Lillian Allen and the Revolutionary Tea Party Band
It seems much longer than five or six years since Heather Bishop first told us about this exciting new performer. Since then Lillian has become a rising star among those who like music that addresses real issues. With two great records and a number of tours behind her, Lillian has won a substantial Canadian following and has also picked up fans in our neighbour to the south. She managed to pick up a couple of Junos in the best reggae/calypso category; (which we think is the wrong category but it seems the music business hasn’t the courage to award her in one of the “mainstream” categories).
Although Lillian’s stage presence is spectacular and she is now comfortable with a full band, she has maintained what we have always liked most about her. She remains an uncompromising artist whose words lash out as if she were a kind of dub-style St. George – lopping off the heads of monsters like racism and exploitation. The origins of dub lie in Lillian’s native Jamaica and before that in the rich oral traditions of Africa. Dub is an urban art form, a close cousin of rap, and Lillian has built her performance around a band whose music replicates all the power and urgency of her lyrics.
With drummer Billy Bryants, guitarist Dave Gray formerly of Parachute Club, fellow Caribbean-Canadian bass player Terry Lewis, Brazilian percussionist Assar Santana and keyboardist Devon Martin, Lillian has combined the talents of first and third world musicians to create a cultural expression that combines Afro-Caribbean rhythms with good old rock-and-roll. Her songs are as angry as they are beautiful. Lately, she’s been working on material for children, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a children’s album from her in the next while. Raffi, look out!
Frankie Armstrong comes from a generation of brilliant English singers. It is amazing how many of her contemporaries remain relevant after almost 30 years: Martin Carthy, Ashely Hutchings, June Tabor and her sometimes partners, Roy Bailey and Leon Rosselson. They came of age in the 1950s and were radicalized by the first peace movement, and events like the Suez invasion. They were influenced culturally by American folk groups like the Weavers and by the British scholars and exponents of traditional folk music, A.L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl.
In the 60s and 70s, her experiences as a London social worker and the birth of the women’s movement were reflected in Frankie’s work. The 80s have seen Frankie Armstrong emerge as a great singer whose repertoire captures the lives and struggles of ordinary people over a period of hundreds of years. It is perhaps the breadth of her material that makes her so appealing. There are relatively few performers who can throw themselves into a ballad from the 17th century and follow it effortlessly with a song written last year. Her repertoire ranges from rural ballads to compositions by Bertolt Brecht.
Frankie has worked with theatre groups, avant-garde jazz bands and many artists in between. Her voice is recognized as an exceedingly fine instrument and for a number of years she has conducted vocal workshops, urging others to find their voices. She has managed to wed her interests in music and history along with her commitment to feminism. All this makes her one of the most exceptional and powerful singers of songs about the lives of women.
Attila The Stockbroker
We first came across Attila the Stockbroker touring with the Neurotics at the Political Song Festival in East Berlin in February, 1987. As you may imagine the Political Song Festival is a pretty staid affair, devoted largely to groups who are politically correct but well mannered. An act like Attila the Stockbroker and the Neurotics stood out. Our first impression was of a fairly ordinary looking fellow who, until he opens his mouth, offers no clue to his special talents. But opening his mouth is what this act is all about.
Attila amazed us with a non-stop stream of poetry performed in the style called “ranting”. His words took apart many of the sacred principles held near and dear in western societies and in a few other societies as well. He then began to sing, accompanying himself by trashing a cittern, a sort of Celtic mandolin. His big hit was Lybian Students from Hell, a kind of signature tune. We were knocked out and needless to say we asked him to send us some material. By the fall of 1987, we had not received the stuff, but then we ran into him at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. We were even more impressed and got one of his books. Finally, we managed to entice him to our Festival.
Attila is part of the new generation of angry young Britons who have been driven to rage by life under Thatcher but who have the artistic ability to vent their spleen with poems and songs. He also maintains a sense of humour or perhaps irony, characteristic of many great British artists, but displays a certain “berserker” spirit which seems very un-English. We don’t know much else about him except that he comes from Harrow and we think that he may actually once have been a stockbroker. What we do know is that he is one of the most exciting performers we have heard lately and that is why he is here.
It seems hard to believe that the Nicaraguan revolution is already ten years old. We are now seeing the emergence of what could be called the third generation of Nicaraguan politically-committed artists. The first generation was mature during Somoza and created a culture of protest; the second was those groups formed in the first few years of the revolution; and now we see groups like B-Cuadro whose members have grown up with the revolution.
Some B-Cuadro artists have a background with groups like Igni Tawanka and Ixbalanque. Band member Fito Garcia was a member of the Guatemalan group Kin Lalat. The music of B-Cuadro is part of the cultural movement called volcanto the name for the Nicaraguan new song that seeks to build a culture loyal to the Sandinista revolution.
Their music reflects Nicaragua’s position as a country which is part of the Caribbean but is also located in the centre of Latin America. It combines traditional Nicaraguan music with other Latin American and Caribbean forms. They also draw on North American influences such as fusion, jazz and rock. Although their music shows an experimental courage it is still rooted in the popular music of Latin America. Their lyrics highlight the tasks facing the Nicaraguan people and their music builds solidarity with the revolutionary process.
On the tenth anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution we are proud to have B-Cuadro with us. They are Jose Gabriel Fonseca, Gilberto Ramon Flores, Oscar Enrique Hernandez, Lissette Xiliadora Perez and Arnulfo Leopoldo Garcia.
Roy Bailey is an artist but he is also an academic. When these two talents meet, it seems to us that Roy is a storyteller who is also an educator. In societies without formal education, knowledge is transmitted by the telling of tales. The historians of West Africa are singers called griots. The myths and legends as told by the elders are the universities of the northwest coast’s indigenous people. But the legitimacy of the storyteller as educator is not generally accepted in industrial society. Yet there are probably few amongst us who would say we learned more about life from literature than we did orally.
Roy’s stories are told through his songs – sung in one of the finest voices we’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Roy began singing in the late 1950s and by the early 60s was an accepted member of the British folk scene participating in groups like the Three City Four. At first his songs were drawn from the American folk revival and the skiffle bands popular at the time. In the early 60s Roy was at Leicester University and immersing himself in British traditional folk music. He began singing of battles, beggars, sailing ships, whale catching and became fascinated by stories.
As Roy has written “the songs brought things to life in a way that no speeches or texts could; here was an alternative view of history or an alternative contemporary com mentary, vivid, passionate and accessible.” Through the 60s and 70s Roy sang traditional songs but added contemporary songs as well, particularly the songs of Leon Rosselson with whom Roy has worked almost three decades. The stories were less about whaling and more about saving the whales; songs about far off places were increasingly about Chile and South Africa; and songs about home became impassioned stories about the miners’ strike and human relations in the late 20th century.
Lately Roy has retired from his academic career and devoted himself full-time to singing and through his singing to storytelling. For what it’s worth, we think that as an educator Roy Bailey is just coming into his prime.
The so called world-beat-ethno-pop craze is, as far as we are concerned, a hit of a questionable affair. Combining traditional music, hundreds if not thousands of years old with the rather ephemeral whims of North American pop music has produced as much bad as it has good. It’s a tricky business which is in someways like making a souffle: if you do it right, it’s heaven; if you do it wrong, it’s muck.
Ashwin Batish does it right. In fact he incorporates Indian and western music about as well as we have heard it done. Perhaps it’s because he is a classically-trained Indian musician rather than a western rocker who heard a few Ravi Shankar records. When we first heard Sitar Power we were impressed. In a sense combining Indian and western music is the Batish family business. Ashwin’s father, Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish performed Indian music in a cameo appearance in the BeatIes’ movie Help. George Harrison was even a student of Pandit’s for a while. Ashwin was born in Bombay, moved with his family to England and later to California. He was trained in north Indian music, specializing in the sitar. A couple of years ago while teaching in Santa Cruz, California, Ash-win began to fool around with synthesizers and other electronic instruments. His students loved it and soon he began to perform this heady mixture, combining the sitar and tabla along with drumulator programming, the Yamaha DX9 and some of the other delights of modern technology. We think his tunes with names such as Bombay Boogie and New Delhi Vice are delightful.
The problem of being an enfant terrible is that you have a lot to live up to when you grow up. Thirteen years ago at age 17, French Algerian guitar player, Pierre Bensusan won a Grand Prix du Disc for his debut album Près de Paris. The question then was “What are you going to be doing in ten years?”
Pierre has in fact lived up to the early promise of his first recording. He has negotiated the twin shoals of electronic toys and the vacuity of the “new age” to emerge as a mature musician of quite astounding talent and creativity. The variety of influences in his music perhaps reflects his own experiences: a childhood spent in Algeria and adulthood in France. His interest in Celtic, South American, North American, French and jazz music is reflected in both his compositions and in the traditional pieces he performs.
We can think of few artists who have the ability to compose a tribute to Astor Piazolla on the one hand and record a sterling version of the Irish Shi Bhig, Shi Mhor on the other. In all the music he plays Pierre combines a superb technical ability on the guitar with real emotion and first-rate taste. After a brief appearance at the Festival half a dozen years ago, it’s a treat to welcome him back.
It has always been amazing to us that Suzanne Bird has not yet been “discovered”. We keep expecting some music paper to reveal that she has a chart-chomping hit on the country stations or has been drawn off to Nashville stardom. If it happens she will undoubtably be hailed as an overnight success even though she has been singing professionally since 1977 and hoeing the hard row of touring. Over the years she has graced bars from Ontario to B.C.
