Great Dark Wonder: Celebrating Our 5th Birthday – Part 2


Edging ever closer to our fifth birthday tomorrow, we shift our focus once again to our five active writers/friends who continue to take this wonderful music-blog journey with us here at GDW.  In response to some random music-related questions that I pitched to the team, we learned a little yesterday about their musical tastes and experiences, and return today to offer a few more insights.  

I’m not sure we would be hitting this five-year milestone without them, and cannot stress enough how much Lesley and I appreciate their contributions, their on-going dedication, and their sharing of new music, new artists, and new ideas with us.  We all share this passion for great Canadian music, and with each and every article submitted to us by the team, it really shows.  Let’s keep this train running, and take a look at a few more of those questions and answers that the team were kind enough to provide.

Key: (SM) Steve Murphy  (DM) Douglas McLean  (JL) Jess Lahr  (RC) Richard Clark  (MW) Matt Wheeler

Question: Tell us about one of the first concerts you attended (willingly, not something your family forced you to see) – where was it, what prompted you to go, and did it live up to your expectations?

(RC) In 1972, I received a second-hand small sky blue and cream Dansette mono box turntable for Christmas; a present that would go on to revolutionize my life.  From here on, every weekend was spent in city centre used record shops eagerly buying up abandoned Beatles singles and other assorted 45s from the bins.  If that wasn’t enough, the subsequent year found me tearing the wrapping paper off two brand new LPs – The Beatles “Help,” and Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” – I’d entered the mythical adult world of the album and it felt totally brilliant.

Discovering that Elton John was playing at the local De Montfort Hall in Leicester shortly after blew my mind, and I begged mum and dad for the one pound price of admission, persuading my friend Mick to do otherwise, and before we knew it, we were sitting twelve rows back watching Elton strut his stuff.  It wasn’t long before many of us rushed past the helpless attendants to cram ourselves right in front of the stage, getting a closer view at the emerald green glitter suited performer climbing all over his piano, seemingly having a wild time himself.  All I knew is that life had become far more exciting and I was drinking in every intoxicating moment of a brand-new golden dawn.

(JL) The first concert I attended was a music festival of sorts in 1999.  I was living in Naples, Italy at the time and had the amazing experience of seeing Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, and Lenny Kravitz.  I attended the concert with a bunch of my Navy friends – we were lucky enough to have off that weekend.  The venue was outdoors, and I recall there being several stages where bands rotated in and out, including many European acts too.  I remember distinctly at one point standing near the front of a stage, surrounded by mostly local Italians not paying much attention, and just staring in complete awe of Chris Robinson while the Black Crowes performed.  I thought at that point I had to be dreaming.  All three bands put on a great show and I’ll never forget that experience; it was truly awesome.

(MW) I recall going to see Dave Matthews Band in NC with my friend Justin around 2000.  While I had been to numerous concerts before, for free or due to working on the local crew, this concert meant paying for a ticket and travelling.  What I recall most about this was that there wasn’t fancy lighting or stage effects, just extraordinary musicianship – and the people seated next to us loudly requesting the song “Dancing Nancies” in-between songs.

Question: For the performers, share a memorable moment during a set that you played (where, what song, what made is special)?  For the non-performers, how about a memorable concert experience (was it the artist, a particular song, a particular venue)?

(SM) During a Billy Bragg concert a few years ago in Toronto, I befriended the fellow standing behind me. We were singing the same parts of songs, getting quite inebriated on beer and common political fervor. Turned out the fellow was Avi Lewis (documentarian, author, and now political candidate). After the show, he invited my wife and I to hang out backstage with him, his wife Naomi Klein (the author) and Billy Bragg himself! We sat around for an hour or so swapping stories and discussing politics over beers until it became late enough that my wife and I needed to catch our bus home to feed our pets.Billy asked us what the names of our pets were, and proudly we said: Billy Bragg (tabby cat) and Wilco (black labrador).

(MW) Playing my song “Indigo” at Tellus360 in October 2018 when I opened for Great Lake Swimmers, and both Tony Dekker and Kelsey McNulty joined me on stage in singing it – that was a very memorable experience.

Question: What is the furthest distance you’ve travelled to see a concert? Were you on vacation, on a work-trip, or just considered the artist worthy enough to see, no matter how far from home the show happened to be?

(DM) After travelling for seven weeks in the spring of 2018 through southwest America and then on up through BC and AB, we decided to go to Celtic Colours in October to hear some fiddlers (my wife is a fiddler) and to hang some Tibetan prayer flags we had found in Arlee, MT at the very holy “Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.”  Before his death, my father had wanted so badly to return to his home on Cape Breton Island.  There is the very special Gampo Abbey in Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton, off the Cabot Trail, so we decided on the way back we would go there and hang these prayer flags in his honour and memory.

Two days into our trip we got a notice that The Small Glories were touring out east. I had seen them two years before and really wanted my wife to see them, considering that I felt they are one of the best Canadian acts.  We seemed to be slightly out of sync with their itinerary, but it looked like if we drove like crazy, we could catch their last stop in Florenceville, NB, about a ten-hour drive.

Our troubles began when we left Pleasant Bay.  Four hours into our drive south to catch the ferry to NB, my wife couldn’t find her purse.  Searching everywhere and all through the truck, we could not find it and believing she may have left it at the cabin we had rented, we started to head back.  After two hours, we realized she may have put it in another bag and we eventually found it in with the food bag in the cooler.

With a one-day layover in St. John, NB, we were certain we’d make the show with plenty of time. Outside of Oromocto, we blew a tire and no-one would help us out on a late Saturday afternoon.  With only the little donut tire on an overloaded truck, we could only travel on the back roads along the river.  We got to our Woodstock hotel around 7:30pm and had another 30 minutes or so to find the show, still up the river from us in our lopsided truck.

The venue was an art centre and luckily JD Edwards and Cara Luft were just getting started. Two sets, and a beautiful show with many of the songs from their soon-to-be-released award-winning album, “Assiniboine & the Red,” we got an autograph, a handshake, and a hug from one of our favourite bands.  Luckily, we caught them again in Toronto, almost one year later at the Dakota Tavern, another four-hour trip for us.

(JL) The furthest away from home I was to see a show was that time I spent living and working in Naples, Italy.  Not only did I get to see those three amazing bands, that kicked off my concert going experiences, but I had the pleasure of seeing a few more whilst living there too.  I saw Joan Jett, Reba McEntire, and the Goo Goo Dolls all on Italian soil.  All of them were great performances.  I even got to meet Reba after her show and shook her hand.

(RC) Back in 1982, 185 miles was so much further than it appears today.  I’d always regretted a missed opportunity to catch The Rolling Stones play Leicester Granby Halls in 1976, so when I heard that they were about to play shows in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Bristol, and London, the option became which city most suited.  This issue resolved when my elder sister Rachel told me her friends had recently relocated to Tyneside and she’d ask them if I could stay the night.  Later in the pub, I asked if anyone wanted to join me, and to my surprise (only because she was female) Julia said she’d be up for it.

Train tickets secured, we journeyed up north, and the band hit the stage with nightfall descending.  Watching Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wyman, and Woods walk out and strike up was something akin to the home side scoring a last-minute winning goal against their rivals in a crucial must-win derby game.  What I saw appeared to be unfolding in slow motion, and watching the entire stand jumping up and down full of undiluted joy and pleasure was simply mesmerizing; the wave of emotion so palpable and powerful, even little unemotional me struggled to fight back tears.  The Stones did what they always do, railroading themselves over you with hit after ramshackle hit, leaving you completely awestruck and dumbfounded at the sheer magnitude and magnificence of it all.  Midnight gone, finally we rolled up at our host’s door, only to be shown into a room in which a single double bed awaited.

Today, the ticket stub remains in an old photograph album and this experience is still the furthest I’ve travelled specifically to see a band.  Back in the here-and-now, I’d love nothing more than to rewind the clock, change absolutely nothing, and do it all over again – so precious in life, so much more precious in memory.

Question: If you were on a game show and just one question away from the big prize, and the topic was music – if the host asked you to name three songs recorded by The Byrds in under 10 seconds, would you win? (No cheating, no Googling, 10 seconds with no assistance).

(DM) “My Back Pages,” “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and “Fifth Dimension” (one of the greatest songs ever).  Yes, I won!!!!

Question: You have a musician friend opening for a well-known artist, and has added you to their guest list, even though you may not be a fan of the headliner.  Do you stick around after your friend wraps up their opening set?  Better still, do you have a musician friend who has opened for somebody famous?

(SM) It is terrible manners to not at least stick around for a few songs, particularly if you’ve never seen them perform before.  My eldest brother’s band opened for The Flaming Lips, who are pretty famous.  I got to open for The Dears a couple of times, once with my group, and another time solo.  In my mind, they’re one of the most underappreciated groups in Canada.

Question: If you were given just one opportunity to see any artist perform live at their absolute career peak, who would it be and why?  What song MUST they perform as part of this event for you?

(DM) John Winston Lennon singing “Working Class Hero” followed by “Across The Universe.”

(RC) We’re all fortunate enough to be living the most incredible dream, and if we don’t necessarily have the power to fully write our own script, we do have a choice to become the person we want to be.  I’m lucky enough to have the most wonderful soundtrack accompanying me on my life journey – sneaking into Knebworth to watch Led Zeppelin in 1979, or waving at Johnny Cash from the crowd at Glastonbury 1994.  Along the way I’ve paid personal homage to the giants: Dylan, Morrison, Young, The Stones, The Smiths, Radiohead, and many more. Inevitably, many ships also passed in the night, missing out on Elvis, Hendrix, Cohen, and a host of others up in the starry, starry sky.  Yet none have been there longer or played a bigger part than The Beatles – to the point where the definition between them and me remains at best blurry.

These days, I very rarely play their music, but identifying with them both as a collective or individuals had a profound effect.  George helped shape my spiritual self. Lennon lent more than a hand with my political views.  Ringo offered such a sense of fun, and Paul was found at his playful, whimsical best on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”  In short, I incorporated many aspects of these four men within myself.  For that reason, please, please, please take me to 1969 so I can enjoy my first loves on the rooftop of the Abbey Road Studio.  I want to see them perform “Don’t Let Me Down” for one last time – simply because they never did and it was such a beautiful blast.  Afterwards, if you would, please say thank you and kindly offer my apologies, and explain that I really did need to get back.

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