Photo by the lovely and talented Lucy Pelletier

A groovy gig at Relish last night. Thanks to friends current and reconnected, family and strangers who stayed for the show.

This week’s topic is the venue where we performed, and the special place it holds for me in my own long, strange trip.

Owned by Joanne Clayton, Relish Bar and Grill opened nearly 11 years ago. Through the years, it has stuck with its slogan: Come for the food, Stay for the music!

The bar is a nexus for original talent, not only on stage where live music plays 7 days a week, but also on staff, as most employees are performers themselves. The most special of these musical nights for me, and led to Félix and the Cats directly, is Stir It Up Sundays, the weekly open mic hosted by my band mate, Paul Brennan, and David MacMichael, who earned his place as an honourary Cat last night, subbing for NEMO on bass.

What distinguishes SIUS from many other jams I’ve been to, is the strong emphasis on original material. To my knowledge, this is unique in Toronto, where the typical open mic features many cover, blues jams and the like. Relish is different, and full credit go to Paul and David, and encouraged by Joanne for curating that development.

Stir It Up Sundays was instrumental (groan!) in encouraging me to write new songs. A complimentary remark from David and Paul about a new tune always made my week. So I kept writing and launching them, polished or half-baked, most every Sunday night. The support, and counsel, of all the musicians that attend the open mic also meant a lot.

Speaking of which, there are so many regular attendees of SIUS that need mentioning, and I hope you will make some time to come out to listen to them. Here are some of my recent favourites (apologies if I missed you…I will do this again for you too!).

David MacMichael: the co-host and an incredible songwriter. David fronts the Danger Bees, plays bass for a variety of bands, including Sam Taylor and the East End Love, and guitar for Jonathan Roy. His songs blend angst, humour and sensitivity over a sophisticated yet approachable musical base (yes, get them on iTunes).

Michael Cuddy: Michael’s lovely phrasings and haunting lyrics stick with you long after hearing. Sink or Swim and Motel Kalifornya are great examples, but he also shows his wry humorous side in Tweet.

Arch Rockefeller: I can imagine playing with Arch is a happy challenge. Great lyrics over sometimes unusual chordal and rhytmic changes show Arch’s virtuosity and imagination. Check out his material here.

Jace Traz: When Paul Brennan is away,  Jace fills in with David. In true renaissance style, Jace is a talented visual artist, a great drummer, also with the above mentioned Sam Taylor and the East end Love, and a clever and gifted songwriter, with such powerfully catchy songs as Pistachio Girl and Start to Cry. I never tire of hearing any of Jace’s songs. A Sunday night without Jace at Relish is incomplete.

Will Meadows: Will’s love of country music is obvious when he is performing traditional bluegrass tunes, singing and playing with taste and intricacy. Will is a superb multi-instrumentalist, and rises to any challenge as a solid and capable sideman.

Tyler Ellis: He makes it look so easy, as every line Tyler sings seems to fall naturally in place, and brings a smile with it. Here he is with Will Meadows on one of the SIUS shows.

Special guests: One never knows who will pop in to Stir It Up Sundays. Some nights, the regular gang is there, and other nights, surprising performers make their way to Relish, such as an all-bassoon group covering popular songs, or even visitors from far-away places like France or Arizona, just passing through. Once in a while, new talents discover SIUS and makes it a regular feature of their week, as it’s such a welcoming and supportive place to try out new ideas.

The long and short of it is this: whether you are a budding songwriter, a musician who wants to network or a fan of original music, there is no better place to go on a Sunday evening. Enjoy!



Show Me the Money

13000071_10153401901937063_3921564384737900050_nWhen I started to get back into this “music thing”, I decided I would do things differently from what was for me the traditional approach to paying the band. In the past, in all my bands, we would sit around at the end of the night waiting for the club to play the leader, who would in turn divvy up the proceeds to the rest of the group. This time around, I pay the musicians, and technicians if that is needed, before we hit the stage. It just seemed to make sense.

“Well, thanks, and goodbye!” is the usual joking reaction, especially when I first did it. It made me think, based on the reaction, how unusual this practice might be, at least in my own experience. Yet, it makes sense on so many levels.

First of all, as a singer/songwriter, especially with my name first in the band identity, it’s my reputation that’s out there and my responsibility to support it. My fellow musicians are my performing musical partners, but the financial risks are not theirs to share. That’s on me.

Second, why have others wait to be paid? Paying them up front is a tangible sign of confidence, makes them feel happy and allows then to leave at the end of the show as soon as convenient. And, it’s far less risky than keeping hundreds of dollars in one’s pocket all night.

In doing research for this blog, I found a great article by Ari Herstand in Digital Music News who says the same and more, and probably better than I have. I guess there a few original ideas, but many are worth repeating! It’s a great read, especially for other singer/songwriters.

Finally, a quick reminder that this Saturday, April 23 at Relish Bar and Grill is the possibly-annual Félix birthday show, starting at 9:30. We hope to see you there!



Homecoming Gig

Yes , Paul is there!

First, a note of thanks to all who came to the Billiards Academy show last Friday. Special shout out to fellow musicians Tim Cameron aka TC Folkpunk  and Carlos Morgan for your encouragement, to the staff at the Billiards Academy for a warm reception and to Johanne Britton and Chase Washington for making it possible (and the photo). These two run a first-class, professional show.

Coming soon, on Saturday, April 23, and I am back “home” at Relish for a birthday’s eve show, starting at 9:30. If it happens again next April, can we call it an annual event?

David McM
For this show, the awesomely talented David MacMichael will sit in with Paul Brennan and me, filling in on bass for the fabulous but unavoidably absent NEMO. David is a superb songwriter and a busy guy, fronting one of my favourite bands right now, the Danger Bees, as well as playing guitar for rising star Jonathan Roy. Thanks for doing this, David!

David and Paul are also the backbone of Stir It Up Sundays at Relish, the best open mic for original music in the city. I will always be grateful to them (and the restaurant) for the opportunity to come out of the writer-composer closet, and for their amazing ability to make everything I have played there sound good.

Owned and cheffed by Joanne Clayton, Relish is a unique venue in its genuine love of great food and music. As the band plays at 9:30, come earlier for a great chance to sample their tasty selection if tapas style dishes before the performance. The selection of beer is excellent as well.

Looking forward to seeing you all on the 23rd!


What Are Those Strange Guitars?

Every so often, I get asked about the guitars I play, or at least about some of them…

These two!

Tokai Talbo Blazing Fire

These guitars were designed and produced in Japan in the early ’80s on by the Tokai Gakki Company. I won’t go into the full history of this guitar, you can read more here.

The one on the right dates from 1982, while the one on the left is probably from the ’90s (no serial # on that one). Both are unusual in that the bodies are made of racing car engine grade aluminium, with chambers built in to reduce weight and increase resonance. The necks are standard maple with rosewood fingerboards. The name Talbo is an acronym for Tokay Aluminum Body. Many of the write-ups say the guitar was made popular by DEVO, and Tim Farris of INXS, but images in the wild are more elusive than for Nessie or Bigfoot.

My favourite detail is the headstock decal, which reads a syntactically awkward, “The New Legend Of The Guitar History.”

I love my Talbos for their great tone, easy playability and original look.

I hope to see you at the Billiards Academy on Friday, April 8 starting about 10. Also, check out my new Facebook avatar, courtesy of Powerpuff Yourself.