Suzanne is a Manitoba Metis who lives in Winnipeg. From that neck of the woods she has been the lead singer with bands like Gypsy Moth, Sweet Grass and Tumbleweed. For the last number of years she has done more solo performing and has been featuring her own compositions in her shows. She possesses one of the best voices we have heard in this country, with a range that takes her from blues to jazz to rock to folk. She has written songs that could be classics of contemporary songwriting and her Metis Memory about Louis Riel is one of the best Canadian songs written in the last decade.
As far as we are concerned Suzanne is one of the best kept secrets on the Canadian music scene. When we decided to feature some great but relatively unknown women country-music performers, Suzanne was at the top of our list.
Heather is a kind of Renaissance woman of contemporary music. She can sing a Ma Rainey blues, cover a Connie Kaldor tune, do a thoroughly-torchy version of Fever, perform a kids’ set that leaves the little nippers screaming for more and her own compositions are not to be forgotten easily. She can also paint pictures that are good enough to hang in galleries and she is a skilled carpenter to boot. As well she’s no mean slouch on the guitar or the piano.
Heather uses this indecent amount of talent to fight for political and social change, supporting such organizations as Concerned Farm Women, various Nicaragua solidarity committees and the peace movement. She is a role model we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Heather grew up on the prairies and makes her home in Woodmore, a small town outside of Winnipeg, where she lives in a passive solar-powered home that she built herself. Starting off performing mainly in the women’s community, Heather has won a national audience that transcends all definition and she is in the process of conquering the United States as well.
Her kids’ albums and performances at children’s festivals across the country have more or less insured that when we adult fans have gone on to glory, there will be a whole new generation of Heather Bishop fans that has not yet hit high school. Pretty smart, eh?
Heather will be accompanied here by Sherry Shute.
Why Bulgaria? We always wonder why certain countries end up with absolutely spectacular musical cultures. Until we heard Bulgarian music a number of years ago, we thought of Bulgaria as a) the native country of George Dimitrov, the great 1930s anti-fascist who faced down Hermann Goering at the Reichstag trial in 1933 and b) the home of yoghurt. However, Bulgaria is also the storehouse of some of the most wonderful traditional music in the world.
The vocal music of Bulgarian women is particularly special: harmonies to die for and a playfulness and a power like no other. We have always dreamed of having some Bulgarian singers at the Festival but never really knew how to go about it until we met the Dutch agent for the Bisserov Sisters. Lyubimka, Mitra and Neda come from Pirin, high in the mountains where traditional culture has survived exceptionally well. They grew up with songs at work and at home, songs for weddings, songs for St. George’s day, love songs, all kinds of songs. They assembled a huge repertoire for their fantastic voices.
Maybe the fact that they are sisters is what makes them so special. There is something about siblings singing together (look at all those bluegrass brother groups) that creates the very best vocals. For over ten years the Bisserovs have sung the music of Pirin at home and abroad. In this time they made a number of records and won fans in a good many countries. We happen to think they are the best traditional Bulgarian singers around. Joining them at the Festival will be three exceptionally talented instrumentalists, featuring the kaval, gadulka and other instruments.
Eric Bogle with Andy McGloin and Brent Miller
Eric Bogle seems perfect to represent Australia to the world. First of all, he is not a native of the country. He was born in Scotland to a working class family. Growing up in the 1950s, he, like many other good lads formed a rock group in his home town. He then found radical politics, joined the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and traded rock for folk. Apparently, at one time he could sing 60 verses of We Shall Overcome accompanying himself on the ukulele.
In 1969 he took advantage of the Australian government’s liberal (for whites) immigration policy which offered him free passage to New South Wales. He soon found himself in Canberra working on a construction site. He ended up in the office and studied to become an accountant. Soon he was married and purchased the pride of any self-respecting middle class Australian: a gas barbecue. However, a deep flaw existed in Eric’s personality – in his spare time he wrote songs. One of them And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda brought him fame and notoriety. He gained more fame with No Man’s Land, and untold notoriety with I Hate Wogs.
Since then he has given up honest labour for the life of a singer songwriter, recording seven albums, winning a peace medal from the Australian government and even the Order of Australia in 1987. He remains a superb writer and if you thought that No Man’s Land or And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda were his best songs, you haven’t yet heard Poor Bugger Charlie or Something of Value on his latest album.
When we decided to pay some attention to the poor old penal colony, it was unthinkable not to invite Eric. Joining him will be Andy McGloin and Brent Miller who provide a strong musical foundation for Eric’s great lyrics.
There are really only two full-time top-notch topical songwriters in English Canada. Since Nancy White is busy with her second child this year, Bob is on his own for awhile. For years Bob was best known as co-founder and leader of Stringband, the group which did more than any three royal commissions to give this chunk of dirt some kind of national cultural identity. For the last few years Bob has been touring with his one-man show, Bossin’s Home Remedy for Nuclear War (guaranteed or your money back), and singing his own and other people’s songs.
As a writer Bob is one of the best that we have. His uncanny ear for language is as sharp as Mark Twain’s ever was. His talent shines on songs like Newfoundlanders from the old days or fairly recent compositions like Fire on the Island, which is a 400 year history of Meares Island (on B.C.’s west coast) served up in half a dozen verses. He has also used his finely tuned ear to add great songs from such eclectic sources as Italy’s Fabrizio d’Adre or Nicaragua’s Salvador Bustos his own repertoire. Bob remains convinced that music can contribute to change and he has probably participated in more fundraising concerts for more worthy causes than anyone else we know in this country.
Recently his efforts have been focussed on the unpalatable mix of B.C.’s west coast and oil. He almost singlehandedly organized the recent campaign for a public inquiry into oil tanker travel on the west coast. And in the true topical balladeer tradition he wrote a great song about people’s efforts to clean up the recent oil spill on Vancouver Island. This song was written while Bob helped clean up the mess. Presently he’s off to New Zealand and Australia but he will return in time to join us at the Festival.
In a way we have Margaret Thatcher to thank for artists like Billy Bragg. Amidst the cuts in basic services, privatization of such essential services as water and the general impoverishment, perhaps permanently, of a large segment of British society, rage has emerged as a by-product. This anger has brought out the creativity of a number of artists who might never have become performers if it hadn’t been for Maggie. Certainly Billy Bragg exists within the context of Thatcherite England.
His best songs reflect the economic and social crisis of that island. But Bragg has a wider view than the mines and inner cities of Britain. For him the reality facing his generation of working class British is part of a universal situation. That is why he has sung in, about and for Nicaragua and attached himself to the tradition of the Wobblies and Woody Guthrie. He has become part of an international cultural movement that has picked up the slogan coined by Brecht in the 1930s and addressed to cultural workers then: “Change the World, It Needs It”.
Through this process it seems Billy Bragg has also found his own abilities: “I don’t believe music will change the world but I’ll give people the tools of an argument. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to do and be good at.”
When we decided to do an Australian program at this Festival, we knew we had to have a representative of that country’s Aboriginal people. On a trip down there last summer we heard a lot of traditional Aboriginal music and some contemporary Aboriginal rock bands but frankly we didn’t think we could afford to transport a large group. We knew a program of contemporary white writers and traditional Aboriginal performers was not the ideal mix we were seeking. We wanted somebody who could speak about the current reality of Australia’s Aboriginal people.
Then Warren Fahey of the Larrikins came to our rescue last February when he sent us Kevin Carmody’s newly released album. The music was wonderful: a document of raw anger, power and fury forged into great songs. What was special about the songs was their roots in the American black traditions of blues and gospel.
Kevin Carmody, now in his early 40s, was born into a family of drovers on the plains of Queensland. Like many Aboriginal children (and many Canadian native children) he was torn away from his family and sent to a residential school. Also like many Aboriginal and Canadian native children, he left school and went to work as an itinerant labourer. Only in his 20s did he pick up a guitar. Fortunately Kevin’s uncle had left him a windup-78 record player and a bunch of old Led Belly records. Somehow the reality of life for Kevin and his people and those old Led Belly sides combined to produce some of the most powerful songs we have heard about Australia.
Both the album and Kevin’s performance have been hailed on both sides of the Pacific: the album Pillars of Society got three-and-a-half stars in Rolling Stone, believe it or not. We are proud to welcome Kevin on his first trip to North America.
John Cephas and Phil Wiggins
Perhaps the greatest musical loss of the century on this continent has been the demise of American rural blues. This form which has given the world so much poetry, power and pleasure and influenced so much contemporary North American music is truly an endangered genre. Fortunately there are still a few artists around who can bring us this authentic popular music of American black culture. John Cephas and Phil Wiggins are two such artists.
Their style is in the piedmont tradition from around Virginia and North Carolina. They make their home in Washington, D.C. On guitar and harmonica Cephas and Wiggins exemplify the synthesis of African and European elements which co-exist in the blues. The western melody and images combine with the call and response interplay of the harmonica and guitar and the bent or “blue” notes are quintessentially African. Their material is chosen with care and as a duet they effortlessly form one performing unit.
John Cephas has been playing guitar since the age of nine, learning much from listening to his cousin play around the house or at parties out at Bowling Green, Virgina. Phil Wiggins began playing blues harmonica as a young man, working with such D.C. blues greats as Archie Edwards and John Jackson and accompanying renowned street singer Flora Molton. Their stable partnership has endured for over a decade and we consider ourselves lucky to have them at this year’s Festival.
