CoffeeCrew Blog

Eat, Drink and Love
Like there's no tomorrow.
Because, hey, time you cannot borrow.

Emerging talent - Kristina Helene - Bengal Lounge 2014 · 24.11.14 by colin newell

Modern Chanteuse - Kristina Helene of Victoria B.C. Canada

I have been going to the Bengal Lounge for the quality atmosphere, entertainment, cocktail culture and great people watching since the early 80’s when I started attending to my post secondary education.

At the time many of the entertainers would have been middle aged men (aged 40 and up) tinkling away at an old piano and singing passable versions of the great American songbook. And yours truly, in his very early 20’s would have sat at the bar in a Harris Tweed coat, white cotton shirt, Hugo Boss tie and suitably matching pants… sipping on a skillfully mixed gin and tonic, hoping with all measure to look grown up.

Flash forward over 30 years and now, it seems, that the Bengal has an entirely new graduating class of star performers vying for our attention. Only difference is, the vocalists and accompanists of the 21st Century have some staying power… and talent.

A case in point: One Kristina Helene. A very-very early twenty something singer with vocal chops light years ahead of her chronological curve on planet Earth.
She dazzled a comfortably populated room at the Empress Hotel with a set of classics that would have been more at home in a much, much bigger club and audience in New York city or Chicago.

Accompanied by the very capable Thomas Kinzel on upright grande piano, Ms. Helene takes us on a sentimental journey of some of the greatest songs ever written – as originally performed by Sinatra, Andy Williams, Leonard Cohen, Bing Crosby and equally influential company. Her ability to finesse a song to greatness verges on the preternatural. Kristina has a sense of rhythm, timing and breath control usually reserved for artists twice her age – and yes, she started very young.

She performed three very tidy sets at the Bengal Lounge – and being the consummate professional gave her piano player a lot of room to showcase his ample grasp of the 88 keys. Kristina’s style defies exact definition in that she does not sound like anyone you have heard in the last 40 years or so. Names like Garland, Peggy Lee, Billie Holliday, Lena Horne and Nina Simone kind of popped into my head – but I could also hear a bit of Adele, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse on a molecular level. It is quite unique. It is immensely exciting and demands your attention.

I had the pleasure of hearing Diana Krall play a small venue on Vancouver Island in the 80’s before she was discovered – this event with Ms. Helene felt exactly like that. So check it out!

Kristina Helene and Thomas continue at the Bengal Sundays from 7 PM until 10PM through December. Do yourself a treat and come down and check out what the future of jazz sounds like. Ms. Helene is a rising star that you should not miss if you have the opportunity. Check out her website over here – Kristina Helene has a stunning YouTube channel over here

Comment

Vinyl Tap Stories - Randy Bachman - A book review · 5.10.14 by colin newell

Randy Bachman Vinyl Tap Stories reviewed

If you were as lucky as I was, young and impressionable, growing up in the mid-sixties – you were about to face down a musical and cultural revolution like no other in Canadian history. And if you were fortunate enough to be of that delicate age and being raised in Canada, you were most definitely in the front row seats for dramatic change, evolution, and revolution where everything the establishment held dear… would be turned on its ear…

At least for a while.

That was the mid-sixties. Growing up in the relatively idyllic confines of the West Coast on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island, a kid like me was surrounded by change – coming at me from all directions. And like any other kid growing up in Canada, our soundtrack was AM radio and Black and White television. And at the time, the AM radio generally got in way more of our attention than the TV.

TV for us, was restricted to the handful of channels we could pick up from a roof top mounted antenna system. And as I recall, we could pick from the following: Channel 2 (CBC Vancouver), Channel 4 (ABC Seattle), Channel 5 (NBC Seattle), Channel 6 (CHEK Victoria) – Channels 7,8,9 would come in depending on the weather conditions – and channels 11 and 12 (CBS Bellingham) would pretty reliable as well. In the 999 channel Universe in which we live, that would seem pretty limiting, but in fact, it was everything.

The TV may have provided the news (often grim reports from Vietnam, global strife in the Middle East, and rioting in the streets of America…) but it was the AM radio that provided the background music, the driving rhythm of our lives. It touched me. It touched every kid of every stripe anywhere in Canada. The CBC and independent AM radio would guarantee that. It was on a portable AM radio that I would tote with my everywhere where I would first hear the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Doors… and soon, very soon, Canadian popular music!

AM radio in the mid-sixties was generally all American and British all of the time. From time to time one would hear a Canadian artist on the radio but they were generally not identified as such – because it was not cool to be Canadian. It would be the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, David Clayton-Thomas, Ian and Sylvia, Niel Young, and many others in turn who would change the very ways we perceived ourselves as Canadians and how we forged a place for ourselves in the global music experience.

