The Young Novelists: Live in PA and MD

Young Novelists

When Toronto-based husband and wife folk-roots duo, The Young Novelists, announced an upcoming show in MD recently, we were excited at the chance to see them back in the US again, and promptly made reservations for the show.  When fate intervened, and we suddenly discovered that this duo were making a stop in our hometown of Shippensburg, PA, I’m sure that any readings of increased seismic activity was detected due to our jumping up and down with joy.  Arriving here in the PA mid-state on the first Friday in March, Laura Spink and Graydon James had the honor of kicking off the monthly Friday Night Concert Series at the University Grille in the heart of downtown.  Making the grueling two mile drive to the venue, we settled in with a handful of good friends for a night of great live music.

Performing two 35 minute sets over the course of the evening, The Young Novelists shared a selection of tracks from all three of their studio albums, much to our delight.  Having opened the show with “Left Behind,” from their 2012 “In The Year You Were Born” album, the duo would build an instant rapport with the crowd during their first address.  “We came to Shippensburg just for this show,” Graydon announced, “Because we love playing music and touring around.”  “We have more shows than just Shippensburg, maybe?” Laura responded.  “No, we came just for this!” Graydon added, before strumming his guitar to commence “For What It’s Worth,” also taken from their first release.

Playing three tracks in succession from their most recent 2018 “In City & Country” album, Laura would pause and take time to chat with some of the very young members of the audience sitting up front, whom she learned had a passion for music and were taking piano lessons.  Offering a great hands-on education about the Melodica and Glockenspiel, she would also demonstrate how these instruments were played, along with her personal touch with the use of both cello and violin bows that she brushes against the latter.  Her new protégé’s were impressed, and actively engaged with her later that evening to discover more.

“When Laura and I first met, we were both at the University of Waterloo, and I was in this community theatre play,” Graydon would later announce.  “I was playing Elvis in a play, so obviously I had to dye my hair black, which meant that being blonde, I had to dye my hair red first, before going black.”  The audience were hanging on his every word at this time, curious to learn where this story was heading.  “So I dyed it, and then it started to grow out, and looked like Neapolitan Ice Cream,” he continued, pausing during the ensuing laughter.  “It was black at the ends, with a red middle section, and blonde at the roots.  I looked weird, and that was when I first met Laura!!!”  And judging from the smile on his wife’s face, the rest is history; leading nicely into “Standing Still,” which the duo devoted to that first encounter during their college days.

The second set saw The Young Novelists concentrate heavily on material from their sophomore 2015 “Made Us Strangers” album, sharing popular tracks such as “Singer-Songwriter,” “Couldn’t Be Any Worse,” and other songs, per Graydon, about terrible relationships. “We sing a lot of sad songs, and even when they sound upbeat, they tend to be about tragic subject matter,” Laura offered.  “We’re pretty happy people. I think we just get our sadness out in these songs.”  The duo would road-test a brand new, unreleased track, tentatively titled “Toronto;” one that deals with the state of flux in their daily city-dwelling lives, delivered passionately through Laura’s powerful vocal range.  And returning full circle to their debut album once more, “In Your Defence” proved to be the show finale, complete with some great active participation from the audience.  Friday Night Concert Series at the University Grille, consider your March calendar launched.

Shippensburg Set-List:

  1. Left Behind
  2. For What It’s Worth       
  3. Two Of A Kind   
  4. Back to the Hard Times 
  5. I Moved On
  6. Standing Still
  7. Don’t Wait
  8. Come Round Again
  9. All Alone
  10. Singer-Songwriter
  11. Always Make The Mistake
  12. Toronto (***Working Title – New Track***)
  13. Couldn’t Be Any Worse
  14. Name Your Price
  15. Hear Your Voice               
  16. In Your Defence

Just twenty-four hours later, we took a two hour drive to Columbia, MD, to once again catch a live performance from The Young Novelists.  This event would be an intimate house concert, courtesy of hosts Historic Coopershouse Concerts, a show that also featured Hamilton, ON, duo Piper (Hayes) & Carson (Ritcey-Thorpe).  Splitting the evening into two halves, the first saw both duos perform back-to-back sets, before returning together to the stage to collaborate in an in-the-round format after the intermission.  The second half would also see each couple finding ways to add percussion and/or harmonies for each other, adding an extra dimension to each song with their rapidly-formed chemistry.

The Young Novelists would be invited to perform first, delivering six compositions during the first half, and a further four the next time around.  And yet while it was natural to hear most of the song tunes that were played on the previous evening, we took delight in seeing both Laura and Graydon share new stories about specific tracks. One theme in particular was the inspiration for their 2018 “In City & Country” album.  “We went to specific small towns in Ontario and wrote songs about them, but we kinda cheated a little … because we knew somebody or something about each town before we went,” Graydon shared.  “We knew these identical twin brothers in a town called Goderich, and were in town researching the history. But nothing was really coming together for a song, so we took a break and went to this restaurant where this woman behind us was talking about relationship stuff.”  Pausing briefly for effect, Graydon would add his punchline: “She was in a situation where she had to make a choice between two guys that liked her, and it just popped into my head, that what if those two guys happened to be the identical twin brothers?”  Being armed with this new-found knowledge certainly provided a fresh perspective upon the story during their ensuing performance of “Two Of A Kind.”

Piper & Carson made their way to the stage immediately after The Young Novelists wrapped up their first set, and would perform five compositions through to the intermission, and add four more once all four artists returned.  Piper Hayes asked permission from the room to acknowledge the indigenous heritage of the land upon which we all currently stood, and when granted, recited a passionate and respectful land acknowledgement of the Paskestikweya peoples and their native land.  Performing tracks from their 2017 self-titled album, Piper & Carson were keen to share the life experiences behind each song. “We’ve been so fortunate over our last few years of touring, and one of the things that we started doing was taking the long road,” Piper shared, prior to “Beneath The Waves.”  “We were looking at the map and looking for the road that was near the water, and following that; and going along the old highways. It made us feel sometimes that we actually see a little bit of a place, and feel that we’ve been there a little more.”

The in-the-round format created an unintentional (yet fascinating) self-imposed challenge by both duos to maintain a common thread between songs; a game of musical wits that the audience were happy to watch unfold.  From new songs to places called home, and theatre and unrequited love, the second half of the evening was a perfectly unscripted affair that saw the chemistry between artists go from strength to strength.  And lest we forget the laughter encountered from some adult-natured comedy courtesy of both Graydon and Carson at times.  With immediate cries of “Encore” as the second set came to a close, the artists opted to remain on stage due to the tight confines of their escape route from the room, and took a brief moment to reflect on the amazing collaboration that had just occurred. And with a quick nod of heads between all four artists, the show’s finale would feature a fabulous cover of the iconic Canadian tune, “The Weight.”  With Graydon and Carson splitting the lead duties with each verse, Laura and Piper would add stunning harmonies during the popular sing-a-long chorus.  A fitting end to a perfect evening of music from two of Ontario’s finest folk-roots duos. 

Columbia Set List:

The Young Novelists:

  1. Left Behind
  2. Two of a Kind
  3. Back To The Hard Times
  4. Don’t Wait
  5. Hear Your Voice
  6. Come Round Again
  7. Couldn’t Be Any Worse
  8. Toronto (***Working Title – New Track***)
  9. Standing Still
  10. In Your Defence

Piper & Carson:

  1. For All We Know
  2. Beneath The Waves
  3. Hand To Hold
  4. The Unknown
  5. Wolf Song
  6. Rochelle (***Working Title – New Track***)
  7. Big Red
  8. Careless
  9. In My Bones


  1. The Weight (The Band cover)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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