The New Prog Masters Part 1: The Inheritors

“Why, why do we suffer each race to believe/ That no race has been grander.” —Genesis, Time Table, from Foxtrot

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One of Prog Rock’s godfathers: Steve Hackett. Courtesy Wikimedia.

As Mark Twain once quipped, “Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s a statement that applies equally to modern Prog Rock. Okay, so I’ve been living under a rock when it comes to the current state of Prog Rock, or Progressive Music as Steve Hackett and others prefer to call it. With the devolving of radio—once the margin zone where new and innovative artists were launched—into demographically programmed commerce, it’s tough for anyone beyond global celebrities to get any attention. Possibly our best equivalent to college radio now (besides those few college stations still on air) is YouTube. It’s the positive side of Google algorithms—once it sees that you’ve been listening to the classic Prog acts it puts newer Prog bands into your search results. This has introduced me to a whole stable of bands continuing the grand tradition—The Flower Kings, Haken, Unitopia, Transatlantic, Magic Pie, Riverside, et al.

Like it or not, aging tends to make you something of a traditionalist. Pound for pound, the ’70s produced more classic albums than any era before or since. It truly was the Golden Era of Prog. But there are clear inheritors of the tradition. With a caveat: while there are some exceptional instrumentalists out there now, unique voices like Jon Anderson, Peter Gabriel and Greg Lake don’t exactly grow on trees. So allow me to make up for my ignorance and the oversight of mainstream media by recommending a list of recent Prog albums that could very well earn the status of classics in years to come.

  1. The Flower Kings: Flower Power, Banks of Eden and Desolation Rose. Having been immersed in this band in recent weeks, it’s tough to choose only one album as a potential classic. Their closest musical counterpart in the Prog canon would clearly be Genesis, although their vocals at times reach the soaring heights of Yes. Bandleader and guitarist Roine Stolt has even performed with Steve Hackett on his Genesis Revisisted tours. Stolt maintains a seemingly superhuman work schedule, contributing not only to solo efforts by other band members but also performing with the ‘Prog supergroup’ Transatlantic. And it’s Stolt’s guitar stylings that both connect the Kings to Genesis and carve out his own sonic niche.
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Roine Stolt, guitarist and brainchild behind The Flower Kings. Courtesy Wikimedia.

As to picking the cream of their crop, several epic tracks that predate Banks of Eden and Desolation Rose are a no-brainer for any Prog fan: Stardust We Are (from the album of the same name), The Truth Will Set You Free (from Unfold the Future), and of course the entire Garden of Dreams suite that comprises Flower Power. On these earlier albums the grand scope of these marathon compositions echoes epic classics like Supper’s Ready, with the same dizzying shifts of mood, rhythm, and eccentric phrasing. Space Revolver is an excellent example of this, its complex structure nevertheless as seamless as Pink Floyd’s multifaceted classic Dark Side of the Moon, with electronic flourishes reminiscent of that timeless album. Like so much of the best Prog, it’s a challenging listen, impossible to take in at one sitting.

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The Flower Kings’ 2013 album Banks of Eden. Courtesy band website.

Even the compositional trajectory of The Flower Kings subtly mimics that of Genesis, from the epic-length tracks of Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot to the more song-oriented works found on later classics such as Selling England by the Pound and A Trick of the Tail. (Hopefully they avoid imitating the descent of Genesis into the Phil Collins Pop Band.) The Kings’ most recent albums, Banks of Eden (2012) and Desolation Rose (2013), have reached an ideal synthesis of Prog transcendentalism with tight, focused songwriting. Gone are most of the meandering tempo shifts, replaced by a crispness and concision riding a muscular rhythm section. This remedies a weakness seen all too often on earlier albums, which were padded out to well over an hour with songs or instrumental rambles that were competently executed but ultimately forgettable. The trend began with Paradox Hotel, which employs a similar technique of powerfully tight numbers, but only occasionally mints a gem (such as the title track), whereas Banks of Eden and Desolation Rose are consistent throughout. Masterful stuff. http://www.flowerkings.se/discography.php

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    Norway’s Magic Pie: inheritors of the Prog Rock tradition. Courtesy band website.

    Magic Pie: The Suffering Joy. Over the course of their 10-year career to date, Norway’s Magic Pie have released four powerful albums, including The Suffering Joy—my pick for an instant Prog classic and winner of the Best of the Year album for 2011 at the Sea of Tranquility readers’ poll. Eirikur Hauksson’s lead vocals are rich and expressive, the lyrics of lead opus A Life’s Work gripping us instantly with its philosophical ruminations, grappling with questions that have plagued philosophers since Plato. As a writer, this is precisely what made me more of a Yes fan than a Bad Company fan, more a Gentle Giant fan than a Foghat fan, although I also loved the blues-based hard rock of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Magic Pie’s lockstep polyrhythms—a staple of Prog—are laced with just enough crunching guitar to keep the proceedings from descending into Prog jazz, my least favourite offshoot of the genre. As with many of their contemporaries in the field, the guitars tend more toward hard rock or metal than folk or classical, as with classic acts Yes and Genesis. Magic Pie’s first two albums Motions of Desire and Circus of Life are also worthy compositions, demonstrating consistent growth and musical complexity. http://www.magicpie.net

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    Haken performing at the 2014 Ino Rock Festival. Courtesy Wikimedia.

     

    Haken: The Mountain. Haken is another modern Prog outfit that favours a heavy metal edge to their guitar sound but these guys are no mere Marshall stack riffers. Thankfully, current Prog bands are savvy enough to dispense with the demonic growl that passes for vocals in Death Metal or Thrash in favour of singers who can actually sing. As with Magic Pie, vocals alternate between the resonant clarity of Haken’s Ross Jennings and harmonies in the choruses and bridges. With the range of tonal colourings available to keyboardists these days, it’s no surprise that Haken’s range is broad—from piano stylings to classic Moog-like tones. The Mountain maintains the Prog tradition of following the thread of a theme all the way through the album while not necessarily being a ‘concept’ album. (Concept albums require an intimate familiarity with the literary sources that inspire them, a literacy few musicians seem to have.) However, when it comes to the Fathers of Prog, Haken are no ignoramuses. They demonstrate their vocal dexterity on songs like The Cockroach King, which employs Gentle Giant-style multi-layered polyphonics—likely an homage to songs like Knots on Octopus. This technique crops up again later in Somebody but is integrated seamlessly enough to avoid seeming gimmicky. Because It’s There exhibits a classical choral structure to the opening vocals. Still, compared to The Flower Kings, these guys are definitely heavier, erring occasionally on the side of metal bombast where the Kings sometimes err on the side of jazzy noodling. I found Haken’s albums Visions and Aquarius equally compelling, but perhaps not as fully integrated a musical statement as The Mountain. http://www.hakenmusic.com/music

