Archive for the ‘Sounds’ Category

My friend Natasha asked me to go with her to a concert of traditional Scottish music on the weekend. It was held in a local church and featured Christine Hanson on cello, Bruce MacGregor on violin and Keri Lynn Zwicker playing the Celtic harp and singing. I am really glad I went. The music was brilliant – these are three very accomplished players. It is a very joyous music and the stories between songs were as much fun as the music. Bruce’s story of his father’s battle with a local solicitor was by itself worth the price of admission.

For me, it was not just the technical aspects of the playing. My Scottish heritage came to the surface. My paternal grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled in Saskatchewan before moving to Toronto when the depression hit. I don’t remember my paternal grandmother – she passed away when I was very young. I still have fond memories of Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table listening to the Saturday morning Scottish music program on the local radio. And at that time, I didn’t understand what the attraction was – the music was old and sort of boring. But Grandpa would listen intently, nodding his head to the beat – I really had to be quiet on Saturday mornings when Grandpa’s music was on. Even after Grandpa was gone, I would occasionally find Dad listening to the music as well. It was only later when I first heard Fairport Convention that I began to appreciate the genre.

Grandpa lived to be 96 years old. When I left to come to Alberta in 1975, he was very serious when he gave me advice that I was not to drink from outdoor faucets in the winter time out west. “It’ll be n’ae good for your lips”. I took his advice to heart.

It is very honest music and while I know it isn’t everyone’s cuppa, it is special to me. It was a good time.

I would encourage people who are interested to check out Christine Hanson’s website www.christinehanson.com


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I recently found songza.com, a steaming music service online. I quite like it. There are a lot of different genres of music represented and I have discovered a number of streams that really appeal to my musical sensibilities. At work, it is a godsend. I don’t have to bring my iPod or CDs and the music helps to keep me sane.

But there is one problem and it is the same reason I really resist using the ‘shuffle’ command on my iPod or previously, my CD player. I grew up in the era of the LP album. And if you weren’t listening to music on the radio, it was from an album. And albums presented songs in sequence – like telling a story.

Today, Grand Hotel from Procol Harum was playing – one of my favourites. The next song was by the Faces (Every Picture Tells a Story). One of the great Faces songs, but when it came on, my brain screams; “That’s wrong! – It should be Toujours L’Amour – the second song on the A side of the Grand Hotel album”. I find it amazing that after 40 odd years I still expect the songs to be in ‘correct’ order and it is jarring when they aren’t. A product of my generation I guess.

Cover of "Grand Hotel"

Cover of Grand Hotel

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As mentioned in the previous post, Busy Times, we – as in the Big Sky Gliders – have been out and about in the last couple of months.

Jim’s son captured a couple of our tunes at the Carrot Cafe in Edmonton and posted them on to YouTube. So, we present for your viewing pleasure …

Johnson Brown – one of Jim’s songs

and, Where Randy Rolled a Tractor – another one of Jim’s.


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I had been thinking about writing this post for awhile. But a passing this week sort of brought it into focus.

Sam (The Record Man) Sniderman passed away in Toronto at the age of 92 on Sunday September 23. While this probably doesn’t mean much to folks outside of Canada, even outside of Toronto, Sam’s store on Yonge Street was an iconic fixture in downtown. It was three floors at 347 Yonge packed with records of every description. When I first started to become interested in music, Sam’s was the place to go. If you had $2 ($1.90 + sales tax), plus bus fare, you could get an album on sale. Boxing Day sales were crazy – wall to wall people with Christmas money looking for deals. And more often than not, Sam himself, with a cigar in hand, was on the floor looking after things. He actively promoted Canadian artists and if it was a local band you were looking for, there was every chance that you could find it at Sam’s.

When I moved to western Canada, I would make a pilgrimage to Sam’s every time I went home. I bought my first CD player in 1985 and for the next few years, when it was not easy to find CDs, Sam’s had the best collection in probably all of Canada. My only encounter with Sam himself was between Christmas and New Year’s when I was looking for classical CDs. They had expanded the store by then and there was an enormous selection of classical music on CD. It was relatively early and there were very few people in the store. I was looking through the racks when Sam came up and asked if I was looking for something particular. I think I was looking for Bach concertos but the choice was so overwhelming that I had no idea what to choose. He said to follow him and he showed a series from Duetsche Grammophon. He said this was well recorded and at that price, you couldn’t go wrong. I was a little in awe of speaking with Sam himself but we chatted for a few minutes and I expressed my appreciation for his help. He just gave me a slap on the back and said, “don’t mention it, you’ll enjoy it.” and he wandered off to talk to someone else. He was in his element. I have a lot of fond memories of shopping there – music blaring on the main floor, the quietness of the second floor where the classical section was and then the best of all, the third floor where all the bargains and deletes were. Which brings me to the other part of my post.

Last night for the neon sign at Sam the Record Man’s (Wikipedia Commons)

I still have my album collection (over 500 the last time I counted) and I am sure a lot were purchased at Sam’s. This Christmas, my second son gave me a USB turntable so I could rip some of the vinyl into digital. The first album I chose was Smith, Perkins, Smith. This is a great record from 1972 featuring Wayne Perkins and the Smith brothers, Steve and Tim. It is very 70s, with a great laid back feel. Their harmonies are really good and the songs are all very listenable. But probably for most people, you have never heard of them.

