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April 18, 2016
Hawksley Workman and Art of Time Ensemble Team Up for
Bruce Cockburn Tribute Concert
by Sarah Murphy
spring, Andrew Burashko's Art of Time Ensemble will team with
Hawksley Workman to
present the work of one of Canada's most beloved songwriters — Bruce Cockburn.
The 10th concert in the "Songbook" series will run for two evenings on May 13
and 14 at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
The sets will hear Workman and Burashko's group of musicians performing original arrangements of Cockburn's most famous protest songs. Joining the lead vocals of Workman will be Phil Dwyer on saxophone, Rob Piltch on guitar, Erika Raum on violin, Amy Laing on cello and Burashko himself on piano.
New takes on "Call It Democracy," "Red Brother Red Sister," "It's Going Down Slow," "If a Tree Falls," "Burn," "Gavin's Woodpile" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" will all appear in the show, as will a rendition of Workman's recent Old Cheetah track "We're Not Broken Yet."
"I've loved Bruce Cockburn's music for a very long time and consider him one of my biggest influences," Workman said in a statement. "He is a master of the protest song, always keeping beauty and poetry front and centre. In a time where protest is stifled and muted, I thought it might be good to revisit his music."
Find ticketing information for the special two-night performance over here.
March 24, 2016
The Golden Star
Bill Usher Recalls Radio Production With Cockburn
by Joel Tansey
Long before he arrived in Golden and began to have an impact on what is now a bustling arts and culture scene, Bill Usher was a radio documentary producer and musician, with one of his proudest works coming in the form of a two-hour documentary titled On Tour with Bruce Cockburn.
Usher had worked with the Canadian folk icon on his 1976 release In the Falling Dark and toured across Canada with him on the subsequent tour. The idea to document the cross country tour with Cockburn seemed like a winner, and Usher took his idea to CBC, having produced documentaries for them previously.
“As soon as I knew that I had the gig…I basically went into one of the producers (at CBC) and said ‘I’m going out on the road with Cockburn for 12 weeks. I have this idea that I could do an on the road back stage documentary, are you interested?’,” he remembered.
The producer was interested, and Usher proceeded to round up all of the five inch reels of tape that he could before hitting the road for the tour.
Film and radio was a different animal back then. The days of digital recording were but a pipe dream, making production a lengthy, time-intensive process compared to contemporary standards.
“Back then we had a razor blade, cutting the tape. I’d sit there for two or three months with pieces of tape hanging all off the walls…you’d cut out all the good stuff and keep that and you’d start to put it together on a reel separated by white tape and you’d listen to it over and over again,” he said.
After splicing and editing reel upon reel of tape, Usher submitted his work to CBC and his documentary aired in September of 1977.
The doc remained mostly dormant in recent years. Usher kept a copy of the old reels in storage, but it wasn’t digitized and released online until earlier this year. When the Kicking Horse Culture Director gave it a listen this year, he was pleased to hear how it sounded nearly forty years after the fact.
“I’m really proud of it. It holds up,” Usher said.
One area that surprised Usher was how much his and the rest of the crew’s accents had changed over four decades.
“If you hear me talking now and you listen to the way we were all talking back then, our accents have changed,” he said.
There are several highlights for Usher throughout - one involving a grumpy tour manager during a show’s setup - but the most poignant commentary featuring Cockburn came during a one on one interview that Usher had with the famed musician at the tour’s conclusion.
“He was pretty loose by then. He’s a shy guy, he’s always been a shy guy,” Usher recalled.
“Shy folks like that that are out in that world of adulation, it’s really tough…I don’t know why it is but we went down this certain path around reconciling the adulation with the real person and that is the theme of the interview.”
On Tour with Bruce Cockburn, as well as a new introduction from Usher, is available for streaming at http://brucecockburn.org/circles_in_the_stream_tour_1977.html.