            CONTINUED WITH PART TWO: The New Prog Masters: All About the Music

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The Blues Comeback of 2016-17

In a year that many will be all too happy to see the back of with so many tragic losses in the music world, the blues seems to have made something of a comeback. Surprising everyone, the Rolling Stones released Blue and Lonesome, their first new album in over a decade and first ever all-blues album. For my money, it’s the strongest album they’ve done since Exile on Main Street and Goat’s Head Soup. The muse only seems to grant artists a limited number of classic originals, so few of their recent studio albums have been particularly memorable. And the further the Stones stray from their blues roots, the more lost they seem. The closest Mick and the boys got to the kind of raw vitality heard on Blue and Lonesome was their mid-90s venture Stripped. A sideways take on the ‘unplugged’ trend of the day, the set breathed new life into their old classics, including rare oddities like The Spider and the Fly, probably not performed since it was originally recorded 30 years earlier in 1965. With their global stature, let’s hope the new album will provide a trickle-down effect that helps all blues artists.

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John Mayall at the Royal Blues Pub, Nelson BC 2011. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Of course, the blues remains a perennial and vital genre of music. But its heydays seem mostly in the past now as the greats leave us, most recently B.B. King. With a few notable exceptions like Porter Davis, Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa, younger musicians seem more intent on creating New Folk or Alt Folk than in exploring the blues. As the Boomers have reached senior citizen status, the music that underpinned a generation of astonishing music is fading with them. The sheer range of genres the blues has influenced is breathtaking—from the early rock ’n roll of Elvis and Chuck Berry through the English blues scene of the mid-60s with Alexis Korner and the ever-durable John Mayall, boogie rockers the likes of Savoy Brown and Foghat, and even hard rock pioneers Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. I find it strange that so many young black artists have chosen to pursue gangsta rap or vapid pop music. It’s as if they’ve lost touch with their own roots—the gospel, soul, funk and blues that spurred the greatest musical revolution in history.

Music promoter extraordinaire Frank Roszak seems intent on countering this faltering trend, with a massive stable of blues artists from across North America. Since I published my review of Holly & Jon’s Shufflin’ the Blues, Roszak contacted me and has been sending me review copies of the bands he represents. It’s refreshing to know that so many musicians see the blues as their life path. Again, however, most of the artists in Roszak’s stable seem to be in the 40-plus age bracket, even 50-plus. And most of them, interestingly, seem to be white, in contrast to the original blues greats. Many of them are paying reverential tribute to their blues heroes, like Derrick Procell’s shout-outs to the legendary Howlin’ Wolf on Why I Choose to Sing the Blues. The CD sticker that reads ‘New Blues, Old Souls’ sums it up. Let’s face it: no one could ever replace the growlin’ baritone of the Wolf. But Procell and collaborator Terry Abrahamson stay true to the spirit of the legend. At times Procell’s voice and groove reminds me of Seventies era Steve Winwood. The arrangements are superb, and original songs like The Eyes of Mississippi  and The Wolf Will Howl Again have the potential to become New Blues standards in their own right.  (http://www.derrickprocell.com/aboutderrick.html)

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Lisa Biales has released a joyful, stirring new blues album.

Just out is Lisa Biales’ album The Beat of My Heart, inspired by her mother Alberta Roberts‘ pressing of the song Crying Over You in 1947. Biales doesn’t have the typical blues-mama voice steeped in whiskey and cigarettes—it’s a little too pristine for that—but she nails the good-time spirit of the blues, propelled by groovin’ horns and gospel choruses. Messin’ Around With the Blues has the juke joint swing and tinkling ivories that put it in a similar league with the classic version by Memphis Slim. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody, written for the Abyssinian Baptist Choir by Professor Alex Bradford, is an energized Southern church stomp—a moonshine jug brimming with the wellspring that inspired early rockers like Little Richard. Crying Over You, the song written by Biales’ mother Alberta Roberts, has the jazzy shuffle of a Billie Holiday tune. It’s a slow, sensual groove Biales inhabits easily on other numbers like Wild Stage of Life and Romance in the Dark. Brotherly Love ends the album with a plaintive appeal for unity in a fractured age, beautifully rendered by Biales.

The Beat of My Heart is a solid, joyful blues album that could easily capture for Biales the career in music her mother was unable to pursue. At times her voice reminds me of the crystal clarity of Holly Hyatt on Shufflin’ the Blues. It’s a deeply personal effort and a powerful life journey for Biales, from finding the 78 of her mother’s record to making her own album in Studio City, California with Grammy Award winning producer Tony Braunagel, who also plays a snappy drum kit. Braunagel mustered a line-up of top tier studio musicians to back Biales, including veteran bassist Larry Taylor.  http://www.lisabiales.com

Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns—another Roszak stablemate—has released Back to the Shack, another album that reads like a tribute to the greats, with elements of country blues and soul confidently delivered. The album features a guest spot with the legendary Mike Finnigan, a keyboard player who may not be a household name but who’s played with the greats as far back as Jimi Hendrix. The band was discovered in 1981 by Glenn Frey of the Eagles, who generously helped arrange their first recording. Back to the Shack lists as inspiration a Who’s Who of Blues and Soul, including James Brown, B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding and “so many others.” Singer Mark Campbell’s vocals clearly recall these greats with a fluency and ease that seems effortless. http://www.jackmack.com

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Canada’s own Smoke Wagon Blues Band are based in Hamilton, Ontario, featuring Corey Luck on vocals and harp. Courtesy band website.

We Canadians can rock ’n roll or shuffle the blues with the best of them, as the Smoke Wagon Blues Band’s new album Cigar Store proves. Once again this is blues to boogie to, built on the unbreakable chassis of Hammond organ, sax, blues harp and guitar. Fronted by vocalist and harp blower Corey Lueck, often the band’s original compositions explore historical themes, a penchant shared by many Canadian artists, from Colin James and Colin Linden in the blues to Bruce Cockburn, James Keelaghan and Stephen Fearing in folk. Driven by Lueck’s harp groove, Hoodoo Woman is a standout track that pays tribute to Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues while carving out its own niche. There aren’t many of the original blues harp masters still standing so it’s a joy to hear Lueck blowing up a storm. He and Jagger on Blue and Lonesome are breathing fire into a revered tradition of blues harp masters. Bravo! http://www.smokewagonbluesband.com

Like the Smoke Wagon Blues Band, Mississippi Heat on Cab Driving Man serve up their blues with Chicago flair. But with a genuine blues mama—Inetta Visor—handling vocals, you can hear echoes of Big Mama Thornton or Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It came as a shock to me that Mississippi Heat have been around for 25 years, led by blues harp player extraordinaire Pierre Lacocque. The fact that I’d never heard of them is perhaps indicative of the fact that the blues has lost much of its prominence in the public mind. That, combined with the advent of the million-channel universe made possible by the Internet, makes it much harder for accomplished veterans like this to rise above the crowd. The playing is consistently excellent throughout. Lacocque is a worthy successor to the tradition of blues harp greats like Little Walter and Paul Butterfield. This band would heat up any room with bodies in motion. http://mississippiheat.net

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Mississippi Heat are 25 year veterans of the American blues scene. Photo by Yvan Couillard, courtesy band website.