Hazel Dickens with Dudley Connell, Tony Trichka and Barry Mitterhoff
It was in the basement of a convention centre in Cannes, France that the idea for this particular gem took shape. The MIDEM conference is where the music business gets together to buy and sell and lie and steal. We participated and so did Rounder Records, one of the best of the American independents. Ken Irwin, one of the Rounder partners, always brings a few special goodies to play for us.
This year Ken put on a live tape of Dudley Connell of the Johnson Mountain Boys (one of the all-time best bluegrass bands) singing an old Bill Munroe song. We think it was The Dreadful Snake. We were just about crying: it was so beautiful, so everything that is great about American traditional southeastern music. After we had blown our noses Ken said, “What about Dudley and Hazel as a duet at this year s Festival?”
Now nobody in the world can sing quite like Hazel Dickens: southern mountain ballads, bluegrass. her own great songs, songs about the struggles of working people in the south, gospel, you name it. After they made her voice they broke the plates, destroyed the mold. We felt like somebody had just made us an offer on paradise.
The prospect of having two of the finest American traditional singers as a duet was breath-taking. Even better was when Hazel started talking about the band she was going to put together: Tony Trishka, the banjo-player’s banjo player and Barry Mitteroff, mandonlin player extraordinaire. With Warren Blair on fiddle and Roger Mason on bass, it sounded like a dream come true. This is as good as it gets in this kind of music.
For years rock-a-billy has been a kind of undercurrent in Vancouver’s music scene, a kind of gourmet exotic treat for those who like their music rootsy but rockable. With our emphasis on women in country music and with the Sun Rhythm Section coming to the Festival, we decided The Dots were just who we needed to round things out this year. Rock-a-billy is a step or two below full blown rock-and-roll on the North American musical tree. It’s somewhere between late Hank and early Elvis; honky-tonk music with the edge of rock but the soul of country. We figure The Dots are one of the best rock-a-billy groups around. The Dots are four women and one lonely guy who combine a repertoire of traditional material like Patsy Kline’s Write Me in Care of the Blues with a bunch of great originals written in the tradition by the band’s leader Tami Greer.
The rest of the band is drawn from other country and rock-a- billy bands including such early Vancouver efforts as The Stingin’ Hornets and the Rockin’ Fools. In addition to Toni Greer, there is Reg McDonald on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals; Joanie Kepler on string bass (we always loved her playing bass with the Rockin’ Fools); Revellie Nixon who has been playing drums professionally for 15 years; and Jimmy Roy on lead guitar.
When Teresa Doyle sings at this year’s Festival we will finally have a representative from Prince Edward Island. For a Festival that prides itself on introducing people to music from all parts of this country and the world, the fact that we never had any artists from P.E.I. has always been a sore point. When we first heard Teresa’s album Prince Eduard Island Adieu we knew she was the one to finally correct the situation. Given our emphasis on British and Celtic-influenced music at this year’s Festival, we felt now was an appropriate time.
Teresa was born in Prince Edward Island and for a number of years she has sung the traditional music of Atlantic Canada and the British Isles. She is a particularly able singer of a capella numbers. She is also a collector of folk lore from her native province and we understand she has a collection of ghost stories from P.E.I. that we will maybe get a chance to hear. But it was her marvellous voice and excellent choice of songs that impressed us. Some of her songs may be familiar, like Cam Ye O’er Frae France, When Johnny Went Plowin’ for Kearon and other tunes specific to Prince Edward Island are new to us. As well we like Teresa’s commitment to songs that talk about the lives of women like Factory Girl.
That Teresa will be accompanied by Richard Chapman, an old favourite of ours from his work with Barde, is an additional treat.
Some call it new acoustic music. Others term it contemporary creative music. You know the stuff – it draws from jazz, classical, ethnic, folk and what have you. Most of the practitioners come from the high culture end. We have long known and loved David Essig as a performer of traditional music. What a treat it is then to see him emerge as one of the most interesting and creative composers in the land.
It’s not that David has entirely given up his interest in traditional music or his own original songs. You’re still likely to hear a Skip James blues or a country tune. But David’s creative development in the last few years has been in the direction of modern instrumental pieces. David has also been looking west, past Vancouver, past even Ucluelet, out across the Pacific to Korea where he discovered the kayagum, which is a twelve-string zither of ancient origins. Since travelling to Korea in the fall of 1987, David has become entranced with the beautiful sound of the kayagum. Some of his new compositions incorporate the musical knowledge he gained in Asia with his 20 years of performing North American traditional music. At this Festival you can expect something old and something new from David, all of it done with the devotion to great music that has been his hallmark.
We are often asked how we find these people. And it’s true that many of the artists featured here are not exactly household names with New York agents and multi-record deals. With this group we owe it all to Bruce Cockburn. After hearing Eyuphuro on a recent trip to Mozambique, Bruce dropped us a line suggesting they would be a great addition to the Festival. Through the efforts of CUSO and TCLSAC (the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa) a cross-Canada tour will bring this wonderful group to the ears of thousands.
Eyuphuro is probably Mozambique’s most popular music group. They live in the northern province of Nampula. On the east coast of Africa, Arab and East Indian influences have merged with African traditions and much of the unique sound of Eyuphuro is a result of this blending. The group has been around since 1980 and is now led by Zena Bacar, a woman with a wonderful voice who is also a talented writer. The group’s material is based on the traditional songs and rhythms of Nampula. But it also performs many songs Zena has written about current conditions in Mozambique, a country that is actively being torn apart by a South African financed war of subversion.
At previous Festivals we have been fortunate to have groups from various African countries; from Nigeria to Mali to Zimbabwe to South Africa. We are delighted to have this opportunity to introduce you to the music of Mozambique. Please welcome Zena Baear, Chico Ventura, Mario Ferncndes, Belamino Godeiro and Mussa Abdula.
Tissa Farrel, Thando Hyman and M.C Motion with D.J Power
There is a good deal of cynicism amongst those of us straddling middle age about (and who would have thought we would ever say it) “the younger generation”. The youth of today it is said are apolitical and care only about money. Tissa Farrel, Thando Hyman, M.C. Motion and D. J. Power will certainly provide an antidote to these kinds of sentiments. Lillian Allen first told us about these great young black artists. Now they are here to promote Hip Hop music.
Now we old fogies do not quite understand the difference between Hip Hop and rap but we are ready to be educated. Starting with the youngest, Tissa Farrel is 15 and is recognized in Toronto for her rapping and singing with various groups. She’s a member of a gospel band called Go as well as the New Life Choir. Thando Hyman is 17 and like Tissa has performed at many rallies and marches as well as cultural events, sometimes with her younger brother. D. J. Power, whose off-stage name is Derek San Vincente, is 17 and is a self-taught D.J. and a mixer. M.C. Motion, known at home as Wendy Braithwaite, is the elder of the group at 19 and is a pianist, singer, music teacher and viola player and most recently a rapper.
All four young artists are committed to using their music as an agent of social change and to promote the development of African consciousness amongst black Canadians. Recently they’ve been involved in the fight-back by the Toronto black community against the police killings of several black youths in that city. After hearing these four, we hope you will say “I have heard the future and it works.”
Roy Forbes has been making his living playing music for two decades now. Over those years he fronted a rock band, toured solo, had a band again, went back to solo and so it goes. He has also accumulated one of the best overviews of North American popular music of anyone we know. He has forgotten more about blues, country and rock than most of us will ever know. As well he has written some of the best songs that have come out of this country. We’ve often said that if B.C. had a poet laureate, it should be Roy. A song like Colder Than Ever says more in five minutes about growing up in a small northern town than any book we have ever come across.
His more recent songs are masterpieces of mature writing that never fall into cliches. For this Festival we asked Roy if he would put together a country band. It has always seemed to us that Roy is more at home with country music than any other style. Maybe that’s because it was what he heard growing up, surrounded by the music of Wilf Carter and Hank Snow. Roy is the only person we’ve heard who can cover Hank Williams and make it sound new and different. Since Roy agreed to our request, his own great singing and writing and tasty choice of songs by other writers, will be backed up by the Pouce Coupe Pickers, some of the hottest players in Vancouver.
Vasilios Gaitanos must lead an interesting life. Frankly, we don’t even know where he lives. Sometimes we hear rumours of him from Chicago and then we hear he is in Athens. So when we got a message through a Chicago based agent saying Vasilios wanted to come up here, we seized upon the opportunity. That’s because he is one of our favourites.
Vasilios was born in Olympia, Greece. He grew up the relatively privileged son of a highly placed Greek state functionary. It was not until he entered the merchant marine as a sailor that he began to learn that life had a darker side. Three years after the Greek colonels took power in 1967, Vasilios was forced to leave his homeland. He discovered Mikis Theodorakis’ when he began to listen to music that opposed the dictatorship. By then Vasilios was well on his way to being a musician and after meeting his hero, he joined Theodorakis’ band from 1972 to 1975.
Since then Vasilios has worked with his own band based in Chicago and has made periodic returns to Greece. His music includes, of course, many compositions by Theodorakis. We will never forget Vasilios’ performance of the Zorba Suite on our evening concert stage to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of the Greek military dictatorship. He also has a repertoire of songs by dozens of other lesser known Greek writers, all filled with a passion and haunting beauty that make Greek music like no other. Accompanying himself on the piano and joined by Kostas Sotiropoulos and George Athanasopolos, Vasilios Gaitanos brings us the glory that is Greece.
