This is a link to my coverage of the annual CMJ Music Festival at the sister blog to this one, Honourary Canadian. The post, Three Fun Showcases for Great Canadian Acts at NYC’s CMJ Music Festival, includes lots of pictures like the one of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan at the top of this post, and a video of the band Kandle, from Montreal.
Said the Whale, a power-pop 5-piece from Vancouver, BC, was in town last week and they put on a great show on the Lower East Side at Mercury Lounge. Here’s a pic of Tyler Bancroft and Ben Worcester–songwriters, lead singers and guitarists in the band. For my full post on the show, please read it at my new blog Honourary Canadian. The second pic is of me with Ben, taken by my gig buddy Steve Conte.
Along with The Great Gray Bridge, which is designed and built* upon a WordPress theme, I maintain a blog–currently on tumblr–where I share briefly written posts with photos and quick hits. It’s often handy when I’m traveling or running around town, away from my desk.** That site was formerly named after this blog, but I’m officially refocusing it–its emphasis will now be on Canadian content and covering Canadian issues. I’m renaming it Hono(u)rary Canadian, in a bid for transnational wit. I make no singular claim to that title, for I know that Canada draws interest and affection from many in the US. I use it though, as kindly Canadians have said it about me, and because I do cherish a near-lifelong deep and personal connection with Canada. In fact, from the time I began The Great Gray in October 2011, Canada has played an important role in my coverage, constituting roughly 20-30% of my writing, links, and sharing. I’ve connected with many Canadian readers over the past two years, and have found there many Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I’m hoping to connect with even more Canadian readers with the newly named site, and more deeply.
Given my interest in Canadian literature, authors, indie music, geography, and politics–and the enjoyment I find in writing about them, this is a natural extension for me. I also plan to write about Canada’s next federal election, which will take place no later than 2015. I’ll also be sharing photos from my many years of travel in Canada, beginning with the image that I’ve chosen as the signature visual for the site. It shows the monumental Roche Percé or ‘pierced rock’ on the Gaspé Peninsula in the most eastern portion of Quebec. I visited the region on a solo vacation in the autumn of 1988. The mighty rock juts in to the Atlantic Ocean with its massive pointed prow facing toward shore. It is a wonder of the world, no kidding. A visitor can only get near it at low tide, as I did on one lucky occasion. I remember spending about 3 hours scampering in and out of the surf and trying to get as close as possible to the pierced opening, with the huge bulk of it towering at least a hundred feet above me. The image at the bottom of the post is a ‘selfie’ I took the same day, long before that term was in the vernacular. It’s a place I hope to see again someday, next time with my family.
I invite you to visit Hono(u)rary Canadian in the days, weeks, and months to come. I’ll post on both sites, share often between them, and do lots of cross-linking. My interest in reading, book culture, live music, city life, media, and current events, and my writing about them–covering New York City, the US, and Canada–is growing so that I need the two sites. Thanks for reading me at one or both of them.
* My excellent designer, who adapted the WordPress theme I chose for this site, is Harry Candelario, who when I first met him was known as the Mac Doctor, for his work on Apple products. I frequently suggest him to people when they ask me to recommend a web designer. I should add he also offers helpful advice about WordPress, various Web platforms, SEO, and generally helps to increases one’s Web savvy.
** Though I may soon convert it from tumblr to WordPress.
#FridayReads, Sept. 6–The many books of Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, which I have had the pleasure of reading and enjoying over the past 30 years.
August 28, 2013, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robertson Davies, the great Canadian novelist and all around man of letters. The Canadian postal service is marking the anniversary by issuing the stamp below. When I ran Undercover Books in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened in 1978, we introduced thousands of U.S. readers to books by Canadian authors, particularly including Davies.* We were doing so much business in his books at one point in the early ’80s that I wrote Davies a letter c/o of his publisher Viking Penguin to let him know. He responded from ivied Massey College in Toronto, where he was a Don of Letters, and a pleasant correspondence between us ensued over a couple of years. Later, organizers of a writing conference at Case Western Reserve University asked me to invite Davies to a big meeting of theirs, but he declined, explaining he was averse to travel. The organizers asked me if I would instead speak on the combined experience of reading and selling Davies’ books, an invitation I accepted. In my files somewhere is a transcript of the talk I gave and the letters I exchanged with Davies. I will dig them out someday soon and scan them for this site and my newly renamed tumblr, Hono(u)rary Canadian, where I’ve also covered the new Davies stamp.