One of the greatest discoveries of the albums Roszak has sent me is the new Reverend Freakchild release Preachin’ Blues, a selection of stripped down blues classics including In My Time of Dyin’, Preachin’ Blues and Grinnin’ in Your Face. The Reverend is digging deep, performing solo acoustic Delta blues on National resonator guitar and harmonica. Here’s the thing: when I first put this album on, I could have sworn it was a black man’s voice, but it isn’t. This is one white dude with soul. Reverend Freakchild’s loose, conversational performances eerily echo the originals he’s quoting: Son House, Blind Lemon Johnson, and the Reverend Gary Davis. This is how it all started, folks—a lone guy on the front porch beatin’ the devil out of his guitar. Although his harp work is more reminiscent of Bob Dylan than Junior Wells, it melds seamlessly with his metal resonator. Consistent with the eclecticism of 21st century spirituality, his ‘preaching’ is more “philosophical investigation” than Bible-thumping, yearning for the light even as he acknowledges that, “death is part of life.” A more true-blue blues message would be hard to find. http://www.www-reverendfreakchild.org/bio/

 

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Review: ‘Forgotten’ documentary disappointing

“The act of uprooting children and sending them, alone, across the ocean to work in a strange land… must be regarded as one of the most Draconian measures in the entire history of children in English-speaking society. Its impact on the life of a sensitive child—even one who was placed in reasonable circumstances—is difficult to measure, sometimes even difficult to imagine.” —Kenneth Bagnell, The Little Immigrants[1]

The real reason poor British children were brought to Canada—to work. From the image on the 2010 Canada Post stamp. Image: Library and Archives Canada

The real reason poor British children were brought to Canada—to work. From the image on the 2010 Canada Post stamp. Image: Library and Archives Canada

  1. Digging Deep vs. Going Shallow

Competent but shallow—a kind of Coles Notes version of the history of the British Home Children in Canada. That’s how I would describe Forgotten, the new documentary directed by Eleanor McGrath. Like a capable actor, she hits all her marks and gets her lines right—hitting all the essential points of this shameful chapter in Canadian history—but never manages to fully connect with the emotional core of the issue. In fact, at times, she seems to deliberately pull back from the raw emotion lurking just beneath the surface.

'Laying the Children's Ghosts' cover. Courtesy Hagios Press.

‘Laying the Children’s Ghosts’ cover. Courtesy Hagios Press.

What’s telling here—and in the 7 years of research I did for my own book on the subject, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest[2]—is just how close to the surface that woundedness is for many British Home Children and their descendants. Often the same is true of war veterans—it’s well known that trauma changes neural circuitry in the brain, so the emotions associated with a traumatic event are easily triggered when the memory is recalled, even a half-century later. For me the single most powerful moment of Forgotten is when an elderly gentleman is recalling his arrival at his Canadian host’s farm. “The sense of loneliness…” he begins, but grief chokes off the rest of his sentence. Yet even here, McGrath quickly cuts to the next scene, as if afraid to linger in the full potency of that moment.

Certainly not all of the Home Children were badly treated, and McGrath seems to focus heavily on the positive experiences in her interviews. To her credit, she includes an interview clip from one such individual, Harry Thompson, who admits that while he was one of the lucky ones, many of the rest were treated “like slaves.” Another poignant moment in the film comes with the interview of Peterborough Home Children advocate Ivy Sucee, whose father was a ‘Barnardo boy.’ (Barnardo’s, founded by Dr. Thomas J. Barnardo, was responsible for sending to Canada some 30,000 of the 100,000 total child immigrants.) She tells the story of him being forced to sleep in the barn and having to go out in pre-dawn darkness to dig vegetables to feed himself. This was far from an uncommon experience for these children.

Child emigration was a poor solution to the poverty created by the Industrial Revolution. Image public domain

Child emigration was a poor solution to the poverty created by the Industrial Revolution. Image public domain

Also to her credit, McGrath interviews Home Children descendants who note the lingering sense of loss due to the separation from their families of origin. Many only discovered their Home Child connections in late middle age, by which time family members in Britain had passed away, robbing Canadian descendants of the potential to reconnect. Even among those who did learn the story before Home Child parents or grandparents died, some seemed to suffer an emotional hollowing out. In this regard, Sandra Joyce’s story of a father who gradually became more and more distant carries a deep tragic resonance. A common theme amongst descendants is that their Home Children parents seemed incapable of expressing affection or love, a legacy of being treated as servants at best, beasts of burden at worst.

McGrath also makes no mention of the Home Children who suffered sexual abuse. Just this week while I was selling books at a local Christmas craft fair, I had an elderly woman come up to me and confess that her uncle had been a ‘Barnardo boy’ who was molested and subsequently molested her as a girl. Multiply that across the 100,000 original Home Children sent to Canada and their four million descendants and I’m willing to bet you’ll find a lot more such incidents. But the deep shame that comes with sexual abuse has kept them mostly silent. In Children’s Ghosts I wrote about two such scandals, one at the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School on Vancouver Island[3] and another with Barnardo’s former Canadian superintendent of operations Alfred Owen,[4] both quickly hushed up by perpetrators and government alike.

To be fair to McGrath, she is not a Home Child descendant, so connecting with these emotional legacies may be difficult. Her interest was sparked by an encounter with the aging Fegan’s distribution home building at 295 George Street, Toronto that had been slated for demolition. (Fegan’s was one of the many child emigration agencies in Britain that brought children to Canada.) Still, it’s the filmmaker’s job to use their creative and empathic powers to connect with emotions that may be foreign to them. She gets close to this with Home Children interviewees who speak of the pain of being stigmatized as children, called “street rats,” and “gutter rats.” Yet she misses a golden opportunity to give an in-depth picture of what it would have been like for a Home Child living and working on a Canadian farm. There’s no shortage of primary source material for these experiences—most notably Phyllis Harrison’s excellent The Home Children,[5] composed entirely of the words of the Home Children themselves.

