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October 2nd, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

Vancouver’s Said the Whale, Rocking Out at Mercury Lounge

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.7 Tyler, BenBen, Philip


September 8th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Media, Blogging, Internet; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

“Hono(u)rary Canadian”–My New Blog

Perce-Roche-tumbler6Along 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.

PT & Perce Roche_0001

* 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.

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June 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Media, Blogging, Internet; Music, Bands & Radio

To Toronto for North by Northeast (NXNE), June 12-17 + Exploring New Media Connections

For the third consecutive year I’ll be attending Toronto’s North by Northeast festival (NXNE), which I’ll be covering as accredited press for this blog The Great Gray Bridge, which I began the day after Halloween in 2011. The festival, which stretches across the big city on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, takes place at 100s of venues, combining live music shows with artists from Canada and other countries; comedy shows; films; and panels and presentations on interactive and digital topics. I arrive tomorrow, June 12, and will be in town until next Monday night, June 17. I look forward to making new friends and meeting up with many of my old pals from the CBC Radio 3 blog and fan community, coordinated by the inspired work of our ringmaster, Grant Lawrence, radio host, author, and catalytic ambassador for Canadian indie rock n’ roll. Grant is also expected to arrive in Toronto tomorrow, as he completes the CBC Beetle Road Trip, a 5000KM music discovery journey that he began in Vancouver almost three weeks ago.

In addition to covering NXNE, I’ll be working in the area of my publishing consultancy. I’ll be seeing people at–a Toronto company whose brand is visible at the upper right corner of this website–one of my chief consulting clients. I also have meetings and meals set up with Canadian publishing, book industry, and media friends and am still seeking out confabs with new contacts. Because Canadian politics is being keenly followed by readers in the States these days–over issues that really matter to my avid audience, such as transnational oil politics and trade issues; the hard sell by the Harper gov’t of the Keystone pipeline and PBO’s looming decision on what to do about Alberta’s tar sands; the always eventful mayoralty of Toronto’s Rob Ford; and many, many US and Canadian shared musical and literary touchpoints.  My goal in Toronto will be to explore with media contacts how the coverage I do here of Canadian culture, books, publishing, and politics–all composed from the personal viewpoint of a longtime bookseller of Canadian titles, publisher of Canadian authors, visitor to Canada, and observer of its ways.  Stephen Harper’s inevitable electoral bid for another majority will come no later than 2015, a time that I believe I will find more outlets for my writing.

If any Canadian friends, old or new, read this post, and want to get together or talk while I’m in town, please be in touch. You may use this link at my contact page, or find me at Twitter, @philipsturner

Finally, if you’re curious what the home page of the NXNE website looks like, here it is. My favorite bit is in the upper right corner: 1000 Bands * 30 Films  * 150 Comedians  * 65 NXNEi Sessions *  60 Artists



March 19th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Joel Plaskett–A True Troubador–Unplugged & Loving It

Plaskett 2On one of the snowiest nights of the winter, I took in one of the year’s best rock shows. It was a mostly acoustic set by Joel Plaskett, who began rocking out as a teenager twenty years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Eight albums later, under such band names as Thrush Hermit and the Joel Plaskett Emergency, plus a near-score of notable albums he’s produced for other artists, Plaskett is a highly developed songwriter who flashes great rhyming instincts and an instantly likable and charismatic performing style. Following a great warm-up set by young band, The Great American Novel, a denim-clad, lanky Plasket stepped on stage in the Studio at Webster Hall by himself, playing a bright-sounding Gibson four-string tenor guitar. This weathered instrument, which to my ear shared tones and sonic qualities with  hammered dulcimer and autoharp, jibed beautifully with Plaskett’s bright pop melodies and voice, resting as it does somewhere in the upper register. After a bit, he was joined on stage by Peter Elkas, who played a Gibson acoustic fitted out with de luxe pickups patched in to a Fender amp with plenty of fuzz and reverb, providing a sonic counterweight to Plaskett’s treble tones. Peter is a hot lead guitar player, so though this performance had no full band, it had more than full enjoyment of chops, and a real rock feel. The duo worked comfortably through a full sampling of Plaskett material, “Through & Through & Through,” “Let Me Down Easy,” “North Star” (my personal fave of the whole evening), “Love this Town,” and “Deny, Deny, Deny.” At one point during these offerings Plaskett invited to the stage female artist Ana Egge, whom I had heard sing back-up with Rose Cousins last year. Now a trio, the harmonies became more enveloping and the tunes even sweeter.

