Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kate McGarrigle tribute at Luminato Festival

This Friday evening, June 15, I’ll be in Toronto to attend Love Over and Over – The Songsof Kate McGarrigle, the Luminato Festival’s tribute to my late friend Kate McGarrigle at Massey Hall.

The concert is a fundraiser for the Kate McGarrigle Fund which supports research into sarcoma, the form of cancer which claimed Kate’s life in 2010.

The concert is being curated by Joe Boyd, who produced the first two Kate & Anna McGarrigle albums in the 1970s and The McGarrigle Hour album in 1998, and will include performances of Kate’s songs by such family members as Anna and Jane McGarrigle; Rufus and Martha Wainwright; Dane, Sylvan and Lily Lanken; longtime friends and musical associates like Chaim Tannenbaum and Joel Zifkin; and a wide array of artists including, among others, Emmylou Harris, Peggy Seeger, Bruce Cockburn, Ron Sexsmith, Jane Siberry and Robert Charlebois.

I'm sure it will be a fabulous, poignant evening filled with great songs, laughter and tears.

My friendship with Kate dates back to the early-1970s. I worked extensively with Kate and Anna from 1974 to 1980, producing concerts in Montreal and as an agent arranging concerts at such venues as the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) Convocation Hall (Toronto) and Carnegie Hall (New York). Later on, I wrote about Kate and Anna often for such publications as the Montreal Gazette, the National Post and a major cover feature in Sing Out! magazine. As well, Kate and Anna were my frequent guests on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio program.

My remembrance of Kate written just after she passed away is at this link.

Since then, I’ve also written reviews of Oddities, a collection of Kate and Anna’s previously unreleased tracks at this link, and Tell My Sister, the 3-CD collection which includes re-mastered versions of the first two albums – Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Dancer with Bruised Knees – as well as an absolutely essential collection of early solo and duo demos at this link.

--Mike Regenstreif

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bernie Finkelstein – True North: A Life in the Music Business

True North: A Life in the Music Business
By Bernie Finkelstein
McClelland & Stewart
294 pages
“This is not a history of the Canadian music business,” notes Bernie Finkelstein right at the beginning of True North: A Life in the Music Business. However, both casual readers and those intimately familiar with it will learn much about the history of the Canadian music business and how it developed into an industry by reading this entertaining, anecdotal autobiography by an artists’ manager and independent record company proprietor who has been one of Canada’s most significant music business movers and shakers since starting out as a Toronto rock band manager in the 1960s.

Finkelstein was born in Toronto in 1944. His father was in the RCAF and stayed in the air force after the war, so Finkelstein grew up as an air force brat moving from base to base, in Canada and overseas. Usually, the Finkelsteins were the only Jewish family on any particular base. It was such an unusual event for the son of a Canadian serviceman to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the synagogue in Nottingham, England, the event made the front page of the local newspaper.

Back in Toronto by high school time, Finkelstein dropped out just as the music scene in the downtown Yorkville Village began to explode. Hanging out in Yorkville clubs, the young entrepreneur was soon managing Kensington Market and the Paupers, two of Toronto’s most significant rock bands of the era. By the end of the ‘60s, he had shifted his focus to managing such singer-songwriters as Murray McLauchlan and Bruce Cockburn – whom he still manages more than 40 years later, one of the longest-lasting artist-manager relationships in pop music history – and to establishing True North Records, which quickly grew to be one of Canada’s most significant independent record labels. (Finkelstein sold the record company in 2007. Among the buyers was Ottawa music business veteran Harvey Glatt.)

I should note that I’ve known Finkelstein for the better part of four decades. Working as a Montreal concert producer, and as an artists’ agent, in the 1970s and early-‘80s, I occasionally had business dealings with his company. As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve interviewed and written about many of his artists, and Finkelstein and I once served together on a Juno Awards advisory committee. Reading the book, I smiled at many “oh, yeah” episodes I knew about, and learned about a lot of things I didn’t.

As he details in the book, Finkelstein was very much at the centre of the action in establishing a viable music business in Canada. He was among the industry figures who fought for, and achieved, the Canadian content regulations, which were essential for opening up the country’s airwaves to homegrown musicians. Later, when music videos became an important tool in music marketing, he was instrumental in setting up and chairing VideoFACT – now Much-FACT – which provides funding for Canadian music videos and websites.

Much of the book is devoted to anecdotes about Finkelstein’s many business dealings on behalf of his clients and about many of the records he released on True North over the years. Among the funniest stories – although it may not have seemed so at the time – is one about his having to fight back after client Murray McLauchlan was banned from performing at the CNE because the talent booker confused him with McLean and McLean, a brother duo known for their raunchy material.

Although he has wound down much of his day-to-day involvement in the music business, Finkelstein still keeps his hand in as Bruce Cockburn’s manager. But, whether it’s fulfilling that role or acting as a record company chief, what comes through loud and clear in the memoir is that, throughout his long career, Finkelstein has always been motivated, first and foremost, by his passion for the music and for the artists who make it.