Along with Teresa Doyle, we are proud to welcome Lennie Gallant as the other half of our first Prince Edward Island contingent. Born in Rustico, Lennie has earned a national reputation as a musician and as a singer songwriter. As a musician he was a member of Speed the Plow and later Tailor’s Twist, which was in our view perhaps the best Celtic band ever in this country. As a songwriter Lennie’s work ranges from evocative ballads about life in Atlantic Canada (perhaps his best is Island Clay) to songs that talk about life half a world away. Maria Diaz, about Central America, is a song which has been recorded by both Roy Bailey and Sabia.
We always worried we had missed the boat in not inviting Tailor’s Twist to the Festival before they broke up. So when we got a letter asking if we were interested in Lennie with his new band, we jumped at the chance. When we heard his new cassette Break Water, we were delighted. It was our first opportunity to hear Lennie as a songwriter and we were suitably impressed. Lennie is another of those magnificent talents hidden almost 4,000 miles away in Atlantic Canada. Lennie is joined by Janet Munson, Chris Corrigan, Danny Parker and Tom Roach.
Adrian Goizueta y el Grupo Experimental
We first met Adrian Goizueta in 1981 or 82 on a trip to Central America. We had never heard of him or his music but through a friend of a friend in Mexico, we were given Adrian’s name as a contact in Costa Rica. We discovered two things: first, a warm person who immediately treated us like old friends and second, one of the finest songwriters in Latin America leading perhaps Central America’s finest band. Ever since then we have wanted to bring Adrian to the Festival. But between his schedule and the difficulties of flying eight people from Costa Rica, it has taken us until now to get this exceptional musical group here.
Adrian Goizueta is Argentine by birth but was forced to flee military dictatorship in his homeland. He has lived in Costa Rica since the late 1970s. Here, based at the university music department, Adrian put together a group of young musicians, drawn from classical music, jazz, rock and of course the rich Latin American new song movement. The breadth of the group’s musical vision is one outstanding aspect of the group. At a concert in Europe a few years ago we saw the band move effortlessly from a Bach-like classical arrangement into a very fusion-like sound all in one song. Adrian’s rich deep voice, which is very much in the tradition of the great Argentine singers, is another strong point of the group. The third strength is their choice of material: beautiful songs that talk about love and politics. Songs that mourn the dead lost in the Central American revolution but at the same time bring a message of hope.
With half a dozen recordings and a stack of Latin American and European concert tours to their credit, we welcome one of Latin America’ s most exceptional musical treasures to North America for the first time. They are Adrian Goizueta, Bernal Monestel, Ivan Alexis Rodriguez, Fidel Gamboa, Jose Jimenez, Jaime Gamboa, Jose Joaquin Rivera and Elias Campos.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution and to acknowledge a sharpening crisis in El Salvador we wanted this year’s Festival to feature a cross section of groups who are committed to social change in Central America. Cutumay Camones is a Salvadorian group that has widely toured the areas of El Salvador controlled by the government as well as the FMLN controlled zones. Eduardo Gonzalez, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, happens to be on a solidarity building tour.
Eduardo has been working to develop a revolutionary Salvadorian culture for many years. He was one of the chief organizers of the “songs for peace with sovereigoty and independence festival” which was held last year in four cities in El Salvador. The festival brought together artists from North, Central and South America to defend the gains of the Salvadorian people. With Cutumay Camones, and as a soloist, he has toured the world from Australia and Japan, to Europe and the United States. His performance articulates the fight of the Salvadorian workers and peasants against the brutal military regime that governs there.
Eduardo is one of very few performers who can sing and talk about experiences gathered while touring the FMLN controlled zones of his country. Through him we bring you a message from this heroic people.
Rufus Guinchard, Jim Payne and Baxter Wareham
When Rufus Guinchard got the Order of Canada a year or two ago, it came as no surprise to us. In a country supposedly bereft of heros, Rufus has been one of ours since we first heard him perform in the late 1970s. From Hawkes Bay on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula, Rufus is arguably the finest traditional musician in the country. At almost 90 years of age, Rufus is an exceptional fiddler. The enormous body of tunes that make up his repertoire represents one of the most distinctive aspects of Canadian folk culture: Newfoundland fiddle music.
Rufus learned his technique and his tunes in the early years of this century before radio had begun to homogenize regional cultures. When Rufus plays you hear the music people made to celebrate their daily lives. Joining Rufus is Jim Payne, one of Newfoundland’s most talented singer-songwriters and musicians. Jim has appeared in various theatre productions, written scads of topical songs about the world and its doings, collected traditional music from all over Newfoundland and generally helped keep the rich music of that province alive and relevant. Baxter Wareham, another gifted musician and singer will be appearing with Jim and Rufus.
As a trio, they will share the songs and tunes of Newfoundland from the most traditional to the sharply-edged songs being written today.
If we were ever to run a university, we would give Joe a job as a professor of popular culture. There is probably not a writer in this country who can touch him when it comes to perceptions about the social habits of those around him. In his songs Joe doesn’t go for the bone; he goes for the marrow. That’s probably why he has always had a bit of a hard time with the music business. When faced with Joe’s kind of in-sight, you either put that knowledge in charge or you cast it into the deepest pit of hell.
A number of years ago Joe fronted a band called the Continental Drift which was one of the wackiest and finest rock outfits that ever trod the boards in this fair land of ours. They were fearless and uncompromising and never really enjoyed mainstream success but were appreciated as cult-heroes by many. Joe’s Nos Hablos Telephonos remains one of the best songs written. Today, still daring and unrelenting, Joe is touring solo. When we caught his show in a little club in Toronto a while ago, it was one of the best things we had seen in years. Joe’s wits are as sharp as ever with songs like Happy About My Hair. It is the kind of song that should be taught in every school in Toronto as part of a life preparation class.
But there is another side to Joe as well. He’s a great singer of traditional blues and covers material by such great but obscure songwriters as David Blue.
Marie Lynn Hammond with Marilyn Lerner
Marie-Lynn hasn’t been singing as much as she once did. A co-founder of Stringband and writer of such great songs as Flying/Spring of ’44 or I Don’t Sleep with Strangers Anymore, she has lately been devoting much of her time to playwriting, performing and living off our tax dollars at the CBC where her new show Musical Friends went on the air last May. So we were especially happy when she accepted our invitation to appear here in her previous incarnation as a singer songwriter.
Marie-Lynn, in addition to possessing a marvellous voice, is one of the few truly bilingual/bicultural performers in the country. Her facility with both official languages has allowed her to create some wonderful songs – many of which deal with women’s lives and issues. Her songs about her grandmothers rank as some of the best Canadian songwriting of the past decade. One of them, Elsie, is still fresh to us even after repeated listening.
Marie-Lynn has also been granted a generous measure of wit. Listen to Canadian Love or one of her newest compositions, Not Another Benefit, which is destined to be-come a classic, at least among progressive musicians. Joining Marie-Lynn is the respected pianist and performer Marilyn Lerner.
The existance of groups like the Harbord Trio is why Celtic music is going to be around and relevant for a long time to come. Celtic music seems to be the ideal base around which talented musicians can create an individual sound while retaining loyalty to the tradition. Talented musicians is what the Harbord Trio are. Based in Toronto, the Harbord Trio is Kelly McGowan, Don Ross and Oliver Schroer. Don plays guitar well enough to go down to the National Guitar Championship in the United States and carry off first prize in the finger picking category. Kelly McGowan, in addition to being a wonderful vocalist, plays dulcimer and autoharp while Oliver Schroer is a classically- trained and jazz-influenced violin player who left high culture to win old-time fiddle awards.
If as individuals they are superbly talented; as a trio they are truly remarkable. Their instrumental work and tight vocal harmonies provide a perfect jumping-off point for a treatment of traditional music from the British Isles and Canada and they perform some contemporary songs as well. In a year when we decided to highlight the revival of interest in Celtic music in Canada, it was unthinkable not to include the Harbord Trio.
There is a joke we have around the office, a piece of folk lore we suppose. When we are figuring out the workshop schedule and we find somebody who is playing eight or nine times over the weekend, we give them the “Barbara Higbie Award”. This dates back to the year when Barbara first came to the Festival with two groups and played more than anybody else. Barbara is simply one of the most versatile and incredibly over-talented musicians it has been our pleasure to know. She has appeared at this Festival as part of so many different groups that it seemed only fair to finally bring her on her own.
Barbara began studying classical piano as a child. After moving with her family to Ghana for a few years. she began absorbing some of the international musical influences that have made her music so special. After high school she enrolled in the Sorbonne. no less, and on the side played music in the subways and restaurants of Paris, picking up the fiddle somewhere along the way. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in music hack in California and began performing in a number of different musical combinations including jazz. folk and pop. We first met her performing with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall in what later became Montreux and later as a duo with Teresa Trull.
She has also turned up in some unusual situations, like backing up Holly Near at a solidarity festival in El Salvador. Courage is also a big part of Barbara Higbie. Now making her own music, both instrumental and vocal. Barbara brings her training and experience and, most of all, her passion for great music to what we suspect is the beginning of a brilliant solo career.