If you haven’t yet read Davies’ work, I still recommend his books highly. Most readers start with his Deptford Trilogy, and its opening book, Fifth Business, which was first published in 1970, followed in the trilogy by The Manticore and World of Wonders. Their motifs are indelible painted in my mind, though I haven’t re-read the books in more than 20 years: saints, snowballs, magicians, and freakish beauty. His earlier books–Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties–collectively known as the Salterton Trilogy, are also very enjoyable. His first break-out book, as a hardcover bestseller, was Rebel Angels, thanks in good part to the enlarged audience that my store, and other indie booksellers, brought to his books.
I’m really glad Robertson Davies is being remembered with this special stamp, which was announced at the Canada Post website and covered at Quill & Quire magazine. Below the stamp are photos of my copies of Davies’ books. Please click here to see all photos.
* In a page on this website devoted to my career, Philip Turner–Professional Background, under the heading “Hono(u)rary Canadian” I present more info on Canadian authors I’ve worked with:
As a native of the Great Lakes region, I have a keen affinity for Canadian books and authors, seeing the book world of the U.S.’s upper Midwest and Canada’s southern tier (and one might argue, the whole of the Pacific Northwest) as contiguous literary cultures. As an Ohio bookseller, I introduced thousands of U.S. readers to such Canadian authors as Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findley Farley Mowat, and Pierre Berton. As an editor and publisher, I broadened that effort, publishing U.S. editions of books by Atwood, Richler, Mowat, Berton, and Dallaire, as well as Paul Quarrington, Antonine Maillet, Ken McGoogan, Julian Sher, William Marsden, Elaine Dewar, Bonnie Buxton, Howard Engel, Joan Barfoot, George Eliot Clarke, Steven Galloway, Stephen Strauss, Joel Hynes, Paul Anderson, Sheila Munro, and Jan Lars Jensen, among others.
Readers of this blog may recall I was in Toronto last month for the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival. It was the third year in a row I’d attended, and the second year I’ve gone officially as press, for which I thank festival organizers who granted me accreditation so I could provide my perspective as an NYC-based blogger, reporting on an extravaganza where upwards of 1000 bands play at more than 55 different venues over 4 nights stretching all over the city. NXNE just had its fourteenth year, and they really know their game. Without a doubt, this was the most fun, productive, and musically rewarding NXNE yet for me. By my personal count I heard 35+ live acts over the four days and nights. This shows how futile it is to comprehensively cover the festival; still, thousands of music fans, musicians, and music writers have a great time trying.
I tweeted hundreds of times and published three full posts while in Toronto from June 12-17, and have put up three more posts since returning to NYC, now including this write-up.* I’m glad to be able to continue my coverage with this report on the last day’s bunch of bands I heard and lots of pictures.
On Saturday morning I met friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef for breakfast at the popular Lakeside Diner, near Ossington and Dundas. Michael and Margot are longtime sales representatives for many fine independent publishers. We had a nice time catching up and then Michael offered to me drop me back near my hotel. After a quick pit stop there I headed out again to have a beverage at a cafe called the Tampered Press with Toronto friend Patti Henderson, whom I had met in 2012 at Book Camp, an ad hoc publishing conference. Another publishing vet, Patti is also a marvelous photographer who assembles the excellent blog, Vagabond Photography. When Patti and I split up I walked over to nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park where the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic hosted by Grant Lawrence was slated to begin around noon, an event I covered earlier with this post: Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic.
After enjoying all the conviviality at the picnic, where nearly 100 Canadian indie music fans met up, I headed back downtown via streetcar and on foot so I could hear Sarah Harmer play a live outdoor show at David Pecaut Square as part of the Luminato Festival, a Toronto celebration of the arts taking in music, literature, and film that overlaps with NXNE. Harmer played such familiar songs of hers as “Captive” and “One Match” and I left the outdoor performance space very happy. Taking advantage of the Alexandra Hotel’s central location, as I had been able to do all week, I went back to my room for a cup of tea and a refreshing nap before my final night of music at NXNE (the view I had from my comfortable room, through the window that slid open, is shown at the top of this post).