  1. The Value of Apology

Although McGrath in her recent TV Ontario (TVO) interview with Steve Paikin[6] claims to take no position on an official government apology to the Home Children, she loads up the final reel of Forgotten with those who say they don’t want one. If she was truly striving for a balanced narrative that allows viewers to make up their own minds, she should have interviewed equally those who are for an apology. And instead of only interviewing MP Phil McColeman, who sees no need for an official apology, a balanced approach calls for equal face time with MP Alex Atamanenko, who championed an apology motion in Parliament before his retirement, or with his successor, Richard Cannings, who brought the motion forward as one of his first acts as a newly elected MP this spring. McGrath also avoids mentioning that two of her interviewees, Lori Oschefsky and Sandra Joyce, are circulating apology petitions. As Oschefsky aptly points out in the film, “Britain was the richest country in the Empire. They should have cared for these children in their own country.”

And where is McGrath’s research into the responses to the British and Australian official government apologies in 2009 and 2010? In Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, I wrote of the reaction of Marjorie (Arnison) Skidmore, who was sent to Canada with the Fairbridge Farm Schools program: “When Patricia and her mother attended Prime Minister (Gordon) Brown’s apology in London, a reporter asked Marjorie where she felt she belonged. In recent years she had become close to her English relatives, rebuilding family ties that had been lost. ‘She had to think abut it,’ Patricia recalls, ‘and with determination said, ‘I belong in Canada with my children.’ It took her 73 years to be able to say that and it was Brown’s apology I believe that allowed her to move forward in this way, and accept her past.’”[7] Skidmore is just one of many Home Children who felt a sense of closure as a result of an official apology.

Early group of girls at Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in Duncan, BC. Courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

Early group of girls at Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in Duncan, BC. Courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

This isn’t rocket science, it’s a basic principle of human psychology. “Apology is not just a social nicety,” writes Beverly Engel in Psychology Today.[8] “It is an important ritual, a way of showing respect and empathy for the wronged person. … While an apology cannot undo harmful past actions, if done sincerely and effectively, it can undo the negative effects of those actions.”[9] It’s also a founding principle of restorative justice programs, which treat crime not with punishment but with restitution between perpetrators and victims, starting with an apology.[10]

In psychological terms, what you don’t feel, you can’t heal. Most victims of trauma or abuse had to repress their feelings as children in order to survive psychologically. Thus, the work of recovery is facilitated by bringing long-repressed feelings back to consciousness, so that they may be fully integrated in a healthy way. In Children’s Ghosts, I wrote about the science of epigenetics, first established in cross-generational studies of Holocaust families[11] and now being extended to First Nations survivors of residential schools.[12] These studies have established that the expression of the gene is impacted by social environment, so that PTSD victims transmit symptoms to their children who were not exposed to the original trauma.

By pretending an apology has no effect, we merely fall into the trap of perpetuating the misguided Victorian ethos of, “We don’t talk about feelings here. Just suck it up and get over it.” This was the very ethos that justified everything from the slave trade to child labour. With any such justification, the essential question is: Who benefits? In Children’s Ghosts I write that in the case of child migration, it was quite clearly the architects of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, who offloaded the costs of their pursuit of profit on society. And from an epigenetic standpoint, the ‘No Talk, No Feel Rule’ merely perpetuates the effects of trauma down the generations.

First group of Fairbridge boys on a farm school still forming, 1936. Photo courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

First group of Fairbridge boys on a farm school still forming, 1936. Note how young some of the boys are. Photo courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

So why is it okay to offer an official apology to Native residential school survivors, or the survivors of Japanese-Canadian war internment camps, but not Home Children families? This year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even apologized for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, when a boatload of Sikh immigrants were turned away from Canada.[13] Why the double standard?

Sadly, the no apology ‘consensus’ implied by Forgotten reinforces the status quo. MP Richard Cannings recently sent to me the response of the Parliamentary Secretary to his apology motion.[14] It reads, in part: “It is generally agreed that their living and working conditions were poorly supervised in Canada, leaving the children vulnerable to abuse and prejudice. It is only right that Canadians remember the Home Children/Child Migrants and the contribution they and their descendants have made to the development of our country.” But then, as if saying, “We think we’ve done enough on this issue,” the statement points to the Canadian government declaration of 2010 as the ‘Year of the Home Child,’ the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp the same year, the installation of commemorative plaques at the former receiving home in Stratford, Ontario, and historic sites and museums at Grosse Isle, Quebec and Pier 21 in Halifax. “Library and Archives Canada,” it continues, “has worked in cooperation with Home Children stakeholder groups to make key archival information available to former Home Children and their descendants,” and that is certainly a strong mark in their favour. In addition, “The Canadian Museum of History and Telefilm Canada have also worked to document the history of the child migrant movement in Canada,” and some years ago the CBC produced a documentary.

What McGrath does get right is the fact that no child in a Canadian school should grow to adulthood ignorant of this important aspect of our history. Something that affects 1 in 10 Canadians cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history. But if all we learn of this or any history is ‘just the facts,’ stripped of context and impact, then our understanding of it remains shallow. And the possibility of learning to avoid the mistakes and crimes of history is lost. If that’s how history continues to be taught, no wonder kids hate it. Surely we can do better.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Kenneth Bagnell, The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1980, p. 242.

[2] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014.

[3] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, p. 252.

[4] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, pp. 142–43.

[5] Phyllis Harrison, editor, The Home Children: Their Personal Stories, Watson & Dwyer Publishing, Winnipeg, 1979, out of print but available through abebooks.com.

[6] http://tvo.org/blog/current-affairs/bringing-forgotten-british-home-children-out-of-the-shadows

[7] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, p. 273.

[8] Beverly Engel, ‘The Power of Apology,’ Psychology Today, July 1, 2002, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200207/the-power-apology

[9] See also Benjamin Ho, ‘A Theory of Apologies,’ Stanford Business School thesis, 2005: “Beyond the use of apologies in daily interpersonal interactions, apologies appear in organizational design, political reputations, legal litigation, international relations, corporate governance, and beyond.” http://web.stanford.edu/group/peg/Papers%20for%20call/ho-apologies-mar2005-draft.pdf

[10] According to the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation: The foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows: 1) Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm; 2) the people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution; 3) the responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace. http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-1-what-is-restorative-justice/

[11] Charles Portney, ‘Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma: An Introduction for the Clinician,’ 2003; Melissa C. Kahane-Nissenbaum, ‘Exploring Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in Third Generation Holocaust Survivors,’ 2011, Scholarly Commons; Margaret McNay, ‘Absent Memory, Family Secrets, Narrative Inheritance,’ 2009, University of Western Ontario.

