Posted: December 17, 2008
Bruce contributed the lyrics to "Can I Go With You," to a book called Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada, released in 2008. More information here.
Posted: December 16, 2008
Bruce participates in the reading of A Christmas Carol.
Posted: November 6, 2008
I spoke with Bernie Finkelstein on the phone this morning regarding Bruce's coming live, solo CD.
It will be a double CD called Slice O Life. Currently it is expected to be released at the end of March, 2009. It is expected to be released on the Rounder Records label in the U.S. The track listing is as follows:
Disc One: World of Wonders, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, See You Tomorrow, Last Night of the World, How I spent My Fall Vacation, Tibetan Side of Town, Pacing the Cage, End of All Rivers, Soul of a Man
Disc Two: Wait No More, City is Hungry, Put it in your Heart, Wondering Where the Lions Are, If a Tree Falls, Celestial Horses, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Child of the Wind, Tie Me at the Crossroads
Soundcheck: 12 String Thing, Kit Carson, Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long
November 5, 2008
Steel pedal tests Dawson's mettle
Multi-instrumentalist branches out on latest CD
by Chris Wong
In his Vancouver recording studio known as the Henhouse, Steve Dawson sits down behind an instrument that's played with the hands, knees and feet. It's a pedal steel guitar, and as Dawson confidently finds his way around the instrument's strings, levers and pedals, its unmistakable high lonesome wail fills the room.
That striking pedal steel sound reverberates throughout Telescope, a luminous instrumental album Dawson has just released. He assembled an ace band and recorded the basic tracks for Telescope, plus another entire album (Waiting For The Lights To Come Up), in just five days. But while the recording was quick, Dawson's education on the pedal steel was months in the making.
Dawson has established himself as one of Canada's most engaging roots musicians, playing all manner of guitars such as acoustic, electric, lap steel and Dobro, along with numerous other instruments. Pedal steel, however, wasn't in his toolkit. "I was very intimidated by it for a lot of years, and that's why I never really learned it," Dawson says. "I knew that I would need to devote a certain amount of time to do that, and I wasn't able to take time away from doing gigs and producing records."
That changed when Dawson received a grant in 2005 from the Canada Council for the Arts to study with Greg Leisz, one of the best modern pedal steel players. Leisz has worked with artists ranging from Bill Frisell to the Smashing Pumpkins. In Los Angeles, Dawson took lessons from Leisz, who helped decode the instrument's mysteries. Dawson recorded the sessions, and later painstakingly transcribed Leisz's playing to delve deeper.
The pedal steel has long been associated with country music, and Dawson enjoys listening to master pedal steel players like the late country rock pioneer Sneaky Pete Kleinow. But Dawson isn't a fan of slick contemporary country where the instrument is often heard. "I've always loved the pedal steel itself, but I would say that well over half the time that I hear it, I don't really like the music that it's on."
A bigger influence than country has been atmospheric music by artists like Daniel Lanois, who played lush pedal steel on the instrumental album Belladonna.
On Telescope, the musicians applied a broad stylistic palette to Dawson's songs. The group--Dawson on pedal steel and various string instruments, San Francisco drummer Scott Amendola, Seattle bassist Keith Lowe and Vancouver's Chris Gestrin on vintage keyboards--segues from stirring Americana to driving rock and quirky jazz. The same players, except for Amendola, will perform music from Telescope Nov. 8 at St. James Community Hall. (Geoff Hicks will play drums.)
It will be Dawson's second CD release show at St. James this year; the other one marked the release of Waiting For The Lights To Come Up, which focuses on his singer/songwriter side. Both albums are on Black Hen Music, the label Dawson launched in 1995.
Black Hen is in the middle of another project: recording a tribute album to the Mississippi Sheiks, an influential 1930s country blues group. The album will feature interpretations of Sheiks songs by Bruce Cockburn, Madeleine Peyroux, the North Mississippi Allstars and other prominent artists. Ry Cooder may even do a tune for the album to be released next year.
Despite the upcoming tribute album, Dawson's own music, producing musicians like Jim Byrnes and working as a sideman, the 36-year-old doesn't feel he has a balanced career just yet. "I don't think it's very balanced. In a perfect world it would be a third of playing my own songs, a third of producing records for people, and a third being a sideman. But it will never really work out that way. I have to work a lot to make a living."
Thankfully, Dawson was able to step back and learn the pedal steel. Dawson's shimmering pedal steel melodies and harmonies on Telescope confirm he's learned the instrument well.
"I wanted to have something that said I went from not being able to play this instrument to being at this point. So I feel like I accomplished that. It's a cool record, and I'm really happy with the way it sounds, but I don't think too much about stuff I've done already. I'm always going to want to push ahead."
© Vancouver Courier 2008
October 30, 2008
Cockburn returns to humanity of the Himalayas
by Eric Volmers
Roughly a year ago, Canadian icon Bruce Cockburn faced a tough crowd high in the Nepalese mountains.
They were not rude. Just a little perplexed.
It didn't help that before his performance, Cockburn had spent days on the high-altitude trails in the northwest corner of Nepal, taking old salt caravan routes through rocky and re-mote terrain. Along the way, the 63-year-old managed to catch some sort of flu that had given him laryngitis. So, when he set out to play for mountain villagers in the region of Humla, he may not have been in top form.
"I played a few songs," says the soft-spoken musician in a phone interview. "They were not sure what to make of what I was doing. There was some head-scratching. Then some drummers got fed up with waiting and started playing in the middle of my song. Some-one had to run over there and tell them to keep quiet. But it was all pretty alien to them."
Cockburn's makeshift performance is captured in Return to Nepal, a new documentary by Toronto-based filmmaker Robert Lang and Banff-area cinematographer Guy Clarkson. It will have its Western Canada premiere on Nov. 8 as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
And while it may not go down in history as one of Cockburn's most assured musical performances, it's doubtful he was too offended by the slight. Throughout his 40-year career, the politically active performer has been well-travelled and certainly faced more hostile forces than a group of impatient drummers. He's played in Iraq and Mozambique. In the early 1980s, he was visiting a refugee camp in Mexico when it was at-tacked by Guatemalan military helicopters, an incident that famously gave birth to the song If I Had A Rocket Launcher.
So, relatively speaking, his trip to Nepal was calm and tended to present humanity at its best, rather than worst. Although plagued by a decade of civil strife, poverty and isolation, the people who reside in the most remote areas of Nepal are generous, perhaps to a fault, Cockburn said.
"Generally, we tried to pay our own way," he said. "But the generosity is just part of the tradition in some of these poor places. We would feel the hospitality-- they would try to feed us bowls of gruel. And we'd say 'Thank you, but don't you need this for your children?' "
Cockburn first travelled to Nepal 20 years ago, visiting areas that were traditionally out-of-bounds to foreigners. His journey to Humla, at the north-western corner of Nepal near the Tibetan border, was initially intended to be a return trip to the same areas he had been in the late 1980s.But the plans kept on changing, and Cockburn and his small entourage soon found themselves in areas that they had never been to before; areas, in fact, that few Westerners had been to before. It all seemed to open up opportunities for a hearty cultural exchange.
The Banff Mountain Film Festival runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 9 at the Banff centre.
And it turns out the Nepalese are as generous with their culture as they are with their gruel.
"We heard some interesting performances," says Cockburn. "There was one dance in particular that was done with masks. It was supposed to represent the original journey of the habitants. The dense forests that were there 1,000 years ago were supposed to be full of demons. So they wear these makes to scare the demons away. The performance was quite pointed, with them leaping in our direction, waving these swords with these hideous masks on."
Despite Cockburn's outspoken nature when it comes to politics, Return to Nepal doesn't have a specific political axe to grind. Certainly, the shadow of Nepal's 10-year civil war hangs over even the most remote of villages that Cockburn and his crew visited. In 1996 Maoist forces set out to establish a People's Republic of Nepal. Before a peace agreement was signed in 2006, more than 12,800 people had been killed and an estimated 150,000 were displaced. But opinions of the Maoists, who now form a major part of the Nepalese government, are mixed in the villages.
"A lot of the villagers were forced to joined the Maoists and become troops," says Lang. "Even women and young men who were 15 or 16 or older were forced to join. They would come to the villages and ask for the eldest son and daughter to go fight with them. They were also come into villages and insist on being fed, even thought these people could barely feed themselves. On the other hand, (the Maoists) also tried for positive change, particularly when it came to the place of women, who had been second-class citizens. The Maoists changed all that and they really battled corruption, which had been endemic in a lot of areas. So there was really a love-hate relationship there."
So the film, which will eventually air on CTV Travel, Escape and Discovery Civilization, became less about politics and more a portrait of a people who persevere under harsh condition. There's no electricity is many of the places the crew visited, nor it there clean water. Farming conditions are poor, food is scarce and children aren't inoculated. Many of the young people in the villages will eventually walk to Kathmandu-- which takes roughly a month by foot --to find work and disappear into the hazy capital city of 700,000 people.
But unlike that city, where a frenzied tourist trade around Mount Everest has led to some anti-Western feelings among the natives, the people walking the northwest trails viewed Cockburn and company with mild amusement and curiosity.
"You are walking along and you think you've got it tough," says Clarkson, in an interview from his home in Banff. "And then you see these women walking with these huge piles of wood on their head. The locals move at quite a different speed. We would run into people, and they would just put their hands together and bow and take the time to chat with our interpreter. Never, at any time, did we feel any animosity. Which is very different than in other parts of the Himalayas that I've travelled."
In the end, the filmmakers behind Return to Nepal hope to show audiences the value of the Nepalese world view.
"In this globalized world we live in, we tend to see everything in a top-down way, and we are more or less the top," says Cockburn. "We get our understanding of the world and how to navigate in this world by looking in the mirror. So when we're confronted by disaster, a hurricane Katrina or whatever else, there is this huge sene of fear and chaos. Yet you see people who live with this hand-to-mouth difficulty every day and their need to make things work or die. There's a lot to learn about their attitude and resourcefulness and how people in difficult circumstances don't have to operate on an every-man-for-himself basis, which is what we tend to do. So there's a great lesson there."
© The Calgary Herald 2008
October 27, 2008
Toronto Globe & Mail
Troubadour drives back from the brink -
Poet, songwriter and cabbie Bill Hawkins leaves obscurity behind with a new album, Brad Wheeler writes
by Brag Wheeler
It was Dec. 11,1966, when Bill Hawkins decided he'd had enough. The poet-songwriter was the creative spark for the underground Ottawa arts scene in the 1960s and his group the Children were finishing an opening set for Lovin' Spoonful at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. During the final number, as the house lights revealed a crowd of wound-up teens, Hawkins turned to band-mate Bruce Cockburn and said "that's it" and that he was finished.
More than 40 years later, the Leonard Cohen contemporary is back in the spotlight. Canadian record label True North has just released Dancing Alone, a graceful double-disc set produced by Ian Tamblyn that collects Hawkins's lyrical songs. There are performances by former band members such as Cockburn and Sneezy Waters, as well as Brent Titcomb and Murray McLauchlan, who, in his autobiography, hailed Hawkins's Gnostic Serenade as "one of the finest songs ever written."
"I didn't push the envelope," Hawkins says now of his aborted early career, "something frightened me."
Some people fight through that fear - hear Robbie Robertson's Stage Fright: "Now deep in the heart of a lonely kid, who suffered so much for what he did" - while others give in.
Hawkins was of the latter, descending into bouts with drink, drugs and rehab, while keeping an even enough keel to maintain a living as a cab driver in the nation's capital. There he's the favoured charismatic chauffeur of politicians, judges and journalists, squiring them about in his big blue sedan. "The word on the street is that it's 50-50 that McKenna's going to run," he says over the phone, offering a tip about what he's heard regarding the former New Brunswick premier trying for the Liberal Party leadership.
The odds that Hawkins, at age 68, would attempt a comeback himself would have been much more than even-money.
Here was an acid-tongued guy - take that both ways - who was voted in the 1960s as one of "Ottawa's Outstanding Young Men" along with Rough Riders' star quarterback Russ Jackson. But where the crew-cut Jackson was a thrower, Hawkins was a stoner, using the plaque he was awarded to cut hash. Hawkins's last great moment was in 1968, when another group he was in (the New Heavenly Blue, with Amos Garrett, Sandy Crawley and Darius Brubeck) performed at Pierre Trudeau's victory party.
