Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Nomeansno spinoff 3 - 2 = 1 to drop this week

More to come on this - have a story in development, but nothing has run over here beyond the teaser in my Invasives feature a couple months ago: John Wright of Nomeansno has a new project, 3 - 2 = 1,  and a new album, Life Like - inspired by this under-appreciated Nomeansno song... which John has re-worked for the album (not the only Nomeansno-related material on the record, but note that John's older brother Rob remains decisively retired). The album drops on Bandcamp on February 23rd; I don't have a link as of yet, but I'm sure it will be findable on the day... keen to hear it! 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Of David M., a benefit for Ukrainian Refugees, and my probably not seeing Bruce Springsteen

David M. (of NO FUN, "the Beatles of Surrey" - see here for more - wrote me this morning to point out that a fourth song ("Prove It All Night") from Darkness on the Edge of Town, my favourite Bruce Springsteen album, has been added to a setlist on Springsteen's current tour. 

I think he plans to go. He follows Bruce; he actually buys the new albums - I have nothing more recent by Springsteen than 2005 ("the one with the lyric about how much it costs to fuck a prostitute in the ass") - and also does a killer version of "Open All Night" (and sometimes "Johnny 99").

But the truth is, I don't need convincing; I would like to go, too. 

True, I do love Richard Meltzer's infamous takedown of Bruce in Spin, which I read when it first came out and still delight in; I think Meltzer is basically RIGHT, here, and really funny, to boot; but it still doesn't stop me from responding to some of these songs. I mean, seeing Bruce do "Badlands" live, that alone would be worth a fair bit to me, even if I don't know half the other songs on the set, and don't care about several of the ones I do know, like basically anything off Born in the USA, which was the first Bruce album I bought that I just could not connect with (I had skipped The River; I went directly from Darkness and Born to Run, which I loved, even if the showtunes side of it was invisible to me back then, to Born in the USA and even as a teenager - I was, what, 17 at that point? - I was, like, "ugggh, what is this?"). A high school friend who will never read this (hi, Andy) observed, "I love the lyrics, but not the presentation" of "Dancing in the Dark," and it was just, yes, yes, exactly. And that Bruce would later try to turn "Born in the USA " on its side, effacing the upbeat anthemic quality for something more genuinely despairing, suggests that the Boss himself knows there's something wrong with it, too. 

But still, I would pay SOMETHING to see "Thunder Road" and "Because the Night" and "Johnny 99" and "Badlands." And while I was there, could I take a little covert guilty pleasure in "Dancing in the Dark" regardless of finding it a bit phony? Would I sing along to "Born to Run?" Do I know most of the lyrics to that song by heart? (types from memory: "In the day we sweat it out on the streets/ of a runaway American dream/ In the night we ride the mansions of glory in suicide machines/ sprung from cages out on highway 9/ chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected, and stepping out over the line..." I could get at least 75% of it right, I think). The answer is YES. I might even do homework and learn what other songs he is likely to do and acquaint myself with them; I would probably enjoy a few, truly. 

As I wrote to David, it comes basically down to the economics of it, and a core objection to the idea of someone who sings songs about the poor being sold in such a way that only the  affluent can participate. I have no such objection to "the Material Girl" selling tickets to her shows for $1000 per or more, because she's announced herself honestly as a golddigger from the gitgo; even if I don't care about Madonna's music at all, even if I find the values in a song like "Material Girl" repugnant beyond expression, it's not like I have a daughter who is at risk of being influenced, and there's no disjunct between the message and the price. If there are people out there willing to pay hundreds of bucks to see Madonna do her thing - go to it, folks; it's shitty music, by me, and celebrates aspects of the culture I would happily take a blowtorch to, but if you actually like it, or the spectacle of it, or the feeling of participating in a mass pop phenomenon, or whatever it is  you're consuming when you go see Madonna, I have no objections at all. I assume she will make it worth your while. I personally wouldn't pay $20 for it, myself, but seriously, knock yerselves out. 

But for a guy to sing about a character with "debts no honest man can pay," who has been known to cover Woody Guthrie tunes, who has songs about working class characters leading working class lives and suffering from economic despair, for a guy who writes songs like "Factory" and "Used Cars" and The Ghost of Tom Joad - for THAT GUY to participate in a pricing scheme that gouges fans for $500+ a ticket, well, that's a con job, folks, if there ever was one, and unless Bruce starts changing his lyrics ("Streets of Fire" should read, "when you realize/ How I fooled you this time..."), I'm not willing to play ball. 

