I haven’t played a solo show in quite a while, so today’s show at Might & Main Café was pleasant, rewarding and more intimidating than I expected. Overall, it went well with flubs well-disguised and a forgiving audience—thanks!
Thanks to Phillip Vonesh and the staff for the opportunity to stretch outside my comfort zone.
The studio just got a major monitor upgrade, going from the solidly serviceable Yorkville YSM-5s to beefier and crisper Yamaha HS8s. Of course, now I have to remix everything accordingly! So that’s where I’ll be up to for the next long while I think.
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, here are more musings and reports from Winterfolk XVII.
On my first evening there (the Saturday), I worked the second floor as stage tech. I was very happy to do so as one of the featured acts was Chloé Watkinson, of whom I have written about a few times already here and here. I have been a fan since seeing her with Park Eddy, introduced to me by Alan Zemaitis, her keyboardist, who also played with me at the very first Félix & the Cats show for a great birthday bash a few years back.
Chloé is a remarkable singer and performer and I was thrilled to help out, and even do a little “maintenance mixing” (don’t touch the EQs!). One of the standout tunes she played that evening is a Max Webster song, Let Go the Line, written and sung on the original release by her dad, Terry.
Here it is:
There must be a Max Webster vibe in the air as there is a also a recent reissue of another MW song, Diamonds Diamonds featuring the Barenaked Ladies collaborating with Kim Mitchell.
I brought me back to the years Mrs. Félix & the Cats and I lived on Pembroke Street and I could dash across Allan Gardens to catch a Max Webster show at Larry’s Hideaway. It’s good to see that remarkable part of Canadian music history receive deserved recognition.
After weeks of work, the isolation room is essentially done.
Here are a few pictures to illustrate.
From top left: the “sauna” with main wall closed—padded door is on the right; the same with front wall open (this is for accessing the mics and drums easily from the front side—it’s pretty tight in there—and moving gear in and out easily; view from the front with wall open; view through the regular door. Bottom row: overhead paired mics in XY pattern—I had previously used the ORTF method but clip limitations make that challenging; cable conduit and sound maze vent for air—drummers with a good oxygen supply keep better time. Bottom right: the drummer’s perspective.
I’ve also added extra cabling so the room can double as a vocal booth or iso booth for amplifiers on overdubs.
Further tests will have to confirm whether it has reduced the outside levels as much as hoped for, but a quick check gives hope that it has gone from unbearable to somewhat annoying, at the very least.
While I haven’t stopped playing entirely (a few open mics here and there), it has been rather quiet on the performance front lately. That is about to change as the Cats are back at Relish very soon on Saturday March 2 from 9:30 to 11:30. Please put THAT on your calendars, why doncha!
This weekend, I will be volunteering at Winterfolk XVII, an annual music festival held in 3 clubs near Danforth and Broadview. You can find me at the Black Swan running cables and setting up mics on Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday evening MC’ing on the 3rd floor at the same venue. Should be a fun gig. More info including the full lineup of artists and ticket prices at the Winterfolk site here!
No, the title is not a setup to a joke. While picking up an accessory this past week at the Long and McQuade Pro location, an nice man overheard me asking the staff about purchasing the Sennheiser MK4 I am currently renting. Turns out Dave Dysart represents an intriguingly clever microphone line from a company called Townsend Labs out of California. He gave me a run down on the mic and related software and how it functions. There is a great review of it at the Sound On Sound site, and after the talk and the read, the Townsend Lab Sphere L22 is definitely on my wish list for the ManCave Studio.
After chatting about mics for a while, other tangential discussions revealed that we knew quite a few people in common, which I won’t name drop at this time. It also interestingly turned out Dave plays with the band UIC, a punk and garage rock band from Exeter, Ontario, formed in June 1982.
The band played locally, then made the move to Toronto in 1984. They found acclaim in the city’s indie scene, playing with other garage faves like The Gruesomes, and Deja Voodoo, and opening for acts like Teenage Head, The Dead Milkmen and The Goo Goo Dolls. U.I.C.’s first recording, Our Garage, was released in 1986. Followed a number of cross-Canada tours and a second album Live Like Ninety, featuring a live set at Lee’s Palace late in 1988. After a number of personal changes, the band broke up in 1995, only to recently reform with Dave now taking up guitar duties and Andy Hauberplaying bass. Band biography here. Take a look/listen to this recording of the band live! UIC are playing The Horseshoe Tavern on March 23, 2019.