Hawkins thrived in the artsy Ottawa scene that he spearheaded. In addition to getting his work published (in his own collections, and, in 1966, in Raymond Souster's anthology New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry), Hawkins and his wife ran the coffeehouse Le Hibou, a bohemian-scene hub that saw the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Judy Collins pass through. One night, Jimi Hendrix (in town for a concert at the Capital Theatre) dropped in to see Joni Mitchell perform. Afterward, at a record-label party in Vanier, Hawkins serenaded Mitchell with Scorpio, a haunting song written for her. "It didn't work," Hawkins says, with a laugh, "but she said it was good, and so did Jimi."
For Dancing Alone, Mitchell was the first choice to cover the song, but, says Hawkins, "She's a busy girl," so Ottawa's Lynn Miles does the honour, terrifically, with a grace that recalls Roy Orbison.
The album's genesis stems from his 2005 book of poetry, Dancing Alone: Selected Poems, published by Broken Jaw Press. At a launch event at the National Library Auditorium, a song-circle of Waters, Neville Wells and Sandy Crawley tossed around a few of Hawkins's tunes. It went well.
"It was a revelation when we heard those songs sung again," recalls Harvey Glatt, who managed the Children and later went on to found Ottawa radio station CHEZ-FM.
In the 1960s Glatt had tried to publish Hawkins's music but, he says, "Times were changing, rock was moving in." At the book launch some 40 years later, Glatt heard the elegiac style of songwriting in a new light.
"We realized that times had changed back again, that there's interest in songs like these, and everybody thought they stood up well."
But has Hawkins stood up? The man who used to start a day with two grams of cocaine and pass the rest of the hours with a fifth of vodka - "that can be paranoia-inducing, trust me on this" - says he is now relatively straight. "It was a problem I dealt with for most of my life," he says of his substance abuse, which ended at age 55. "I just can't do it any more."
Hawkins admits Stone Solid Blue, sung strongly on Dancing Alone by young Ottawa singer-songwriter Ana Miura, is his story. "It's about me," he says, "I really did bottom out." And then there's the line about throwing the dice once or twice. Is it time again? "Yes," he replies, almost sure of it, "I'm thinking of taking another crack at music."
If he doesn't perform with many of Dancing Alone's artists tonight at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Que., outside Ottawa, he'll at least recite the poem (Memories) that closes an album that's gathering positive reviews.
Those who know him will tell you that Hawkins's earlier-life apprehensions stemmed from a fear of success. You wonder now how Hawkins is handling the spotlight.
"It feels good," he says. "I don't really know why, it just feels different. I feel different."
Bill Hawkins and friends perform tonight at 8 at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Que. (http://www.theblacksheepinn.com).The concert is being taped for future broadcast on CBC Radio 2's Canada Live.
Posted: October 26, 2008
Gavin's Woodpile, re: Mountain Stage Radio
Bruce was in New York City on October 25 recording an episode of Mountain Stage Radio for their 25th anniversary show. Other guests were Rosanne Cash, Billy Bragg, Rodney Crowell and Ferron. The Mountain Stage website says the show will air "the week after November 21." The program airs on selected public radio stations nationwide.
Posted: October 11, 2008
The Kingston Whig Standard
Abrams Brothers pay tribute to...
Teenage musicians put their bluegrass tunes into the hands of local musician Chris Brown -and produce Blue on Brown
by Greg Burliuk
It seems like the Abrams Brothers can't get themselves out of the recording studio. Less than a year ago, they released Iron Sharpens Iron, a sparkling bluegrass CD. Now, they're back again but with Blue on Brown, which at times, sounds like anything but bluegrass.
John Abrams, at 18 the oldest of the brothers (the others are 15-year-old James and 18-year-old cousin Elijah and banjo player Nick Piccininni completing the group) says Blue on Brown is a great indicator of where the band is heading.
"We've been interesting in getting into the rock genre," he says.
"And this will be a great transition for us."
The brothers will perform an unplugged set of their new music Thursday at Chapters.
The CD is a tribute to the music of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie, two songwriters the group admires. Originally, the thought was simply to do a bluegrass version of some of their songs. For example, the Abrams were already performing a bluegrass take on City of New Orleans, a Steve Goodman song and Guthrie's biggest hit in 1972.
But the direction changed when the brothers read an issue of The Ticket in December, 2006. They were featured in the magazine because they'd just made a live DVD. Also profiled in the issue was veteran musician Chris Brown, who had a long career appearing with the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and other bands before moving to Wolfe Island. What made the Abrams sit up and take notice was that Brown had just produced a Steve Goodman tribute CD. They contacted him and soon were working together. Brown and John Abrams produced Blue on Brown.
"Working with Chris has opened up a whole new world of opportunities to us like rock and alt-country," Abrams says.
"He has so many connections and we've been blessed to play with the most talented of musicians.
"But we also think we can bring bluegrass and Americana music to younger audiences."
Nowhere is the change more evident than in the treatment of City of New Orleans. On the DVD, it's straight-ahead, up-tempo, cheerful bluegrass and infectious. On Blue on Brown, however, it tells a story, starting out slowly, and gathering speed, capturing the innuendos of night train travel while some softly-played drums mimic the clickety-clacking of the train wheels on the tracks.
However, the CD is not a collection of the best-known songs of either songwriter. The casual listener will recognize Dylan standards such as Mr. Tambourine Man and The Times They Are A-Changin' but not Gotta Serve Somebody and Shelter from The Storm; and none of Guthrie's except City of New Orleans.
"We listened to a lot of their songs and we didn't want to do just the well-known ones," Abrams says.
"We wanted to make them our own style."
The brothers got Guthrie to write the liner notes, although the veteran singer admits in them he hadn't listened to the CD. However, Guthrie had heard the Abrams Brothers perform.
"He was playing at Showplace in Peterborough [a theatre slightly smaller than the Grand Theatre] and we were doing a little set in the waiting area," Abrams says.
"We were doing stuff from Blue on Brown and off in the background, we could see him leaning against the wall and intently listening.
"Afterwards, we met him and he said our version of his song Last Train was better than his. I loved his liner notes which were anything but the cookie-cutter type you often get."
One of the highlights of the CD is a performance of the Dylan song Gotta Serve Somebody (from his born-again Christian days) with a whole slew of guest vocalists including Bruce Cockburn, Luther Wright, Brown and Amy Milan of Broken Social Scene.
"Once again that was Chris and all of his contacts," Abrams says.
Abrams, the band's lead singer, says he doesn't have a particular favourite song on the CD.
"I just like it because it's like watching a movie from start to finish," he says.
"It starts with a bluegrass number in the Nashville Skyline Ragand bluegrass is where we started; but then it goes to Cooper's Lament which is R&B-rock number.
"Near the end, there's some gospel songs, which are also our roots, and we end with The Times They Are A Changin', which is sort of describing us, because we are changing."
The Abrams are excited about having the official CD release party at Abram Village, P. E. I., on Oct. 23.
"There are five generations of my mother's family that have grown up next door to Abram Village at West Devin," Abrams says. "We're doing a roots record and this is where our roots are from."
Copyright © 2008 The Whig Standard
Posted: October 10, 2008
The Barrie Examiner
Bruce Cockburn movie about Nepal screens at Planet in Focus film fest
(CP) -- Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn's journey to Nepal is the subject of a movie premiering at the ninth annual Planet in Focus film fest.
Over 100 environmentally focused films and videos will be screened at the festival running from Oct. 22 to 26.
Return to Nepal,directed by Robert Lang, tracks the Ottawa-born Cockburn's trip to the country where he witnesses the effects of climate change.
The festival's spotlight program on food includes Michael Schmidt: Organic Hero or Bioterrorist, a look at the controversial Ontario dairy farmer and his legal troubles related to the production of unpasteurized milk. A panel discussion -- "In the Name of the Public Good?" -- follows the film.
Films dealing with displacement and migration
includeThe Beggars of Addis Ababa,about women from northern Ethiopia;Paradise -- Three Journeys in This World,about illegal migrants from Mali who come to Spain; andEviction,about indigenous communities in Guatemala forced out of their ancestral land by the Canadian mining company Skye Resources.
The closing gala isAre There Still Any Shepherds? a Portuguese movie about a way of life that is in danger of fading away. The final day will also see the screening ofWelcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, a British film that explores how passengers and crews may have been subjected to unfiltered noxious air in airlines for almost 50 years.
Copyright © 2008 The Barrie Examiner
October 7, 2008
Invermere Valley Echo
Cockburn loud and clear on Jumbo
by Lindsay McPherson
Legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn did not disappoint as he played to a sold-out crowd at the Wild Horse Theatre in Fort Steele [British Columbia] on Thursday night, Oct. 2.
A JumboWild benefit concert, Cockburn wasted no time voicing his concerns over the proposed resort.
“The beautiful things are there to be seen and appreciated, but enough is enough,” Cockburn told the packed theatre.
Prior to Cockburn taking the stage, Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC) chief Sophie Pierre addressed the crowd in the KNC’s traditional tongue, before introducing KNC elder Herman Alpine who spoke of the importance of the Jumbo Valley to the Ktunaxa people, and the sanctity of the grizzlies that reside there.
“Imagine no grizzlies. It’s time that we stood back. We have to leave something for our children,” said Alpine. “We have to at all cost keep Jumbo wild.
"When the time comes, stand up and say no. Let the grizzly keep what he has.”
Both Pierre and Alpine’s comments were well received by the 490 strong crowd of supporters from the East and West Kootenay.
The concert raised money for Wildsight’s JumboWild campaign, and according to Dave Quinn, continued to promote interest and raise awareness regarding the proposed Glacier Resort Ltd. development.
“The provincial government promised residents of the East Kootenay that the decision would be kept local,” Quinn said.
“We hope the excitement and renewed commitment this concert generates will encourage government leaders to honour that promise.”
Photo by Lindsay McPherson
October 3, 2008
Folk legends Cockburn, Tamblyn record tribute to Ottawa cabbie
Bruce Cockburn, Ian Tamblyn, and other Canadian folk and blues legends have just released a new album that pays tribute to Ottawa taxi driver, poet and songwriter Bill Hawkins.
The double CD Dancing Alone features songs penned by Hawkins but never recorded before he became a taxi driver 34 years ago.
Hawkins wrote them for the Children, a band he played in with Cockburn, Sneezy Walters and David Wiffen in the mid-1960s when Hawkins managed the legendary Le Hibou coffeehouse.
Artists once gathered at the venue at Bank and Laurier streets to take in the words and voices of poets such as Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton, as well as musicians such as Reverend Gary Davis, or Blind Gary Davis as he was called, and John Lee Hooker.
Hawkins, now in his 60s, said he was filled with amazement when he heard his old songs on the new album, which features both folk veterans and emerging local talents.
"I can't say enough about the job that Ian Tamblyn did producing it. He brought the songs more into this century than the last century," said Hawkins, who was to sign albums at Compact Music in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood Saturday afternoon.
The idea for the album came from Harvey Glatt, former manager for the Children.
"We all were very excited to hear these songs again for the first time in a long time, and they really stood up well 40 years later," Glatt said.
Hawkins first met the musicians who would later perform as the Children while running Le Hibou with his then wife.
"I just wanted to get something going and I realized early on that there was a tremendous amount of talent. The first time that I heard Bruce Cockburn touch a guitar, I knew," Hawkins recalled.
At the coffeehouse, he first heard Wiffen sing, and said the "amazing instrument" of Wiffen's voice was in his head when he wrote many of the songs on Dancing Alone.
Later, Le Hibou moved to Sussex Drive.
Sang for Hendrix, Mitchell
Hawkins found himself partying with musical legends such as Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix, who was carrying a big tape recorder one night when Hawkins picked him up at the Capital Theatre.
"And the look on his face when she started to sing — it was just unbelievable. She was as fresh as the dew on Prairie grass and sang like an angel," said Hawkins, who himself sang for Mitchell and Hendrix that night.
Eventually, when Hawkins was in his late 20s playing rooms full of teenagers, he got the sense that he no longer belonged in the scene, and the band split up.
"I took my then wife and two kids down to Mexico. And when I returned, everyone else was famous," he said.
Hawkins started another band, but became disillusioned with the business and found he was drinking too much. He tried jobs in television and the civil service.
"But I'm just not used to working for other people, so I started driving a cab — been doing it ever since."
Now, more than three decades later, Hawkins said he's getting back into music. He hopes to retire from taxi driving in a couple of years so he can spend more time on music and poetry.
October 02, 2008
The Ottawa Citizen
Still Dancing after all these years-
Album pays tribute to poet-singer-cabbie William Hawkins
by Patrick Langston
William Hawkins, 68, has been part of Ottawa's music scene since the trippy 1960s, when he ran Le Hibou cafe and dropped acid with Leonard Cohen.
CREDIT: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen
William Hawkins, 68, has been part of Ottawa's music scene since the trippy 1960s, when he ran Le Hibou cafe and dropped acid with Leonard Cohen.