I've still registered for the pre-sale, because I have not yet seen these ticket prices for myself; maybe if I do it right, become a verified fan, and sit by my computer like a good boy, the offer will come at a tier I can afford, for a seat not TOO close to the ceiling of the stadium (that's another factor). I've always kind of wanted to see Bruce, and this might be my last chance. I gather I either will or won't be invited to participate, and if I *am* invited, in a few days time, I will definitely look to see the price. And that's really what it comes down to; I'd pay $200 to see Bruce, I think, which probably means $250 or so once all the "service charges" and taxes and other gouges are piled on top. More than that and really, it's a merry go round that I'm quite happy to get off of.  I'd rather go see David COVER a Bruce Springsteen song at the benefit for Ukrainian refugees in Poland that's happening, March 9th and 10th. In fact, I'd feel better about myself, if I have $200 to kick around, giving it to them - the Polish group helping Ukrainian refugees - than giving it to Bruce. They need it way more than he does. 

By the by, David M. apparently will be doing the Lou Reed tribute the previous week (March 3rd, I think), and you might see him somewhere else around town in-between then, maybe singing a version of "Good King Wenceslas" to an unrelated tune. 

For my economic strata - hell, for my sense of human decency - David M. > Bruce Springsteen.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Beau Wheeler EP Release and Pronoun Party!

Besides having maybe the most powerful singing voice in Vancouver, Beau Wheeler has some incredible songs. "Open Up Your Heart" in particular has the feel of a classic, a song that merits being elevated from the indy music scene into something known across the continent, a song that at the very least the CBC should program forthwith, if they haven't already; it's a song that deserves to be known and embraced, taken as an anthem; it's a song that could maybe even make you a better person. 

...But if it's maybe Beau's best song, it's not the one that I most wanted to ask about. The original that struck me at the last show I saw of Beau's was a song that at the time was called "Monster" (which has an earlier incarnation you'll read more about below). In the chorus, Beau identified with the monstrous, which struck me as both pretty brave and pretty unusual (because any communications with Beau I've had have been marked by a very noticeable positivity, cheerfulness, and big-heartedness, not qualities usually associated with monstrosity; nicest monster *I* ever met). But as a big Nightbreed fan, identifying with the monstrous resonates with me pretty deeply. And what a delivery Beau gave the song...

There's lots else online about Beau - including a recent interview with Sad Mag, here, and another here by me after first being exposed to Beau as performer at a past Bowie Ball. You can also check out Beau's music tomorrow night at the Burnout Cafe, at the release party for Beau's digital EP, Tiny But Mighty (based on a live performance from the Robson Valley Music Festival, online here). The rest of this should be self-explanatory! I'm in italics, Beau is not. See you at the Burnout tomorrow?

Beau and I, folk fest selfie last year

Allan: I am very excited that "Monstress" is on the EP, but the performance I saw of it last year had, I thought, the lyric "I am a monster," and now it's become feminized... I wonder which has primacy? Was it written originally as one or the other, or do you change the gender of the song every time you perform it, or...? Any stories about the inspirations or writing of the song would be great...

Beau: Thanks for asking about this song, it is an interesting one for me right now because during the pandemic, I came out as trans and changed my pronouns and name. This EP release marks the celebration of another change in my pronouns to he/ him. The process of coming out as a trans person is a personal process for everyone who goes through it. I think process is a really important word because it does happen that way where your mind opens further and further to your true identity as you go through the process. This song shows my process. 

 Originally when it was written and performed live at Robson Valley Music Festival, where this EP was recorded, I was identifying differently than I am now. I thought about whether I should release this song because it is very gendered. I decided to release it under its original title, "Monstress," because that is the way that this live performance was captured. Now, when I sing this song live, I use the title "Monster," and I’ve changed the lyrics to reflect that as well, because it feels more true to my spirit. When you perform as a public musician, your personal evolution is part of what is recorded as you record music throughout your life. I decided to release this version of this song because this song really meant something to me when I sang it, and I think you can hear that. You can see my struggle with not fitting into being called a woman; it never fit for me, and you can see that in the way that I paired the iconography of a monster with a female suffix. For me, this is a very powerful song that shows my breakthrough and breakout of the constricting gender binary that I was born into. I have chosen to release this song to show my path towards the person that I am evolving into, and the person that I have always been. We all evolve through our lifetime, and it is a vulnerable thing to show that to others. It is also very powerful. I believe that an artist’s vulnerability, and the things that make them different in real life are actually their super powers.