More than almost anyone I’ve ever known in the music business, Bernie Finkelstein has always been a mensch.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ottawa Folk Festival announces lineup

The Ottawa Folk Festival – taking place this year from Thursday, September 6 through Monday, September 10 – and in its second year under Bluesfest administration, has announced its initial lineup and, like last year, it almost looks like there are two distinct festivals happening. Although there’s some overlap in the audiences, they attract two very different kinds of crowds.

Getting most of the attention is an indie-rock headliner-oriented, bluesfesty kind of festival that mostly plays out on the main stage with some spillover onto the smaller stages. Clearly, this aspect of the festival is after the younger demographic that wants to party late into the night. The move into September, when university students are back in town, is a move to attract more of this crowd – as are such acts as Bon Iver, Kathleen Edwards, Great Lake Swimmers and Great Big Sea (who do have have a lot of folk roots in their music).

Then, there’s the traditional folk festival centred on the smaller stages, and on the daytime workshop stages, with maybe a bit of spillover onto the main stage. This is the aspect of the festival meant to attract the kind of people who have been supporting folk festivals for years and years and decades, who support folk artists and go to folk clubs, who love the music without regard to what may be hip or popular at a particular moment in time.

Among the artists I’m most looking forward to seeing at the Ottawa Folk Festival this year are Red Horse, a trio that brings together Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky, all three of whom are superb singer-songwriters. Although I’ve seen all them individually many times, I’ve not heard them live as a trio yet. The Red Horse album was great and you can see my review at this link.

The Once from Newfoundland is another group whose recordings I really like but have not yet had a chance to see live. My review of their first album is at this link.

One of the main stage performers I am looking forward to is Amy Helm. Her work as lead singer of Ollabelle and backing her father, the late Levon Helm, has been great.

Old Man Luedecke – who I wrote about at this link – and Michael Jerome Browne – whose latest album I reviewed at this linkand Corb Lund – whose latest album I reviewed at this link are artists I’ve seen many times before, who I always enjoy, and who I highly recommend.

I was also pleased to see Pat Moore on the bill. She’s got several fine CDs and is a strong live performer.

Two others acts whose videos I looked at online and now want to see are Belle Starr and Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys.

All of the artists I’ve mentioned plus many others and the ticket information is now available on the Ottawa Folk Festival website.

I await with interest announcements of other artists and the unveiling of the workshop schedule.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Chris Rawlings – Autumn Gold

Autumn Gold

Chris Rawlings was one of my favourite local singer-songwriters when I first started hanging out on the Montreal folk scene back around 1969. He was then in the early stages of his solo career after spending a few years as part of a band called Rings and Things. Forty years ago this fall, when I started my first concert series at Dawson College in Montreal, Chris headlined my second concert presentation. And when I started running the Golem Coffee House in 1974, Chris was one of my frequently-presented artists. Some of the material on this collection of live tracks and previously unreleased studio recordings dates from those days.

Among the highlights are a couple of topical songs written from perspective of a Quebec anglophone. “Farewell to Quebec,” recorded live in Toronto in 1989, is a bittersweet farewell that captures well the feelings of so many people caught up in great anglo exodus from Quebec that became a tidal wave in the 1970s and ‘80s (and which still continues to this day).

And “Hey René,” recorded in 1976, is a reaction to the election of Quebec’s first separatist government under René Lévesque. One of the most prophetic lines in the song says, “What will you do when the contract comes due and the union bosses that supported you want more?” We found out the answer to that in 1982 when Lévesque and his finance minister, Jacques Parizeau, rolled back public sector wages by 20% in what was the most draconian anti-labour legislation in Canadian history.

Other highlights include a 1972 recording of “House of D,” covered back in the day by Christopher Kearney, a folk-rock song that reaches out to a teenage girl caught up in a cycle of abuse and detention and Chris and Paul Lauzon’s dreamy setting of William Butler Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” recorded live in 1998 (but which I remember from back in the 1970s).

I particularly liked hearing Chris’ versions of two of the late Wade Hemsworth’s classic songs. “The Log Driver’s Waltz,” recorded in 1972, includes harmonies from Wade himself and three original members of the Mountain City Four: Anna McGarrigle, Peter Weldon and Jack Nissenson, while the solo version of “The Wild Goose,” recorded at the Wade Hemsworth Tribute Concert in Montreal in 2002, is beautiful and haunting.

The album ends with a rollicking version of Chris’ own classic, the tongue-twisting “Pearl River Turnaround” recorded live at Expo ’86 in Vancouver with fiddler Christophe Obermeir.

Chris precedes “Pearl River Turnaround” with a song written and sung by Obermeir at Expo ’86 on which Chris backs him on recorder. As the one track featuring a different lead singer, it interrupts the flow and unnecessarily throws the album off its Rawlings-track.

Overall, Autumn Gold nicely rekindles some fond musical memories from my salad days.

Pictured: Chris Rawlings and Mike Regenstreif at the 2007 Branches & Roots Festival in Ormstown.

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--Mike Regenstreif