Should he ever surrender his taxi licence, William Hawkins could probably thrive as a resurrection coach.
Over the past three decades, the enfant terrible of Ottawa's 1960s poetry and music scene has undergone rehab for substance abuse, aimed a brief second kick at the musical can a decade ago and, in 2005, basked in a well-received re-issue of his long-ago poetry. More recently, he's dusted off his guitar yet again and started noodling with an acoustic trio. Now the Blue Line taxi driver -- he specializes in ferrying judges and other VIPs about -- is once more taking centre stage, thanks to Dancing Alone: Songs of William Hawkins, a two-disc tribute by Lynn Miles, Bruce Cockburn and a spirited throng of others.
On the True North label, Dancing Alone features tunes that Hawkins aficionados (and they are legion, with a flurry of Internet orders reported from as far away as Australia) will remember with a fond smile: Misunderstanding, sung by Sneezy Waters, who's long made it a staple of his repertoire; the now-classic Gnostic Serenade, with versions by both Brent Titcomb and Bill Stevenson; the loopy, druggy Christopher's Movie Matinee, also by Titcomb.
Joining these back-in-the-day songsters is twenty-something Ana Miura. The Ottawa singer/songwriter does an especially fine job on Stone Solid Blue.
With their trippy arrangements and references to blown minds, some of the tunes fairly shriek, "1960s!," when Hawkins ran Ottawa's iconic Le Hibou coffeehouse, played with Cockburn, Sandy Crawley and others in bands like the Children, and dropped acid with Leonard Cohen.
The album features newer tunes as well, including Io, which Hawkins finished shortly before Miles recorded it.
Hawkins, now 68 and clearly tickled at the renewed attention that Dancing Alone is bringing, offered suggestions during the album's production.
He also drew a blank when he heard one of the songs. "That's real nice," he commented. "Who wrote that one?" He had. "It's still hazy times for old Bill," he admits ruefully.
The project was instigated by, among others, long-time Ottawa music supporter and entrepreneur Harvey Glatt. In fact, Hawkins says he probably would never have begun writing songs were it not for Glatt's urging four decades ago.
Glatt and Hawkins recruited Ian Tamblyn to produce the album, on which Tamblyn also sings.
"It was interesting to see how much joy there was," says Tamblyn. "When we were doing Bruce Cockburn's session, he was grinning from ear to ear. He's not known for smiling."
Describing Hawkins' music as "timeless (with) a beautiful melancholy," Tamblyn calls the poet/musician a "seminal" figure who influenced the writing of everyone from Brent Titcomb to David Wiffen.
Hawkins himself is quick to point out that Ottawa's the Esquires enjoyed a big hit with his It's a Dirty Shame, covered on the new album by Terry Gillespie.
He also remembers the genesis of Funny How People Get Old, sung on the CD by Murray McLauchlan and one of the album's highlights. A poignant song about the shadow of age falling between desire and ability, it came out of Hawkins' early-1970s stint in Toronto's Donwood rehab centre, where, at 33, he was by far the youngest patient. And while he remembers writing the first verse or two there, he has no idea how he got into Donwood.
"I woke up and a very attractive woman was asking me how I felt. She asked if there was anything she could get me. 'Well, a large whisky would be nice.'"
Thirty years on, it's hard to say how many resurrections Hawkins has left in him. But maybe the new album will be enough: echoing other artists, he calls his songs and poems his "children."
Williams Hawkins does a non-performance meet-and-greet at Compact Music in the Glebe at 2 p.m. Saturday. A formal CD launch may be in the offing sometime in late October.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008
October 1, 2008
Poet-Warrior All Ways
by Rick Gibbs
Bruce Cockburn keeps his eyes on the horizon
Consider for a moment the iconic English-Canadian singer-songwriters and which one best qualifies as our national poet-laureate of song. While it would seem absolutely natural and right to pick Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, for my money, it’s Bruce Cockburn.
If not our poet-laureate, Cockburn has certainly been our poet-warrior, committing himself to the quintessential Canadian cause of universal social justice through word and deed for much of his four-decades long career. But his songbook, which goes far deeper than the top-40 hits he’s enjoyed, makes the case as well as anything. Twenty-nine albums after the release of his self-titled 1970 debut, he’s still going strong, documenting the personal and public journeys that are so much part of the exterior and interior landscape of this country.
On the phone from his home in Kingston, Bruce Cockburn is everything I’d expect him to be: thoughtful, intelligent, articulate, and—it must be said—humble. “I don’t feel like I do very much,” he says, when I comment that he’s done so much great humanitarian work. “Once in awhile I get lucky and I’m able to be useful to some of the people who are really putting their lives on the line or at least devoting their lives to helping other people—it just seems like the appropriate thing for someone in my position to do.” Humility aside, Cockburn began quietly walking the road with organizations like Oxfam and USC Canada long before it was the hip thing to do.
When I ask him how he got involved in the Child Soldiers No More benefit at UVic, he says simply, “They asked,” but then adds that Romeo Dallaire’s approach to the problem intrigues him because he’s trying to make it unacceptable for third-world warlords to want to use child soldiers in the first place. “It’s the kind of approach that I find fresh and interesting and hopefully it will complement the other efforts that people are making around the issue.” Cockburn explains that those other efforts, for the most part, involve attempts to rehabilitate former child soldiers.
Such a discussion can’t help but bring up our own involvement in a war. Like most of us, Cockburn is conflicted about Canada’s role in Afghanistan. “I don’t have answers for this one . . . I’m as perplexed as the rest of us on that,” he says. “I admire our gang . . . I admire that somebody’s trying to take a stand to fix things . . . I doubt very much it’s going to be successful and, in the end if it’s not, then it means that a lot of our folks have died for nothing.” Cockburn also wonders if Canada has been a little naïve in joining “Bush’s war” when “nowhere in the world does the Bush agenda seem to involve altruism.”
On the question of political activism and international aid work, however, he is more certain about the value of commitment—but also realistic about what can be accomplished. “The hope lies somewhere over the horizon,” he says. “There are exceptions—the landmine treaty is a major exception to that, the exception that makes the norm worthwhile. If you need proof that this kind of work can have tangible results, there it is, but most of the time you don’t get to see that. . . you have to keep doing the work because you love it, because you need to, because it’s what you do.”
What Bruce Cockburn does, besides lend his voice to important causes, is write and perform meaningful songs that help us reflect on our lives and our place in the world. We should be thankful that our national dialogue, our artistic landscape, includes such voices as his.
October 2, 2008
Toronto Globe & Mail
Singer Cockburn joins fight against glacier resort
by Wendy Stueck
VANCOUVER -- Bruce Cockburn admits he hasn't had the chance to explore the Jumbo Valley, tucked amid the peaks and glaciers of the Purcell Mountain Range in southeastern B.C.
But the singer-guitarist didn't hesitate when a friend asked him to play at a benefit to support a group fighting the planned Jumbo Glacier Resort, which has been generating controversy since it was proposed in 1991 and dragged through an approval process that has moved at its own glacial pace.
"I can't see any kind of logic to this," Mr. Cockburn said recently in a telephone interview from Ontario. "You're going to build a 6,500-bed resort on a melting glacier at a cost of millions or billions ... a huge investment going into this resort at a time when the viability is draining out of ski resorts across the continent."
Mr. Cockburn is scheduled to perform tonight at a sold-out JumboWild benefit concert in the one-time gold rush town of Fort Steele. He was asked to perform by renowned photographer Pat Morrow, who has a home in the Kootenays and first met Mr. Cockburn on a trek in Nepal.
The JumboWild campaign is run by Wildsight, a Kimberley-based conservation group that for years has spearheaded anti-resort activities, including an eight-week blockade near Jumbo Glacier during the summer.
That blockade, set up to protest against the building of an access road near the Farnham Glacier, came down in late September after Glacier Resorts Ltd. stopped road-related work.
Glacier Resorts is the Vancouver-based company behind the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, which would shuttle skiers year-round to several glaciers and include accommodation for 6,200 people. (An earlier proposal called for more units.)
In lending his voice to the anti-Jumbo chorus, Mr. Cockburn is joining NHL defenceman Scott Niedermayer, who spent summers in the Cranbrook area as a boy and last year agreed to be a public face for the JumboWild campaign.
Mr. Cockburn, whose music is known for an activist bent, will also be wading into what has become a bitter fight over land-use planning and control.
The battle has a complex history and features numerous players, including Indian bands, conservation groups and local and provincial governments. The Jumbo resort passed a provincial environmental review in 2004, when the province said ultimate approval for the project would be up to the region.
Glacier Resorts is now working on a final development plan for the resort, which had an initial cost estimate of $450-million but is now in the neighbourhood of $1-billion.
The developer has to strike agreements with local native bands before the project can go ahead, Glacier Resorts vice-president Grant Costello said yesterday.
Also brewing is the question of who will call the shots: Bill 11, passed last year, gives the province the right to create a resort municipality without input from the regional district.
Jumbo opponents, including Wildsight, want the decisions to remain in local hands.
The resort is controversial because it would be in the midst of grizzly territory and next to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park. Opponents have also slammed the proposal as folly in the face of climate change. Glacier Resorts says the project makes economic and environmental sense and argues the area is far from pristine.
Mr. Cockburn isn't buying it. The environmental cost, and the cost to taxpayers through infrastructure such as roads and power, are too great, he said.
"To me it looks like a way to get a huge amount of money out of the B.C. taxpayer."
Tourism Minister Bill Bennett was not immediately available to comment on the status of the project.
October 4, 2008
The singer and the soldier team up to save children
by Adrian Chamberlain
Bruce Cockburn has gigged with gaggles of famous folk. But this weekend in Victoria he may get his first opportunity to duet with -- get this -- a retired general.
Cockburn performs tonight at the University of Victoria Centre Auditorium. He shares the stage with Romeo Dallaire, now a Liberal senator. Their song-and-speech presentation, Child Soldiers No More, raises funds for the Child Soldiers Initiative. This worthy program was developed by UVic researchers working to re-integrate child soldiers into their communities. The almost sold-out fundraiser is a big success, since 1,000-plus tickets have already gone for $81.50 a pop.
A highlight might well be a Cockburn/Dallaire musical duet, with Bruce playing behind Romeo's spoken-word contribution.
That is, if it happens. Nothing's decided for sure.
"I think it may happen," Cockburn, 63, said from Kingston. "I think it's quite likely."
The Canadian singer-songwriter met Dallaire last spring to discuss the Victoria fundraiser. And the possibility of doing a concert together.
"I said to him, 'I don't know how you feel about this, but someone suggested we do a song together.' He said, 'Oh, I sang in a choir when I was young. Then my voice changed.' "
A video crew will likely film the Victoria event for a proposed documentary on Cockburn.
Speaking with Cockburn, one suspects he wouldn't mind aiming a rocket-launcher at those who force children to bear arms. He said, with feeling: "It's utterly evil as far as I'm concerned."
Child soldiers have been used all over the world, including Rwanda. Dallaire famously wrote about his experiences in the massive mid-1990s genocide in the African country, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered. Dallaire was appointed by the United Nations to maintain peace in Rwanda. But, as he noted in his book Shake Hands With the Devil, he was brushed off by UN brass, who ignored his requests for reinforcements.
The entire experience was so horrendous, Dallaire -- suffering post-traumatic stress -- attempted suicide several times afterwards. Happily, much good has come from his book. It became a documentary and feature film, and helped inspire the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda (Nick Nolte played a UN colonel loosely based on Dallaire). Thanks to him, the word got out to the whole world.
Cockburn has travelled to countries that forced children into military service. He says during the Mozambiquan civil war, village children were rounded up. A couple might be shot as an incentive for others to become soldiers. Or perhaps a child would be forced to torture a relative to death in front of villagers.
"You wouldn't have to do this too many times to get over the point, you kids better come with us and do what we tell you."
One especially ghastly use of children happened in the Iran-Iraq war. Youngsters were forced to run ahead of soldiers to see whether battlefields contained landmines -- with predictable results.
"Give your life for the country, you know. Great. You lucky 10-year-old, you," Cockburn said.
It's estimated that more than 300,000 children in more than 30 countries serve as soldiers, human mine detectors, suicide messengers and sex slaves, according to UVic's Child Soldiers Initiative. Such things are difficult for us to think about in Canada, where bad behaviour usually consists of motorists cutting you off or rude people chatting on cellphones at the movies. We don't want to believe stories about killings and other horrors -- especially when children are involved.
I asked Cockburn, who works so tirelessly for social causes, some call him "Saint Bruce," whether he ever feels like throwing up his hands.