In Randy Bachman’s uncompromisingly complete “Vinyl Tap Stories”, he outlines, with impeccable and unrelenting detail, his journey, key role, partnership and often incidental participation in so much of the 60’s (and 70’s) mosaic. It was, after all, Randy and his musical partner Burton Cummings, who would musically score the theme music to every Canadian kid’s life between the age of 4 and 24 in the late sixties. Their songs, along with hit after hit by Gordon Lightfoot became part of our fabric, woven into our very nature, defining us as creative and sentient individuals… Canadians all!

Randy’s style, it should be noted, it not particularly dry or clinical – His easy going repartee is that of a story telling uncle… everything in no particular order… but his historical accounting is generally dictionary perfect with lots of “Hey, even I didn’t know that!” twists and turns at the end of many of his accounts.

Randy establishes, early on, that with a lot of hard work, sobriety, faith, dedication and unflinching focus (and a little actual creative talent thrown in…) that even a kid from Winnipeg (and some friends) can put it all on the line and make something big for themselves, and ultimately their fellow Canadians.

And they did. And the Guess Who would put Canada on the map of global cultural history and the history of rock for all time. In later incarnations of Randy Bachman’s musical vision (with the likes of the bands Brave Belt and Bachman Turner Overdrive), he would create music that was shoe-horn fit-perfect for the next generation of kids being raised on radio rock and roll.

Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is not just a book about the work of The Guess Who – it is a wonderful read on the important history of Canada’s place in the counter cultural mind-set of the time. Furthermore, Randy reveals the many influences that every other successful English and American artist had on him and his Winnipeg based musical collaborators. There are even passages about how Antonín Leopold Dvořák (a late 19th century Czech composer) influenced one of his songs!

Randy Bachman is one of very few, if any, important artists in our time that reveals the inner secrets of so many of these great songs – how they came into being – the moments of their conception and so on. If you are a music lover or practicing musician (as I am…) you will love the sweetness of each and every reveal.

Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is a welcome addition to my “Canadian heavy” musical library and a perfect companion piece to his tireless radio program “Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio. Enjoy!

Comment

The Lonely End of the Rink - Grant Lawrence - book review · 1.10.14 by colin newell

Lonely End of the Rink - an Canadian experience from Grant Lawrence

Regardless of the decade you grew up, in the last 50 years of the Canadian mosaic – one common theme provided the paving stones for your journey: rock and roll music and outdoor winter sports… most likely hockey.

And chances are, your fabric of choice in this environment would have been denim, leather or blue corduroy – your allowed uniform determined by membership, in cliques often limited to the rockers, the greasers and the rest of us; the young, naive, anxiety ridden innocents lacking a defined identity.

As the twentieth century drifted to its conclusion, several elements of fashion would appear along with more choices in group membership, arguably better music but some (if not all) of the common rites of passage would remain constant; the ever present fear and loathing of growing up in an environment rich with bullying, perceived violence and the emotional roller coaster of adolescence.

In this Grant Lawrence follow up to Adventure in Solitude, he captures the timeless essence of the Canadian male coming of age story – in a rugged and relentless environment of doubt and seemingly endless bullying from his peers.

Here in the 21st Century, bullying has finally been brought into acute focus – for its actual emotional and physical body count. In its engaging first half, Grant pulls us along for a gripping and visceral snapshot of his formative years as he takes us on a dizzying ride down painfully familiar territory.

What separates our now graying and rough sewn memories of youth from Grant’s testimonial is the colorfully crude reminiscence of the accompanying sound track – a veritable letter perfect chronology of regional punk and independent rock – something Grant recalls with impeccable detail worthy of a Ken Burns documentary, all the while illustrating his transformation from a geeky and awkward jock-hating nerd to a place of redemption, contrition and maturity.

The Lonely end of the Rink is actually three books in one (maybe four) – the first half outlines the 12 year adventure of Grants passage from child to teenager in the public school system. In its second half and denouement, Grant discovers the raw power of facing his childhood demons with the blade, the blocker and braving the bully on a level and albeit frozen playing surface.

Sutured into the fabric of this dialogue is a 30 year retrospective of Canadian hockey and a quirky matrix of Canadian musical genuflections – bowing towards hockey, its history, its tragedies, successes and absurdities and how utterly and irrevocably intertwined all these elements are in the Canadian experience.

Grants Lonely Rink is a brisk and bracing icy breeze in your face, a rock and pop cultural timeline and an immensely respectful first person tribute to Canada’s great frozen obsession – impossible to put down until the final period. Gritty, accurate and equally painful, it is a welcome addition to the Grant Lawrence collection of great stories.

Comment

Playing some acoustic guitar at a recent BBQ · 23.06.14 by colin newell

Here is yours truly noodling on some open Hawaiian tuning on my acoustic guitar during a recent BBQ.

