We wrap up our coverage of the 2023 Home County Music & Art Festival with a focus on the very artist who closed out this year’s event. A good friend of GDW, and a long-time fave, Victoria, BC singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing was raring to share many of the tunes recorded just prior to, and during the pandemic – songs he had not had many opportunities to share here until recently.
“Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. It just sounds like bullshit, stage bullshit, but I am so happy to be here,” Stephen shared, following an outstanding opening performance of “As The Crow Flies” – a tune found on his 2013 “Between Hurricanes” album. “It’s a delight. Summer festivals, what’s not to like? And after so many years when there was nothing, without being too dramatic, I did wonder if they were gonna come back in the same way, and here we are. It’s just like déjà vu all over again.”
With the release of “The Unconquerable Past” in November 2019, Stephen had plans to tour the album, shows scheduled, travel plans confirmed, and music to be shared – when suddenly, the world as we knew it came crashing down. Having waited much longer than anticipated to make up for lost time, he was happy to not only share four cuts from this stellar release, but acknowledge how quickly these songs came together over a pretty short period of time, adding commentary about their origins. One such tune Stephen opted to dissect was “Sunny,” adding some wonderful personal insights as to how this song developed and came to fruition.
“This one started with a name. I had the name Sunny, I had a guitar pattern, and that’s all I had,” he recalled. “I had no idea who Sunny was, I didn’t know if Sunny was male or female, and one of the great lessons I got from my friend Willie P. Bennett, who is a hero of mine and a mentor to me, he gave me two pieces of advice. One is related to music, take your music seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously at all. The other one was to try not to make decisions in the song about what’s happening until the very last minute. See if you can leave things open as you are writing the tune so you don’t paint yourself into a corner. So, Sunny – see if you spell Sunny with an ‘O’ it’s male, and if you spell Sunny with a ‘U’ it’s female, but I wasn’t spelling it, I was singing it. I didn’t really know who Sunny was, and I realized that’s what the song was about.”
We last caught up with Stephen at a show in Grimsby, ON (April 2019), and were privy to a performance of “Christine” – an unreleased track at the time that would ultimately be included on his future release. Performing the song here in London, it would be preceded by a tale of how he met Christine (his wife) at a casino, adding plenty of emphasis on how his view of casinos quickly soured following an earlier childhood fascination. “I’ve always had a bit of a thing with casinos since I was a kid growing up in Dublin,” he commenced. “Dublin in the 70s was a bit of a dirty, sort of almost second world kind of city. I remember my mom getting pissed because it took a year to get a phone installed. I made the literary leap at the age of 7 and a half, 8 years old, from Enid Blyton to Ian Fleming – so went from the mystery of Dark Tower with the Famous Five to James Bond and Casino Royale, and once I walked through that door, there was no going back.”
“I had this fascination with casinos. I really did think that they were places of wealth and taste, and if I’m totally honest with you, deep in my heart I’m still waiting to get to that place. I’ve never found it, but that sort of room where you walk in and everyone is wearing boiled white shirts, and there’s burnished mahogany and creaking leather shoes; Martini’s that are shaken not stirred,” he continued. “I went to a casino in Prince George [BC]. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. If there were any Martini’s to be had, they would have come in Molson cups. And it was quite shocking. I lost $50 in about a minute, and that was the end for me [for] gambling – aside from being a singer-songwriter, which is the biggest game of craps you can ever have.”
With the recent passing of Canadian treasure Gordon Lightfoot, many performers at Home County offered tributes to this folk music icon, with Stephen being no exception. Delivering a phenomenal performance of “Early Morning Rain,” a Lightfoot cover recently recorded live on his latest “Vejpoesi” album, Stephen would also lead a multi-artist tribute (collaborating with The MacQueens, Dawn Redskye, Mia Kelly, and event personnel and volunteers) on a fun-filled version of “Alberta Bound” – and while the stage was being prepared for this finale, Stephen took delight in sharing a fond memory about meeting and honoring Gordon Lightfoot at the Mariposa Music Festival.
“I’m on stage with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and Blue Rodeo, and The Good Brothers, and Serena Ryder, and we’re going to give him [Gordon] this lifetime achievement award, and we decided we’re going to do this one song,” Stephen reminisced. “But before we start the song, which is Alberta Bound, one of The Good Brothers say, ‘Hey, is there anybody here from Alberta?’ and a bunch of people raised their hands, yes. And he says, ‘Great, welcome to Canada.’ Ha, I laughed, oh that was really good. We’ll sing Alberta Bound once we’ve got everybody plugged in and ready to go, and then we’ll get in our cars and all drive off to Alberta.”
- As The Crow Flies
- Gold On The River
- Someone Else’s Shoes
- Far From The Middle
- Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
- Alberta Bound (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
- Goodnight Irene (Gussie Lord Davis cover)