"I don't think the proper response is to throw up your hands," he said. Sure this stuff can be tough to digest, he said. But we must get off our privileged North American perch and realize such things happen in our world.
"You might despair. Then you think, how dare I feel despair when these people are actually trying to get on with things, and they're the ones that actually live it. Despair becomes a kind of First World luxury."
There are still a few tickets left for tonight's fundraiser. To order, telephone 250-721-8480 (note: on Saturday the box office does not open until 6:30 p.m.).
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008, Photo: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist
Posted: October 1, 2008
The truth is out there
by Carolyn Nikodym
Bruce Cockburn doesn’t need much of an introduction. After recording 30 albums—the 30th, a live solo called A Slice of Life, is expecting a new year release—in 40 years, he stands firmly entrenched in Canada’s musical history. Even those who don’t consider themselves fans can probably recall a time (or many) when they sang, “If I had a rocket launcher ... “ at some of the world’s ills.
His songs have been covered by everybody from the Barenaked Ladies to Anne Murray to Ani DiFranco, and over the years, Cockburn has managed to rack up quite the list of accolades, from the Order of Canada to an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Given his humanitarian work and that Cockburn’s political bent comes out loud and clear in songs like “Call it Democracy” or “The Trouble With Normal,” it might be easy to assume what he thinks his role as an artist is. But even at his most outspoken, Cockburn has always had the gift of making his lyrics resonate on a more personal level.
“It’s always seemed to me that the role of an artist is to make good art. That’s point one,” he explains. “I think the job is to tell the truth about whatever it is. I don’t know that it’s always necessary to deal with any particular topic. If you want to write love songs, write love songs. If you want to paint paintings of nudes, that’s fine. If you want to paint paintings of landscapes, that’s fine. But paint the truth. And write the truth.
“In doing so, you’re going to put yourself in opposition to the status quo, because society is generally built on bullshit. Any society,” he adds. “The kind and the variety varies from society to society, but that’s what it comes down to—so as soon as you’re telling the truth, you’re an outsider. And as such, you then are in a position to comment on the way things are going in a way that someone who’s got a more vested interest in things can’t so easily do.”
Truth-seeking can be a life-long pursuit, but Cockburn also presents an infinite curiosity. He’s always been the kind of person who wanted to see things with his own eyes. Some of his most political songs are borne of those experiences, and not because he has any particular axe to grind. His curiosity has led him to places like Nicaragua in the ‘80s and Iraq more recently.
On a trip to Nepal last year—for a documentary titled Return to Nepal—Cockburn travelled to the northwestern part of the country to see changes the country had gone through since his last visit 20 years ago, since its change from monarchy to democracy several years ago.
“There were the obvious changes in some respects—like the vast amount of globalized tourist development,” he says. “But it was very much as I had remembered it.”
People living in the country’s many remote mountain villages are still contending with lack of government involvement in basic health care and education, and farming with medieval technology.
“You could call it unspoiled or you can call it undeveloped or you can call it a place where people are making the best of their difficulties,” he says.
Cockburn sees himself as a witness and an advocate. Before his gig in Edmonton, he’ll be in Fort Steele, BC playing for Jumbo Wild, a group who are trying to keep BC’s Jumbo Glacier from being developed into a year-round ski resort, and he’ll also be sharing the stage with Senator Romeo Dallaire at the University of Victoria in support of an initiative to research the use of child soldiers.
“Dallaire is amazing because he has a spirit that certainly rose to the occasion—better than I think I might in the same circumstances,” Cockburn says. “He has a vibe, when you meet him, of someone who’s done an awful lot of self-examination, as is true of people who have been shattered and have come back from it—I mean, whether it’s from substance abuse or the kind of post-traumatic stress that he endured. There’s a wisdom about people who have come to understand their own processes that he has in spades. Or at least he appears to, and it affirms something positive when you see that.”
September 22, 2008
The Hamilton Spectator
Mount Nemo rocks
Sarah Harmer and friends step up for the Escarpment
by Graham Rockingham
Benefit concerts aren't the kind of places that artists use to try out new songs. They usually just walk through a few tried and true numbers appropriate to the cause, thank the crowd and join the party backstage. But Sarah Harmer had a point to prove.
Her fans were starting to wonder if maybe she was spending too much time saving the world -- or at least a little piece of it in north Burlington called Mount Nemo -- and not enough time writing music for her next album.
So there couldn't have been a more appropriate place for Harmer to introduce two new songs than at a benefit concert Saturday afternoon atop Mount Nemo for PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) the environmental group she co-founded.
She didn't spend a lot of time introducing the new songs. She just slid them into her set. Two typical Harmer songs: The first, Late Bloomer, a mystery narrative of deceit and detection; the second, If I Only Had One Match Left, a coquettish little ditty about (excuse the pun) hot love.
On a sunny afternoon of great outdoor music from Harmer, Leslie Feist, Bruce Cockburn and Derek Miller, these two songs stood out. They showed that Harmer, one of the sweetest voices in Canadian music, has another finely crafted CD waiting for completion just as soon as she finishes battling the corporate forces aiming to blow another quarry out of Mount Nemo, the panoramic bump of escarpment land where she was raised.
Feist has the buzz that comes with five Juno wins and four Grammy nominations. And Cockburn has all the respect that 35 years of master musicianship brings. But this was Harmer's show, and most of the 750 people who paid $99 each for the privilege of attending this intimate show knew it.
The concert was staged with style on a private farm, located within walking distance of the Nelson Aggregate quarry. A canvas canopy provided some shade in front of the stage for half the well-heeled crowd, the rest relaxed on lawn chairs around the perimeter. Metalworks provided the sound. It was perfect.
More than 30 PERL volunteers poured beer and wine, as well as serving up burgers, dogs and homemade ice cream (Mount Nemo honey and Collingwood berries), while horses grazed directly behind the food tent.
With a ragged straw hat protecting her head from the sun, Feist mingled with the crowd, signing autographs and getting her picture taken with bright-eyed children (tickets were just $49 for 12-and-unders).
Shortly after 2 p.m., two-time Juno award winner Derek Miller and his band kicked off the show with a 45-minute set of vintage blues rock. Then came Harmer and her band with a 10-song set, heavy on lyrical melody and mercifully light on environmental politics.
Feist, the guest star who ensured the show would be a sell-out, took the stage for a brief set that included hits like Mushaboom and So Sorry. Backed only by a guitarist, the setting emphasized her uniquely delicate vocal phrasing.
Cockburn, looking like an old Zen master, added his own 40-minute solo set, delivering an acoustic guitar showcase with the instrumental Where All The Rivers End. He pulled out some old favourites like Tokyo and Wondering Where The Lions Are, as well as some eco-appropriate songs like If A Tree Falls and Beautiful Creatures.
Then Harmer and her band reclaimed the stage for a five-song finale with Cockburn and Feist, playing Cockburn's Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Waiting For A Miracle, and Harmer's Escarpment Blues and Deep In The Valley before ending the four-hour show with an intriguing take on Neil Young's Lotta Love. This was the second I Love The Escarpment, Too benefit. Last year, the Barenaked Ladies brought a smaller crowd to the same farm. It, too, was a great show.
It's possible the quarry application will be resolved sometime next year at the Ontario Municipal Board, which may or may not eliminate the need for these benefits.
Win or lose the quarry fight, let's hope Harmer keeps the Mount Nemo musical tradition alive.
-Photo by Ted Brellisford
Posted: September 2, 2008
Personal email from Bernie Finkelstein
Regarding the live, solo CD and DVD recorded in early 2008
Some notes from the Live recording:
This will be a double CD.
There will be a section at the end of the CD tentatively called "The Soundcheck" which, as you can imagine was recorded during various soundchecks and includes some chat, Bruce doing some jamming on his twelve string and part of an old old song that Bruce has never released in the past, as well as a great version of Kit Carson.
There is another new song on the CD called "City is Hungry."
Until the record is mastered I don't want to confirm all of the repertoire as it's still subject to change, however some of the highlights at least for me are World Of Wonders, Tibetan Side Of Town, Soul Of A Man and Wait No More, but with over 18 songs on the CD everyone will have their own favourites.
There is no fixed release date yet for the CD but it could come out by the end of this year, but most likely early 2009.
The TV special and it's companion DVD will not come out until sometime late next year. The TV world is slower than the music world but the show is looking great. It's moving along slowly but deliberately.
That's it for now.
Posted: August 24, 2008
Burlington Hosts 2nd Annual Benefit Concert Featuring Bruce Cockburn, Sarah Harmer and 2008 Juno Winner Derek Miller
Burlington—Local environmental group PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) announced plans for its second annual benefit concert, "I Love The Escarpment, Too!," for September 20, 2008.
Canadian music icons Bruce Cockburn and Sarah Harmer will headline the event, bringing their passion and music to help protect the land of the Niagara Escarpment. The Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and the jewel of Ontario's Greenbelt, is threatened by industrial development. PERL states: "We need everyone's help to save the water and amazing natural habitats of the Escarpment. This is a celebration of the people working to save the greenbelt across the province but it's also a call to action — we want the residents and the politicians to see that the Escarpment is worth fighting for."
This intimate outdoor concert will be a wonderful opportunity for the people of Southern Ontario who appreciate the ecological importance, and enjoy the beauty of the Niagara Escarpment — hiking, biking, camping, and farming — to get informed about the risks posed by destructive and inappropriate below water table industrial activity, and help protect it for generations to come. Proceeds from the concert will support for PERL's ongoing campaign to halt Nelson/Lafarge's new quarry application on Mount Nemo.
The outdoor afternoon concert will take place from 2-6pm at a local farm donated for the event, on Mount Nemo in North Burlington. There will be food and a cash bar available on the grounds. "I Love the Escarpment, Too!" Benefit Concert Featuring Bruce Cockburn, Sarah Harmer, and 2008 Juno winner Derek Miller. When: Saturday, September 20th 2-6pm Tickets are $99 for adults and $49 for children under 13 (tax not included). Tickets available online at www.maplemusic.com and local ticket retailers.
For more details and a complete list of retailers check out www.perlofburlington.org
About PERL Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL) is a citizens group dedicated to sustainability, quality of life, and the protection of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Based in Burlington, Ontario, PERL and its team of experts has been carefully reviewing and commenting on an application for a proposed below water table quarry on the sensitive Mount Nemo plateau on the Niagara Escarpment in Burlington.
June 13, 2008
Musical star-power unites for Algonquin cause
by Kyra Walker Pearson
He doesn’t consider himself an activist, but he’s front and centre this weekend for a local cause.
Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian music icon, has contributed to “Artists for the Algonquin,” and will appear at the sold-out Artists for Bob Lovelace concert at Sydenham Street United Church Saturday.
The CD and concert are fundraisers for Lovelace, the Queen’s professor who was jailed for three months after protesting at a proposed uranium mine site near Sharbot Lake, and environmental efforts by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations.
“Bob Lovelace is an activist, he’s out there getting arrested,” counters Cockburn. “Singing at a concert to support him is worthwhile, but it’s obviously not the same.”
Cockburn, a Kingston-area resident, is an officer of the Order of Canada. He has earned 20 gold and platinum records in Canada, 11 Juno Awards and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. His 29th album release in 2006 was “Life Short Call Now.”
Cockburn grew up camping and canoe- tripping in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. The camp that he attended constantly drilled into the campers to leave their campsite better than they found it. Cockburn carried that attitude into adulthood.
“In the big picture the whole planet is the campsite,” he says, “and not leaving it better than we found it will have us racing headlong toward rendering it uninhabitable so we all have to do whatever we can to slow or stop that process if we can.”
Donated tracks, in addition to Cockburn’s, include award-winning musicians Daniel Lanois, Susan Aglukark, David Francey, Jenny Whiteley and Fred Eaglesmith. The music comes from a deep commitment to aboriginal rights, social justice and environmental protection.
A number of artists wrote songs specifically for this issue, including David Francey, Terry Tufts, Maya Thau-Eleff (a student of Lovelace) and recorded them at Leopard Frog Studio. Chris Coleman mastered the album.
Cockburn doesn’t know if he makes a difference, he just does what he can to help.
“It seems to me that everybody that lives on this planet has to do something to help preserve it. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, but not much.”
Cockburn is pleased the timing worked out and he was able to contribute a song to the compilation album and perform at the concert.
“The uranium mining prospect is so close to us, it’s ridiculous. We have to stop it, that’s the short answer,” he says.
He thinks “the deck is stacked the other way with various government interests in this kind of stuff, but the people have to be heard. I haven’t run into anyone yet who is supportive of uranium mining in the area.”
