Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Acoustic Folk & a sampling of Latin Groove

Unlike in past years, I have become a bit of a fair-weather busker and have not been out as much in the off-summer season as in previous years. Recently however, I have been spending quite a bit of time wandering around the downtown area checking out the busking scene on the streets of Victoria.

Not very nice weather for busking this past weekend, but I took my video camera anyway, just to see if there might be some musicians brave enough to take their tunes to the street.

Saturday was a very blustery day, and pretty much a bust for finding any buskers. I headed out again on Sunday and the wind had died down somewhat, although there was still a bit of a chill in the air. Not great for keeping the fingers warm, but that did not stop the two musicians that I came across playing along Government Street, both of whom I interviewed and filmed.

The first video is of Dustin Enns who plays guitar, harmonica and sings. He’s been busking for about nine years on and off, mostly in the Okanagan, for a time in Brisbane AU, and more recently here in Victoria. In this video he sings one of his own songs, a tune called Island Moon.

The second video is not acoustic (there, I finally broke the first rule of my blog), but, I really like the latin groove that Paul Derita, was laying down with his electric guitar, looper and f/x boxes. And, I might add, very tastefully amplified, not obtrusive, and very enjoyable.

Until the next post, enjoy!  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jacob Lavigne-Ippersiel

The first time I heard street musician Jacob Lavigne-Ippersiel was back in early November, when he was busking outside of Birk’s at the corner of Government & Fort.

Being a fan of country-rock singer/songwriter Gram Parsons’ music, it was not surprising that hearing Jacob singing one of Gram’s songs In My Hour of Darkness would catch my attention. When Jacob finished the song, I tipped him and asked if he knew any more, and he played Return of the Grievous Angel, which he told me was his favorite.

On a number of occasions over the next few weeks, I ran into Jacob busking in the library courtyard. It was there that I had the opportunity at the end of November to interview him before he headed back home to Québec. 

Jacob is from Lévis, which is located the south side of the St-Laurence River, across the  bridge from Québec City.

He first picked up the guitar when he was 15, and almost immediately thereafter, began taking his music to the streets. Although he had lived and busked for a couple of months in Ottawa and Toronto, most of Jacob’s busking experience has been in Québec City.

“I’ve been busking for seven years now, [and] I’ve been able to support myself for sometime with that, sometimes not, but that’s part of life, huh?”

He has played many of Québec’s uptown and downtown locations, however, he said he feels most at home on Rue St-Jean. 

“When I was a kid, my father told me everytime I asked what was there to do There is always something happening on Rue St-Jean,’ and it's true, street musicians, festivals on the Carré d'Youville, outdoor stalls, speciality shops and restaurants. It's a little bit like Government [Street], only with more space, as it crosses a big square.”

This past June, Jacob packed up his guitar, and spent the next month and a half crossing Canada, making stops and hanging out along the way. He busked in Ottawa and Toronto (again), and also in Calgary and Vancouver.

He finally arrived in Victoria in mid-August, rented an apartment, purchased a city busking permit, and spent the next few months trying out various spots on Government and Douglas Streets, until he found what would become his favorite spot, the library courtyard.

“I am pretty much the kind to stick to one place that I like, and go there all the time, [and] the library must be the best place. The sound is awesome, there’s a big echo, [and] you can just sing softly and be heard anyway.”

Having busked in “pretty much every big city in Canada”, I asked Jacob which one was his favorite. His answer: “Well, Québec holds a big place in my heart. It’s the one I played the most, and I’ve got all my friends there.”

“Toronto was great,” he said. “I found [in] Toronto, there was a big respect accorded to buskers, like the kind of commentaries that I would get there, is ‘Wow, you work hard.’ It’s cool being told that you work hard, and people acknowledge that you’re doing something, like busking was a job.”

Jacob also said that he really enjoyed Victoria. “It was a great place, people were laid back and fun, and I had a lot of good times here. I’m really sad to leave in fact, [but] I hope I’m gonna come back here soon.”

Jacob arrived back in Québec the second week of December, but hasn’t done any busking as “it is too cold here in Québec. Maybe in a month or so.”

Jacob also writes his own songs and has recorded a demo under his pseudonym Buckingham. The demo is titled Something Exciting Coming Soon, and you can listen to samples and purchase tracks at Songster Records.

Jacob busking in the Victoria Library courtyard

Much better quality video of Jacob busking in Québec City

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Old-Timey Folk Music on the City Streets

Last February, I was wandering down Government Street when I heard the strains of fiddle and banjo wafting up the the street. As I approached the source of the music, I came across a trio of street musicians playing some old-timey, backwoods mountain folk and bluegrass tunes outside the Bay Centre.

The three musicians, Jackson Allan (fiddle), Travis Smith (banjo, vocals), and Thom Hess (guitar, vocals) all live on Pender Island and they occasionally make the trip into Victoria to do some busking.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me the first time I saw them, but was able to film the guys a few days later when they were busking again outside the Eddie Bauer store.