Plaskett had an easy familiarity with the boisterous Monday night crowd, bantering back at folks after their many song requests. This was an audience that knew much of his repertoire. He was funny about it, and diplomatic, as he’d say something like, “Now that’s a very interesting request, and maybe I’ll play it later, but right now I had this one in mind.”  He explained how he comes to play a 4-string tenor guitar this way (lightly paraphrased): “One time in a store I saw this tenor guitar, first one I ever saw, but I didn’t have the money to buy it (150 bucks). So I said to my dad, ‘Hey, Dad, there’s this really nice guitar downtown.’ So he bought it and I got to play it.” After what by my count was the 16th song of this generous set, the musicians all left the stage, though a round of lusty clapping soon brought Joel back to the mic for what became a quite funny interlude before his encore. He took an IPhone out of his Cowichan vest and proceeded to sample some of his music library for us through the house sound system, with him miming the romantic vocal stylings of R&B artist Bobby Womack. Then, he played a version of his own “Fashionable People,” which has been widely seen because of a video he made of him dancing with leggy models, only in this new version the lyrics had been rewritten with goofy kids’ lyrics, making it into a suitable nursery school song. Joel acted out all the parts–funny, clever stuff. With that, his bandmates Peter and Ana returned to their places and he launched into the true encore, a love song to Canadian geography of the land and heart, “On the Rail,” with evocations of the scenic Cabot Trail, trans-continental train rides, sailing ships, and the stars in the sky.

As the musicians packed up, opportunities for conversation and mingling arose. Joel was just as personable off-stage as on, meeting and greeting many fans, including or two drunk ones. Earlier in the day the two of us had exchanged a tweet about set times, so he recognized me and we shook hands as I thanked him for the great show. I bought his CD, “Three,” and then wandered over to where Peter Elkas was winding up some cables. He’s a really nice-looking guy, and he was just as nice to meet. I told him how much I’d enjoyed his guitar tone and he explained how lucky he had been to find a scarce pick-up–mounted in the center hole of his instrument in the pics below–that allowed him to get those sounds from what is after all still just a Gibson acoustic.  It sounded more like Neil Young’s Old Black than a simple acoustic. I added that I enjoy the R&B sound he gets in his own recordings, and joked that I think of him as the “Boz Skaggs of Canadian R&B,” and we had a laugh about that. Seriously then, I recommended to Peter my favorite Boz Skaggs album, “Moments,” a classic record from 1971. Getting ready to go back into the sleeting night, I spotted the guys from opening act, Great American Novel, and introduced myself to them and handed out a few of my cards. They’re a fun bunch, and really replete with bookish associations, from their band name to their songs. I appreciated that and told them of my own book background. I learned that one of them, drummer Aidan, is the son of notable American fiction writer Jim Shephard, author of You Think That’s Bad. I’m going to keep an eye out for gigs of theirs and hope to hear them again. I said good night to friend Ontarian Nick Wynja, of Hack/Make whom I’d run in to here, a fellow member of the #R3NYNJ, a hashtag that signifies the CBC Radio 3 fan group of New York and New Jersey.

I had a great time at this show, a veritable “Joel Plaskett–Unplugged,” with him singing about 18 songs and playing almost 90 minutes. My first time seeing him–what a fun, passionate performer, full of banter and creative juice. He’s also a really great writer. Below are pictures I took last night.

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June 19th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

A Brilliant Instrumental Trio [Updated w/News of Their Revival]

June 19 Update: I wrote on this blog in March that the three albums of the great instrumental trio Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are being re-issued and now I’m delighted to see that a revival of the band is being mounted this summer. Filling the spot of the late bassist Reid Diamond is The Sadies‘ Dallas Good. CBC Music’s Vish Khanna did an interview with them after the first of their new live shows, which you can read and view at this link.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were a brilliant instrumental trio whose modified surf sound can still be heard as the theme music on the always funny TV show “Kids in the Hall.” That theme song, “Having an Average Weekend,” and a few others can be heard on this 4-song sampler of their work. I love their insistent beat and inspired musicianship. I believe they wouldn’t be insulted to be called the Ventures of Canadian rock ‘n roll. I believe The Sadies have been influenced by Shadowy Men. According to this item, their three albums are being reissued. [Original blog post published March 19, 2012.]


May 31st, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

Toronto’s NXNE Festival & Speakerfile, June 13-18

In addition to covering Book Expo America (BEA) next week as a member of the press I will also be attending the North by Northeast Festival, aka NXNE, in official capacity as a blogger. This annual extravaganza–held in in Toronto each June since 1994–features music, film, and interactive/digital/publishing elements.  Their website trumpets “650 bands and 40 films” over the week of activities. I attended last year and had a great time, discovering such bands and artists as Imaginary Cities, Gramercy Riffs, Harlan Pepper, Zeus, Mohawk Lodge, Carolyn Mark, Graham Wright, Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke, Matthew Barber, and Brian Borcherdt. I also participated in a grand meet-up of many friends from the informal community that congregates on the CBC Radio 3 blog organized by host, friend, and author Grant Lawrence. So it’s a real treat to be going back this year, and this time as a blogger with full access to all festival events. Among the artists on this year’s NXNE schedule I most look forward to hearing live are Matt Mays (#1 on my personal bucket list of Canadian indie rockers I’m eager to see play), Andre Williams and The Sadies, Plants & Animals, and The Flaming Lips. And of course then there will be the serendipitous performances I can’t predict–new musical discoveries–the very thing that makes festival-going such a rich and exciting experience. I hope to be live-blogging and reporting from on the spot as much as possible.