The first club I visited that evening was Czehoski on Queen Street West, to hear a Chicago solo artist who plays under the provocative name of Briar Rabbit. A tall African-American singer/songwriter, he writes and plays music that examines race and historical perceptions of color. At one point, he told the audience that he’d made a study of American minstrelsy and the tradition of actors singing in black face make-up, next playing a song, “I Feel Invisible,” and then one called “Coon.” Briar Rabbit will be in NYC soon, with a show August 10 at the Living Room and August 13 at Rockwood Music Hall and I plan to hear him again at one of those venues.
My next show was quite a ways across town at Danforth Hall on the east side of Toronto, to hear Dinosaur Bones and the headliner, Wintersleep. Using streetcar and subway, I reached the converted movie theater just as Dinosaur Bones hit the stage. A 5-piece, their set built up a heavy melange of crashing guitars, keys, and drums that always stayed on the bright side of tuneful, with my fave song of theirs being a memorable one called “Ice Hotels,” which you can listen to along with other songs by them at their CBC Radio 3 artist page. Montreal’s Hour magazine describes their music as “packed with feeling. . .whose delicate darkness almost belies its pop sensibility.”
Next up, Wintersleep, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who played a terrific show. The sound in the hall was outstanding, full and rich, not too loud, with every instrument of their five pieces clear and distinctly audible. Lead singer Paul Murphy was in good form, as the set list ranged across their ample catalog of great songs. The band has been around ten years, releasing five albums since 2003. From the latest, “Hello Hum,” they played “In Came the Flood,” and “Resuscitate.” From earlier albums they played many of my favorites, including “Black Camera,” “New Inheritors,” “Weighty Ghost,” and “Preservation.” Their artist page at CBC Radio 3 has all these songs and more, if you want to hear them for yourself. I was standing at center front near the stage for Wintersleep, and happily hung through it with some great folks I enjoyed meeting. There was Toronto musician Courtney Lynn, who had come to this show with her brother and sister, all of them fun company. Also nearby was Clayton Drake, keyboard player from The Almighty Rhombus, the Sudbury, Ontario, band I had enjoyed so much on Wednesday night, whose show I had written up on Thursday. In fact, on Sunday, Clayton and I exchanged a droll series of tweets that concluded with quite an amusing line from him:
— The Almighty Rhombus (@AlmightyRhombus) June 16, 2013
@philipsturner What an awesome show last night though eh?
— The Almighty Rhombus (@AlmightyRhombus) June 16, 2013
In the middle of Wintersleep’s second encore, I reluctantly left the hall so I could get back to Toronto’s West Side, where the punk band Fucked Up were playing a set at the Horseshoe Tavern. True to form, they played a wild and crazy show with moshing and hijinks from lead singer Damian Abraham. When they finished it was after 2:00 AM and I happily headed back to my room for a few hours of sleep before waking Sunday to meet Marcy and Abe Fish, cousins of mine who live in Toronto, a day I covered with this post.
For readers who’d like to know, over the next couple weeks I’ll be publishing two more posts related to my NXNE 2013: 1) A large grab bag of photos that I haven’t so far shared in any of the six previously published posts. 2) A tourist guide to Toronto, with additional info on the well-situated Alexandra Hotel; ranking of the music venues; sightseeing tips, and photos of buildings and city scenes. For now, here are pictures from all the Saturday shows I attended. (Please click here to see all photos.)
* For the record, I invite you to read the earlier posts I published from my Toronto trip. They were 1) Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet; 2) NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty; 3) Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic; 4) NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper; and 5) Families that Make Art Together, a post not directly related to NXNE, but involving members of the Toronto chamber pop group, Ohbijou.
To celebrate Canada Day, I’ve scanned two photos I took during Canadian road trips some years ago, and posted them here. The lefthand image is from Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, from when I was there in 1988. The other is of Roche Percé, the amazing pierced rock, from a visit to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula earlier in the ’80s. These were just two of the many vacations I’ve enjoyed in Canada, from Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, to the Saguenay fjord in Quebec, to Niagara-in-the-Lake in Ontario, countless visits to Toronto, and an unforgettable train journey across the country that began in Vancouver. I say Happy Birthday to all my precious Canadian friends–you live in a very beautiful country, always close to my heart!
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) June 30, 2013
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) June 30, 2013