I had forgotten about the footage until I ran into Travis busking a few months back, and made mention of it, but, it found its way onto my creative back-burner again. I crossed paths with Travis again a couple of days ago, and was reminded that I still hadn’t finished editing the footage, but, I promised him that I would get to it this week. I am glad to say that it is finally done.

Unfortunately, as the wind wasn’t very co-operative when I was filming, the sound quality is not the greatest, but still, the musical energy was there, and in the end I managed to have some fun with the editing process. 

Jackson and Thom also play in a 5-piece old-time folk band called The Pesky Alders. You can get more info and check out their music at their website.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Sounds of the Islands

Looking for a subject for my next post, I searched through my backlog of unfinished drafts, and found this piece that I had begun after interviewing longtime Victoria busker Swan Walker in June of 2011.

Originally from the Caribbean island-nation of Grenada, Swan came to Canada in 1986. After a short visit to Victoria, he went to Toronto, where he spent three years, before returning to Victoria in 1989.

Playing keyboards and guitar, Swan had been gigging with Reggaelution, a local reggae band, when he realized that he needed a more steady source of income, so he began busking in 1996.

“I looked for more employment, [but] it was kind of difficult for me to find a regular job,” he said. “I’d been encouraged [to busk] by friends too, you know, so, I decided to try it.”

Over the next fifteen summers, (with the exception of 2008 when he was living in Japan), Swan sang and played the steel drums and guitar, keeping the rhythm with his kick-drum and sock-shakers, essentially bringing the sounds of the Caribbean islands to the inner harbour.

Besides his obvious reggae and calypso influences, Swan also cites soul, country and jazz as influences. He said “A lot of things influence my stuff. I try to play a variety of things in my own style, so, not everything is reggae.”

Swan told me a little bit about his musical beginnings and influences from when he was a kid growing up in Grenada.

“I started playing music, I used to play steel drums. They had a steel drum band in our village [that] I used to play in,” he said. ”Prior to that, I used to be singing in church, about 7, 8 years old, until I was like 12, 13, probably.”

I was quite surprised when Swan told me about some of the music that he was exposed to as a child in Grenada. He said “In the islands, there [was] a day, I think on Saturday or Sunday, when the radio station just played country music. A lot of people in the islands [were] big Jim Reeves fans, and we used to hear all these songs when we were children, because my parents, and people around [us], they had his records, and [we were] hearing it all the time.”

“And [Wolverton Mountain], well, I don’t remember the country version, I know that version in reggae, because a lot of reggae musicians back in the islands, they sort of changed some of the country songs into reggae.”

“A lot of gospel songs, and a lot of soul music too, ‘70s soul music, they always played a lot of those songs too, because they had at certain times on the radio station, they call ‘Oldie Goldie’ times, when they played all the old songs.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Swan also plays the keyboards and writes his own original songs, twelve of which are featured on his first CD Takin’ A Chance, which was released in 2001. He also released a CD of cover songs in 2005.

As for future recording projects, he said “It’s time for me to be working on another one, [but] I’ve got a home studio, and the environment where I’m living now is so close to the road, there’s just so much noise. I’m motivated to write more things and create stuff, but I’m not motivated to record because I need to get out of there and to be in a space where it’s quieter.”

So, what does Swan enjoy most about busking? He said “Just playing the music, performing. Busking is a hard thing to do, you know, it’s not all musicians that want to busk, and not all musicians would have the patience to busk. Yeah. It’s the music, I think.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

At the time of this interview, Swan had mentioned that he was thinking of moving to Toronto, but nothing had been confirmed. He seemed a little ambivalent when I asked if he was looking forward to going. He said “I want to try something new, see how my music does in other places, [but] there is a part of me that don’t want me to leave, but, yet I feel l should go. I went to Japan and spent a year and a half, saw how things are there. I mean I’m in Canada, I should be able to go to Newfoundland if I feel like it, and try it out.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t until this past summer that Swan shared the news that he and his family would definitely be packing up there gear and making the move east.

In late July, just before he left, I along with fellow causeway buskers, Dave Harris, Jaime Nolan, John McCallum, Jean Bedard, Landen Shaw, gathered together to do a farewell set with Swan, to try to raise some funds to help him with his trip. It was a fun event with us all taking turns in varying combinations playing with each other and with Swan. I had to leave early, but it certainly was a highlight for me to join Swan for a countrified version of a song from his repertoire, Bob Marley’s One Love. Swan’s leaving will definitely leave a big hole in the local busking scene, and he’ll be missed by his fellow buskers, and his many causeway fans.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Swan has now been in Toronto since August, and he successfully auditioned with the Toronto Transit Commission for a busking permit, and can now be found busking in the subway stations there.