The song Cockburn contributed to the CD is “Stolen Land.” It was initially written in support of the Haida Nation to protect the Gwaii Haanas (Islands of the People) in British Columbia, an area slated for logging and dumping that became one of the central human rights and environmental issues in Canada in the ’80s.
Cockburn and his band played two sold-out Vancouver concerts to raise funds for legal fees for imprisoned protesters.
In 1987 Gwaii Haanas was designated a National Park Reserve.
Funds raised by the “Artists for the Algonquin” CD sales will go to a trust fund established to assist the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations and their efforts to protect the land and water in North Frontenac.
CDs are $20 and go on sale at the concert and at downtown stores.
Posted: May 19, 2008
I received the following email from Bernie Finkelstein with an update on the recording of the coming live, solo CD:
All is going extremely well on the road. Both the filming and the recording are looking and sounding great.
Lot's of stuff being filmed on the bus and backstage.
Also, we've been recording the soundchecks where there is some new material being tried out and learned. Not sure if these new songs will make it into any of the performances or not but we do have them on tape, so to speak.
Bruce is changing around his sets each night so there are going to be lot's of different song choices.
I don't have any photo's to send at this time but might be able to later.
Most likely we will film the benefit shows in Kingston and Victoria as well, although that's not 100 %.
That's all for now.
May 15, 2008
Foster's Daily Democrat
Bruce Cockburn: Sharing his - and our - truth
by Ryan Alan
Bruce Cockburn sees himself as a creature of his times.
When it comes down to it, that's what we all are, reasons the much honored — and even revered — Canadian singer-songwriter-musician who headlines a 7 p.m. concert Friday, May 23, at Moody Mountain Barn, 101 Pork Hill Road, Wolfeboro. It is part of the Wolfeboro Folk Concert Series.
"And I've been singing about these times and my relationship to them all these decades," he said. "People like the sense they are being communicated with. They can, if not feel their own truth, though sometimes they do, recognize they are hearing my truth and that's meaningful to people."
The entire point of writing songs, he has said previously, is to share experiences with people. He has been doing that admirably through a career that so far has spanned 26 albums — 20 of which went gold or platinum in Canada — numerous international honors, induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame among them, and receiving the Tenco Award for Lifetime Achievement in Italy.
Along the way there has been deeply committed philanthropic work and passionate involvement in causes — oft expressed in his music — designed to make the world a more livable place.
He said he has never been tempted to stray from his guiding philosophy of insisting on "singing your own truth," even if making compromises would have benefited his career.
"I've been lucky that way," said Cockburn. "I got lucky when I appeared on the scene when I did." That was an era in which a variety of "personal truth-telling" was embraced, he said, as was "being able to operate without commercial considerations."
If he were starting today, he does not think he would be so fortunate. "But once you had the momentum sort of going back then, with those kind of attitudes, it was possible to keep going. I'm able to do what I do. I've recorded all these years for True North, an indy label that doesn't put demands on me and has provided a buffer between me and the mainstream music business."
His entire career has been about taking the next step when it seemed appropriate, he said. "I had no idea I'd ever be where I am. When I dropped out of Berklee, I just knew I'd be some kind of musician, but not knowing what I would do," he explained.
At 63, the artist said while he can hear the chronological clock ticking, it does not necessarily serve as motivation to finally take on some projects that he may have promised himself to attempt someday.
Now, he said, it's about trying to keep things interesting. "Somewhere was the intention to be a jazz guitar player and composer, which is why I went to school. But when I left I kind of gave up that notion," he offers as an example. Today, his accessible folk-rock base takes side trips into jazz, blues and other genres.
"I don't have any particular thing I feel I need to do, except to keep on growing as long as I can until it's irrevocably downhill," he added, laughing.
Cockburn certainly does not seem at risk of burn out.
"For one thing, I like hanging around younger people, my daughter's friends or other people I meet in the course of things. I'm a bit of an energy vampire. It's helpful to be surrounded by that sense of freshness that youthful people bring to the table."
Beyond that, he added, it is necessary to be conscious of a sense of exploration. He brings that philosophy into his current solo acoustic concerts.
Catherine MacLellan, the critically acclaimed young singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island, is opening the shows. She is the daughter of the late Gene MacLellan, whose songs "Snow Bird," (a hit for Anne Murray) "Put Your Hand in the Hand" (a hit for the Toronto rock band Ocean) and "The Call" are considered Canadian classics.
His shows will be recorded for a solo live album release later this year and, hopefully a DVD.
He said it's possible to interact in a much more personal way with audiences at solo acoustic shows. There probably is more banter, he said, but also more focus on all of the songs.
Acoustic programs invite a person in, he said. " 'Drawn' is the operative verb," he noted. "The quieter the music is the more you have got to go to it."
Quiet or loud, enthusiastic fans continue to embrace the music of Bruce Cockburn.
He senses that his audience is comprised of people who like to be entertained by something that asks something of them. "Some want something that doesn't require any effort," he acknowledged, "but there are those of us who would rather be challenged by a book or a film or music. I'm reaching for that crowd."
May 16, 2008
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
Cockburn plans Portland show Performance at First Parish Church to be recorded for upcoming live album
by Lucky Clark
Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn is planning a performance at the First Parish Church in Portland Thursday evening -- a show that will be recorded for an upcoming live album.
"I think, for people coming to the show, the fact that it's being recorded is probably the only thing out of the ordinary," Cockburn said during a recent telephone interview.
"There may be one or two new songs in the show -- I don't know yet -- and I won't know until the day of whether I'm really going to do a the new songs I have or not, but it is entirely possible."
Cockburn's well over the half-way mark of his fourth decade of his illustrious career, so it really isn't surprising tours have a tendency to blur together.
"If you're doing 10 shows it's not too hard to remember which 10 they were, but if you're doing a hundred, it becomes difficult," he said with laugh.
The road trip that will bring him to Portland next week actually began with three shows in Alaska on the first of May -- again, from one side of North America to the other in one tour. And this is on top of a very busy winter.
"It was supposed to be a quiet winter for me," he said, "but I ended up saying 'Yes' to a whole bunch of benefits and also work on a film that we shot in Nepal in November and December. I do the voice-over and there's a bunch of music in it, too, so I've been busy when it was supposed to be down-time where I could collect myself and write, as an artist."
The singer-songwriter confessed he's in need of solitude to do writing nowadays and as he was unable to do it this past winter, he plays to schedule in some time to let his muse communicate, but at the same time, Cockburn's excited about this tour.
"I'm actually looking forward to (it) -- it's a short little tour, only 13 or 14 shows -- but it seemed to be a good thing to do at this moment. We've never done a solo live album before, so that'll be the direction that this will go -- the shows are going to be solo so the album will be, too, that'll be fun and add a little something to the shows."
There is a downside to the solo show that balances off all the freedom, he said, and it's something one wouldn't think about necessarily.
"It's also lonelier, so there's a trade-off -- as there is with anything, so there's the freedom we've talked about, but I miss the energy of the other people on stage, too. It works both ways for different reasons."
-Lucky Clark is from Sweden, Maine-
May 15, 2008
Special to The Ithaca Journal
Bruce Cockburn returns to Ithaca Saturday night
by Luke Z. Fenchel
For more than 40 years, the singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn (pronounced with a long “o” rhyming with toe) has offered a distinctive brand of folk that is religiously inspired and politically aware. His lyrics can best be described as conscious: they are engaged and engaging without resorting to sloganeering or one-dimensionality.
This Saturday, May 17, Cockburn will perform a special live solo show at Ithaca High School's Kulp Auditorium. Advance tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $27 and are available at the Clinton House Ticket Center or by calling 273-4497; tickets will be $32 at the door.
The show is part of tour of the northeastern U.S. that will culminate in the release of a live solo album. This will be Cockburn's 30th recording in a career that stretches back to 1969; yet it will be the first ever solo live recording in his catalogue. (Two other live records with a full band, 1977's “Circles In The Stream” and 1990's “Live” are gems.) Cockburn will perform songs from his entire career; though hopefully he will include a handful from his beautifully introspective 29th album, “Life's Short, Call Now.”
A superstar in his native Canada, Cockburn has only had one song that could be considered a hit in the U.S., “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” That song, like much of Cockburn's oeuvre, manages to be both timely and timeless. The lyrics obliquely address a conflict between the USSR and the US on the brink of war. Cockburn's most recent album contains a potent track called “This Is Baghdad,” which reads almost as reportage.
I caught up with Cockburn by phone on the brink of his upcoming tour.
Q: I really enjoy that the way “Life's Short” is sequenced, and the way that instrumentals work in conjunction with more intense songs. How did you decide to put songs without lyrics on albums with lyrics-based tracks? And what can songs without words mean to you?
Cockburn: Interesting question. Well, they come by very different means. With the songs with words that are lyric driven, I collect words in my notebook and then try to write the music to carry those words. That's the more typical way for a song to come into being for me. I start with lyrics, and then I construct the music around the lyrics. The challenge there is to find music that supports the song without overwhelming it.
With an instrumental piece, they mostly come from me dicking around on the guitar—you know, practicing or whatever. And they're woven out of strictly musical content.
The difference of course is that in context of a normal album of mine like “Life's Short” there's a place for instrumental pieces because the lyrics are intense for people. And it's nice to offer a break from that—like Shakespeare would stick Falstaff into a play, you know. It's more like a reprieve than anything else.
But there's another function as well. When you listen to music and there are no words to wrap your mind around, then your mind is able to float freely on the music. And it's quite a different effect on the listener. So it's interesting to hear those pieces in that context instead of just as relief.
And I hadn't really thought about that side of it before working on this album. There's a psychic space that is created that is really nice, you know?
Q: My feeling is that “This is Baghdad” and “Beautiful Creatures” are the centerpieces in a way to the album. The latter has the falsetto and the former seems so relevant at this time. I wonder if you could broaden the idea out of what you mean when you talk about your own private imagery.
You are an artist that really engages in the world. I wonder how, as a musician, it is to engage in topics of war and peace? Which sometimes read like the tragedy appearing on the news—and unfortunately frequently become timeless in its themes...
Cockburn: Yeah, unfortunately that tragedy continues to play itself out repeatedly. I don't know how I got there. I was so influenced by beat writers when I started. I mean, I had read “On the Road” and Ginsburg and all these people, and I thought that it shaped my life in a way. The attitudes in those books—of a kind of individualism, really rugged individualism—but one that is full of concern and awareness. It's focused on what's going on around you. It was a literature that was always engaged.
And it was engagement out of love. And this was the starting point; and then I was of course influenced by Bob Dylan: a guy who was writing all kinds of songs: love songs and silly songs, and songs that were very engaged politically and socially.
With those models, it was a natural thing to include those aspects of life in my own songs. At first, you didn't get so much of that because my travels were exclusively in Canada. I had been a tourist a bit, but I really didn't tour outside of Canada.
It's only with getting out of Canada at end of ‘70s when stuff that is engaged starts showing up on the “Humans” album, and moves on from there. And then the international side starts to come in.
And even then I was very cautious about putting political stuff in the songs. I had grown up with this idea that art would be tainted by involvement with political. It just seemed—I guess it was a white liberal notion, I suppose, that if you mix the two the art would be watered down or tainted in some way.
But when I went to Latin America in the early ‘80s it became clear that that was an artificial distinction. Only people living in relative luxury could make that claim. In Latin America the distinction just wasn't there at all. If you tried to talk to them about that they wouldn't have known what you're talking about. So it was like, “Well, I can drop that one!”
And then the next step of the process is the recognition that the political is as part of the human experience as anything else. Politics is as much a part of life as sex or spirituality and everything else. It therefore deserves the same creative attention than those other topics do.
Q: And you have such a delicate touch when you do that. I do believe that the distaste of politics in art is a very privileged notion.
Cockburn: I realize that I've heard African artists make similar statements to that—music is music and not about politics. But in their case, somebody coming from an area of conflict or ruled by a government that isn't answerable to its citizens, you have to be careful about what you say in your songs. There's a fear factor that's pretty legitimate in other parts of the world as well.
Q: Of course, but if I think of one of my favorite artists from last year—I think of them as quite political: the band Musafir. And you've recorded with Vieux Farke Toure, and he is political as well. Perhaps not political in the sense of sloganeering. When I think of your art as engaged, I don't think of it as sloganeering...
Cockburn: I hope that it's true. I want that to be true; so thank you for saying it. To me, when you get into sloganeering you run the severe risk of hurting the art. We can look at Soviet graphic art from the ‘20s and think that it looks very cool, and that it has good design even though it is about propaganda. But for me it is important thing to have the songs tell the truth as I can grasp it. So it's not about sloganeering, and it is not about a simplistic look; it is about the experience that I've had. For me, that's what separates the art from the propaganda.