Can you talk about monsters a bit? Do you have a favourite monster or genre of monster movie? 

I think monsters are very important in our culture because they represent people who don’t fit in. They also represent the unbridled power of a person who does not fit in. Everybody feels like they don’t fit in, but we are hardwired as humans for connection. This is why so many people identify with monsters, I don’t really have a favourite monster, but I am a huge fan of folklore and fantasy because it is storytelling just like songwriting is. But behind all storytelling, what really resonates with people is the truth of humanity, and what it means to be a person.

We have, I believe, already talked before about some of the other songs on the EP, but I'm wondering if there is anything new in the Saturday set, stuff we have not talked about, new songs, things people will not have heard live before? Tell us a bit about those songs...?

During the pandemic, I recorded a live EP, a band album and a synthpop record. All of these recordings will be coming out one after the other this year. I also have about two albums worth of material that hasn’t been performed or recorded. This EP release will be largely solo but also, I will be joined by Jesse Waldman on guitar, who plays in my band and produced one of my upcoming records. Since it is a very immediate live solo performance, this Saturday, I think I might play a bunch of never before heard songs, because it will be a very intimate show. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. The musicians that play with me are so incredibly talented that they can follow anything on the fly, never having heard the material. I am incredibly lucky to get to play with them.

Curious - I have no idea what scenes you were related with?

I like to float between many different scenes. I’ve been playing live for years now in Vancouver I really love the inspiration that you get when you move between different groups of musicians and artists I’ve found that that is incredibly inspiring for me. I love people, and I love meeting new people whether they are artist or not I find the more different types of music that you listen to or interact with as a musician the better. The musicians that seem to be the most versatile are the ones that are the most open minded that is something that I’ve always aspire towards.

My wife and I are both People of Size, and the irony of either of us wearing a "Tiny But Mighty" t-shirt tickles us. So do you have 3X or 4X "Tiny But Mighty" shirts? Is there a history to the phrase, "Tiny But Mighty," for you? (It feels like it might come from somewhere...?).

That’s really cool that you relate to this title. It means a lot to me. I’ve found for myself that I try to speak to the issues that I have personal experience with, and try not to create art that is telling somebody else’s story. I also try to follow the words of Hannah Gadsby. I found her stand up that explained how making jokes about being queer was also making a joke out of herself I am doing my best to try and celebrate who I am and those around me that I love if anything I do or say resonates with you, I am honoured. The title of this EP comes from the pandemic performance that was presented by Shara Gustafson, who presents the Robson Valley Music Festival. I was very lucky to be a part of that small presentation, which included a number of fantastic musicians, including Old Soul Rebel . This EP would never have been made without Shara and all of the wonderful technicians involved. You can see live footage of the video on YouTube, Connor Pritchard kindly mastered the audio for me to release as an EP.

Is there physical media, or is this an online EP only, or...? What about the upcoming album? 

Right now this EP is the digital release, but I worked in record stores for 20 years and I am a huge fan of vinyl. I’d love to put this out on vinyl eventually.

 Anything to say about the Saturday show? Will it be a solo gig or a band show?

I feel like music is very important to people these days, whether you are a musician, or a listener, music has become something that is incredibly special right now, because it connects us. After the pandemic, people are ready to come together and celebrate and lift each others spirits and live. We all do this in our own ways but music has this incredibly magical power to do it immediately, and with such force. There are so many difficult things going on in the world right now, but also, there is an incredible flowering and beautiful opening of an artistic period that I believe will be one of the most significant going forward.