When I interviewed Swan, he told me that he has good memories about Victoria. “You know, I spent most of my life here in Victoria, more than in Grenada.”

Did he think he might be back? Without hesitation Swan said “Yeah!”

In ending this post I would just say that Victoria’s loss is Toronto’s gain.

You can watch video of Swan by checking out the following links:
Swan busking in Toronto at Yonge & Bloor subway station

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Head, Hands And Feet...& More

Anyone who had been following this blog, may have noticed that I have not been posting for the past year. As busking is a big part of my life, I continue to go out and play, and still gather photos and videos of other buskers that I come across in my travels. However, due to a long bout of writer’s burnout, I have not been able to take it beyond that.

Recently, I got a phone message from my good friend and fellow street musician Dave Harris, letting me know that he had started a Victoria Buskers group on Facebook and was hoping that I would become a member. A number of other buskers from the old days were joining and sharing photos, videos and comments, and Dave thought that I would really enjoy reading it. Also, he believed that my contributions would add to the group experience.

It has now been a little over a week since I joined up, and after initially taking some time to familiarize myself with the layout of the site, I began enjoying the experience. Seeing all the posted photos, videos and comments has brought back a lot of memories, and sparked a renewed motivation to get back to working on my blog again.

More on the Facebook page a little bit later, but first a bit about Dave and his most recently completed endeavor.

It is probably safe to say that Dave might be the most dedicated busker in Victoria. Every summer for the last 35 years, he’s become a well-known local attraction, some have said “a fixture” entertaining local and international audiences on Government Street and down on the causeway. On top of that, in the off-season when not busking, he has kept himself busy with other busker related projects. Whether it has been producing many cassettes and CDs of his own music, or contributing to the many projects of other buskers, in his capacity as musician/producer/recording engineer, Dave, like the energizer bunny, just keeps going and going.

In 2004, Dave ventured into new territory when he bought a cam-corder and started documenting the local busking scene. Since then he has produced several DVDs, including four busker movies, all the while archiving new footage.

“What,” one might ask “could he possibly add to his creative achievements?” The answer to that question came early this year, when Dave became a published author with the release of his first book Head, Hands & Feet: A Book of One Man Bands.

Dave explained the process of putting the book together, which began in 2009 when he took the step to pay for an internet connection and started doing online searches.

“I started hunting around to see what was out there on me, as most people would do, and I actually didn’t find all that much, but I found all these other one man bands. I thought ‘gee, is there a book out about this?’ I started looking for that, and, no, there was no book, [so] I thought ‘well, maybe I’ll write a book’”.

“I’d written a number of articles for blues magazines and things like that over the years, and I always liked the writing process, and nobody had written a book on one man bands, so I thought this might fill a niche, and maybe music critics and people that collect books about music will be interested, because it’s very obscure.”

Over the next three years, Dave spent a lot of time doing more internet research, social networking, sending out e-mails, and doing telephone interviews with people, hoping to get them to share their experiences. He said “I tried to use people’s own words as much as possible,  [but] of course, wrote a lot of text, as well."

The end result is a top-notch 416 page hardcover compendium of information about one-man-bands. Interspersed with over 1200 incredible photos (most of them in color), the book includes a glossary of busking terms, OMB history, biographical entries of 900 OMBs from around the world (Canada, US, UK, Europe, Australia, Asia & South America). The bio entries range from in-depth pieces on more influential and better known OMBs, to shorter pieces on the lesser known, and brief mentions of the more obscure and those on the periphery. Music styles covered cross many genres, including blues, folk, country and punk. A worthy addition to any music collector’s bookshelf, the book would no doubt also be a revelatory read for anyone who didn’t know there was so much interesting information about a subject they may have only had a brief exposure to.

And now, back to the earlier mentioned Facebook group. After finishing his book, and upon completion of the most recent busking season, Dave began thinking about a new project, and he soon found his inspiration a little closer to home.

“You gotta write about what you know, so, of course, I’ve got yourself Country Dave, who’s done a massive amount of research and writing about the [busking] scene. Anyway, reading your blog has inspired me to want to go a little bit further with this, so I created [the] Facebook group with [the] idea in mind that eventually we would get input from everybody that was wanting to be involved, and put it together into a book. Being only a couple of weeks old, [the group] seems to be getting some traction, and taking off a little bit. People have been posting photos and I’ve been creating a list of all the buskers, Hopefully it’ll all dovetail nicely into putting together a nice little book, that all the buskers can sell when they’re doing their shows, we’ll see.”

So, in closing if you have ever busked in Victoria, or have enjoyed watching one of the buskers shows, hopefully you will join the group and share your comments, photos and/or videos at Victoria Buskers on Facebook.

If you are interested in purchasing Dave’s book Head, Hands & Feet, you can do so at his One Man Band Book blog.