May 16, 2008
The Kingston Whig-Standard
Star-laden Lovelace benefit sells out
A star-studded benefit concert to raise money for imprisoned Algonquin protester Bob Lovelace has sold out.
All 815 tickets for the June 14 Artists for Bob benefit, featuring folk rocker Bruce Cockburn, bestselling author Michael Ondaatje and a slate of award-winning artists, have been purchased, said co-organizer Ellen Hamilton of Kingston's Leopard Frog recording studio.
Also appearing will be local Juno award-winning musicians David Francey and Jenny Whiteley, as well as aboriginal singer Susan Aglukark, who is considered the cultural ambassador to the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.
Well-known Kingston novelist Steven Heighton and local musicians Joey Wright, Terry Tufts, the Algonquin Drummer, and Unity will also perform at the show at Sydenham Street United Church.
The venue has 850 seats, 35 of which went to artists and the Ardoch Algonquin family heads.
Lovelace is a former chief of the Ardoch Algonquins and a Queen's University lecturer.
He was sentenced to six months in jail in February for refusing a judge's order to stop blocking access to a uranium mine prospecting site north of Sharbot Lake.
People from as far away as Victoria, B.C., and Nunavut have bought tickets for the show, Hamilton said.
May 15, 2006
Still Kicking at the Darkness
by L. David Wheeler
“Pachinko jingle and space torpedo beams/Comic book violence and escaping steam ...” (from “Tokyo”)
“Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake/Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take/pointing a finger at eternity/I’m sitting in the middle of this ecstasy ...” (from “Wondering Where the Lions Are”).
Bruce Cockburn has a journalist’s eye for detail, which filters through a Beat writer’s sensibilities and turns of phrase. That makes sense: The Beats, especially Alan Ginsberg, were among the earliest literary influences for the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist, who plays the German House theater in Rochester on Monday, May 19.
“In the early days it was those guys who got me excited about writing and kind of shaped my life,” Cockburn said in a phone interview. “... As soon as I discovered it was possible to create these word pictures that weren’t required to rhyme or tell a story — at one point I suddenly discovered there were other kinds of poems, that evoked a feeling.”
He married this poetic impulse to his gumbo of musical influences — the jazz of Montgomery, Coltrane and Coleman; Elvis and the early rock and roll; the sixties powerhouses of Dylan and the Beatles; and the global spectrum of what would later be called “world music” — resulting in a musicmaking career of more than four decades.
Busking around Paris and attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music for awhile in the early 1960s, Cockburn returned in his native Ottawa to play in a series of rock bands, developing a distinctive, conversational vocal style and a lyrical focus on the natural world and matters of the spirit, lyrical focuses that infused his first several albums, starting in 1970.
A well-known figure in his home country, Cockburn was mostly a cult figure in the United States — and largely remains so, beloved by a core fan base.
It wasn’t until 1979 that he charted in the States with the evocative, wonder-drenched “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” A later bout with U.S. recognition came in the mid-1980s when he had a modest U.S. hit with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” That was one of life’s assorted ironies: By then, Cockburn’s writing had taken on an increasingly political, largely leftward, bent as he traveled the world and observed people’s hardships, exacerbated by geopolitical tensions. “Rocket Launcher” took direct aim at Reagan-era U.S. policy in Central America: “How many kids they’ve murdered, only God can say/If I had a rocket launcher, I’d make somebody pay.”
“Man,” he said, “it’s the last song that I ever thought would see the light of day on radio.”
In the 1990s and 2000s, Cockburn’s repertoire has presented more of a balance. Songs of love, romance and connection, like “Bone in My Ear.” Songs of spiritual and personal reflection, like “Strange Waters.” And the pointed political statements, with as much bite as ever: “Everything’s broken in the birthplace of law/As Generation Two tries on his tragic flaw” (from “This Is Baghdad,” 2004).
Recently he has teamed up with retired General Romeo Dallaire, former head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, for an October concert in Victoria to raise awareness of the problem of child soldiers worldwide and raise funds for organizations trying to stop their use and rehabilitate children who’ve been indoctrinated and used by warlords.
It’s one way to “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight,” as Cockburn put it in “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” But what happens when the light doesn’t seem to bleed through at all?
“Little bits of it do here and there, and that’s what keeps you going,” Cockburn said. “I go back and forth — there really isn’t any reasonable expectation of a good outcome, but then, what the hell, what else are you going to do? One has to keep going on; otherwise what are you going to do, just die? It’s not as dark as it looks — it is as dark as it looks, but there are a lot of people focusing on fixing things, and trying to keep things from getting worse.”
May 15, 2008
Legendary Mississippi Sheiks to get their due
by Tony Montague
On a recent holiday, Steve Dawson—guitar maestro and founder of local label Black Hen Music—had the bright idea of putting together a tribute album to one of his favourite bands, the Mississippi Sheiks.
Other than the blues classic “Sitting on Top of the World”, the Sheiks’ songs are largely unknown to today’s music fans, despite having been revered by Americana-influenced musicians since the ’30s. In those days, the trio was one of the hottest—and sauciest—acts around, and it influenced such legends as Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy.
“Much of their stuff remains obscure,” Dawson told the Straight. “They disbanded in 1935, but were one of the first bands to generate crossover interest from both black and white communities. What’s going to make this different from the regular tribute album is that, for the most part, there’s going to be a house band and the musicians are coming here to record over a three-day period.” The artists appearing on the album—which is scheduled to be out in March 2009—include Madeleine Peyroux, Bill Frisell, Bruce Cockburn, John Hammond, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bob Brozman, Kelly Joe Phelps, Geoff Muldaur, Van Dyke Parks, and Dawson’s recording buddies Jim Byrnes and the Sojourners.
“Ry Cooder has also agreed to do it, much to the chagrin of his lawyer. We don’t know how it’s going to shake down, but he would be recording in L.A.,” Dawson said.
May 13, 2008
Bernie Finkelstein is currently on the road with Bruce in preparation for the taping of his live shows in the Northeast of the U.S. From the road I received the following email... with some exciting news:
We have a film crew with us on the road with an eye towards making two projects:
1. A "solo" concert film taken from the first five shows of this current tour being shot in High Definition. Colin Linden is on the road and is doing the sound for the "concert film" as well as the "Live" CD.
2. The beginning of a Bruce Cockburn "bio" film that will use footage shot during this current tour and lot's of archival footage from all periods of Bruce's career.
Just for clarity we will be shooting the shows in Northampton (both shows), Boston, Ithaca, and Rochester as well as having the cameras on the bus and backstage etc.
There is no release date at this point planned for either of the above projects or the "Live CD." The shows will hopefully be aired on TV stations around the world and of course on DVD.
We'll send you more info as we get it.
May 9, 2008
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Meaningful music flows for Cockburn
by Michelle Peterson
The diversity of singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s humanitarian efforts is bested only by the depth of his songbook. Musically, his sights are set on his first live solo-acoustic album, but altruistically, his current focus is harder to pin down.
“I was in Nepal for a month before Christmas, and that trip will be the subject of a film that’s in the final editing stages,” Cockburn said. “I don’t know where that film will turn up, but it’s a documentary on development in Nepal.”
He’s also working to benefit Ardoch Algonquin First Nation retired chief Bob Lovelace, jailed for blocking prospector access to a proposed uranium mine site in Ontario, and war-affected children in Rwanda through the Child Soldiers Initiative.
“Once people know you’re willing, there’s no end to requests,” Cockburn said. “It’s been a pretty interesting part of my life since the early ‘80s.”
The folk singer, activist and storyteller — whose legendary status in Canada is concentrated to a cult following the United States — will play a rare acoustic show in Fairbanks on Saturday.
Cockburn said his aid work has helped nurture his own understanding of how the world works.
“The whole approach that I take to writing my songs is that they all come from some kind of experience or at least imagery that at least comes from people I’m in close contact with,” he said. “Mostly, it’s my take on things, and if I wasn’t seeing those things up close, I wouldn’t have any take on them.”
His involvement in aid organizations leads to new experiences that sometimes breed songs, but that’s a side-effect, not the goal.
“It’s really about trying to do my bit to leave the campsite better than I found it,” he said.
Musically, his pendulum has swung from inward-looking exercises in the ‘70s, to outward in the ‘80s, with a little of both through the ‘90s. Today, with a laugh, he describes it as “totally chaotic and schizophrenic.”
“Chaos is a pretty big influence in the world,” Cockburn said, describing how he tries to ride the wave of life experiences to find connections in the world’s bigger picture. “I find myself doing that a lot, just waiting for the next thing to whack me into some other kind of awareness.”
Cockburn keenly interprets his own environment through song, and his drive for truthful storytelling has been the hallmark of his long and storied career.
“I grew up under the influence of so many artists who were striving for some kind of artistic freedom, kind of free of commercial consideration — or at least said they did — and I bought that myth when I was young,” he said. “I used to think, ‘I don’t care if anybody buys these records,’ but of course I did, and now, I want people to buy them and like them.”
Those factors haven’t driven his career.
“I’ve always had power of veto over everything that’s happened, and that hasn’t changed. And the music business has always been at arm’s length to me thanks to my manager and a small, independent Canadian label,” he said. “I’ve never had to really face the worst of what can happen when you’re dealing with business the way most people do.”
Part of his current tour will result in his first live solo-acoustic album, the 30th album for the man known best for “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”
“I’ve done live albums before, but always with a band, so it’ll be nice to be able to offer a solo,” Cockburn said.
The album will be recorded at the end of his current tour, in the New England area, and though Fairbanks and Anchorage shows won’t be included, his performance will reflect the song choice for the upcoming album.
“I have a brain capacity of I don’t know how many mini-bytes, but I can keep about 40 or 50 songs in my head after recording about 300,” Cockburn said, “The 40 or 50 I play in Alaska will be the same.”
-Michelle Peterson is a freelance writer for the News-Miner.
May 8, 2008
by Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Nearly forty years into his solo career, Bruce Cockburn’s social conscience appears to be as stimulated as it ever has been.
Since a trip to Nicaragua in 1983 during the Sandinista revolt, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter has maintained a steady focus on humanitarian and environmental issues. Cockburn (pronounced “co-burn”), has not only made it a point to reflect his convictions in song, he’s also done a great deal of traveling to impoverished, often war-torn parts of the world, on behalf of various relief efforts, including, most recently, to Iraq in 2004.
Unsurprisingly, Cockburn’s travel experiences emerge frequently in his songs, such as “This Is Baghdad” from his latest album, 2006’s Life Short Call Now.
Generally speaking, Cockburn prefers a direct lyrical approach. But although he says he writes from the point of view of a “reporter” (one that just so happens to have dropped the quest for—and pretense of—objectivity), he also strives for poetry in his delivery.
“By juxtaposing the images or scenes that you create, you add layers of meaning,” Cockburn says. “You take a car bomb going off and you put it in the context of a sunny day, and it’s no longer surrounded by gloom.”
Cockburn says he still struggles sometimes to fit all the layers in.
“With a song like ‘This Is Baghdad,’” he admits, “it was frustrating because there was so much to put in. It wasn’t so much a question of what to leave out, but knowing how to put it together into a picture that made any sense without including everything. What I couldn’t put in the song, or couldn’t figure out how, was the degree to which the passersby were utterly unmoved by this event. It was in the distance, but no one gave any sign that they’d even heard it.”
Cockburn marvels at the extent to which people can become inured to stress and violence. On the other hand, the conditions in the places he visits often bring out the best in people. Often, the generosity and warmth he encounters can, to a degree, help reaffirm his faith in people.
“You see people rising to the occasion,” he explains. “At the very least, it suggests ‘okay, maybe I could do as well in these circumstances,’ and it’s like ‘more power to these people.’ It’s kind of reassuring in a weird way. In most of the situations that I’ve been in, there’s something affirmative going on. You tend to see this resilience and sometimes, by great effort, imagination brought to bear on the difficulties at hand.”
That isn’t always the case, though. Cockburn has also witnessed depths of depravity that most people, if they’re lucky, can barely fathom.
“The second time I was in Mozambique,” he recalls, “it was really depressing because it didn’t seem like there was any of that. Everything was broken, every single thing. Every human and social bond. You had the sense that children didn’t trust their parents and vice versa and that everybody would sell everybody for whatever.”
Musically, Cockburn has a knack for weaving together these two disparate extremes: tenderness and humanity on the one hand, distress and angst on the other.