Beau introduces their - or, I mean, HIS pronoun party and show in this clip; there's a bit more information on Beau's website, but it's $20 at the door (or pwyc) at 2032 E. Hastings. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Vanrays: East Van Soul Served Hot - a Spencer McKinnon and Gordon Rempel interview UPDATED

Have two years' worth of socially distanced concertgoing, with bands shielded with plastic, audiences spread out and confined to their tables, or shows flat-out disallowed turned you into a ravenous music fiend, making up for lost time? Are you terrified that the skyrocketing costs of big-ticket items and imperiled state of music festivals will deprive you of the sonic soul food you need to make it through the workweek? Do you feel like now more than ever there is an imperative to get out and support local live music, to help our scene back to a state of thriving functionality and ensure that the music-makers, venues, promoters, and other creatives continue to be able to provide us essential live music experiences, as the economy teeters and the pandemic threatens a resurgence, which could shut everything down again...? 

If so, with apologies to another longtime local favourite, Bison (who are sold out, anyhow!), I have a strong recommendation for tonight, February 11th, 2023: go see the Vanrays and CLONE at the Fox Theatre.

The Vanrays, L-to-R: Brian Barr, Phil Addington, Gordon Rempel, Spencer McKinnon, Andrew Samuel, Eric Lowe, Melissa Lee, Jose Blanco, photo by Carleen Kyle

Fans of Motown (or Daptone), people who love soul and R&B and a touch of funky rock, will plunge easily and blissfully into the deep grooves of the Vanrays. And the choice to pair them live tonight with glam rockers CLONE - another of the best live bands in Vancouver, but occupying a wholly unrelated niche, sharing a bill with the Vanrays for the first time ever - is an inspired, almost diabolically clever touch, because even though their musics have as much to do with each other as pickles and ice cream, PROBABLY a lot of music fans whose explorations have spread wide enough to take in soul have at least a few glam rock records in their collections, too, and vice versa. I interviewed the Vanrays for the Straight a few years ago, back when their first EP came out, and caught them at the Railway (I believe the first show I saw there after they had re-opened, with new rules in place that kept all their windows closed, so the space was unbearably, sweat-drippingly hot, even before the band - sorry, this is a cheesy pun - started to cook). Fittingly, the Vanrays' new album, Put It Out, has more than a few references to heat and fire in its lyrics... as well as songs about the struggles we've all been through, as the pandemic and concomitant lockdown dragged along.

The lead single, "Hard Times," is a case-in-point argument for how effectively soul music can deal with economic desperation and very relevant to the current financial circumstances of many of us, though there are no particular songs about being broke that informed it, singer Spencer McKinnon tells me. "I think some of the inspiration came from listening to Curtis Mayfield's 'Right On for the Darkness,' 'Pusherman,' and 'Move On Up,'" he explains. "I love the horn arrangements and the slow groove and was trying to pay tribute to that with 'Hard Times' and 'Made It.'"

But, Spencer continues, "everything about COVID for a band was 'hard times.' It was hard to get together, and even harder to play live anywhere for any reason. We tried to collaborate on distanced, home-filmed videos but the experience was less than adequate, some would even say 'isolating.' When we finally were able to get together at [bassist] Phil [Addington]’s rehearsal spot in his basement, he had hung sheets of plastic" - so-called vapour shields - "sectioning off the horns, drums, and vocals, basically trying to make it a workable solution. It looked right out of a horror movie." (For his part, drummer Eric Lowe refers to it as Phil's "Silence of the Lambs basement set-up," while keyboardist Gordon Rempel observes that "it kind of felt like playing in one of Dexter's kill rooms"). "We are all glad to put that part of our lives behind us. Onwards and upwards."

Plans for the album had actually begun, Rempel explains, with the recording of bed tracks (drums, bass, some keys and scratch vocals) back in December, 2019, just as news of the pandemic was spreading out of China. "We had planned to resume in February 2020, but we all know what came crushing down on the world then. Not able to rehearse, let alone record, we investigated every online jamming piece of software available, but none seemed to work, especially with a band as large as the Vanrays" (they currently have eight members, and occasionally are joined by guests onstage, more on which below; with original trombonist Leroy "Andy" Pierpont joining them tonight, there will be ten people onstage in total). 