Light duty stuff indeed.

Comment

UVic Congress 2013 Main Stage with Buffy Sainte-Marie · 6.06.13 by colin newell

Buffy Saint-Marie at UVic Congress 2013

It has been a busy week at the University of Victoria with the Annual Congress of the Humanities – with some 7000 delegates and their families, the campus and the city as a whole has been hopping with big thinkers, the learned, the curious and the rest of us.

The reality for me, at UVic, is that every day of the year is an adventure in advanced education. Congress 2013 has been more of an amalgam of thought pressed into a tight 7 day event.

Humanities at UVic encompasses the study of English, French, Germanic and Slavonic studies, Hispanic and Italian studies, History, Latin studies, Greek and Roman studies, Linguistics, Medieval studies, Philosophy, and Women’s studies (hope I did not miss anyone!) –

Within the Faculty of Social Sciences is Economics, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.

Congress is kind of a conference within a conference… plenary sessions, discussions, summits, society meetings, AGM’s etc – and even executive events for the government group known as SSHRC (Social Sciences Humanities Research Council) – they hand out money and often lots of it.

During the event (and because it is a fairly inclusive event) there were lots of family friendly events, food kiosks, entertainment and attractions on campus and in the Capital regional district.

We actually had a main stage on campus on one of the green spaces that featured afternoon and evening entertainment – many of them local and regional musical groups.

The evening headliner on Wednesday was 60’s legend and Canadian-American singer/artist/activist/educator Dr. Buffy Sainte-Marie. She wrote hits like “The Universal Soldier”, “Up where we belong” from the movie Officer and a Gentlemen, “Until it’s time for you to go”, “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” and many others. Her significance and place in the history and evolution of the sixties is well documented – but that only barely scratches the surface of what she accomplished in the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and so on. Her 60’s hits are merely an introduction to a life well lived – with clearly many more chapters to be written.

According to her bio, she has recorded over a dozen and 1/2 albums (with clearly more on the way) has charted 1/2 dozen singles and has sold in excess of 26 million albums. She lives a quiet live on the Hawaiian Islands when she is not on tour – and she is currently on year 3 of a 2 year tour!

At 72 years of age, Buffy looks more like a mid-fifties athlete. I had around 2 minutes of her time the day before the concert while assisting her team on her spoken word lecture at one of UVic’s recital halls. Her demeanor is one of peace, harmony openness and inclusion. She was, after all, an educator before she became a musician. She created the Cradleboard Teaching Project – a curriculum that aims to raise self-identity and self-esteem in present and future generations of Indian children by introducing them to enriching, accurate information about Native American people and cultures. (Wikipedia)

Seeing her in concert with her backing band of rocking all-stars was a far cry from my reminiscences of the late 60’s – however dim and youthful they may have been.
If this lady was a Woodstock era folk musician, there was little evidence of it in the 21st Century. Buffy has clearly been keeping with the times and the technology – apparently using Apple computers to compose new music since the 90’s. So, she is on top of things. And her stage shows reveals the energy of a rock star a fraction of her chronological age – kind of a lady version of Mick Jagger.

She launched right into the classics to an appreciative audience of around 3000 folks – many of them clearly a fan of the folk-World-Native genres. It was a spectacular mix of softer songs contrasted with harder edges pieces – all of them with a message. She did write “Universal Soldier” after all – the treatise on the root causes of conflict and who, ultimately, is responsible. (Us, by the way…)

Her 2 hour set included the body of her best work and (she is prolific!) an unveiling of one of her latest songs – so new that all of her band members had the musical chart in front of them!

I can admit this now, that even though I am not from the 60’s (I was a teen in the 70’s) there was something so resonant about her concert, her stage presence, her voice and message that moved me to tear up several times. And I am pretty sure I was not alone.
She has been a messenger for peace (a pacifist if you would…) since the 60’s and has railed against the culture of war and aggression since the early 60’s – it is even generally accepted that she was “black-listed” by the Nixon and Johnson administration – it’s written that Johnson wrote letters to several radio networks thanking them for suppressing her message of peace. Peace (in the 60’s) was considered a threat to the establishment much as it is now. In reality, her messages are as important now as they were then – if not more so.

She sings about love, the environment, a plea for equity, fairness, justice and a livable World community for future generations – the stuff that is often labeled “terrorism” or “Eco-terrorism” by “The Man” here in the 21st Century. Yup, not like that much has changed.

Anyway – seeing and hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie at the University of Victoria was one of the best outdoor shows I have seen in a long time and easily the most meaningful!

Long life and more music to Buffy! She has an incredible schedule – interested in seeing the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie live? Head on over here to her Tour Schedule

Comment [1]

Previous Next