Smith Perkins Smith
(note the hole in the lower right)

I probably would have never known of them if it wasn’t for one of my colleagues when I was working at campus radio at the University of Alberta in the late 70s. We were in the big campus record store and when he came across the album in the delete bin, he told me that this was good and I should pick it up. Hence the hole punched in the lower right corner.

I started thinking about why this record didn’t get more recognition. And then when I was reading Keith Richard’s autobiography, ‘Life’, I came across the fact that Wayne Perkins had been considered for a spot in the Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left (apparently Perkins did play on a couple of Stones albums but never got the full time gig). That just blew me away. This was obviously someone with some talent. So, what happened? Timing, personalities, poor representation, substance issues – who knows. And how many other great recordings are out there in the delete bins? Maybe a microcosm of life … sometimes talent isn’t enough. I’ll bet there were many more of these gems in the third floor bins at Sam’s.

The back side of Smith Perkins Smith (1972)

Rest in peace Sam.

AND … after I finished this, I googled Smith Perkins Smith and found an article in the Guardian from earlier this year about the group – just 40 years too late. (The article has a YouTube link – go have a listen.)

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Heart of the City Festival 2012

For the fourth year in a row, the Big Sky Gliders played the Heart of the City Festival in downtown Edmonton. And as usual, it was somewhat of an adventure.


Last year, the organizers introduced us earlier than our scheduled start time and before we were ready to go. Then when we were finished, they asked us to play more … that lesson was always have more material than scheduled.

The festival alternates acts on two stages and this year we had only 15 minutes to set up. We were travelling a little lighter than normal with Don having his keyboard, guitar and mandolin, Jim with guitar and banjo and me with the bass (I would share Don’s mandolin). The trouble with the two stage setup is there is really no time to do a sound check. You make sure the mikes are working and you can hear your individual instruments but we don’t hear ourselves together until the first song starts.

Jim and I singing ‘Back to You”

The other issue is you really have no idea how the music sounds to the audience since what you hear is coming through the monitors. And what was coming through the monitors wasn’t pretty. We made it through our first four songs (My Dream Automobile, Melt Sugar, Johnson Brown and Smoke Down the Road) when the stage manager came up and told us we had one song left. We had been told we had a half-hour but apparently there was a misunderstanding and we were now down to 20 minutes. So with some juggling – forget two songs – we skipped to our last number. It is fun to play the festival – I just wish that for once we could have an uneventful set.

The ‘Fan’

More pictures from the Festival are up on my Flickr feed – taken by my daughter Kathryn.

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Our First Album!

After six months of recording, re-recording, mastering and other forms of musical torture, we, as in the Big Sky Gliders, have finished our first album – On the Horizon.

It is now available for download at www.bigskygliders.bandcamp.com.

Thanks very much to Rick Garvin at the Backyard Studio in Edmonton for shepherding us through the process. I certainly learned a lot about the recording business through Rick. It was really neat to watch the learning process as we lost our fear of the “booth” and figured out how to be efficient at recording (after all, it did cost us money).

Never did I think when I got my first guitar 50 odd years ago, that I would finally be part of a recording like this. We already are thinking about our next project – but that will have to wait until the fall. Next up – the Heart of the City Festival. We are on at 7:40 pm on Saturday night – June 2, so if you are in the neighbourhood, come on out and have a listen.

Don, Brian and Jim
The Big Sky Gliders

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We, as in the Big Sky Gliders, are back in the studio recording some more songs. The goal is to eventually get 10 songs done and then release them as an album. We have been using Rick Garvin’s Backyard Studio. Rick is very knowledgeable in matters of recording, having years of experience in these matters. We have become more efficient and prepared in our approach as well, which means less time and hence, less money.

I have always found recording to be a fascinating process. I did some in the 1980s on purely analog equipment with some friends. In those days, you were looking at a purpose built studio that cost lots of dollars. Our first recordings were done at the university radio station in 2-track. Most of our later stuff was on 16-track equipment. To watch my buddy edit tape with a razor blade and adhesive tape was a lesson in its self.

But now with digital, recording has come to the masses. I appreciate Rick’s expertise, but I have always wanted to have the capability to record my own music at my own convenience. When my oldest son moved out a couple of years ago, I requisitioned a former bedroom and having been putting bits and pieces together to be able to record at home. I started out using Audicity, the freeware recording software. However, I just purchased an M-Audio MIDI controller that came with ProTools SE software. It certainly is a limited version of ProTools but it is a good way to learn. I am not really worried about isolation or ambient noise – now I can put down tracks to experiment with before we go into Rick’s studio.

The Bedroom Studio

The home rig has already come in handy. One of the songs we are working on is called ‘Sunday Morning Alibi’, written by Don. I normally do the vocals but in the real studio, because I was fighting a cold, I found I couldn’t hit the high notes. But, using the home setup, I was able to do a recording of the song and try different vocals to see if I could sing in a different register and still get the effect I was looking for. I added guitar, mandolin, bass and a midi keyboard track to get a sense of the arrangement as well. So, here is a home recording of the song, complete with scratchy and off key vocals. This is fun!

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