Rempel continues: "Determined to keep the band real, we chose two songs of ours to complete remotely - 'Shake My Hand' and 'Survivors,'" both of which can be heard on the band's Social Distance Demos bandcamp page. "Horns, guitars, keys and more were added to the bed tracks individually, either with home studio set ups or a webcam and a microphone. We all videoed our performances - some 'lip syncing' and some playing live," which Rempel himself stitched together; the video for "Survivors" has that unique "lockdown-mode" Zoom room aesthetic that will stand as a lasting artefact of playing through plague (as will the cross-fertilization of members of the Vanrays and China Syndrome, the China Rays, though I personally would have argued for "Chanrays" as a wittier name; maybe Tim wasn't into it?). With an intent to eventually complete the album, "as restrictions allowed, Brian Barr, our guitarist and sound engineer, along with our producer, Scott Fletcher, resumed recording our parts with as few people in the room as possible." 

Gordon, for his part, "recorded a ton of [his] keyboard parts in [his] garage and sent them in to Brian and Scott to integrate in." The end product is "A long cry from that Stax style live off the floor thing we had envisioned," Rempel admits, "but Scott Fletcher's wizardry saved us!"

The Vanrays at the Roxy, by Sharon Steele

While some artists did okay supplementing meagre opportunities to play live with livestreaming, McKinnon observes that "even before COVID," that model of performance did not work well for the Vanrays."We played Tractorgrease and had technical issues with the audio," McKinnon recalls, while Rempel remembers an outdoor live show that got streamed, "but there was no real prep work or separate mix, so it was a bit of a technological disaster that we’re hoping not many saw. Nothing can replace feeling the kick drum in your gut that you get from watching a live show. and performing without an audience in front of us felt stupid." 

Like those Zoom-room videos, one COVID-related song of the band's, "Shake My Hand," probably will lose some meaning if and when memory of the pandemic is allowed to fade. It started as a "filler song" to address Eric's observation that "we didn’t have enough faster songs with a good beat that’ll keep 'em on the dance floor," Spencer explains. "I rattled off a song in character about a guy that shakes your hand, which seemed pretty unsavoury during COVID. Even now when someone tries to shake my hand, I think, 'Hmm, is he trying to shake me down? Why is he not using his elbow?' It will be some time before the handshake is once again in vogue, if ever. Thanks, COVID."

Not everything on the album is COVID-themed, mind you. Seeing the references to fire on the cover and lyrics to "Put It Out" (and "Up in Smoke," too), I wondered if any of the band members had been impacted by the various fires that cleared prime real estate around Vancouver, inciting my more cynical friends to speculate about nefarious development schemes. Nothing so juicy was intended, McKinnon informs me - the lyrics are "really quite self explanatory: 'You take a fire girl and you put it out/ You take desire and conspire, turn it into doubt/ You take a heart, fill it up with pain/ Then you’re making up but sure enough you do it again./ You’re a natural born killer, killing ’s what you do/ Takin' hearts all apart in your high heeled shoes.” …

The proper way to see the Vanrays

One of the nicer surprises on the album, meantime, is hearing the female background vocals on "Hard Times." Reading the liner notes for the album, I thought it sounded like there are more females singing than just Melissa Lee - the band's "resident graphic designer," Rempel calls her,  as well as their saxophonist. She does contribute background vocals, backed by Eric and Andrew, the other two members credited with vocals, but it sounded like there was more than one female vocalist. Then I looked deeper, and was pleased to see that the co-vocalist was none other than Shelley Preston, of Preston and Fletcher, EddyD & the Sex Bombs, and Bang, among other projects. 

Spencer McKinnon: "We were very honoured to have Shelley and Melissa sing back ups on the album. Due to COVID safety  protocols, Shelley recorded them from her home studio. She is such a pro! I cannot say enough about how great it was to work with both of them. What attention to detail, what EARS they both have. Both Scott and Brian really went above and beyond to make this a recording the Vanrays are very proud of. Shelley will be joining us on Saturday night at the FOX."

[There's still a great story about Melissa, however, about the design of the cover, which - flashing forward a bit - Spencer would tell me at the gig itself, after this article was first published. It's too good not to insert: apparently when he first saw the design that Mel was proposing for the cover, his initial reaction was "could you make the dog look a little less like Yoda?" Then Mel showed him a photo of her dog, which she had traced for the cover art, and "It was exactly her dog" - a 13 year old chihuahua named Puppy. Apparently Mel designed her own outfit for the show, as well, which was pretty darn cool!]