On Life Short’s title track, for example, he underscores a sky-is-falling mood with the line you’ve no idea how I long / for even one loving caress. As the song strolls—almost lollygags—along, gently nudged by his acoustic guitar strokes, Cockburn sounds more vulnerable than weary, more wise than despairing.
But as much as the words and music appear to flow together, Cockburn’s primary emphasis has always been lyrics. In fact, over the course of 25 studio albums, he can only recall one instance where he didn’t write the lyrics first.
“The majority of the songs are lyric-driven,” he says. “I have an interest in music per se, apart from words, but it always seemed to me that if you’re going to have words, then they might as well say something. And once you get on that track, the words start leading the procession. When I get a set of lyrics that’s complete enough that I know what direction they’re going in, then I start looking for music to carry those words. It’s analogous to putting a score on a film. The music has to support other elements.”
Indeed, Life Short crackles with those elements. Billboards fill the air with visual clutter as animal species die off while a peace march surges onward and the aforementioned car bomb goes off and, in one song, an arms dealer propositions a young Cockburn to accompany him on a job (a real-life incident, by the way; Cockburn actually considered the offer before demurring). As these scenes unfold, it’s hard to deny the underlying sense of hope in spite of the album title’s fatalistic ring.
“Things look pretty damn dark,” he laughs. “I think we’re going to get a die-off one way or another, whether it’s a die-off or a kill-off. Because a lot of the stuff that’s going on in the world is going to produce severe conflict. It looks dark —but not hopeless. Hope, in my own frame of reference, is a good concept, but it’s also a bit of a fantasy. The probability is that we’re in deep shit. But, it’s a probability. It’s not a certainty. And even if it were a certainty, I don’t think it would make much difference in how I operate. You have to try to make it better.”
May 7, 2008
Cockburn kicks off Shorebird Festival
Canadian artist seeks to change the world one song at a time
by Katie Emerick
Bruce Cockburn is not a man known for avoiding politics in his music. In fact, anyone who has heard his song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” - written after a trip in 1983 to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico - can have little doubt that Cockburn is a man with a steadfast propensity to speak out with brutal honesty. After seeing the refugee camps, Cockburn wrote in his notebook, “I understand now why people want to kill.”
For Cockburn, 2006 saw the release of his 26th album, “Life Short Call Now.” The collection travels through exploratory musical planes of blues, rock 'n' roll, jazz and folk, using styles born from around the world. Through his travels with various humanitarian aid projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Cockburn is something of a living legend. A profound lyricist and deeply talented musician, he has spent the past three decades - since his first solo album release in 1970 - honing his art and learning from life.
Fresh from high school in the mid 1960's, Cockburn witnessed a society that was in the midst of massive transformation. “The 60s had a ripple effect that showed people you could change the world,” Cockburn said in an earlier interview. “At least there was the possibility that people could accomplish something - not anything perfect, but something workable.”
In an interview with Bob Duran, Cockburn said that he “believed for a long time that music was somehow above politics, that art could be held separately from the rest of human affairs.” Over time, however, Cockburn said he learned the importance of paying attention; that even if one chooses to ignore the unpleasant, it doesn't mean that the unpleasant ceases to exist or that its effects won't be felt.
“You have to decide whether you want to take a stand or not,” he explained. “To me, it's a legitimate decision if you decide to take a stance of non-involvement, but it has to be a deliberate choice and you must realize the implications.”
Cockburn chose to take a stand.
But to say that Cockburn is purely a political artist, however, is entirely too one-dimensional. Cockburn himself said he's not an activist, he's a songwriter. And like the best songwriters, he draws material from his life experiences as a father, a Christian and a traveler.
For Cockburn, when it comes to songwriting - a process he likens to “finding your way in the dark by starlight,” - the purpose is to create good art. He contends there is no point in having words to music if they don't say anything. Cockburn said he often finds more direction for his writing from poetry and looks to other countries' musical traditions - a quality lacking in Canada, he says - for inspiration. Whether it's reggae, Afro-pop, traditional Ethiopian or Malian sounds, Cockburn finds a place for it in his music.
“It's the sharing of human experience,” he said.
That human experience has given Cockburn the material to become a world-class singer-songwriter, as he uses life as a tool for self-expression through music. And whether he finds himself writing about love, loss or the state of the humanity, Cockburn is a man who has seen much of the world at its worst and yet still manages to find incredible inspiration in it.
Cockburn will come to Alaska to perform for the first time with a solo show at the Mariner Theater. The Homer gig will be his first in the state before heading to Fairbanks and Anchorage, and provides a great opportunity to see a man working to change the world, one song at a time.
Posted: Aprl 26, 2006
The London Free Press
Event deftly ties chamber, world-beat
by James Reaney
One of the major artistic accomplishments in London for 2008 -- or maybe any year -- will take the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn and other Canadian folk icons to new places tonight.
Songs of the Land is a remarkable collaboration between a top chamber choir, London Pro Musica, and the Antler River Project, a world-beat ensemble.
Famous songs like The Circle Game, Helpless and If You Could Read My Mind and innovative recording techniques, which had choir members recording vocals while watching videos of Ken Fleet conducting, are part of its saga. "It was a total London project when you think about it," says Juno-winning Fanshawe College professor Kevin Doyle. "Nothing like this has ever been attempted in Canada before."
Doyle produced Songs of the Land. It is being launched tonight at a London Pro Musica concert, with the Antler River Project and other guests, at Dundas Street Centre church at 8 p.m.
An early version of Songs of the Land's treatment of a Cockburn song has made its way to the singer-songwriter.
Doyle sent a version of the Pro Musica/Antlers piece to Cockburn's manager, Bernie Finkelstein, an old friend. "They've heard it. They're ecstatic. They can't wait to hear the CD," Doyle says of Finkelstein and Cockburn's reaction.
Like many London masterpieces, Songs of the Land was years in the making and has too many heroes to be mentioned in one place. The Antler River Project, including arrangers Oliver Whitehead and Stephen (Steve) Holowitz, used some of Canadian folk material in 2004.
In 2005, London Pro Musica's Songs for the Land concert added to the Antler's folk icons. "The whole project was both wonderfully self-indulgent and a huge labour of love," London Pro Musica's Catherine McInnes said then.
Tunes from that concert are standouts on the new album.
McInnes and fellow London Pro Musica singer Jenny Nauta are executive producers on Songs of the Land.
That means many things, including hours of checking details in scores. It also means a chance to arrange songs by their heroes. For McInnes, that is Cockburn. For Nauta, it's Mitchell.
"I really wanted to do a Joni Mitchell song because she is one of my favourites and what she has done in every genre is so important," Nauta says. She arranged The Circle Game, one of Mitchell's earliest masterpieces.
"Catherine McInnes and Jenny Nauta understood the concept," Doyle says.
Both had worked with Doyle on their own projects. McInnes has a solo CD. Nauta is part of jazz vocal quartet After Four, who recorded with Doyle on an album with Toronto vibes master Peter Appleyard as a guest.
"Working with Kevin, one needs to be flexible and follow the creativity," Nauta says. "There was a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to make some changes on the spot . . . the LPM singers really rose to the occasion."
You can hear that enthusiasm on Songs of the Land. Fleet, who has been part of about 25 recordings, is finding a new personal hit daily. "Two days ago, I would have said Big Yellow Taxi. Night Ride Home, that was my favourite yesterday," Fleet says.
I know what Fleet means. There are so many dimensions to Songs of the Land. Fiona Wilkinson's flute. The rustle and pulse of the Antlers' percussion. The marvellous singing. The marvellous songs. The imagination. The only to do is go out tonight and marvel.
IF YOU GO
What: CD launch for Songs of the Land, by London Pro Musica choir and Antler River Project. The programme includes songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the McGarrigles, Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot.
When: Tonight, 8 p.m.
Where: Dundas Street Centre church, 482 Dundas St. (at Maitland)
Details: Adults, $20 in advance, $22 at door; seniors, $18 advance, $20 door; students, $10, $11. Call 519-679-8778 or 519-666-1577 or check londonpromusica.org
Posted: April 21, 2008
Finkelstein Management Press Release
Bruce Cockburn To Record His First Ever Live Solo Album
Bruce Cockburn will be recording a live solo album on his spring tour of the Northeast US. As well there is one date in Quebec that is taking place during the Festival des Guitares Du Monde.
This will be Bruce’s 30th recording in a career that stretches back to 1969 however it will be the first ever solo live recording in his fabled catalogue. In the past he’s recorded two other live records (Circles In The Stream, 1977 and Live 1990) as well as one live EP (You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance, 1998). However, all of these recordings were done with a full band.
The CD will be produced by long time friend, Colin Linden. The recordings are expected to be released by True North in fall of 2008.
Bruce has long been regarded as one of the world’s finest solo performers. Performing alone is a format that allows his sparkling musicianship and amazing guitar prowess to shine through, as well as completely focusing the attention on his amazing catalogue of songs which have now received over 250 cover versions by such great artists as Jimmy Buffett, The Barenaked Ladies, kd Lang, Judy Collins, Jerry Garcia and Third World to name only a few.
All of the following shows will be recorded for the live record.
MAY 14 NORTHAMPTON MA -THE IRON HORSE
MAY 15 NORTHAMPTON MA -THE IRON HORSE
MAY 16 BOSTON MA -SOMERVILLE THEATRE
MAY 17 ITHACA NY -KULP AUDITORIUM
MAY 19 ROCHESTER NY -GERMAN HOUSE THEATRE
MAY 20 SELLERSVILLE PA -SELLERSVILLE THEATRE
MAY 21 LONDONDERRY NH -TUPELO MUSIC HALL
MAY 22 PORTLAND ME -FIRST PARRISH CHURCH
MAY 23 BROOKFIELD NH -TUMBLEDOWN FARM BARN
MAY 25 ROUYN-NORANDA, PQ -CONGRESS CENTRE
Posted: April 17
Faculty union holding private party
FREDERICTON - The St. Thomas faculty association plans to celebrate the end of a long, hard year Friday. The union spent more than 11 months in negotiations with the university administration. The labour dispute ended with a lockout, a strike and binding arbitration. The contract from the arbitrator isn't expected until mid-June. The union is hosting the party for its friends and supporters at the Sweetwaters' Rockin' Rodeo room in downtown Fredericton on Friday. Musician Bruce Cockburn will be the entertainment. The event is not open to the general public. The union hopes to raise money at the concert to help other unions that take similar job action during contract negotiations. Friday's event will start with a potluck at 5:30 p.m. The Cockburn concert will begin at 8:15 p.m. Sweetwaters' Rockin' Rodeo will be closed to the public for the event until 11 p.m. Friday when it will open as usual.
Posted: April 17, 2008
SOLDIER AND SINGER JOIN FORCES TO END THE USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS
Romeo Dallaire and Bruce Cockburn headline benefit concert
Singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn and retired General Romeo Dallaire, both University of Victoria honorary degree recipients, will team up this fall at the university for Child Soldiers No More, an evening of song and spoken word in support of ending the use of child soldiers. An estimated 300,000 children in more than 30 countries serve as soldiers, human mine detectors, porters, spies, suicide messengers and sex slaves.
Proceeds from the October 4 concert will aid the Child Soldiers Initiative, developed by three UVic School of Child and Youth Care researchers. Sibylle Artz, Marie Hoskins, and Daniel Scott are working on a process to re-integrate war-affected children back into their communities. “Our research is aimed at developing effective methods of re-introducing these children to a stable life,” says Artz.
Tickets for the concert are $75 each and go on sale April 26, 2008. For further information contact the University Ticket Centre at 721-8480 or visit www.auditorium.uvic.ca
Since witnessing the Rwandan genocide, which he documented in his award-winning book, Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire has devoted his life to helping war-affected children. Cockburn has long been a spokesperson for global peace. “It is a great honour to be working with General Dallaire and raising awareness about this initiative,” he says.
“The active involvement of children in violent conflict is a concern for everyone working toward stability, peace and prosperity. Removing all children from combat is an essential step to end cycles of violence,” says Dallaire.
April 17, 2008
General, singer team up for show
Concert at UVic to raise money and awareness for child soldiers
by Kim Westad
At first blush, they're an unlikely concert duo.
But retired general Romeo Dallaire and singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn share a passion for humanitarian issues, one they'll bring to the stage at the University of Victoria in a concert Oct. 4 to raise money and awareness about child soldiers.
Cockburn said yesterday he was a bit surprised when the request came from UVic, but he jumped at the chance to work with a person he admires. "Well, we might be about the same age," Cockburn laughed when asked what he and the senator have in common. (They're a year apart.) "But actually, it's not too far out of line considering the topic and the point of the benefit."
The idea for the unusual pairing came from the university's School of Child and Youth Care, where three researchers are working on a process to re-integrate child soldiers back into their communities.