In the folk music world some groups are best known and appreciated for stability. It is not uncommon for a group to celebrate 20 years together with more or less the same personnel and even much of the repertoire intact. There is some merit in this if you belong to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought. But the Horseflies fly in the face of that approach. We can think of no other group where the changes have been more profound and interesting.
We first heard them on record as a four-piece, pretty straight-forward, old-timey string band. After booking them for the 1987 Festival we received a tape that showed the group was clearly in flux, experimenting with all kinds of musical influences and electronic tricks. When we invited them back this year we discovered the group had grown to six and, as a preview tape of their soon-to-he-released album shows, their experimentation with punk-folk meets Philip Glass meets Appalachia has been taken right to the edge. What can you say about a group that features a processed banjo-ukulele?
We thought their treatment of the traditional mountain dirge 0 Death with lots of electronic synth and drums could win an award for the best contemporary version of an old-time song. For that matter the whole band should be rewarded for making music that falls into a category that hasn’t yet got a name. The Horseflies are, for now, Judy Hyman, John Hayward, Jeff Claus, Rich Sterns, Taki Masuko and Peter Dodge.
Inuit Throat Singers
The Inuit culture of Canada’s north is one of the most fragile and least seen. Although few visitors go there, the cultural invasion from the south has nonetheless wreaked havoc on the traditional folk-ways of the world’s most northern inhabitants. We have always had a certain trepidation about bringing Inuit “throat singers” to the Festival. The context in which this cultural form occurs is so far removed from our Vancouver stage that we worried about demeaning it. However, not to present the singers is to continue their invisibility, so with the collaboration of the Folk on the Rocks Festival in Yellowknife, we have invited three women from Baker Lake in the eastern Arctic to present the katajjait.
Katajjait is the plural of katajjaq which is how one Inuit dialect describes this amazing vocal music. The katajjait are a kind of competition game performed in most cases by two women placed face to face and very close to each other. The aim is to wear out your opponent or make her laugh. Katajjaq vocal qualities include timbres produced through gutteral, nasal and breathing techniques with tonal levels created through voice and voiceless pitch. These pieces do not contain words and are therefore not songs as we know them nor do they have melody in the European sense.
At a Festival which seeks to present all the world’s popular cultures, we are pleased to welcome Naomi Itqiuk and Olive Inhakatsik and their translator Polly Kuuk.
There seems to be a process common to the best of the exiled music groups. Compelled by the urgency of being driven from their homes, groups at first tend to go through a period of intense didacticism. performing songs that in some ways are little more than slogans set to music. Some groups are never able to overcome this phase. As they become increasingly isolated from life at home, their work becomes stale. But among the best another process comes into play. These are the groups who somehow manage to combine their past experiences with their new reality. The result is a broadening of scope and talents and an expanded set of musical skills.
Kin Lalat falls into this category. Formed in Guatemala in 1982, the group was soon forced to leave the country. They joined the contingent of exiled musical groups, far too many of whom unfortunately are from Latin America. They now live in Nicaragua and have performed extensively in Canada as well as in Europe and Latin America. Their music incorporates the wide variety of rhythms and harmonies found in Guatemala with other influences from the world’s popular music. They are as comfortable with songs of the Guatemalan people’s struggle to free themselves from almost 40 years of dictatorship as they are with the traditional tunes they have refined and adapted.
Having presented this group several times in the past, we are looking forward to hearing them as they are now. Kin Lalat is Rene Calderon, Sandra Moran, Marlin Ramazzini, Miguel Sisay and Tito Medina.
John Koerner is one of a group of heroic artists who helped rescue folk music in the early 1960s. He rescued it from the prettified gutless muzak that it almost became when various popular groups tried to cash in on the blacklisting of the Weavers in the late 1950s and early 60s. With gorgeous harmonies and not a rough edge to be found these groups threatened to turn folk music into its opposite. Spider John Koerner (as he was known in those days) along with his old partners Dave Snaker Ray and Tony Little Son Glover, were part of the team that introduced the majesty of traditional music to tens of thousands.
With albums that still stand the test of time like Blues, Rags and Hollers, a classic on Elektra Records, Koerner influenced everyone from John Lennon to Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan. But as the 60s turned into the 70s and folk turned to rock, John seemed to vanish. We heard he was living in Denmark and not performing anymore and then in the early 80s there was a brief revival of Koerner, Ray and Glover. When we recently heard a new solo album by Spider John Koerner it was a real treat. John can still do traditional songs better than anybody we have heard in years. He retains the ability to breathe new life into old icons.
At our first Festival in 1978 an insistent French music journalist named Jacques Vassal talked himself backstage and condescendingly told us what the Festival really needed were some of the great groups performing in Europe. We thought he had a lot of nerve but we still accepted an album by a group called Kolinda. After a few months we put the album on the turntable. A burning desire to bring Kolinda to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival has been with us ever since. It might also be said that this was when our ears were opened to music from outside North America and the British Isles.
Ironically, 1978 was also the year that Kolinda broke up. Although members of the band continued to perform together, it was not until a 1984 reunion tour that the band reformed. Twelve years after we heard Kolinda on record, the group will finally make their first North American appearance here. Kolinda was formed in 1974 by Peter Dabasi in Hungary. Their music is exceptional but it is also current. It encompasses the enormously rich traditional music of Hungary and the Balkans with new music, classical music, jazz and even rock. From the album we heard in 1978 to a live tape recorded last January, several factors remain constant: incredible harmonies, magnificent dynamism, an approach that makes the group sound like no other we’ve heard.
Kolinda is Peter Dabasi, Gyorgy Robert, Dora Kovats, Peter Koszegi and Janos Hasur.
Mustafa al Kurd
For several years we have wanted a Palestinian artist to perform at this Festival. Our search began after hearing a record by Marcel Khalife, a Lebanese/Palestinian artist who performs, among other things, the beautiful poems of Palestinian poet Mamoud Darwich. We realized that behind all the caricatures of the Palestinians as terrorists, there were great artists that we had never heard. We made several inquiries but got no results. Then last fall we ran into a Palestiian journalist touring Canada and asked him to name the most important songwriter. He told us about Mustafa al Kurd. We sent a letter to a theatre with no address and after three months we finally received a reply. Then we waited for a tape, hoping that we had not booked someone who did Frank Sinatra covers.
Frankly we were not ready for either the voice or the lyrics of Mustafa al Kurd. Songs about the intifada, songs celebrating the heroism of the children who fight against bullets and stones. Songs filled with passion for an entire nation denied. Songs that give a human face to a people who are mostly portrayed as lowlife in the North American press. Accompanying himself on the oud, the Arab antecedent of the lute and therefore the guitar, Mustafa al Kurd has been performing for over 20 years.
His first song called on his people not to leave their land; his latest celebrates the struggles of the children of Palestine to reclaim that same land. The history of the Palestinian people lives in the music of Mustafa al Kurd and so does their future.
We first heard The Larrikins when one of our faithful volunteers came back from Australia with a bunch of folk records. One of the albums, which we believe was The Larrikins’ first, featured Australian mining songs. While attending a festival in Australia last September we met Warren Fahey who bills himself as the chief Larrikin and incidentally runs Larrikin Records which puts out enormous quantities of wonderful Australian folk music. There we hatched the idea of an Australian contingent at this year’s Festival and it seemed only fair to bring the country’s most important folk group.
The Larrikins were formed in 1974 with a goal of bringing both contemporary and traditional folk songs to the public in as authentic a style as possible. The group has a staggering repertoire of songs, tunes, poems and monologues on the most amazing variety of subjects. It can’t hurt that Warren Fahey has published entire collections of Australian folklore. From the earliest songs about such quaint Australian customs as flogging, very much in vogue during the penal colony days, to labour songs from the 1930s to songs from the bush, the group is a treasure trove of the history of Australia.
Would there were a Canadian group like The Larrikins. It’s a joy to welcome Warren Fahey, Dave de Hugard and Cathie O’Sullivan.
We first heard Larry Long in what must be the most beautiful setting in the world to hear anyone: the Highlander School in rural Tennessee at a weekend that brought together musicians and organizers to discuss culture as an organizing tool. Larry was full of boundless energy and great songs and we thought we should really invite him to the Festival. It has taken us a while but with each record that Larry sends us, we’ve become more and more determined to have him here.
Larry has frequently been compared to Woody Guthrie and we suppose that there is some justification for this. First, like Woody, he’s a hard guy to find and, second, like Woody, he always seems to be using his music to help out folks who are doing things that need to be done. His itinerary reads like an FBI dossier on what’s happening politically in the United States. From a river clean up in Minneapolis to a Soviet-American peace- walk conference in Iowa city, to a Mavfest celebration and Woody Guthrie tribute in Tulsa, Oklahoma, featuring children from Woody’s old home town, Okemab -Larry is on the move. He is busy giving voice to striking labour unions farmers trying to keep their land, native people fighting for their rights and folks cleaning up the mess that capitalism makes of ecology.
Larry comes from Minneapolis and writes great songs but he also knows a lot of memorable songs that other people wrote. For over a decade he has been working on his music and has a surprisingly wide knowledge of different musical traditions, He is, for example, skilled on the Dakota courtship flute as well as the more expected guitar. His songwriting workshops with children are everything that most patronizing concerts for kids are not.