While in Toronto I will also meet with book biz friends and contacts and a new company called Speakerfile that I’m representing to literary agents, authors, publicists, and publishers, in New York City, and elsewhere in North America. They’re building a great platform–think eHarmony®–for conference organizers and meeting planners on one side and experts and authors on the other.  I will also be working with them at Book Expo America (BEA) next week, and again when I’m in Toronto the following week. If you are one of my friends in publishing or the media and are intrigued by Speakerfile’s model, please ask me to brief you on them. We also have meeting times still available for next week at the Javits Center, and I would be happy to introduce you to their CEO, Peter Evans. They have a great product and services that will be helpful to many in the publishing community eager to surmount the discoverability challenges that face us all nowadays. I’m really excited to be working with them.

It’s sure to be a great week, attending and covering NXNE, and working with Speakerfile.

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May 11th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

#FridayReads, May 11–”Anatomy of Injustice” & “Have Not Been the Same”

#FridayReads, May 11–Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner’s powerful and sad indictment of the system in a S. Carolina death penalty case. Also, “Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995 by Michael Barclay, et al, a rich, readable tour of Canadian rock n’ roll, accompanied by a great CD compilation of the same name.


March 20th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

Bonding with Shotgun Jimmie & John K. Samson at the Bowery Ballroom

I love one-man bands, those musical artists who can stomp, holler, and play licks while animating a whole set entirely on their own. Soloists like this captivate an audience with talent, musicianship, and personality. Last Thursday night’s show at the Bowery Ballroom offered ample pleasures like these, with the fresh and funny Shotgun Jimmie opening for master singer-songwriter John K. Samson in a show for the ages. Jimmie was charming, talented, playing kick drum with his foot, ripping on his Fender electric, and singing his quirky songs of striving and nerdy romanticism, maintaining despite all disappointments a cockeyed optimism. Even the title of Jimmie’s latest album suggests wit and wordplay: “Transistor Sister.” Here are some lines from the opening track “Late Last Year.”

Oh my darlin’ the legs under this table/are independently bumpin’ in to mine/They’re on a mission dispatched to disable/My defenses and they’re working just, fine

Like the Canadian rockers Library Voices, John K. Samson’s lyrics exude a literary quality, filled as they are with learned allusions to explorers, the classical world, and existential reality. He’s co-founder of a publishing collective in Winnipeg called Arbeiter Ring Publishing, a sort of Workmen’s Circle for books, which recently brought his Lyrics & Poems 1997-2012. As a book professional myself, I am intrigued with this rocker who also has a big footprint in the book and publishing camp. I see that Vancouver writer Steven Galloway, whose novel Ascension I published in 2002, has articulated what’s special about Samson’s work:  “John K. Samson is one of Canada’s finest living writers. He creates a world with a phrase, devastates with a word and restores hope with an image. Many novels do not contain as much humanity and emotional resonance as one of Samson’s lines. As a writer I am torn between admiration and jealousy; as a reader I am enthralled.”

Samson had played the same venue last December with his band The Weakerthans in a unique residency that saw them sell out the Ballroom four consecutive nights, playing each of their four albums in succession. Much as I loved the show then, when Rah Rah was the opening act, last week’s performance offered a more intimate connection with the artist for the couple hundred fans who had come to hear him, including for me. Even with a few side players on most songs, including Shotgun Jimmie who came back after a break to accompany his more senior partner, I had the sense of Samson bonding deeply with his audience over the melodies, words, and themes of these heartfelt songs. It was like listening to the Weakerthans, unplugged. He was serene and by the end just soaking up love from the crowd, as we felt it coming back from him. He played three encores including “These Are My Favourite Chords” and “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure,” for which he stepped out from behind the mic stand, playing to us as if this were a house concert and we were all his close friends, which by then we were. I felt full and happy when the lights came up following the finale, in which the unlikely feline narrator Virtute expresses its animal longing for affection, touch, and closeness.

When the winter took the tips of my ears
Found this noisy home full of pigeons and places to hide
And when the voices die
I emerged to watched abandoned machines
Waiting for their men to return
I remember the way I would wait for you
To arrive with kibble and a box full of beer
How I’d scratch the empties desperate to hear
You make the sound that you found for me.

After scrapping with the ferals and the tabby
Let you brush my matted fur
How I’d knead into your chest while you were sleeping
Shallow breathing made me purr.

Apparently, the warmth that I felt after the show had been prevalent throughout the Ballroom, because as I was starting to make a final trip to the merch table and then call it a night, a young couple came up to me, Brittany and Kevin, a pretty brunette and her winsome Australian boyfriend. They wanted to tell me that from Shotgun Jimmie’s opening act through the last notes of John K. Samson’s set they had noticed me appreciating the music and grooving to it and they just wanted to tell me they were grateful to me for this. I was pretty exhausted from the long night of standing and swaying and moving to the music, and a bit stunned by what they said, but quickly gathered my bearings and thanked them for approaching me, glad that my enjoyment had provided even more enjoyment for them. Kevin asked if I wanted a drink which sounded great, so we sat down and chatted for a few minutes. I shared some musical reminiscences, they told me about their hopes and dreams, and when we’d sipped our last, I took their picture for a sweet coda to a memorable evening.

Update: For the setlist to John K. Samson’s set please see this write-up at Brooklyn Vegan, with terrific photos by Tamara Porras.