Dallaire has helped war-affected children since witnessing the Rwandan genocide, which he documented in his award-winning book, Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire led the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping mission into Rwanda in 1994. Cockburn has long been a spokesman for global peace. And both men have honorary degrees from UVic.
The concert is billed as an "evening of song and spoken word." Cockburn will definitely sing, but don't hold out too much hope for Dallaire doing the same. "I don't want to say a singalong between us will never happen, but I'd say it's less than likely."
The two met at Dallaire's senate office last week and talked for an hour. "He's one of those people who makes you feel special by the way he listens so intently to what you say," said Cockburn, interviewed en route to a benefit concert in Fredericton, N.B.
Tickets for the Oct. 4 concert go on sale April 26. The $81.50 tickets are available at the university ticket centre. For further information, call 721-8480 or go to www.auditorium.uvic.ca
Posted: April 17, 2008
The Kingston Whig-Standard
Ondaatje, Cockburn to headline benefit concert for mine protester
World-famous writer Michael Ondaatje will join Canadian folk-rock artist Bruce Cockburn at a June benefit concert to raise money for jailed Algonquin uranium mine protester Bob Lovelace.
A recipient of the Order of Canada and the illustrious Booker Prize, Ondaatje is perhaps best known as the author of The English Patient. He, Cockburn and several other artists will perform at the Artists for Bob concert at Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham St., on June 14 at 7 p.m.
The other artists who have agreed to appear include Susan Aglukark, David Francey, Jenny Whiteley, Steven Heighton, Joey Wright, Terry Tufts, Unity and the Algonquin Drummers.
Lovelace, a retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and a Queen's University lecturer, has been imprisoned for blocking prospector access to a proposed uranium mine site in North Frontenac.
All funds raised through the concert will go to Lovelace through a trust fund.
Unreserved seating costs $30 while limited Free Bob Lovelace Supporter tickets cost $100. They include preferred seating, an Artists For The Algonquin compilation CD, and a pass to the artist after-show party.
Tickets are available at Brian's Record Option, Novel Idea, Tara Natural Foods and The Grand Theatre box office, located inside City Hall.
Tickets can also be ordered by phoning 613-530-2050 or online at www.grandtheatre-kingston.com.
Posted: April 16, 2008
Artists For Bob Lovelace Benefit Concert
A concert featuring Canada’s best musicians and writers takes place Saturday, June 14th at the Sydenham St. United Church in Kingston. Bruce Cockburn, Susan Aglukark, David Francey, Jenny Whiteley, Joey Wright, Terry Tufts, Unity, and the Algonquin Drummers will perform at what will be an incredible night of music and community spirit. The event will raise funds for Robert Lovelace, father, retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Queen’s University professor, who has been imprisoned for his peaceful opposition to uranium mining in North Frontenac. All proceeds from the benefit concert will go to Bob Lovelace through a trust fund established for him by OPIRG Kingston.
Bruce Cockburn, an officer of the Order of Canada, has earned 20 gold and platinum records in Canada, 11 Juno Awards and is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Inuit singer-songwriter, Susan Aglukark is also a member of the Order of Canada and a multiple Juno Award winner. Multiple Juno winners David Francey and Jenny Whiteley will also perform along with two of Canada’s best guitarists, Joey Wright and Terry Tufts. The Algonquin Drummers will open the show with a ceremonial Algonquin drum and Unity, an aboriginal women’s singing group will sing both traditional and original music.
Unreserved seating is $30. Tickets are available at Brian’s Record Option, Novel Idea, Tara Natural Foods and The Grand Theatre Box Office at City Hall, phone: 613- 530-2050. For online ordering contact: www.grandtheatre-kingston.com.
Posted: April 11, 2008
Report and photo by George Baker
Bruce performed four songs to an audience of about fifteen people at WXRV in Boston on April 8, 2008. He played Child of the Wind, If I had a Rocket Launcher, Wondering Where the Lions Are and If A Tree Falls. He also spoke about agricultural issues.
April 5, 2008
The Kingston Whig-Standard
Canadian icon Cockburn to perform at benefit
Posted By Frank Armstrong
Canadian folk-rock icon Bruce Cockburn will perform at a June benefit concert for jailed Algonquin activist Bob Lovelace.
Cockburn, who has a home in the area, will be the headline act at the Artists for Bob concert June 14 at Sydenham Street United Church.
Co-organizer Ellen Hamilton, who runs Kingston's Leopard Frog music- recording studio, said she and a handful of others in the local music industry asked Cockburn to perform because they thought it was a cause he might support.
"He has consistently spoken up for what's right and just and he seems quite interested in social justice," she said. "We also know he lives in the area."
Tickets, which will cost $30, will begin selling Monday through the Grand Theatre, Brian's Record Option, Novel Idea and other retailers.
Also playing Artists for Bob will be three-time Juno Award-winning Aboriginal recording artist Susan Aglukark, legendary Sharbot Lake-area guitarist Joey Wright, and Unity and the Algonquin Drummers.
"We're also close to getting two other famous artists in Canada, but can't release [names] yet because we're still negotiating with them," Hamilton said.
The organizers came together after Lovelace was imprisoned Feb. 15 for six months for refusing to obey a judge's order to stop blocking uranium exploration north of Sharbot Lake.
Lovelace, a father of two adopted young children and a Queen's University lecturer, was also fined $25,000.
Like many others, Hamilton said she was watching the story about the uranium protest from the sidelines until Lovelace was jailed for protesting peacefully.
"This sentencing of Bob Lovelace, it was a wake-up call for some of us," she said.
Posted: March 21, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, best known for “2001: A Space Odyssey” died on 19 March 2008. In 1953 Clarke wrote his most famous short story, “The Nine Billion Names of God.” John Clute in The Independent dated 20 March 2008 wrote that “the story rewards a triumph of science with the calm extinction of the universe. An Asian sect hires a computer expert to tabulate all the possible names of God, in the belief that the universe will end when that essential task has been accomplished. The computer makes short shrift of the task. And the stars begin to go out.”
On 22 May 1990 Bruce Cockburn wrote the song One Of The Best Ones which was released on the album, Nothing But A Burning Light (1991). The track includes the lines:
Like the nine billion names of God
Don’t bring you any closer
To anyone you can simply set eyes on
-Complied by Richard Hoare
March 8, 2008
Truro Daily News
Bruce Cockburn visits Truro for Seedy Saturday event
TRURO - Amongst the stream of people coming and going from St. Andrew's United Church this weekend in support of Seedy Saturday, one man stood out with his long black leather jacket and small round glasses.
Canadian folk/rock icon Bruce Cockburn quietly strolled around the crowded room, stopping every few minutes to checkout a particular displays or chat with a vendor about their product and how it affects the environment.
Cockburn was there to represent the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, an organization he's been supporting since he got the first paycheck from his first album in 1970.
"All of the sudden I had this big royalty check. It wasn't a large amount of money by modern standards but it was more than I had ever seen in one place. And I though oh my God I cant just spend this, it was too much money," said Cockburn.
He's been a "mouth piece" for the organization ever since. Travelling all over the world in support of small farmers and the environment for 30 years.
Photo by: Colin MacLean
March 6, 2008
The Chronicle Herald
Cockburn here to promote food safety
by Cathy Von Kintzer, Truro Bureau
TRURO — Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn comes to Truro on Friday to help kick off the four-day Real Food, Farming and Flowers weekend focused on food security and related issues, both locally and globally.
Mr. Cockburn, who recently returned from a USC Canada trip to Nepal, will also be in Halifax on Saturday night for the Food Sovereignty and Biodiversity event at the Garrison Brewery on Marginal Road.
"There’s a lot of talk about buying locally, growing your own food and supporting farmers’ markets," Mark Austin, co-organizer of the Truro and Halifax events, said by phone Wednesday from his home near Truro.
"I believe, as many do right now, we have to find a way to reconnect with where our food comes from. Along with that, we need to produce food in a sustainable way. In other words, I’m not a great believer in industrial farming and processed foods."
Mr. Cockburn will discuss farming in Nepal and West Africa when he speaks on Friday during a community gathering from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church on King Street in Truro.
A farmers’ market, cafe, small film festival of food and farm-related documentaries, and children’s entertainment will be held at the church Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will also be displays focused on local food and healthy landscapes and a workshop on saving seeds.
"It’s kind of like a meet-a-farmer event and a chance to find out about farm-gate opportunities in the area," Mr. Austin said.
"I want to be informed when I go to the supermarket or the farmers’ market about what my choices are. But I’m also very aware that there are people around the world who don’t have choices."
Mr. Cockburn, along with USC Canada executive director Susan Walsh and others will be at the Garrison Brewery in Halifax Saturday from 8 to 10 p.m. for discussions, food and music focused on real food and farming around the world. USC is a non-profit international development organization. Tickets are available from Mr. Austin at 896-0184 or at the Wooden Monkey restaurant on Argyle Street.
Events conclude Monday with a seminar entitled Challenges of Organic Integrity in a World of GMOs and Nanotechnology. Pat Mooney, an agricultural biodiversity activist, is featured and the talk begins at noon in Room C24 of the Cox Institute at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.
January 8, 2008
The Mississauga News
Mississauga executive rules True North
By John Stewart
When Geoff Kulawick was a kid growing up in Ottawa, he learned to play the piano by listening to the Downchild Blues Band on a record called So Far.
These days, Kulawick is president and owner of Mississauga's Linus Entertainment and is in the process of re-issuing So Far: A Collection of Our Best, by the Mississauga-based band.
Kulawick, now almost 44, has gone from being a recreation room music fan to running his own record company to which he can sign his musical idols.
Not only that, but he has just finished spearheading a megadeal with two other major Ontario investors that has put the iconic Canadian True North record label into his fold.
In an interview from his south Mississauga home, Kulawick said the thing that first attracted him to the music business — artists and the wonderful work they produce — is still what fuels his passion.
"I think music is more important now than ever in people's lives," says Kulawick, whose wife, Brooke, was born and raised in Mississauga. "It is still one of the most emotional communications people have with each other."
There was never any doubt about what Kulawick wanted to do with his life.
"I always loved music," says the father of nine-year-old Karina and seven-year-old Matthew.
"I played guitar and piano and I knew it meant I had a better chance of getting girls," he adds, laughing. "I always loved writing songs."
His rise through the record business was anything but meteoric. It was a long, hard slug. After graduating from Fanshawe College in London in music industry arts, he moved to Toronto and took odd jobs in the business and knocked endlessly on closed doors.
"They pay you almost nothing for 80 hours of work, but that is what I wanted to do," he recalls.
He got his break when he was hired by Solid Gold Records. Kulawick became the tour manager for Gowan, worked at A & M, moved on to be creative director at Warner/Chappell and then got his dream job at Virgin/EMI in Mississauga, "only working with artists I really wanted to sign."
He delivered a series of platinum- and gold-selling records for artists such as Leahy, Choclair, Boomtang Boys and La Bottine Souriante, a 15-piece world music outfit that became huge in its home province of Québec.
But Kulawick could see "the writing was on the wall" for big record companies. New technologies undermined what was once their iron grip.
"There was no patience for the long-term development of artists," he says with disappointment. "There was less creative decision-making. Everything was based on delivering the big hit — in that quarter."
Having gone to night school to learn the business side of the equation, Kulawick struck out on his own in 2001, establishing Linus Entertainment in Mississauga, dedicated to Canadian artists. His roster is a who's who of styles and genres from old folkies Gordon Lightfoot and Ray Materick to the classy Mississauga-based classical Quartetto Gelato to breaking jazz diva Sophie Millman, whose band features Mississauga's Kieran Overs on bass.
A longtime admirer of Bernie Finkelstein and True North Records who proved that Canadian music could have international impact, Kulawick "reached out to him" as the new kid on the block on independent label street.
"He is an upstanding leader in a business that is known for questionable values," he says. "I was always bending his ear."
At one of their regular lunches, Finkelstein mentioned he was thinking of selling. Kulawick asked for the chance to find a buyer. He recruited investors Harvey Glatt and Mike Pilon and together they bought the label he loved, and will keep operating as a separate entity. Finkelstein remains as chair and advisor.
"I'm going to be doing everything I can to be a good caretaker," says Kulawick. "But we also want to break new acts."
He already has some prime True North candidates, including The Golden Dogs, a pop-rock band from Toronto.
Some day, he hopes to be as associated with other Canadian artists as Finkelstein is with Bruce Cockburn and his song, If I Had A Rocket Launcher.
"That's why I got in the business," says Kulawick. "Songs like that still have the power to change the world."
photo by: Daniel Ho