Put It Out will be available at both the merch table tonight and at select record stores around Vancouver, coming out on vinyl on Phil Addington's own Bonerattle Records (he is also the proprietor of Bonerattle Music, on Commercial Drive and I would hazard a guess that the album will be available there, too). There will also be "other swell swag such as CDs and t-shirts," McKinnon adds. "We even have matches that match the album design by Melissa Lee."

It's been as weird a time for the Vanrays as anyone else, returning to live shows after so long. "The strangest event was last year’s Bowie Ball in February," Rempel tells me. It was "the first full house" since lockdown measures lifted, and "everyone was nervous after so long without seeing so many people." But the band is eager to "be done with the isolation," McKinnon adds, "and to play live and feel the interaction with the band and audience again: "I may be naive or idealistic about the state of things but I just want it to be over…is it over? Don’t tell me it’s not over." 

You missed the show, but you can see a video clip I shot of "Heap of Ruin" here...!

Saturday, February 04, 2023

The John Otway Trickle-Down: Otway's SECOND EVER APPEARANCE in Vancouver, Feb. 3 2023

Photos by Allan MacInnis unless otherwise noted! 


"It doesn't work unless you pump it," David M. of "the Beatles of Surrey," NO FUN - whose back catalogue would probably appeal to fans of John Otway - has been wont to observe. And so a few of us in-the-know types pumped it last night, and a brief bit of magic happened, which probably caused confusion (and perhaps some unplanned delight) to the majority of people who had gathered at Toby's Social Pub for an open mic, which included some able musicians (Kelly Armstrong was my favourite), and some people who should practice for two more years in their bedroom mirror before attempting a public performance again (they don't know who they are and far be it from me to name them), but which meant a GREAT DEAL to the ten or so in-the-know types who descended on the venue to cheer on the SECOND! EVER! Vancouver appearance of said John Otway - a man who has performed over 5000 gigs, been produced by Pete Townshend, performed at the Reading Festival, and so many more cool things that I do not myself yet even know. 

It started with a conversation between Mr. Otway and a Vancouver Otwayphile named Ian McClelland, seen below receiving a headbutt -

(photos not be my, but provided by Ian McClelland. Selfies? Taken by someone they know?). 

It seems that Otway had told Ian in an online interaction that he would be coming through Vancouver. Ian, an uber-fan, suggested in a spurt of last minute inspiration that an open mike would serve as a possible way of putting Otway back in front of an audience here, for the first time since 1979, when Mr. Otway opened for Pere Ubu on July 27th at the Robson Square Theatre. Grant McDonagh of Zulu Records was at that Robson gig, and possibly Ian as well, though I did not take notes during Ian's telling (I seem to recall him being more Toronto-ish at that time, from what he said?). Otway contacted the venue and was added to the open mic. Step one!  

Steps two through five: Enter Toronto promoter Gary Topp, who designed a poster for the event, which was then seen on a laptop by one Al Mader, who does LOOK at the internet but is not ON the internet, if you see what I mean. Al is best known to some as the Minimalist Jug Band, in which capacity he has in fact OPENED for John Otway (in Toronto, some decades ago). He's also seen him numerous times and is a true fan (I have not asked him to weigh out his relative fandom for Otway and John Cooper Clark, but if you like the Minimalist Jug Band, you should check out both of those performers forthwith, because their influence on Al cannot be overrated). Al then called me (from the store where he works and uses the laptop) and - knowing I am at least a bit more internetsy than he is - urged my participation in plugging this event. I proceeded to blather on Facebook and even make a few phone calls (many of them to record stores in pursuit of Otway vinyl) wherein I ended up talking to the aforesaid Grant McDonagh, who did not have any Otway in his store, but was very happy to hear of this gig. The only Otway record I could find, in fact, was at Beat Street. There is probably one, I bet, at Noize to Go, but Dale was not answering his phone yesterday, and has been known to not arrive at his shop until well after slated opening times, as anyone (raises hand) who has stood outside it for an hour or so, wondering when he would get there, can attest (that was at the Seymour Street location, mind you). So I only had one record (and an Urgh! DVD) to ask John to sign (I have previously owned I Did It Otway, note, but it had skips in it, so I'm in the process of replacing it).  