And speaking of live, Félix & the Cats will be playing its first 2019 show at the Linsmore Tavern on Tuesday January 22, with the gritty and real Ryan Schmidt opening and a cool new band (to me) called Level Ground (formerly known as Shank Street Social) headlining. Much more on these fine performers in next week’s blog.
It’s been a harrowing week for a lot of reasons, so it came an uplifting change to go to the movies last night to catch Bohemian Rhapsody. The film is not perfect (plenty of anachronisms and factual inaccuracies if IMDB is to be believed) but definitely good show and the performances are excellent, particularly capturing the band’s physical presence on stage. It also inspired this week’s theme.
Just recently, a film has been released that documents Jessica’s search for a childhood friend when she lived in Japan. Produced by Loud Roar Productions in conjunction with CBC Docs, Finding Fukue is a beautifully realized and inspiring 20-minute film that celebrates how true friendship can bridge both distance and time. Jessica is featured of course, but so is her music in the doc’s soundtrack. I have embedded Finding Fukue below and encourage you to watch.
Thanks for watching!
Jessica Stuart will next be performing at the Dakota Tavern for a series called ‘Therapy’ (usually the first Thursday of the month), but this time on Wednesday, December 5, featuring The Jessica Stuart Few (including koto), with Moves and Montréal group Gabi Tomé.
m.e. law has shows scheduled for early 2019, which I hope to update you with as details are confirmed.
Tyler Ellis is performing with his band the Eddy Line and special guests on Saturday, December 8, 2018 at Dora Keogh.
All are well worth catching, Maybe I’ll see you there. Be well!
Some cover bands approach the material and attempt to play it as closely as possible to the original. This is fine. The LH prefer to select crowd-pleasing songs, and deliver their essence, dotted occasionally with mash-ups for interest, and inject their own feel into them. An example would be the way they cover Sixpence None the Richer‘s Kiss Me, taking a great catchy jangly-guitar pop song and rocking it further up with a grittier and punchier approach. It’s also a great showcase for Omar Saab’s vocals, as this is originally a song performed by female vocalist Leigh Nash.
FatC was there in full force to celebrate the 100th show, and watch the band perform to packed house, which included a video and audio recording crew.
For a sample of the Lonely Hearts sounds, check out the promo reel below. The audience reactions are genuine, and if anything, the live shows I’ve attended are even more energetic.
On our way back to the east end after leaving the Nightowl show, FatC drummer Chris Bender and I stopped in briefly to catch the end of the always excellent Friday Night Blues Jam, hosted by Mike Sedgwick and Robin Hutchison at the Salty Dog. Regrettably, I missed the feature set by the very talented Sam Taylor, aka Little Magic Sam, but we had a chance to connect and talk a bit. Once my day job commitment end (6:15 rise + one hour commute to work is not fun), I may be able to get out there and catch more of Sam’s shows.
Just a reminder we have a few shows coming up in December, plus freshly confirmed shows in the new year at the Linsmore and Relish. Please check the sidebar, subscribe to this site and be on the lookout on social media for event announcements!
As I’ve already alluded to, the studio has become an important pursuit for me.
Starting off, I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish, beyond recording my own songs. While at this point I don’t pretend to be delivering fully radio-ready recordings, I hope I have set the bar high enough to deliver reasonably well produced songs that can act as quality demos for securing gigs, or helping singer-songwriters realize a full vision of their compositions.
Gary Edward Allen is a singer songwriter hailing from Vancouver now living in Toronto but born and raised in Ottawa. He plays an interesting mesh of acoustic styles ranging from Neo-classical to psychedelic freak folk. Rooted in classic 70’s rock and 90’s alternative, but with modern sensibilities, Gary takes you on a journey every time. His songs are online and readily available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and ReverbNation. He performs and co-hosts at a weekly open mic with Amber Durette at Legends on Danforth every Thursday night. (show #6 – Tuesday, November 28, 2017 / show #36 – July 17, 2018)
Gary and I have known each other for a few years now, first meeting at the Linsmore, then when I have performed at the Thursday Night Open Mic at Legends, which he co-hosts with Amber Durette. Gary kindly agreed to let me take a stab at producing a song for him. He came in well-prepared, and the song is very close to what I think he had in mind from the get-go, with the addition of an intro and the suggestion to hold the long vocal note just leading into the outro. Gary plays all the instruments save the drums which are from the built-in software in Logic Pro X, and which I tried to program as best I could. Still learning…
Acoustic guitar 1 through AKG D202 panned hard left
Acoustic guitar 1 through Rode NT-1A panned hard right
Acoustic guitar 1 direct centred
Acoustic guitar 2 (after bridge/outro fills) through AKG D202 panned hard left
Acoustic guitar 2 (after bridge/outro fills) through Rode NT-1A panned hard right
The recording is still rough, and given more time and more experience on my part, I’m certain we could tighten it up technically. Nevertheless, we are both reasonably happy with the result as it accomplishes what we had hoped, which was to flesh out what Gary had in mind and establish the right feel for it.
The Cats have finally been herded and we have begun laying down beds for our forthcoming album?/EP?, tbd. It is such a joy to work with Chris and Neil as they are creative and professional in every way. Thanks guys!
Photos courtesy Chris Bender
Photos courtesy Chris Bender
Photos courtesy Chris Bender
Gig Alert -Change
This coming Saturday’s previously announced show the at the lovely Dock On Queen (Queen East between Logan and Carlaw) is postponed to a date to be determined.
This week culminated in a lovely and intimate show at the Dock on Queen.
First though, back on Monday, I hosted a recording session with John Mahler, who graciously cut me loose to do the producer thing on one of his newest songs, I Won’t Tell You. We still have some vocals to add and final mixing, but I hope to have something cool for you to listen to by the end of August.
Wednesday was a hybrid musico-political evening at Stephenson Park for a Danforth Village BIA sponsored show by the fabulous Soul Maître Ds, who played all my favourites from their catalog, and some great covers (who else plays Squeeze‘s Black Coffee in Bed). Thanks to some matchmaking by good friend Lorie Fairburn, I also had a chance to do some lobbying with aspirant city councillor Brad Bradford, who kindly listened on as I ranted about the well-intentioned but ultimately misguided and ineffective Music City (TMAC) initiative, a subject I have broached here once or twice already! I’m not expecting anything from it, although he did kindly ask for the report I had written for the city back in February, but I am prepared to be proven wrong.
The week wrapped up with a fun and intimate show at the cozy aforementioned Dock on Queen, where some good friends made it over despite a lot of competitive things to do that evening—thank you! We may be back but this time for a full-on electric show.
Our next appearance is Saturday, September 8 at home-away-from-home Relish on the Danforth.
Last Friday, the band performed an “unplugged-ish” show at the cozy and very music-friendly Dock on Queen. Thanks to the fabulously talented Mimi O’Bonsawin for booking us! One huge benefit of the venue is the early start and finish, which we hope would attract more fans that prefer an earlier night. Doing it with acoustic guitar gives the music a somewhat different feel and highlights the vocals, such as mine may be, and lets the audience make out the lyrics much more clearly.
I want to particularly thank Lorie Fairburn, Henry Lees and Fraz Milne for their ongoing support. It means a lot to us! Also thanks to the gentleman who sat right in front of the band and listened very attentively all night. In my business to pack up, I neglected to get his name (sorry!). Maybe the staff at the Dock could pass it on and I can update this post later.
This weekend is a busy one for recording demos at ManCave Studio. Yesterday, Leanna Yamada and I spent the afternoon avoiding that brutal sun and warm weather and worked on her songs. Today, Gary Edward Allen is in for his songs. It’s great experience. Thanks to both for letting me do this.
This Week at The ABC Songwriters’ Circle
This week is a themed night, in a six-degrees-of-separation kinda way, except that it’s just one, as all roads lead to NeMo . The later is not the Pixar fish, but rather Neil Morris, bassist for the Arsenals and Félix & the Cats, who will be making his songwriting debut. He will be joined by his son and my nephew, Julian Battersby Morris, former bandmate Frank Wilks and me (nepostism, schmepostism!). These people are fine songwriters, and you are in for a good evening of song and chat. Check out their bios on the songcircle page.
That’s it for this week, so please do come down to the ABC Songwriters’ Circle. The patio is now open!
One of the fascinating topics of discussion that came from last week’s ABC Songwriters’ Circle was that of the seeming proliferation of open mics in the GTA — thanks, Kayt Lucas for bringing it up. I admit to having conflicting thoughts on the subject.
On the one hand, open mics were instrumental (yes, groan!) in getting me re-invested in music. Not a must had I chosen to stick to cover material—I’ve started bands and gotten gigs without that—but certainly made playing originals in front of a friendly audience far more reachable. It also hugely expanded my network of musical friends and acquaintances, particularly when I started attending not just to perform, but also to recruit acts for the songcircle. All said, very beneficial from those points of view.
The flip side is that open mics don’t typically pay for the performers, expect for the hosts, and continue to reinforce the notion that music is a free commodity. I have written about that extensively, as have others, so I won’t revisit the arguments. In those situations, the performers’ only satisfaction is in the opportunity to play. Given the large number of talented players and the dearth of venues, this can create very strong feelings with some performers as they sit and wait for their turn, albeit enjoying others on stage. Through alcohol and unrealistic expectations into the mix, and it’s a volatile situation, as was recently witnessed at a local blues jam, hosted by superb blues guitarist Mike Sedgewick.
So what can be done about it? In the short term, limiting the number of open mics to encourage paying gigs sounds good on paper but simply won’t work. Right now, it’s a buyer’s market, so the terms are set by the venues and hosts. There is zero appetite for that, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Curating the open mics is already done as well as can be expected. It’s a huge responsibility for the hosts to manage the sometimes dozens of performers who wish to play, without bruising egos, respecting the artist’s talent and commitment, and being conscious of time constraints.
I admit to having come back from open mics disappointed with the way things went, but in almost every case, it’s because my expectations and the reality of the show were out of sync. So below are some constructive suggestions for both hosts and players, some coming from my own mistakes. I hope they will look at then in the spirit of kindness and support they are intended. After all, many of these suggestions are gleaned from their own social media posts.
For hosts, manage expectations by being transparent about how the show is run.
Every performer should be informed ahead of time of the song/time limit they have, preferably on the promo material on social media, not just when they sign up;
Publish a basic list of available backline gear (i.e., drums, 1 x bass amp, 2 x guitar amps, keyboard), and whether bringing extra personal gear is okay;
Create flow rules and stick to them. If it’s first come, first served, don’t have your best mate jump the queue;
Avoid as much as possible matching up performers who don’t know each other; that can sometimes work, but if it doesn’t, guess who’s blamed;
Monitor the acts and keep them on pace;
Try to be equitable in the long run, meaning that if you curate the order, rather than FCFS, if an act played late in a past show, try to put them early.
For performers ( I include myself), be aware of the context of the show and the common courtesies expected.
Check out the show before signing up. It may not be a good fit for your style/genre;
Read anything posted about the open mic so you know how the show is run. If nothing is online, ask friends who have done the show or contact the host directly beforehand. Preconceptions may result in disappointment;
Be aware of the distinction between a jam and an open mic. The terms are often interchanged but there is a difference, and sometimes a crossover;
Come prepared to have fun. It’s not a showcase;
Tune before hitting the stage;
Don’t fiddle with the PA or complain about the sound, at least on stage. You can and should politely advise the host after your set if it benefits others though;
Don’t bring too much gear (I have to remind myself of this…); however, an extra cable, battery, pick never hurts;
Originals are great, but not for some open mics. Know this;
If originals are acceptable, bring charts if you want the rhythm section to sit in;
Ask the host when you can expect to play. It’s not rude to do so, and if the time is too late for you, bow out gracefully, and try again another time showing up earlier to sign up. If you keep being pushed to the end, this open mic is not for you;
Listen to the other acts courteously if you expect the same in return;
Always thank the hosts after you’ve played; link to your social media as you both benefit.
I’m sure there’s more so please send me any further ideas and I can include them in a sidebar or special page down the line.
This Friday, Dock on Queen
The band will be performing a special “unplugged” show at a new venue for us, the Dock on Queen this coming Friday, May 4th from 8 – 10 PM. We have been working hard on reformatting the songs for acoustic, so this promises to be an extra special performance. We are very excited about the changes it makes to the sound and invite everyone to come check this out, and the beautiful surroundings of this licensed café.
This Week at The ABC Songwriters’ Circle
Last week, the songcircle was on my birthday and I am hugely grateful to my guests for inspiring songs: guests Frank Patrick especially considering how sleep deprived he would be the next day for an early start at work, Kayt Lucas who provided so much inspiration for the discussions and K Lee Wilde who brought out a fun and attentive group of friends. Nice hat too! Thanks to family and friends who continuously support this ongoing adventure and a tip of my hat to the exotic dancer who made my birthday an event to keenly remember. You HAD to be there!
This week for show #25, I welcome singer and songwriter Amber Durette accompanied by guitar whiz kid Alex Matthew, energetic pop/rock act FourOneSix’s front man Brent Lunney, and roots/Abénakis/French-Canadian influenced performer Mimi O’Bonsawin.
Songwriters! Now Booking for July! If you want to be part of this, email me at ABCsongcircle@icloud.com for more information. Please include an artistic biography and links to demos or performances online.
I hope you will make it down for this excellent group of artists. Good food, drink and music await and no cover!