Brazil it has been said, is not a country but a continent and it is somewhat facile to talk about Brazilian music as if there were only one type. However, Celso Machado, a guitarist, vocalist, percussionist and composer from near Sao Paulo, in southern Brazil, manages to encompass some of the enormous variety of music found in the country’s diverse regions. From the northeast Celso brings the traditional tunes of the Afro-American cultures prevalent there and his own compositions based on that tradition; from Rio he brings the soft bossa nova tunes of Luiz Bonfa or Gilberto Gil; and from a whole other perspective, we hear an influence which is perhaps a prelude from that great classical composer, Hector Villa Lobos, who built his work on Brazilian traditional music.
Celso Machado is well qualified to conduct a tour of Brazilian music. Growing up in a family of musicians, he is widely regarded as one of the finest guitarists in a country known for its guitar players. Celso also reaches down to the roots of Brazilian music, many of which are essentially African. He has incorporated the percussion instruments and the whole percussive approach of Brazilian music into his playing and into his performance which is as dynamic as it is technically excellent. Celso seems to live in a triangle with Sao Paulo, Bordeaux, France and Vancouver as the three extensions. We are glad to see him back this way.
Philip and Pam Boulding are old friends of this Festival, having made their first appearance here nine years ago. We think we may have first heard them performing at Seattle’s Pike Place Market and if we were impressed then, we are even more impressed now. The Bouldings perform Celtic music and their own compositions on wire and nylon-strung Celtic harps, hammered dulcimers and a few other things besides. When they started performing over ten years ago interest in Celtic music was in its heyday. And even though interest in this music waned somewhat earlier this decade Philip and Pam persevered.
It is such dedication that shines in both their compositions and their performances. It took commitment and a certain amount of blind courage to open for rock artist Dan Fogelberg in 15,000-seat arenas, which is what the Bouldings did last summer. They also regularly go on stage with their five children. Although their background is in classical music, the Bouldings have found their musical home in that rich horde of Celtic tunes which have perhaps influenced North American music as much as any other source. When not touring or organizing their own concerts, they live near Seattle teaching, composing and building instruments.
Loreena McKennitt’s talents are so numerous that you have to wonder why she focuses on the notoriously unstable career of a musician. After all she has acted in The Tempest and H.M.S. Pinafore at Canada’s famed Stratford Festival, apprenticed at the Royal Shakespeare in Stratford, England, and composed music for various films as well as theatrical productions. Living outside Stratford, Ontario with her cats and a dog, Loreena could do perfectly well without ever heading out on the road. But we rarely look a gift horse in the mouth and so we are delighted to have Loreena here.
In our opinion we have assembled some of the finest performers of Celtic and Celtic-based music in the country. Loreena is an important part of this contingent. We think she plays and sings brilliantly. Originally from Morden, Manitoba, Loreena grew up listening to Celtic folk songs. But it is her contemporary approach to the music that we find most exciting. To her band comprised of jazz bassist George Kollar, David Woodhead on synthesizers, mandolin and electric bass, and Brian Hughes on electric guitar, Loreena adds her exceptional skill on the harp. Her repertoire ranges from traditional songs from the British Isles to her own compositions which address both contemporary and historical political themes. The poetry of Yeats, the Irish women who fought in the rising of 1916 and Amnesty International are just some of the topics her work deals with.
Sue Medley has come a long way since she started singing Joni Mitchell covers in the bars of Courtenay, B.C. at the tender age of 15. It has been a while since she was touring the country as a backup singer in the Elvis!Elvis!Elvis! revue. Now after 10 years of working on her songs and honing her skills as a performer Sue is on her way up. With a record contract from Polygram tucked away and a date booked in a recording studio it would seem that Sue is poised for success. She comes to the Festival as one of a growing number of women songwriters from this part of the world who are beginning to catch the ears of the Music Business. Part of this trend is a recognition of raw talent but changes to what gets played on the radio in the last few years have also opened up doors to songwriters and performers who do not fit any formula. And Sue certainly isn’t limited in her scope. Influenced by the folk balladeers of a decade or two ago as well as by rock and very much by country, Sue Medley has found audiences more than prepared to listen to music that’s powerful, gutsy and transcends definitions. If you want to hear an authentic artist who promises to develop into a major one, take a listen this weekend.
It seems that some of us down at the old Festival office are kind of out of it when it comes to knowing what is happening in the music business. It’s one of the things that keeps us dumb but honest. When Mae Moore’s tape came in we liked it a whole bunch so we phoned her up and asked her to perform. It was only when looking through the information she sent us that we discovered all the excitement around this woman. We didn’t know she was the author of a top ten single, Heaven in Your Eyes from the soundtrack of Top Gun, which we assume is a movie. We didn’t know she had worked with Barney Bentall and other luminaries.
What we did know is that Mae Moore is an exceptionally talented singer and songwriter who lives in West Vancouver. She has written about the migrant Mexican workers who died in a boxcar in Texas last year and she also addresses the various things we do to each other in the name of love. Her singing is just great. It’s hard to describe so we won’t; after all she is here. We think Mae is one of the most exciting performers in town these days. That is why we invited her and why you should make sure you hear her.
The members of Orealis have a great combination of origins for a Canadian band. Kirk MacGeachy hails from Edinburgh, Scotland; Renee Morin is from Quebec City; Jim Stephens is an English Quebecer, born in Montreal and John Rudel hails from the States. Together they have turned their considerable talents to Celtic music.
Now the Celts are the people who really “settled” (we won’t go into what really happened) this country. Overwhelmingly, it was poor peasants from Brittany, Normandy, Ireland and Scotland who populated French and English Canada. By and large they were folks who didn’t possess much. But the one thing they brought and held onto was their culture which has provided the basis for traditional music in this country ever since. And although the roots of Celtic music are ancient, they remain powerful enough to inspire us today. In the hands of Orealis the music has become very contemporary.
In fact, Renee Morin uses her synthesizer as a lead instrument rather than as a background wash. This gives the group some of its distinctive sound. With innovative arrangements, great musicianship and material which spans both sides of the Atlantic, Orealis has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting Celtic bands in this country.
Our know ledge of Latvian music is zero. Yet when a local Latvian-Canadian wandered in and asked if we were interested in a Latvian band we confidently replied “sure”. After all this hit-and-miss method has lucked us into some great stuff in the past. And we think we’ve done it again.
This group began to interpret and perform traditional Latvian folk music about ten years ago. With over 250,000 Latvian folk songs, they had a lot to chose from. In pursuit of the tradition, the members of Ornaments researched the ethnographic archives of the Latvian Academy of Sciences. As well they sought out elderly folks who still remembered old tunes and songs. Like many musicians in other cultures, they began with traditional instruments but soon began to incorporate more up-to-date instruments like guitars, synthesizers and drums. The result is a sound which is loyal to the past but looks towards the future. We liked the Latvian pieces we heard on tape but there is another side to Ornaments as well.
They are big fans of bluegrass and do one of the best versions of The Orange Blossom Special that we have ever heard. We suspect there are a number of other surprises in store for us from this group. As one of Latvia’s finest musical combinations they have performed throughout the Soviet Union as well as in a variety of other countries from Spain to Iraq to Australia to Vancouver’s Expo. The group is comprised of Ingus Feidmanis, Bruno Ostrovskis Romualds Ostarovskis Alberts Vilcans, Ugis Petersons Viktors Macko and Silvija Silava.
The Oyster Band is one of our all-time favourite ensembles. That is to say we are blithering fans. We have been known to spare no adjective in describing this group of five English musicians. The Oyster Band began humbly enough as a folk band playing English dance music and traditional songs. However, three or four years ago, before the word “roots” had been so overused as to defy any definition, the members of Oyster Band began experimenting with electric instruments and the dreaded rock-and-roll. Twenty years after Fairport Convention, this may seem a bit quaint but the results were pleasing to the band and they proceeded on this path.
In the process they developed into what we consider to be one of the most exciting groups in any musical style. The band follows the tradition of folk rock. Their music has drive and beat but manages to retain a connection to the musical past. Their lyrics make sense in the way that lyrics of traditional songs make sense – as a record of the lives of people. Intelligent lyrics and great music: you can’t beat the combination that the Oyster Band serves up.
In the early 1970s three talented and somewhat eccentric artists produced one of the most original, interesting and best-loved groups to ever emerge from the Vancouver music scene. For three or four years they travelled the province and east into the heartland with a blend of hippy sentiment, acoustic folk rock and a stage presence that has perhaps never been equalled in its quirkiness. They left behind a couple of great records and a lot of very pleasant memories. Then Rick Scott, Shari Ulrich and Joe Mock went off in their own directions.
Lately Rick has been performing solo when he isn’t pursuing a successful acting career; Joe now lives in Tokyo where he performs at a small club and does session work; Shari remains a full-time musician with a couple of solo albums to her credit and a new one in the can. For years a reunion had been kicked around but one thing or another always prevented it. That was until last year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival. When the band regrouped here, howls of unadulterated joy came from some of the audience while stares of incomprehension came from the rest. They wondered who those folks were on stage with Rick Scott and why everyone was so excited. This year’s reunion is not meant to be a secret. In fact it appears the group has quite a tour lined up. If last year was a tentative stab at re-establishing Pied Pumkin, this year is an opportunity to see what three very different but exceptionally talented and more seasoned artists can do.