[12] To cite only one such study: Bombay, Matheson, and Anisman, ‘Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations peoples in Canada,’ Carleton University Institute of Neuroscience / Department of Psychology.

[13] ‘Justin Trudeau apologizes in House for 1914 Komagata Maru incident, CBC News, May 18, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/komagata-maru-live-apology-1.3587827

[14] Private email to the author, December 2, 2016, with attachment, Parliamentary response to Private Members Bill M-51, available upon request.

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Shattered Hallelujah: Tribute to Leonard Cohen

Shattered Hallelujah

 

Darkness closes its fist

over the season, November rain

clamps down the sky, the day

awash in night’s wreckage.

Summer’s cumulus gone, clouds

prick my bones with steely fingers,

a flute straining for music.

 

One by one, the great voices

leave us—Bowie,[1] Cohen,[2] Emerson,[3]

Squire[4]—shards spun

from the wheel of light,

setting the mind’s borealis aflame.

 

When shadows are hip deep,

do we keep walking? Or learn

to swim, eyeless in the depths?

If we befriend grief, will it leave

a bread crumb trail out of the forest?

 

How will we sing when we can only

cry? O voices of the holy word,

the holy song, strike flint in my marrow,

lend your breath to a starving flame,

warm away the moisture

that creeps beneath the skin.

 

Teach us again the shattered Hallelujah,

that we may fling its broken body

in the face of remorseless gods

and starless nights.

 

©2016 Sean Arthur Joyce

 

[1] David Bowie, musician, actor, artist, 1947–2016.

[2] Leonard Cohen, poet, musician, 1934–2016.

[3] Keith Emerson, keyboard player/composer for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1944–2016.

[4] Chris Squire, bass player & founding member of the band Yes, 1948–2015.

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Trumplandia: The Shadow’s Ascendancy

“An enemy is like a treasure found in my house, won without labour of mine; I must cherish him, for he is a helper in the way of Enlightenment.”[1] —Santi-Deva

“Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” —George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Art has its reasons that reason doesn’t fully comprehend. I’m sure someone has said that somewhere, or if they haven’t, they should have. (The actual quote has to do with the heart, the famous Woody Allen quip.) With the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, the great irony is that this living embodiment of the human shadow may well act as catalyst for some truly revolutionary art and—let’s hope—social change. The decades-long hegemony of postmodernism and obfuscation in art and literature may well be given a much-needed kick in the ass. This is the final nail in the coffin of the hoary adage that politics has no place in art—a notion undoubtedly perpetuated by the economic elites themselves, for obvious reasons.

As Dan Piepenbring of the Paris Review wrote the day after the election: “The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope.” (italics mine)

Despite the shock and horror now being voiced around the world, Trump’s election shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, given the state of America’s body politic and corrupted electoral system. Donna Luca, Board President of Nation of Change, put it astutely: “Some of our friends and colleagues were utterly shocked by the election results last night. We only wish that we were. In fact, we have anticipated all too well that the actions of the DNC—most poignantly cheating Bernie Sanders out of the nomination—would position Trump as the ‘anti establishment’ candidate running against the ultimate establishment candidate in an election year like this one. … the DNC has played the ultimate game of chicken with voters—and lost.”

From a Jungian and depth psychology perspective, Trump’s rise to power is predictable. ‘Between the ideal and the real falls a shadow’—sometimes a very long and deep one. Jung wrote of the ‘shadow’ side of the human psyche, all those qualities and fears we consciously or unconsciously repress. The more the shadow is repressed—at either the individual or national level—the more it takes over. He argued that the way to balance is through integration of the shadow, which can simply mean bringing it to consciousness, acknowledging it as a fundamental part of our psyche. By now this has been tested out over the past century and is now a well-established principle in psychology. From this perspective, the worst monsters of history—the Hitlers, Stalins and Idi Amins—are those whose shadow is most deeply suppressed in the unconscious. (Of course, they’re probably also psychopaths, and psychopathy is a whole other discussion.) Unable to acknowledge that they possess any such dark, potentially evil qualities, they set themselves up for a kind of reflex reaction—the shadow kicking back powerfully. Hence the phenomenon of the most self-righteous religious leaders leading some of the bloodiest crusades and jihads of history.

Sam Keen.

Sam Keen.

As Sam Keen writes in the anthology Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of the Human Shadow: “From the unconscious residue of our hostility, we create a target; from our private demons, we conjure a public enemy. …Our best hope of survival is to change the way we think about enemies and warfare. Instead of being hypnotized by the enemy we need to begin looking at the eyes with which we see the enemy. …we need to examine in detail how we manufacture the image of the enemy, how we create surplus evil, how we turn the world into a killing ground. …We need to become conscious of what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow.’”[2] (italics mine)

And so we have the spectacle of American self-image, which claims the moral high ground as the ‘cowboys in the white hats’ riding to the rescue, while at the same time maintaining more armed garrisons around the world than any power since the Roman empire. A so-called bastion of democracy that has no compunction about using its covert intelligence agencies to depose democratically elected governments in foreign nations in the most bloody manner imaginable. None of this is news. A so-called just society that continues to unjustly imprison political prisoners designated ‘terrorists’ and even to torture them in defiance of international standards and treaties of justice. You get the point. It’s a textbook case of shadow repression erupting into the light, big time. As Keen writes: “We so need to be heroic, to be on the side of God, to eliminate evil, to clean up the world, to be victorious over death, that we visit destruction and death on all who stand in the way of our heroic historical destiny.”[3]

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders.

If at any time during the presidential regimes of the past 40 years or so Americans had been willing to own up to this shadow, things might have been different. If the Democrats had allowed the democratic process to play out without interference and outright fraud in the primaries, we might have had Bernie Sanders as president instead of Donald Trump.  Guantanamo Bay would long since have been permanently shut down. “(I)f the United States government were willing to take a more open and honest stance with respect to its actual power needs and ambitions,” writes Jerome Bernstein in Meeting the Shadow, “and if it had been willing to face the arguments that some aspects of that power stance might be inconsistent with its own professed ideology and traditions, a significant portion of the unconscious power shadow could have been redeemed…”[4]

For awhile during the Vietnam era it looked as if this might be a genuine possibility. The nightly newscasts of bombing raids on civilian villages, the photojournalism laying bare its atrocities—all were a slap in the collective face, a wake-up call for the American shadow. Even the military—both officers and the rank and file—realized the travesty of that war. Find a copy of the documentary Sir, No Sir to watch, the best description yet of why the U.S. government was forced to abandon that conflict. Simply put, the chain of command dissented and finally broke down. The corresponding protest movement at home added the necessary civilian dissent needed to reach the critical mass for pulling out. But then came the knee-jerk conservative backlash, historical revisionism and corporate free-for-all that led us to where we are now. An era when the richest billionaires can literally buy the presidency, set policy and resist the will and needs of the majority of the American people.

