues to perform. His performing credits range from folk festivals, to lectures and concerts at universities, to performances at various Japanese cultural events. In Takeo’s hands, the shakuhachi becomes an instrument of enormous variety. How he manages to elicit so many sounds, provoking so many emotions from a simple piece of bamboo, is one of the world’s great wonders as far as we are concerned.
At this Festival, Takeo will be accompanied by Marcia Hidemi Takamura, from Seattle, who began learning the koto (Japan’s best known string instrument) from her mother, at the age of three. Marcia studied in Tokyo under Kiyoko Miyagi, National Living Treasurer and head of the Miyagi School. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have these two exceptionally talented musicians at the Festival.