At Beat Street, someone overheard the purchase (Deep Thought for $10!) and came over to ask if I had said I was buying a John Otway record, like it was something he never would expect to hear at a record store. I excitedly told him - saliva flinging from my mouth, as it does these days when I am excited - of the Otway open mic appearance, scheduled for the very next day. I did not see him in the audience, sadly. He may have taken me for a nutter, but, whatever, his loss! 

I did see, however, Edward Hurrell (interview here), Judith Beeman (interview here), Grant McDonagh (no standalone interview but see here for the Clash soccer story), and Dave Bowes, formerly of Iron Road, and my co-conspirator in occasional gigs and articles and the man behind THIS must-attend event, in early March, which will involve the appearance of said David M. Some of these people brought people of their own, most of whom approached John to give him a welcome and assure him that he was performing to a room with at LEAST six people in it who knew who he was. So Gary pumped it, Al (1) pumped it, Al (2) (me) pumped it, and Ed and Dave (and Doug Smith) pumped it a bit too, based on my pumping, and the result was, John was not just singing to Ian on his birthday! 

Note the look on my face, when Erika said, mid-photograph, that John should give me a headbutt (he didn't).  

Anyhow, I did shoot video, which I broke into two clips, for those who could not make it - see here for the first of them, here for the encore, and also see this clip from a different angle of the main set, as shot by Erika Lax! The songs were "Beware the Flowers ('Cause I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You, Yeh)," which Otway prefaced with a story that referenced this improbable accomplishment, "Josephine" (which he dedicated to Ian on his birthday), the "prophetic" "I'm Cured (And I Can't Catch Love)," and an un-heard-of open mic encore of "the hit" that Otway had had in 1979, "(Cor Baby That's) Really Free," which was somewhat to the disappointment of the people who were chanting for "Cheryl's Going Home" (a cover, but his best known tune, since here in Vancouver we mostly know Otway from Urgh! A Music War - which we might be forgiven given that Otway's albums are not ubiquitous and that Otway's live performances in Vancouver, in 1979 and 2023, have been, umm, sporadic? Highly infrequent? How should one describe this?). I think that Otway's question to us ("Do you want to hear my hit?") was in fact a bit of misdirection, since I suspect many people assume that "Cheryl's Going Home" IS that hit, but... well, anyhow, *I* know "Really Free." And it was GREAT! It was ALL GREAT!

Of course, I chatted with John a little - he's on the way to New Zealand and Australia. He is said to have performed over 5000 gigs in his career; I asked him at one point whether he would be counting last night as one of those 5000+ gigs, and he joked that he would tell me after it was over. I think it counted!
Thanks to Gary Topp and Al Mader, above me in the pyramid of pumping, for making last night happen and allowing me to play a small role, and to everyone who was below me (the "Otway trickle-down"), who made my role so gratifying. You are welcome.   

Above three photos provided by Ian! I think that's John's ladyfriend. Not sure who that other fan is but it's nice to know he was there!

Oh, and rest assured that Dave and I did go see some of the second set of Stick Men but I gotta say, virtuosic prog rock does NOT make the best follow up to a mad little night like the one we'd had in North Vancouver, though Pat and Tony were both funnier than I expected, in their own way, Tony joking that he'd brought the wrong book and had been playing the wrong songs all night, and Pat instructing the audience in a deliriously complicated clapalong that none of us could follow (though a few tried), which was a fun way of illustrating just HOW virtuosic these guys are. (I shot footage of them doing "Danger in the Workplace" here). 

Godspeed on your subsequent tour, John Otway! Photo below of Beeman and Otway, Ed and Ian and I, and any of ME (above or below) with Otway are by Erika Lax. Maybe we can make the NEXT John Otway appearance in these waters happen sooner rather than later? (He is not, as previously wished in the place of this sentence, returning from his NZ/Aus tour by way of Vancouver, so it won't THAT soon, note..). 

Friday, February 03, 2023

Got nothin' (but work and housework and kitten follies)

2022 was a busy year of blogging, while I recovered from my cancer surgery, but just a heads up, there's not much that's going to be happening on this page anytime soon. I'm not going away, exactly, but I have to adjust to being back to work full time, which has been very positive, but also quite exhausting, after a year of R&R and gradual "deconditioning" as I recuperated. I also have a new kitten, who is very high energy, and (since I was home all the time here, unlike my hard-workin' spouse) have become the de facto housework-doer, even more than I was before I got sick; hopefully I can get Erika involved in a bit more of that again, because holy cripes am I exhausted. Time to write? For no money? Uhhh.... nope. I feel like I'm in a Habitrail maze of work duties, laundry, dishes, cooking, grocery shopping, and (for light relief) the odd pleasures of chasing an escaped kitten down the hallway of our building... I often just scoop him up and bring him to the laundry room with me, so he can explore there while I get a load in.

Mind you, I might do the odd thing for the Straight or Montecristo or some other local magazine or paper, but only because there's compensation involved and I have holes to fill (credit card debt is a bitch and a year of reduced income on disability pay didn't help). There are a few things elsewise that I'm committed to - I have a big Rob Nesbitt piece that keeps getting shelved because I either get sick or have a computer failure whenever it approaches, and a big John Wright piece I've committed to do for a German mag (he's announced his new project, 3-2=1, and is talking about a release date sooner rather than later)... but... I'm not sure where I'll get the mojo or the time... 

What can I say in the meantime? People who like soulful rock should check out the Vanrays at the Fox on February 11th. CLONE, Vancouver's current glam champs, I believe, are opening. I'm excited to see Jonathan Richman again at the Rio in March, and there are a ton of very cool local bands playing a benefit for Ukrainian refugees in Poland shortly after that. I've grabbed a ticket to FEAR in April because, well, shit, how can I not? (DOA and the Vicious Cycles are opening, too). Got tickets for Erika and I to Lucinda Williams and Big Thief and hope to get a promo copy of Lu's book - the Lu's Jukebox series is amazing (tho' I didn't get the Tom Petty one, since I'm just not a big Tom Petty fan). Was very sorry to hear she had a stroke, very glad to hear she's recovering, and hoping to read her upcoming memoir. 

Oh, and I hear from David M. that Iggy Pop is coming and that's a definite maybe, too. But short of "reimbursement situations," I barely am going to have time to GO to these gigs, let alone blog about them. Just the way things are right now. Maybe something on Atomic Werewolf, who continue to release NO FUN stuff (I now have 1894 and Snivel on CD - I mean, I had them before, too, but just versions that M. put out on CRr.)

There are a few other things that excite me locally, mind you, but everything else that's happening in the next while is stuff I've pitched to the Straight (so I don't want to jinx it) or is something I don't really want to mention here for some other reason. So that's all I've got for now. Have a good spring, I guess. Maybe seeya at a show.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

John Otway in North Vancouver THIS FRIDAY!!!

UPDATED - So here's a weird thing: John Otway is playing a completely under-promoted gig - actually only a couple of songs, he's telling me - in North Vancouver this Friday night. Al Mader (AKA the Minimalist Jug Band) phoned me tonight to tell me of it, having found a single image on Gary Topp's Facebook page advertising the gig, which is the only news of it you can find anywhere online; apparently Otway is en route to New Zealand, has a stopover here, and decided to do a last-minute show at Toby's, at 8:30 pm, on a borrowed guitar, which absolutely no one is bothering to promote except Al and I. As it turns out, alas, Al is working that night and I'm going to Stick Men at the Rickshaw - have already bought my ticket - but given the situation, we both are trying to do due diligence to directing people the Otway way. He's an eccentric wildman/ true enthusiast of early British punk, sometimes grouped with the likes of John Cooper Clark, and best known to those who don't know him (prolly) for this clip from Urgh! A Music War... or for those who do know him (at least a bit) for eccentric li'l ditties like "Headbutts" or "Willy (in the Air)." For a taste of what Otway might look like now, well, he put out some Lockdown videos that are pretty darn entertaining. Toby's is, I gather, one of those places where you might be expected to eat or drink (they have Yorkshire puddings!) but it doesn't LOOK like there's a cover. There's none on the poster, which is literally the only info I can find. I mean, seriously, I'd consider going, but I've already paid for Stick Men, and I'm a bit too broke for a fancy dinner out for me and the wife. (Actually now we're considering it anyhow). 

YOU should go, though. ALL OF YOU! Or at least let everyone know about it. If you like your music playful, energetic, witty, and wildly performed... John Otway's your man. You may not get another chance! Two songs by John Otway! (Maybe three, if we're nice?). All I know.