If indeed the Trump vote, as with the Brexit vote, was a ‘protest vote’ against the elites, it only serves to underline how thoroughly broken are our electoral systems. Clearly there’s an appetite for change, at least among the 99 percent. But just as clearly, the mechanisms for change are seriously lacking. Electoral reform must be Priority One before anything else can change. Social advocacy groups will need to hone their strategic skills, targeting Republicans who are ‘soft’ Trumpites when it comes time to pass bills through Congress.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

But the spiritual and psychological dimension can’t continue to be neglected if we’re ever to see meaningful change. “If we desire peace,” writes Keen in Meeting the Shadow, “each of us must begin to demythologize the enemy; cease politicizing psychological events; re-own our shadows; make an intricate study of the myriad ways in which we disown, deny, and project our selfishness, cruelty, greed, and so on onto others; be conscious of how we have unconsciously created a warrior psyche and have perpetuated warfare in its many modes.”[5]

George Bernard Shaw got it right in one: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Thomas Merton added another layer to this truism when he said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” As the Paris Review editor quoted at the beginning of this essay noted, the best antidote to the despair of looming Trumplandia is to create, and to cast off the shackles of hidebound tradition in the service of the human spirit. George Orwell once said that he wrote best when he was angered by injustice. Indeed, in his 1946 essay Why I Write, he gave that as his raison d’être for writing. His allegories managed to seamlessly blend political satire with escapism, to achieve what Merton spoke of in taking us out of the world while simultaneously sharpening our view of its often bitter realities.

From a Jungian perspective, the psyche is always in search of balance, and often our artists feel this urge more keenly than most. They are after all our pioneers of the human spirit, going where few dare and casting illumination on the heart of darkness. As the late psychotherapist John Weir Perry put it, “even if we fail to acknowledge our predicament in a conscious way, the psyche does register its recognition of it on deeper levels, and makes moves to generate new possibilities of outlook and ways of living that might allow our survival.”

[1] Quoted in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1991, p. 194.

[2] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 198.

[3] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

[4] Jerome S. Bernstein, ‘The U.S.-Soviet Mirror,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 216.

[5] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

Posted in politics, social commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

YouTube launch of Dead Crow and The Muse

Well, let’s hope it’s true that it’s better late than never. Today marks the launch of my first poetry video, The Muse: Chameleon Fire, on YouTube—15 years after it was made. The poems were originally part of a limited edition, handmade chapbook that combined original graphic art with a series of poems published in 2000 by Chameleon Fire Editions. I’m also premiering the much more recent production, Dead Crow: Prologue on YouTube at the same time. This video is part of a project planned to eventually include a full one-hour touring show. Right now I’m touring the Prologue plus several poems from my recent book of poems, The Price of Transcendence. Noel—truly the musician’s musician—does a set of his own superb original songs for the show. In honour of the late great David Bowie—a lifelong influence for me—he also performs his versions of Starman and Life on Mars.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

The Muse took as its starting point a different theme for each poem: Work, Family, History, etc., using a prose poem form with arbitrary line breaks. I wanted to break out of standard lyrical verse forms and challenge myself and it seemed to work. The break from habit produced not only a chapbook of poems, but a series of masks that were exhibited in the Mildred Erb Gallery of the former Nelson Museum. The introductory poems Chameleon and Fire set the stage, exploring the nature of the creative process. (Chameleonfire also happens to be my personal ‘brand.’)

That led me somewhat naturally to the idea of also creating a poetry video for the series. With the help of the late Tony Salway, I obtained a $10,000 production grant from the BRAVO TV BravoFACT Foundation, then in its early days. At the time I was living in Nelson—quite possibly the creative capitol of British Columbia’s southeast interior—it wasn’t hard to find top-notch collaborators. My dear friend Dawn Scott (now Dawn Bird) was eager to get into film and I was lucky enough to pair her with another young talent, dancer and choreographer Jasmine O’Brien. With advice from veteran Nelson choreographer Tamasine Drisdale, she choreographed the dance you see in the video. Guitarist/composer Steve Montgomery of Skip Rock Productions did a fabulous job on the soundtrack based on cues I gave him from the music of Peter Gabriel and Dead Can Dance.

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

You’ll notice that The Muse features a mask prominently in the sequence. Masks have been used for thousands of years both as ritual objects and important tools for artists and actors since the earliest Greek chorus plays. There’s an innate magic to the mask: an object that is lifeless and inert, yet when worn on a human body it acquires a sudden animation that can be compelling, even eerie. So the symbolism of Jasmine (‘The Muse’) handing the mask to Dawn at a critical moment is a metaphor for both the artist’s license to create and her tool for doing so. Dawn’s character is a young artist just beginning to come into her creative power, so her somewhat tentative movements as a dancer further illustrate this point.

Why did it take 15 years to see the light? This is where the story veers into the personal. In 2002 I suffered a major health collapse that left me unable to work for some years. At the same time, my personal life was in a state of sudden upheaval. I decided I desperately needed a change from Nelson and tried living in Vancouver and Victoria before finally settling in the Slocan Valley in 2003. For me, the city was no place to rebuild a life. Both literally and figuratively, it was my ‘Wilderness Years’ period. I needed to regroup and reconstruct myself both physically and spiritually. That left little energy for mounting major productions, tours or promotions. Unfortunately The Muse fell victim to those circumstances, and gathered dust in the boxes of my various moves. Sadly that meant that along the way, any photos and production stills from the video seem to have been lost. At least I managed to hold on to the video!

The history of The Muse is as much a history of recent technological changes as it is a part of my own history. When we made it videotape was still in fairly common use, although the newer digital media of DVDs were already on the horizon. At the time Bill Heath, a maker of renowned ski films, had set up a state-of-the-art digital editing studio in his Nelson home, and graciously cut us a generous discount. His young protégé Jeremy Grant was a whizz kid editor and if it hadn’t been for his efforts, it’s unlikely the final result would be as fine you see it here. But just to illustrate how far digital technology has come in 15 years, the cost for editing alone ate up roughly three-quarters of my $10,000 budget, and that was with a discount. Nowadays the same editing job could be done for a fraction of the cost. Remember, this was still pre-YouTube, pre-iTunes, pre-iPads. Napster was still the most exciting thing in digital music online, and there was as yet no equivalent for video. Consequently, in the confusion of my various moves, I had a VHS tape only for all our efforts, and eventually that was transferred to DVD, and finally this year to MP4. Welcome to the 21st century! Just a reminder of how quickly we take current technology for granted—in historical terms it’s all still brand-new.

