Friday, October 28, 2016

Folkin Around in Ottawa

The Folk Music Ontario Conference is the annual love-in of folk and roots musicians and those who support this genre, with radio shows on community and campus radio, booking and managing folk artists, publishing folk-friendly magazines like Penguin Eggs and MapleBlues and a (very) few folk record labels. It was my role as (barely)managing editor of Maple Blues that brought me to the conference but I was happy to be invited to perform in of one of the private showcase rooms called Harlan's Porch. In previous years, I brought my campfire and hosted the late night jam but this year I told her I didn't have it in me to stay up till 5am (but I let them use my campfire anyway). Apparently they went till 6:30! It was hosted by publicist Beverly Kreller and Howard Druckman, who is editor of SOCAN Words & Music - now digital only. I forgot to ask him how that was going, but I'm sure SOCAN has saved a lot of money since they stopped printing that glossy mag. I miss it. There's no substitute for a hard copy, as they say, and I have to admit I haven't spent much time checking out their online edition.

My showcases were sparsely attended but as I looked around I realized that all those earnest young folksingers down the hall would have given their eye teeth to have the folks who came out to see me - record labels, studio owners, festival founders...but it's not because they came to sign me or hire me, it's because they're friends who wanted to support me. And the brutal truth is that the real "stakeholders" in the folk music industry already know what showcases they're going to see and it's going to be firstly the artists that they are already working with and then perhaps one or two acts that they are considering and they just want to see them playing live.

I referred to the "Corridor of Broken Dreams" when I saw the photo of the hallway of the 4th floor of the Delta Hotel where all the showcases took place. The walls had been entirely plastered with posters and I guess conference staff/volunteers had been ordered to take them all down on Sunday morning (but not necessarily remove them), so they were left on the floor, making for a rather slippery walk as I made my way to Folk Roots Radio's temporary studio for my Sunday morning interview with Jan Hall, who was M.C. for the "official" showcases and how that woman managed to remember so many details about the bands she was introducing, I'll never know. No clipboard, no crib notes, just a great memory, I guess. And what a great interview we had. I talked about my early days in Sherbrooke, my adventures with computers and my new ventures into electronica with my son Joel (aka Coi). I did a couple of tunes live and playing the blues at 9:30 in the morning is no mean feat. If you want to hear me blabbing about myself for 37 minutes, check it out here. If you want a more succinct summary of what I've been up to, I just did a much shorter interview with John Valenteyn on CIUT-FM yesterday and it will be on their website till next Thurs. Hurry Hurry :-)

I didn't stay up any longer than I had to (ie: my own showcases) so I missed out on discovering dozens of up-and-comers but I heard plenty of great music, starting with a strong Blues showcase on the Friday afternoon with Dione Taylor (who was my buddy Russ Kelley's discovery of the week-end), Suzie Vinnick, Jesse Greene and young Angelique Francis.  The Indiginous Showcase was also real powerful with performances by Nick Sherman, Leonard Sumner and the most amazing Quantum Angle.  Below is an 8-minute compilation from Saturday and they are the duo with a heavy looped sound and some real theatrics.

That compilation starts with a bit of Ian Tamblyn, a most revered folkie in the community, who regaled us with stories of his adventures in Canada's arctic where he often performs and whips around in a Zodiac inflatable boat.  A couple of hours later, I was trapped with him in a crowded, stuck elevator for half an hour so I got to hear some follow up on the stories he told at the showcase - one about a friend who was was at the water's edge skipping stones in the water when one of the stones she picked up was not a stone at all but a small ivory carving of a polar bear that turns out to be 2500 years old.  Ian sent me a picture of it:

I guess the elevator episode could be called a highlight of the week-end.  Ian not only told us stories but even demonstrated some impressive sleight-of hand and we had Tannis Slimmon there leading us in some gospel tunes.  After a while, it was starting to get a little hot in there and our link with the outside world was a disembodied voice with a far-away accent who just kept  repeating "a technician has been dispatched to your location" and it wasn't until one lady started shouting "I can't breathe, call 911!" that some hotel staff appeared on the other side of the door and pried it open.  They're probably under orders to wait for the elevator technician, but they could have done that right at the beginning.  I was already exhausted before I got in the damn elevator so I thought maybe this was an opportunity to lie down and regain my strength  (now that I'm 70 years old, I think I'm allowed!). Anyway the young night manager told me that was impossible, all the rooms were booked, and offered me a chair and a bottle of water.  In my experience with Delta hotels, they always bend over backwards to make up for any inconvenience to their patrons but this young lady was downright confrontational.  I guess she'd had it up to here with the folkies...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Out and About

Colin James sailed through town to promote his upcoming CD Release (featuring all the old blues classics that introduced him to the blues). The band was top notch - not sure if this will be the touring unit. He said this was their first time playing together in 2 weeks. Steve Marriner (Monkey Junk and just announced M.C of the Maple Blues Awards), Jesse O'Brien, Chris Caddell on second guitar, John Dymond on bass and I don't know who on drums, but I saw Gary Craig in the house - who is usually joined at the hip with Dymond. Would have liked to see Al Baby Webster on drums but nothing is forever. Last time I saw Colin it was a big stage/special event somewhere, and he had 5 or 6 amps all on wheels and tied together so the roadie just pulled the train onto the stage. Now CJ seemed comfortable with a single Matchless amp (which is a Rolls Royce of an amp). This was a rare occasion to see him close up and personal and as you can see from the video, I was pretty damn close. This was filmed on my iPhone SE and edited with the iMovie app on the iPhone. That's a first for me. Enjoy

Speaking of the video, I wish I could have shared a clip of Ramblin Jack Elliot who played Hugh's Room on Sunday Night but there were big signs posted "No Video Recording or photos" in addition to a personal appeal from MC/promoter Richard Flohil for "no recording" as he introduced him. I guess they were thinking that at 85 he might not always have a good night but this would count as one. I was so glad to meet him, and as they always say when you get up to that age, you never know if you'll get the chance to see him again. And I was able to get him my CD with my song about our mutual friend, Alice Brock. In fact, he joked about the first time anyone ever shouted "shut up and sing" it was Ray Brock at the venue that I think later became one of Alice's Restaurants. He sang plenty of songs and didn't "ramble on" too much. He had some great stories and ended by telling us he was about to get on a plane (more like 3 planes) to go to Arizona where Kris Kristofferson was to be honoured with some kind of Lifetime Achievement Award. They asked Jack to sing three of Kris' songs but he says "I only know one, Me and Bobby McGhee, so I guess I'll just sing it three times."

@stevemarriner ripping it up with @colinjamesmusic. Hot band. More tunage on my blog when I get home. Go Jays!

via Instagram @brianblain

Saturday, October 15, 2016

LA maestro Roger Kellaway with Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke @JazzBistroTO. They play again tonight. Hear the whole tune at

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Roger Kellaway at Jazz Bistro

Back in the early 70s I met a couple of great musicians who had just moved to Toronto, Chuck Aarons and Jim Ackley, known as Aarons and Ackley. I was crashing at a hippie commune at 127 Hazleton and they lived at 119 Hazleton. They were signed to Capitol Records and were on the fast track to the big time. I remember Jim Ackley talking about a piano player in his hometown, LA, that he was totally hooked on. He had a couple of his albums and played them for anyone that came to 119. That piano player was Roger Kellaway, who had an impressive resume even back then and has worked with everyone from Ellington to Elvis, Dizzy Gillespie to Yo-Yo Ma and Joni Mitchell to Mancini.

Well when my friend Peter invited me to the Bistro tonight I recognized the name right away and sure enough was not disappointed. He is no doubt a jazz giant, even though in his long career he has ventured far beyond straight-ahead jazz but here he is playing with a couple of local "jazz giants," Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke. As they say, it doesn't get any better.