The large and vibrant Haitian community that dwells in Montreal is a culture that most west coasters know little about. This year members of a group of singers, dancers and percussionists led by Georges Rodriguez will finally help correct that situation. Georges is an exceptional drummer who has worked with some of the great Haitian performers, people like Martha Jean-Claude and Toto Bissainthe. He has played with dance groups and instrumental ensembles and he is a teacher and producer of cultural events which have brought the culture of Haiti to many thousands.
Haitian culture is deeply rooted in Africa. Haiti was the first independent black state in the western hemisphere, throwing off the chains of French colonialism in a revolutionary upsurge in the late 18th century. Perhaps because of this, Haitian culture has preserved more of its African genesis than has any other western black population. The group performs both secular and religious material, much of which is drawn from African religious traditions still very much alive in the Haitian community. We are particularly proud to present these representatives of one of the strongest black folk traditions in Canada.
For many, the name Leon Rosselson is synonymous with political songwriting of a certain very serious style. But we who have come to know him over the nine years since he first performed at our Festival see more than that. Leon stands apart from most songwriters who address political and social issues. As he said in an interview, “I do see songs largely as theatrical performances, as rather like drama and not like poetry and not like propaganda and not like statements and not like bulletins…”
Leon has consciously chosen not to follow in the English folk tradition but has adopted a style closer to the tradition of French or German cabaret. His songs are very much like plays with characters, stories and changes of scenery. We can’t be positive but it seems Leon’s work may owe much to the English music hall tradition. Like the shows in the music halls, his wonderful creations are sometimes satirical and often hilariously funny.
The last time he was at the Festival, he and Roy Bailey presented a thematic performance about the Spanish Civil War. This year in honour of the French Revolution, we will have a chance to hear a new piece devoted to the work of agitator and author, Tom Paine. It’s a pleasure to welcome back this modern-day agitator and author, Leon Rosselson.
After seven years in Vancouver, Terilyn Ryan is getting ready to spend some serious time in Nashville where her songs and her voice have made an impression on the country music moguls. We suppose if things work out right Terilyn may soon be enjoying the success she deserves after putting a dozen years of hard slogging work into her singing, writing and I performing. Terilyn is one of the hardest working folks we know. Frankly, we don’t know how she does it.
As well as running her career as one of Vancouver’s best country performers, writing songs, making records and raising a couple of kids, Terilyn always seems to be organizing something. She regularly puts together showcases for lesser known women country songwriters at the Railway Club and other places. Terilyn comes from Alberta where she performed in theatre and later with her own travelling puppet show. Since the mid 1970s she has been singing country music and since the beginning of this decade, she has been writing songs.
She describes her songs as being “full of life, love and leavin'”. We were particularly caught by No Time for Lovin’, one of the best songs about the impact of domestic and occupational demands on relationships. It is in part due to Terilyn that we have become aware of the enormous vitality and talent of the many women country performers in Vancouver.
There is not enough room here to say what should be said about Pete. He has made hundreds of records and performed thousands of times over his 50 year career. Pete Seeger has probably made more impact on music in North America and significant parts of Europe and Latin America than anyone else. Through it all Pete just keeps doing what he has always done: he plays the banjo and a couple of other instruments, sings songs and encourages other people to sing along. It’s so deceptively simple that it is tempting to think of him as the Ghandi of folk music.
Pete was born into a family that loved music. His father, a musicologist of international reputation, was also a man of radical political beliefs whose views caused him to be blacklisted for refusing to endorse the First World War. In the late 1930s Pete picked up the banjo after he heard it at a folk festival in North Carolina and he also began singing. He was part of the bohemian left-wing New York scene. He was one of the urban cultural activists who introduced rural musical forms to city audiences, sometimes changing the words to songs. It was out of this scene that the Almanac Singers coalesced. The group included Woody Guthrie and Lee Hayes. But the twin pressures of the Second World War and the supreme “red baiting” of the McCarthy era broke up the Almanacs. Pete joined the service and went off to the South Pacific.
But after the war, Pete decided to get serious about music. He helped create the Weavers who, quite by accident, ended up as one of the top musical groups on mainstream American radio with Irene Goodnight in 1951. The rest, as they say, is history. While the Weavers’ commercial prospects were dashed by McCarthyism, the group continued. But Pete eventually went solo. The fact that he was banned from television and radio didn’t prevent him from writing, performing and travelling. And he has always used his songs and his talent as political weapons. From Roosevelt to Bush, there is no president who has escaped the barbs of Pete’s music. From the Spanish Civil War to the movement for black civil rights, from Viet Nam to women’s liberation and to the defence of Nicaragua, the causes that advance the liberation of humanity have all had Pete’s support. We are truly honoured to have him with us this year.
About a year ago we got a phone call from a fellow named Gordon Yearsley. Gordon, who is over 65 years of age, was in the process of moving to Xian, China to get married and start a new life. He was in touch with a group of musicians there. We had already heard about the group from Bob Bossin who had passed through Xian. Gordon told us that we should come and see these folks for ourselves.
We had wanted to do a program of Chinese music for a while but we didn’t quite know how to arrange it. This seemed like an opportunity. After four days of plane and train travel, we arrived in Xian. On the old city wall of this ancient city, starting point of the famous Silk Road, we saw the Folk Artists of Shaanxi. When you travel four days and maybe 10,000 miles to see a show, you hope it’s good. This was beyond our wildest desires: it wasn’t good, it was wonderful.
The troupe that is coming to the Festival has been organized by the Shaanxi branch of the China Musicians Association (Shaanxi is the province in which Xian is located). Its members were elected by the hundreds of artists who are members of this organization as those best able to represent the culture of northwestern China. The artists performing here are dancers, percussionists, singers and soloists on a variety of instruments, both string and wind. What we fell in love with was the spontaneity of the performance as well as its technical excellence. This is folk music played by the folk without the kind of over-formalized character that we have sometimes seen.
As the Folk Artists of Shaanxi themselves define their mission “let us, together with the colourful music, weave the beautiful basket of world peace and friendship, and enjoy the happy and harmonious life full of sunshine and hope.” Please welcome He Yi, Feng Jianxue, An Zhishun, Zhang Xipeng , Ma Hu, Xiong Lu, Wu Tong, Zai Zhizhong, Zhang Mingjie, Sun Daxi, Chen Man, Wang Naixing, Yu Yongqing and He Qiuxia.
We first heard Patrick Sky’s records in the mid 1960s. Songs like Hesitation Blues, Nectar of God, his version of Pete Lafarge’s Ira Hayes and others on his first two albums formed part of the soundtrack of those years. Next came his Songs That Made America Famous, a gem of brilliance and tastelessness; then a hiatus when we heard nothing about Patrick Sky. Rumours that Patrick had moved to Ireland and taken up the uileann pipes proved true when we heard the double album by Seamus Ennis playing the Irish pipes. This album which was produced by Patrick, was the first album on the Green Linnett label which Patrick co-founded.
Now Patrick is back performing again; it could be that he never stopped. The man whose music we have loved for 25 years still performs the traditional songs of the American south where he grew up. But he has also added new songs and tunes which reflect his commitment to Irish music. One of the things that attracted us to folk music is its appreciation of the worth of accumulated experience and knowledge. We are looking forward to hearing a true folk music veteran when Patrick Sky performs here.
The 1960s folk boom was the best thing that ever happened to the guitar business. Thousands of kids around the world went and bought the damn things and started flailing them and singing songs. Judy Small got started then but unlike most of her contemporaries she has kept at it. Today Judy is one of the finest songwriters in her native Australia or anywhere else for that matter.
She is one of only a handful of songwriters who can make a living without singing the kind of “you and me against the world” love songs. But Judy’s songs are suffused with love and she has a particular fondness for songs about women. Her songs about people look into the past and at the present. She sings about people liberating themselves from physical stereotyping (she and Howling Wolf have written the two best songs about fat people ever written). She also tackles the subjects of loneliness and isolation and many other topics besides.
Judy is an academic who has picked up a master’s degree in psychology and is now working on a law degree. In 1987 she returned as a full-time student to Melbourne University. Being fans, we were delighted when Judy decided to spend her winter-break doing a few North American gigs. We are especially happy that one of the places she chose to play was here.
One of the strange tricks played by British imperialism resulted in the creation of a black English-speaking community on the Atlantic coast of Central America. The Soul Vibes come from Nicaragua’s east coast. This region has long been economically, culturally and politically isolated from the rest of Nicaragua. In fact, people who live there tend to identify more with the English-speaking Caribbean than with the Spanish-speaking Pacific coast. We had long heard records of Palo De Mayo, recordings made on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast and have always wanted to bring a group from there. Then when we heard the debut tape by the Soul Vibes last fall, we knew this was the group we wanted to invite here to celebrate Nicaragua’s tenth anniversary of freedom from Somoza.
The music of Soul Vibes has been shaped by a variety of cultural forces. The black Afro-Central American tradition is one of these and the Sandinista revolution which has created an opportunity for autonomy for the Atlantic coast and support for black Nicaraguan culture has also played a part. But perhaps most important is the influence of reggae. This music of black Caribbean liberation was built around the ideas of Marcus Garvey in the 1930s and artists Bob Marley and Peter Tosh in the 1970s. The reggae music of Soul Vibes brings all these influences together. Their songs pay homage to Africa as the original homeland of black Nicaraguans and in a song like Solidarity with Mozambique they address the struggles occurring in Africa today.