I’ve already written fairly extensively about Dead Crow: Prologue in a previous post (here: https://chameleonfire1.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/introducing-dead-crow-the-video-launch/) so check that out if you’re interested in what motivated me to create such an offbeat character. In European mythology and fairy tales, the Crow is often a harbinger of death, a haunter of battlefields, as with the Celtic Morrigan goddess. I wanted Dead Crow to go beyond that connotation, to balance the yin/yang energies of light and shadow, hence my drawing on the First Nations traditions of Raven as a Creator/trickster figure. And being a great fan of film noir movies, I couldn’t resist giving him a jaded, been-there-seen-it-all kind of voice. All of which seems particularly apt in this time of collapsing empires and economies.

And once again I’ve been blessed to work with superb collaborators: Noel Fudge, who composed the soundtrack to Dead Crow: Prologue, and Isaac and Orsi of ICandy Films. So call me a late bloomer. See if I care. And enjoy!

LINKS: The Muse: Chameleon Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC_04Fo3Z_g

Dead Crow: Prologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC-mOdDygto

Posted in Arts & Culture, mythology, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holly & Jon interview: The A–Z of the Blues

Holly Hyatt. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly Hyatt. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

INTRODUCTION: I’ve been following the music of Holly and Jon for about 10 years now, ever since being utterly gripped by Holly’s clarion voice and Jon’s pristine blues picking. In the Kootenays they’ve become something of a blues institution along with Lazy Poker Blues Band and Bill Lynch. Sadly it may be that their evolution as a father-daughter duo came just a little too late to capitalize on the blues booms of previous decades. Still, in an era when the market has changed drastically toward electronic trance music on the one extreme and ‘Newgrass’ or New Folk on the other, their latest album Shufflin’ the Blues has hit #12 in Canada on the Roots Music Charts and #2 on the Acoustic Blues Charts. Not bad for homegrown Slocan Valley talent! But then, we always suspected we were world class…

SEAN ARTHUR JOYCE: First things first. Gimme your influences! It may sound trite but in the blues especially—or any music for that matter—it’s ALWAYS relevant. Tell me why, Holly, you like Bonnie Raitt but not so much Big Mama Thornton. Or Jon, why you favour Albert King more than BB King, if you do. Talk a little bit about what makes their technique the one you like, the sound you love.

Bonnie Raitt has inspired many women to play the blues.

Bonnie Raitt has inspired many women to play the blues.

HOLLY HYATT: Some of my biggest blues influences are Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Maria Muldaur, Delbert McClinton, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I remember watching a video of Stevie Ray when I was a kid. He was sweating and playing his heart out and it just shook me to the core. That was the real deal, soul and passion. I had the same feeling when I first heard Bonnie Raitt’s voice, and to see a female guitar player really expanded my ideas of what a woman could do as a musician. I love that Susan Tedeschi and Robert Cray create such great original blues songs.

I’ve based a lot of my vocal style and phrasing on jazz singers like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Karyn Ellison, and Ella Fitzgerald. Just hearing what these women can do with their voices is so inspiring, and I’m a big fan of hanging out behind the beat vocally. Etta James has also been a huge vocal influence for me, I learned a lot of Blues Mama phrasing from her. I love Eva Cassidy and how she uses her voice to convey the emotion and story of the songs she sings. I am also a huge fan of Jewel and Neil Young, their songwriting and poetic lyrics have inspired many songs I have written. I love Willie Nelson for his beautiful melodies and his ability to blur the lines between genres. He is just so unique. Esperanza Spalding is my number one pick, for an amazing singing and playing bass player. She is phenomenal!

JOYCE: Jon—same question. Influences?

Jon Burden performing in 2009. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon Burden performing in 2009. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

JON BURDEN: I think the first time I heard the blues was The Rolling Stones recording of Little Red Rooster. I didn’t know it was blues, I just knew it sounded different than all the other music on the radio at the time. It was darker, edgier and sexier than She Loves You or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, but at the same time it sounded a bit contrived, like it was an imitation of something else. It was only later, after hearing blues played by black musicians, that I realized that there was a difference. So the early Stones with Brian Jones were my first blues influences.

Then, when I heard Hendrix’s live version of Red House on the In the West album, I finally got what blues was really about. He was the first black musician I heard doing blues. And then I heard Freddie King. Johnny Winter then became an influence. It’s My Own Fault from Johnny Winter And Live was played endlessly at my house when I was in junior high, so I guess Rick Derringer was also an influence because he was the other guitarist in the band and played great rhythm behind Johnny. He was also a fantastic blues soloist in his own right.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Then it was The Allman Brothers version of Stormy Monday on Live At The Fillmore East. I guess I had an affinity for live albums, which is fitting, seeing as our latest album is live. In the early ’70s when I acquired a friend’s record collection, which was all black blues, is when I really became interested in that style of music. It was Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Otis Spann, Freddie King etc. Muddy Waters, at that time, was not my cup of tea. It was only much later that I learned to appreciate what Muddy was all about. Now he’s my man! I even drove all the way to Rolling Fork, Mississippi just to see where he was from and walk where he had walked.

I did the typical thing that serious guitar players do, and that is, I started listening to the rock players and then followed it back to the roots and I’m still discovering older players today that I’ve never heard before, So the influences keep changing.

JOYCE: So what about it, Jon—Freddie King, Albert King or BB King—which is it for you?

The late great, underrated Freddie King. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The late great, underrated Freddie King. Courtesy Wikipedia.

JON: I liked Freddie King more, as opposed to BB King at first, because Freddie had a rock edge and BB was too show biz or something. Now I appreciate what BB was. He was so classy and could say so much with one note. When I first heard Albert King, I didn’t get it. Then I listened to Live Wire Blues Power (another live album) and I got it! Big Time!

JOYCE: It sounds like we have the same blues collection!

JON: That album was a huge influence along with Freddie King’s Texas Cannonball. I wore out copies of those two albums. Buddy Guy, I always thought, played too fast, although I think Junior Wells kept him in line. I gravitate to the slower, ‘say it with one note’ players. Now I really appreciate the jump blues players, like T Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, Ronnie Earl Earl, Hollywood Fats and Anson Funderburgh.

JOYCE: Let’s talk about your evolution as a musician. Jon, being Holly’s father you obviously have a lot more experience to draw on. But both of you, trace for me how you see your musical arc having developed over the years to where it is today. What pushed you this way but not that?