March 1, 2016
The Brock Press
Concert Review - St. Catharines, ON
by Adam Bradley Thompson
There’s nothing quite like a warm, intimate concert on a cold February night, especially in a beautiful setting like the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Center (FOPAC) in downtown St. Catharines. On February 24, the sold-out crowd of 782 people were treated to a spectacular show by humanitarian, 13 time Juno winner, and Order of Canada Officer, Bruce Cockburn.
Cockburn shuffled onstage to emphatic applause, while he flashed a smile and thanked the audience. Cockburn’s seemingly small presence on the large stage of the FOPAC was quickly enlarged with the first clear strum of his guitar. Jumping into a passionate version of “Rumours of Glory”, the sound of Cockburn’s strong voice and pristine guitar filled the room. The clear sounds floated by and then disappeared with no hint of feedback or echo. Cockburn’s skillful picking created elaborate patterns and rhythms that danced around the verses and themes of the songs. The first set was met with many of Cockburn’s hits including “Lover’s in a Dangerous Time” which according to the CBC was a positive message to his daughter and her generation, as well as the politically charged “Call It Democracy” where Cockburn pulled out a sleek black guitar and strummed a rocking version, bringing passionate cheers from the crowd. Other highlights from the first set included “World of Wonders”, the galloping instrumental “The End of All Rivers”, and the chugging blues number “Jesus Train” which ended the set and brought a break for, as Cockburn said, both himself and the Audience.
The second set was as immaculate as the first, transporting the audience to different places as he transferred from song to song. The most moving piece of the set titled “When it’s gone, it’s gone”, had no lyrics, but an instrumental story that featured the sound of waves roaring on a beach like a squadron of F-16s according to Cockburn’s song “Planet of the Clowns” which he transitioned into using the waves as a Segue. The atmospheric songs moved the audience to a small island off the coast of Morocco, on a beach, with nothing but the whole universe in the sky to look at, and together with Cockburn the meaning of the songs was discovered. The set continued with the massive sing-along that was “Wondering Where the Lions Are” as Cockburn’s jovial picking continued to fill the room. The set ended with a version of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”, the lyrics describing the horrible atrocities that occurred in Guatemala, Mexico and Central America in the 1980s are still relevant today and seemed to comment on the violence and politics of the time.
The end of the second set was greeted with hooting and hollering as the previously quiet audience had finally found their voice and appreciation for the Canadian Legend. The standing ovation was well deserved and Cockburn responded with a moving three song encore of “Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror” and “All The Diamonds in the World”, the latter featured a disco ball which made the room sparkle as if Cockburn’s song was coming to life. The final song of the night was a bluesy “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night”. After the show, Bruce came into the lobby and greeted a crowd of fans with a smile and a glass of red wine as he shared more stories and signed autographs. It was truly a special show and Bruce Cockburn continues to prove that even at 70, he is still a virtuoso on guitar and an example of vocal prowess. This Canadian icon’s show is surely not one to be missed.
February 22, 2016
The Globe and Mail
Musicians Bruce Cockburn and Hawksley Workman on artistic legacy
The title of Bruce Cockburn’s memoir, now out in paperback, is Rumours of Glory. Upon reading the book, it occurred to the Cockburn enthusiast and fellow Juno-winning musician Hawksley Workman that there was too much rumour and not enough glory affixed to the standing of Cockburn. The two artists spoke to each other recently by phone, about credit due, MTV and roads worth taking.
Hawksley Workman: The passing of David Bowie got me to thinking about artists who seem supremely aware of what they’re creating for themselves and their own self-mythologizing. My sense, Bruce, is that you weren’t ever really aware of the legacy you were creating. Is that fair to say?
Bruce Cockburn: It strikes me that legacy is a very ephemeral thing. I’ve had that word thrown at me, but I don’t know. I think it’s out of my hands.
Workman: But people like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, they nurtured or fostered an image of themselves that accompanied their art. I have trouble that you’re not included in the group of names we seem to culturally deify, and that it’s because their kind of self-mythologizing wasn’t part of your landscape. Do you feel that?
Cockburn: For me, it’s always been about the music and words. But under the surface, I recognize I have an ego like everybody else. I want to be noticed. In the beginning, I was defensive about that. I didn’t want to think in those terms, and I went to great lengths to avoid acquiring an image of any sort. But then I found that I had acquired an image of somebody who was trying not to have an image. So, I couldn’t beat that one. Once you put yourself in front of the public, an image is thrust upon you – by people’s response, by the media, by some sort of natural reaction to having somebody who is up on stage seem larger than life.
Workman: I hear all that. But your compulsion to do or to go or to be seems to eclipse that of somebody who might stroke their chin and think about what move might make them cool.
Cockburn: I’d be a liar if I denied being aware of how things might look to other people. But, again, it’s out of our own control. You can make choices, and people might see you as being cool or as a jerk. I got called names for supporting the Sandinistas. You can’t take that out of the picture, but, for me, it’s always been about curiosity more than anything else. I don’t see anything as a compulsion.
Workman: After reading your memoir, the thought that came to my mind was that I’m not working hard enough.
Cockburn: I’ve been curious and I’ve had opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of. In some cases I went around looking for the opportunity, like the first trip to Central America. I tried to make that happen, and had given up on it, before it actually did happen. Once I did that, I got invitations to all sorts of interesting places. And it seemed morally appropriate as well. I don’t feel I’ve ever been a crusader of any sort. But I feel it’s good to do what you can do.
Workman: You were putting political videos and songs on MTV. You were doing things that were as punk rock or as rebellious as you could at the time. Did you understand just how unreal it was?
Cockburn: Oh, I don’t know. Most of the credit I receive for anything I’ve done has had a lot to do with [long-time manager] Bernie Finkelstein. He’s the one who knows how to get out there and get people’s attention.
Workman: I just don’t feel it’s been recognized or celebrated that you were breaking all kinds of rules.
Cockburn: I suppose people could say there was a certain amount of strategizing that I didn’t do. But I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up. People would say, especially in the U.S., “Do you think this political involvement stuff is going to hurt your career?” For one thing, I don’t think of what I do as a career. It’s just what I do. And for another thing, it doesn’t appear to have hurt it, because the most quote-popular-unquote song of all, which was If I Had a Rocket Launcher, was almost the biggest hit. Mind you, I was totally shocked it got on the radio.
Workman: Do you feel that you’ve received all the credit you deserved?
Cockburn: I’ve done what I’ve done. I didn’t go to Central America looking for song material or anything else. I went there to see what the Nicaraguan revolution looked like up close. When I got there I found myself very deeply moved by the things I was encountering. That experience changed the direction of the next couple of decades for me. Invitations came up – invitations for adventure, to Nepal, for instance. And who’s going to say no?
Bruce Cockburn is touring Southern Ontario through Feb. 27 (brucecockburn.com/tour). Hawksley Workman, with the Art of Time Ensemble, plays the songs of Bruce Cockburn at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre May 13 and 14 (harbourfrontcentre.com).
The Vancouver Sun
Al Purdy Was Here
Jan. 28 & 31, Feb. 3 at Cinematheque
Tickets and info: thecinematheque.ca
Who remembers Al Purdy? The poet, regarded by those in the know as one of Canada’s finest, has largely been forgotten by the general populace. Produced, directed and co-written (with Marni Jackson) by Brian D. Johnson, the former film critic for Maclean’s, Al Purdy Was Here offers a refresher course in the Ontario-born writer’s work, as well as bringing insight into his personal life and his influence on other poets and artists. (Purdy died in North Saanich, B.C., in 2000 aged 81.) The documentary includes performances and/or appearances by such literary luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Joseph Boyden and George Bowering, as well as music from the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and singer/songwriters Sarah Harmer and Bruce Cockburn. The film debuted at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, where it finished third in audience voting for the documentary category.
Q: One of the most impressive moments in the documentary is Sarah Harmer performing her song Just Get Here.
A: Doing the music was the most exciting thing for me. I have spent time as a full-time musician on the road in the late seventies, early eighties. Music’s always been important to me. The great thing with Purdy is, it’s not my name that drew in these talents, really. It helped to have connections. But it was Al Purdy’s name that let me go to somebody like Sarah Harmer and say, “Would you like to write a song for The Al Purdy Songbook,” which is the album we were producing in tandem with the film, and for the film. And then months pass. And then we drove out to her farmhouse, and she basically performed it for the first time on her piano. That was the first time I’d heard it, and we shot the performance. You don’t get to see that kind of thing very often, you don’t get to see people recording live off the floor. We did the same thing with Bruce Cockburn. That song (3 Al Purdys), again, just blew me away. It’s one of those classic Bruce Cockburn songs, sort of overstuffed with lyrics. He’s the only singer-songwriter we approached who seemed to try to embody Purdy’s persona.
Q: Another impressive moment is when we hear Leonard Cohen.
A: It’s kind of the piece de resistance. It’s an amazing reading of what is really my favourite Al Purdy poem, Necropsy of Love, which is about sex and death. Which is right in Leonard’s wheelhouse. I didn’t send him that poem right away. I sent him a much more canonical poem, The Country North of Belleville, to read, thinking that would be historic. Leonard sent me back a message saying that he didn’t quite understand the poem, and he couldn’t pronounce all of these Scottish names. He said, “Maybe if you sent me a recording of Al reading it, I could figure out how to pronounce the names.” And I wrote him back and said, “Leonard, if the poem doesn’t speak to you I’m not going to ask you to read it.” I said, “I’ll find something else.” The reason I didn’t send him Necropsy of Love in the first place was I thought it was a little too close to home. I though it sounded exactly like a Leonard Cohen poem. But sometimes the obvious thing is the best thing. And he responded, “Yeah, I think I can take a crack at this.”
Q: For someone just learning about Al Purdy, there are a lot of layers in the documentary. People are going to come away with different aspects of the story in their heads.
A: That was the biggest problem in making it, is that we had more than one story to tell. Ideally, you want one story. This was a bit of a balancing act. I started out wanting to tell the story of the A-frame’s restoration (part of the doc is about the restoration of the house Purdy and his wife Eurithe built on the shores of Roblin Lake, Ontario) and artists young and old who were drawn to Purdy. It was going to be more of a celebration of Purdy through contemporary poetry and music. But the deeper we got into it the more we realized, well, Al’s story has not really been properly told. The documentaries that exist are all done with people interviewing Al Purdy. His version of his own life is very selective. So the element of biography got much bigger. At the same time I didn’t want to just make a biographical film. At one point Sam Solecki, who was his editor, says in the film, “Well, there are many Al Purdys.” And I did feel we were dealing with a subject that couldn’t have a simple, easy focus.
Q: One of the neat things about the doc is how it quotes Al Purdy’s statue’s Twitter account ( People love the statue. I think the statue is the most popular thing in the film. It happened by a real quirk of circumstance. I didn’t know about the statue. I was interviewing Margaret Atwood for the film and she said, “Oh, did you know that the Al Purdy statue in Queen’s Park has a Twitter feed? We don’t know who it is, but he comments on what’s happening that day.” That same day I interviewed Atwood, that night I went to the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards gala and this guy comes up to me and says, “You’ve got to introduce me to Margaret Atwood.” I said, “Why?” There were reasons why. And then he blurted out, “I’m the voice of the statue of Al Purdy. The Twitter voice.” Well I’d just heard about this thing that day, and here’s this mysterious figure tapping me on the shoulder at the poetry awards saying he’s the voice of the statue. And I thought, “This is weird. And interesting.” And it occurred to me that making the statue a part of the film would be a cool interstitial device. It’s so ethereal and otherworldly. Some people thought that we’d made it up. I picked the tweets from years of tweets that the statue actually tweeted. What’s interesting is that it’s not as if he’s tweeting from the POV of Al Purdy, it’s tweeting from the POV of the statue. Whatever the statue sees that day is what gets tweeted by the mysterious voice of the statue. I’m not going to give away his identity. It’s actually somebody I knew. And I remember he told me, “I’m not that crazy about Al Purdy. I just love the statue.”
Photo: Al Purdy at Robin Lake, 1968
January 21, 2016
Cockburn performs at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage
by Lois Ann Baker
The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage has brought the area some pretty big names and some fantastic talent, but none more so than their headliner on Feb. 21 when Bruce Cockburn will be gracing the stage.
"I would say that this is the single biggest show we have done at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage," said Sandra Whitworth, SLAS board member. "And I say that even though we've brought in artists like Serena Ryder, Garnet Rogers and Shane Kayczan. But Bruce is so widely known as Canadian music royalty. We are hugely excited to have him in."
The concert is already sold out and audiences are sure to be pleased with what Cockburn will be offering.
"There's a few new songs," said Cockburn in a phone interview. "My hope is to get an album together this year sometime, towards the end of the year. The show will be a cross-section, which is typical of me." Cockburn said when there is a new album already out, there is a lot of emphasis on it during a show, but that is not the case this time.
"So there will be some new material, some brand new stuff people haven't heard," he said. "Otherwise it will be a cross-section of whatever. There are always a few of the ones that I feel like people pay the money to hear. Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Wondering Where the Lions Are, stuff like that tends to be in every show because people want that stuff. At least they appear to."
Cockburn said he isn't quite sure what he is going to do at the concert just yet, but if anyone has seen him in concert the past couple of years it will be similar.
"It's a solo show," he said. "That defines certain parameters of what happens."
Cockburn said his daughter requested he include a song from the 1970s, Free To Be, "which I haven't performed in at least 40 years," he said. "Whether I will get that together or not I don't know yet, but I am under some pressure to do so."
When asked if his music has changed at all through his career, he said he prefers to think of it as growth or development.
"I think it's (still) recognizable," he said. "If you put my last album and my first album back-to-back, you would hear it is the same guy. But there are a lot of other elements I have acquired, a certain amount of guitar techniques that I have acquired over the years. There has been change and what I am doing right now, especially in a solo context, is going to sound more like the stuff from the early 1970s than the stuff I did in the 1980s."
Cockburn said people familiar with his work with bands in songs like Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Tokyo, If I Had a Rocket Launcher and others that were on the radio, will see a difference in his show.
"It kind of depends on what people are expecting," he said.
Cockburn said he draws inspiration for his music from "life, the universe and everything."
"The songs spring from an emotional response to a situation that I am confronted by," he said. "It might be a situation in my own life or it might be a situation in the life of someone who is close to me or whose company I find myself in. It might just be something kind of geographical. But it all starts with this emotional response and then I think where does it go from here."
Cockburn said with a song like If I Had a Rocket Launcher, it was specific to a place and time. Most of his other music can be applied to any place and time and they wouldn't seem out of place.
Whitworth said everyone on the SLAS board has seen Cockburn perform at different points throughout his career in both large festival settings and more intimate venues.
"Of course his songs are so widely known, but when I saw him two or three years ago in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall, it was the guitar playing that gave me chills," said Wentworth. "He is such a masterful guitarist."
Whitworth said the concert has been four years in the making, but schedules never seemed to line up until now.
"In the end it seems particularly fitting that we were able to include him in our series this year, after we made the move to the new venue at the Upper Canada Playhouse," she said.
Cockburn said it is his first trip to Morrisburg and he is looking forward to it.
"I hope people will be pleased," he said. "And perhaps they will be a little surprised or maybe they won't. But I think we will have a good time and I am looking forward to that."