But their songs also deal with the Central American reality, the fight against foreign intervention in Nicaragua and the fight of black Nicaraguans to create their own culture. Soul Vibes is Jorge Colson, Raymond Mayers, Alfonso Flores, Felipe Montaiban, Henningston Omier, Clifford Hodgson and Adolfo Salomon.
Spirit of the West
Celtic music is a powerful magnet. It brings together performers from a wide variety of backgrounds and provides a foundation upon which unique lyrical and musical statements can be made. Spirit of the West provides a good example of this phenomenon. Only one of its current members, Geoff Kelly, comes from a Celtic music background. Originally from Scotland, Geoff plays flute, horn and sings. Linda McRae began performing ten years ago in a country rock band; she now plays bass, guitar and accordion. She sings as well. Daniel Lapp is well known in jazz and country circles and now finds himself on fiddle, trumpet, accordion, keyboards and vocals. John Mann has a background in musical theatre and is the group’s main songwriter.
These four artists of considerable talent effectively join the energy of rock with the wealth of tradition encompassed by Celtic music. And as the group has developed so has their commitment to political songwriting, a practice very much in keeping with the British folk tradition. The group’s sound has allowed them to reach a far larger and younger audience than most folk artists manage. Their songs make strong statements about the world and they have produced some of the best political songs about British Columbia that have we have ever heard. Their new lineup and the experience of recording and extensive performing have turned Spirit of the West into the most important contemporary folk group in western Canada.
Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin
We’ve been listening with pleasure to the individual talents of Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin for a lot of years. It was with delight that we discovered they had made a recording and were touring, but even we were not ready for the wonderful sound of the tape they sent us. You are truly in for a treat with this duo.
Jody Stecher has always had a special affection and we think a particular talent for traditional old-time American music. He was also one of the first performers we know who experimented with music from all over the world: Latin America, India, the Bahamas, eastern Europe. Kate first came to our attention as a member of the Any Old Time String Band, one of the first all-women string bands. She later appeared at this Festival as part of the Blue Flame String Band. She knows her old-time music, can sing like a bird and plays the banjo and guitar like nobody’s business.
Together, Jody and Kate combine various stringed instruments and voices that seem to have been made for each other. To top things off they have somehow managed to scoop the crown jewels of American old-time music for their repertoire.
Sun Rhythm Section
There is a list of people we ask for advice when putting together this Festival. One of them is Bruce Kaplan, the head fish down at Flying Fish Records. Bruce is the one who suggested we invite the Sun Rhythm Section but it took more than a bit of effort for their agent Harriet Kyriakos to get them up here. We are sure that all ten or 15 thousand of us are going to want to send her a note of thanks. This is an opportunity to hear some of the folks who created rock-a-billy and therefore rock-and-roll.
Sonny Burgess, Smoochy Smith, D.J. Fonata, Stan Kesler Marcus Van Story and Paul Burlison were members of the bands that worked in Sam Phillips’ Sun recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950s. It was at this time that Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis and all kinds of other folks made the records that would transform North American music. The heck of it is these artists still sound just about exactly like they did 30 odd years ago when those records were made. Maybe the most appropriate phrase for these guys comes from a title of a song that Stan Kessler wrote for Elvis: I Forgot to Remember to Forget. There are no computers here and no synthesized or sampled sounds. Sun Rhythm Section is the straight goods from the heart of American popular culture.
New Zealand is a country we know very little about. Until their government banned nuclear weapons and the French blew up the Greenpeace ship there, it was not exactly a “newsmaker”. But a couple of expatriate Kiwis, who have been regular Festival attendees since year one, are always pushing us to hire more New Zealand artists. They also keep us supplied with tapes from what appears to be an unusually healthy women’s music scene. A couple of years ago the Topp Twins blew into town and took the Festival by surprise. They and other folks from New Zealand have told us about Mahinaarangi Tocker.
Mahinaarangi Tocker is a product of one of the more unusual marriages we have run across. She was born on the north island of New Zealand to a Maori mother and a Jewish father. Since the age of eight she has been singing in public, first in local talent contests, later busking in Australia, France and Israel. She has worked in cabaret, theatre, performed in schools, at festivals and on the streets, as well as making a couple of records. Her songs range from the humorous to passionate documents about Maori issues. We look forward to Mahinaarangi’s first visit here.
Lucie Blue Tremblay
When Lucie Blue first appeared here a few years ago, she was one of those unknown (in these parts anyway) artists who make this festival a weekend of discovery. Her return this year will be to a host of friends who have come to know and appreciate her talents. Lucie Blue is the rare-est of national birds: a fully bilingual and bicultural Canadian. In fact she was one of the first Quebecois contemporary songwriters to seriously seek performances in English Canada and the United States.
Lucie Blue began singing and tap dancing at the age of six and by the tender of 12 she joined her mother’s band as a drummer. She followed that by studying voice, including opera, but rigoletto was not exactly what Lucie had in mind. She dropped out of college to perform in clubs and at concerts around Quebec, worked at various jobs to keep her going while she perfected her singing and, increasingly, her songwriting. Then she won big at the 16th Annual Song Festival in Granby, Quebec.
She is a courageous writer who has written gripping songs about incest from a child’s perspective and about women in prison. She is also capable of letting her beautiful voice embrace a gentle love song like The Water Is Wide which we have never heard done better or a French version of Ferron’s Ain’t Life a Brook.
Weddings, Parties, Anything
We get a lot of invitations to see a lot of groups. More often then not, these performances happen in some particularly unhospitable bar with terrible sound and not a good seat in the house. The group to see usually starts like after respectable folkies us should be tucked into our futons. On one such foray into the night we were rewarded with a sterling performance by Weddings, Parties, Anything. an Australian band touring Canada.
At first the band showed all the hallmarks of your average rock outfit but they were soon distinguished by two very unrocklike features. Their intelligent lyrics had obviously been written with an attempt to communicate ideas and they also demonstrated a strong knowledge of Australian traditional music. There were even folk songs in their set including material by our favourite Australian bush poet, Henry Lawson.
Weddings, Parties, Anything is the rocky end of our contemporary Australian program. The band has written great songs about Australian issues with a sensitivity to women which belies much of what we have heard about Australians. Whether it be Sisters of Mercy about a nurses’ strike or Marie Farrar about an Australian woman who was driven to infanticide or Industrial Town about factory closures, this is a band worth listening to. They are Peter Lawler, Michael Thomas, Mark Wallace, Marcus Schintler and Richard Burgman.
Jennifer West, Rob Menzies and Friends
The west coast has a small but active Celtic music scene even though there is no particular Celtic tradition here in lotus land. One of the stars of our Celtic galaxy has been the Triumph Street Pipe Band. Now after 20 years of playing the Scottish pipes, Rob Menzies has retired as the pipe-major of Triumph Street.
The combination of Jennifer West’s voice and Rob’s piping make this group exceptional Jennifer has sung jazz, country, folk music and even telegrams. She is currently the lead singer with Natural Elements and as far as we are concerned she could sing the phone book and still sound good. Jennifer and Rob will be joined here by some outstanding musicians from a variety of backgrounds. Paul Blaney, one of the west coast’s most well known bass players, has worked with just about everybody. Russell Shumsky started his career as a percussionist with a nervous habit of drumming on his desktop in elementary school. In later years he worked with everyone from the Animal Slaves to various modern dance companies. Hugh MacMillan was a founder of Spirit of the West, a group who helped create renewed interest in Celtic music across the country.
Both the traditional Celtic pieces and the compositions that band members have written become magical when this all-star lineup combines their vast musical talents. At a Festival that prides itself on bringing surprises, this group could be one of the biggest.
Women in the Round with Ashley Cleveland, Karen Staley, Pam Tillis and Tricia Walker
Sometimes we just know that a group was meant to perform at our Festival. Call it luck, call it karma, call it being well connected. In the course of a single day last winter, we received three calls about Women in the Round. A mogul from one of the world’s major record companies called to say he had seen a show in Nashville that had knocked him right out. Fifteen minutes earlier Terilyn Ryan had phoned to ask if we had listened to the live tape of four women singer songwriters that she had brought back from Nashville. An hour later one of the women’s agent phoned and was enormously surprised to find us listening to a tape of the live show that had occurred just a few days before.
Women in the Round is a collaboration of four extremely talented country-oriented writers. Occasionally they get together to do a kind of workshop performance (in Festival terms). They share songs and generally back each other up. As far as we know this is the first time they have performed as Women in the Round outside a small club called the Bluebird in Nashville. In fact, it is thanks to this club that they are in Vancouver.
Ashley Cleveland is a superb guitar player, singer and lyricist with a country style and a bluesy-rock sort of voice that you don’t forget. Karen Staley is from West Virginia and grew up influenced by women like Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt as well as by black gospel music. Her writing which has a strong Christian flavour also reflects her experiences as a social worker in the poverty stricken Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Pam Tillis has had to work hard to overcome being country star, Mel Tillis’ daughter. Growing up in country music, she has also performed jazz, rock, R&B and studied classical piano before getting back to her country roots. She is regarded as one of the hottest up-and-coming country female singers. Tricia Walker comes from Jackson, Mississippi and is perhaps the only white songwriter from that state to have written a song of solidarity with South Africa. Her writing reflects a strong sense of regional identity in keeping with her literary heroes, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Her musical influences range from straight country to New Orleans jazz and black gospel.
Individually each of these artists is an exciting new talent. Together they provide a survey of some of the most talented and able writers and performers emerging in Nashville today.