Holly & Jon recording at home, circa 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly & Jon recording at the Burden home, circa 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

HOLLY: I started performing as a child; I would sit in with Dad on his gigs and sing a few songs. This developed into me singing more songs and accompanying him on bass. Eventually I taught myself to sing and play bass at the same time. It was a painful and frustrating process for me, because I felt like I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to, vocally or as a bass player. It got better with practice though, and now playing and singing is very harmonious. In my late teens we started billing ourselves as ‘Holly and the Hippie’ and then ‘Holly and Jon.’ I began songwriting more and we started to incorporate some original material into our sets. In my early to mid twenties we toured a lot, playing mainly bars and cafes. We performed as an acoustic duo and a full band. All the performances helped me to get more comfortable on stage and develop my skills as a musician. I started to get pretty burned out and discouraged though. I didn’t want to be another cover band or background singer. I wanted to perform original music at concert venues, where people would sit down and listen. I wanted to engage the audience and connect with them. So I took a step back from touring, focused on starting a family and defining my goals as a musician. I discovered that music is in my soul. I must sing and share my songs, but I need to be selective in how I do that. We began focusing on promoting our original songs and performing primarily at concert venues. I have been enjoying this process and love connecting with people through music. I am excited for the next evolution in my musical life!

JON: I started singing My Old Man’s A Dustman, There’s A Hole In My Bucket and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight, and Lonnie Donnegan skiffle stuff when I was 5 or 6 at community concerts that my maternal Grandmother would organize. She was kind of a pillar of the small community in our village in England when I was young and bought me my first guitar. Then, after moving to Canada, I sort of lost interest in it for a while. I went through a cowboy phase. Then I got back into music and got serious about the guitar as an adolescent. The first song I learned to play and sing was Paint It Black and then I joined a band as a rhythm guitarist/backup singer, who sang a couple of leads. I was earning money performing before I could really play. I could play enough to strum a few chords. I was very undeveloped but music is an eternal learning experience. You just keep discovering and growing.

Blues, folk and the rootsier styles of music have always appealed to me much more than mainstream stuff. Mainstream, commercial music was nice and happy, bright and hummable, but it always seemed shallow to me. I wanted something deeper, darker, earthier. When I played top 40 bands I would always bring in the obscure songs and blues material to learn. When I played in country rock bands, I’d bring in the southern rock stuff to do as well as playing as much original material as you could get away with: Which wasn’t much, as you had to be a human juke box for the most part and play songs that your audience had heard.

Jon performing at the Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon performing at the Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

I’ve always been attracted to the singer/ songwriters and love the early Neil Young, Jackson Browne and James Taylor albums (not much blues in those, although Steamroller Blues by Taylor is probably the best rendition of a blues song by a singer/songwriter that I’ve heard). Later, I got into the Texas songwriters such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt (these latter two were very influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins) and James McMurtry. I love it when a song can paint a picture in your mind when you listen to it.

My musical taste, vision and direction haven’t really changed a great deal as I’m still embracing the obscure and like to go against the grain. I guess what pushed me in the direction I went, musically, was just trying to keep it real and say something that means something. It’s much more important to me to use music and songs as a means to make people think and open their minds, than as purely entertainment.

Another of the great blues pantheon: Lightnin' Hopkins.

Another of the great blues pantheon: Lightnin’ Hopkins.

JOYCE: How have changes in the music industry affected you? Jon, you especially have been around long enough to have seen plenty of changes, especially in terms of musicians’ earning capacities. What do you see that’s negative? Positive?

JON: I came into music in the early stages of the BC bar scene. Before the mid ’70s live music was only played in Legions, community halls and cabarets. Then BC changed their liquor laws to allow live music in beer parlours. Alberta and Ontario had allowed it for years but BC has always been behind with their liquor laws. One of the people that taught me a lot about the guitar, like playing bar chords as opposed to open chords, said to me: “When they start allowing music in the taverns, I want you to be there.” And I was.

At first the scene started off very gradually. A venue would try it for one night a month or something. Then they started building dance floors and stages in the venues and it exploded. Bars were hiring bands 6 nights a week and every venue had entertainment. Strippers in the daytime and live music at night. You could stay on the road continuously or get a 2–4 week residency in your hometown and then rotate. I stayed on the road. First doing a solo act, then a duo and later a full band, while still doing solos and duos on the side. I made a living through the ’70s and ’80s. In the ’90s, venues started cutting back to three nights a week, then two nights a week and then one night. Now venues don’t have an entertainment budget, so you play for the door or for tips.

But, there is a positive side to these changes. By playing for the door and doing concerts, you get to play the kind of music that you want to play because the people who come to your shows come to hear and see what you have to offer and they pay attention. You’re not background music for somebody’s night out on the town drinking, carousing and fighting. Back when I was playing full time in smoke filled bars, it felt like hard work. It was a grind and there was many a gig that made me feel like packing it all in. Now that I’m able to play for respectful, listening audiences, I don’t want the night to end.

Holly performing in 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly performing in 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

HOLLY: During the past 15 years I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of venues that have live music. One of my first regular gigs was at the Prestige Hotel. I played there every Sunday night, and they had music on many other nights of the week as well. This was a common practice for venues and it enabled us to play multiple gigs in one week. The pay scale is about the same, there may be a slight decrease but it depends where you’re performing. On the positive side I think there are more community concert events and local arts councils that are supporting live music. The second biggest change for me is the lack of music education in elementary and post secondary schools. I started performing in band in grade four and continued to do so until I graduated. School band was one of the most positive musical influences in my life. I discovered jazz: Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and the upright bass, because I was in two different big band ensembles in high school. The music composition course I took in grade 12 sparked my desire to become a songwriter. It makes my heart break that my children may not have these same opportunities during their schooling years. The high school I attended currently has no music programs at all; this is a huge disservice to our youth!

JOYCE: Where do you see your art form going in future, both personally and as a genre?

HOLLY: As a genre I hope Blues will open up to more diversity and be discovered and loved by the younger generations. The standards need to be shared and appreciated, so people learn the history behind the music. I hope younger artists will take that knowledge and create their own original blues songs, and then push the boundaries of the genre with those songs. Indie Blues, people! For myself, I want to focus on creating music that connects with many people and withstands many years. I want to blur the lines of the genres and mix old and new sounds. I want to sing my heart song, with soul and joy!

JON: We have to find a way to draw a younger, fresher audience to the blues, as the folks that listen to blues are the baby boomers, which are an aging demographic. But, in all honesty, I think there will always be people of all ages that want to hear honest music, played by real people.

JOYCE: Amen to that! To quote ‘Uncle Neil,’ long may you both run…

Visit their website at: http://www.hollyandjon.com

Posted in blues, Music, The Kootenays | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment