July 10, 2014
Being originally from Winnipeg (well, actually from Victoria Beach, Manitoba on Lake Winnipeg with population 200 and this number has not changed in at least five or six decades) and going to university in the 1970s means that I was passionately into rock but, without realizing it, my musical appetite also expanded to take in folk. Ironically, this happened around the time that Bob Dylan went electric.
Of course, there are many others who enjoy both rock and folk music. Notable among them is Bill Henderson, long time front man for Chilliwack. This band and Henderson’s strong song writing and vocal techniques were cutting edge influencial on the California rock scene in the early days.
Perhaps Henderson’s strong love of song writing drew him into the folk music scene in which the words of the song writing stand out more clearly against the backdrop of slower, often more melodic music.Voice in folk music also tends to ring out with more clarity than in rock.
Henderson decided to create a folk club some decades ago on Salt Spring Island, BC where he has long been a resident. He told me that no one would attempt to do such a thing without the involvement of Valdy, who also lives on the Gulf island. (I personally cannot tell you how many times Valdy has been referred to as a legend by numerous high profile folk musicians).
The two together founded the Salt Spring Folk Club. On a Monday, usually the first in the month during the winter season, islanders jam into the Fulford Hall for what amounts to a musical spiritual high. This happens after they chow down on some of the best homemade food on the West Coast. Magic always occurs.
During the year, I worked as a journalist on the Gulf Island Driftwood, I was delighted to cover a performance there by two of the Spirit of the West. A friend, who shall remain nameless and is a musician herself, attempted to drag me downstairs to meet these two accomplished musicians. To my credit, I refrained from groupism.
I should also note that an editor, who shall remain nameless, ‘dressed me down’ because she somehow thought I was not giving Suzanne Little and Tom Hooper enough ‘positive ink’ as the opening act for the two Spirit of West performers. All I can say was this editor was not at the performance but this is part of the office politics of working on any newspaper. I do not begrudge her anything but she had this habit of simply stringing together superlatives when doing reviews. Not my style.
This is the concert review:
Gulf Islands Driftwood
December 22, 1999
Spirit of the West duo blend perfectly at folk club show
by Tanya Lester
From the moment Geoffrey Kelly put lips to his flute and John Mann accompanied his guitar picking with a sort of Celtic reel last Monday at the Salt Spring Folk Club show, I believed humans can transform themselves into instruments.
What we usually know as instruments were merely extensions of this talented dup out on their premiere performance as a separate entity from their band, The Spirit of the West.
These are special instruments with intelligence, backed up by heart and rooted in passions for the art of music.
“Art of music” in the sense of play because you love to do it and you want everyone to be part of it.
Valdy used the word “contagious” to describe how these men’s music metaphorically picked up the audience packed into Fulford Hall.
The two blended in perfectly with the new stage backdrop of Mount Maxwell and the forest around Burgoyne Bay designed by Salt Springer John Malcolm.
Their Celtic rhythm would fit nicely into any forest setting.
The reason why Mann and Kelly are able to reason this musical high seems connected to the depth of their music.
Not everyone could call a song championing euthanasia “Unplugged” and get away with it.
Yet when Mann referred to it as “a catchy little two step,” it really was. He explained that when he saw a man on television who had decided to end his life, Mann realized it was about a human’s empowerment and the song it inspirted could not be done like a funeral dirge.
Mann seemed to step into the shoes of the ailing man when he sang, “Your hands that once caressed me, I don’t want them to detest me.”
Kelly brought stories of Christmas past into the act with his tune called Old Sod in which he spoofed his family for hanging up shortbread and bagpipes ornaments on the tree during their first year in Canada as Sottish immigrants when he was nine years old.
It was about bringing more symbols into their life related to their country of origin thant they had ever had around them in Scotland.
Later Kelly explained the band’s “plugged-in” era as being about realizing a boy’s dream as he stands in front of the mirror belting out “music” on a tennis racket, imagining himself really letting loose on an electric guitar.
Somehow it seems that Mann and Kelly are still paying homage to being able to constantly perpetuate that childhood dream to passionately make music.
They do not take their music for granted because they are so in love with it.
The two are working on what they call their solo album apart from work in the band.
When they talked us into singing along with one of their pieces, they joked that we were “far more in turn than the rest of the band.”
Mann and Kelly walk a straight line on the path connecting imagination and reality. Their music makes us believe in this kind of magic.
Salt Spring Islanders are in tune with magic and the opening act for Mann and Kelly seemed to be part of this island perspective.
Suzanne Little, accompanied by her partner Tom Hooper of The Grapes of Wrath, talked about their move six years ago from a small apartment in West Vancouver to a house with a garden on Salt Spring Island.
The misical documentation for this “shift in perspective” is Little’s song “Swept Away”, a response to her urband friends not understanding why Hooper could be enthusiastic about growing vegetables.
“You think I have lost my mind,” she sang. “…It’s about feeling good inside.”
Theirs was a much more subdued approach to guitar picking than Mann’s and Kelly’s but they, too, had their messages to get across.
In “This Time”, she responded to an industry in which promotional videotapes and photo shoots have prostituted musical talent.
Grapes fans will be glad to hear that Hooper announced the band’s next CD should be out by March 2000 before he performed “Sell the Goat” for the attentive crowd…
To read early posts in this blog, go to http://www.writingsmall.wordpress.com
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name at amazon.com. Go there to read the first pages of the book as well.