Encouraging Whimsy

kbsitepicinstrument001Finally found a moment to locate a copy of the disc so I could play this song for you again.  It’s funny how many people still remember this piece.  The words are from Alice in Wonderland, of course.  The arrangement is not.  Anderson on the harp, myself on guitar and voice, and David Woodhead on the fretless bass.  The additional sounds you hear are a synthesizer hooked up to the divine Mr. D’s bass.  One of the things David did so beautifully in his playing at the time was to combine textured synth sounds with his lovely melodic bass approach (this was always done live, both in concert and on recording, never added in later, and so it formed part of his instrument).  It helped make up that lovely, rich soundscape that was such a significant part of what we did.

If you listen closely, however, there’s a little something different here.  At various points the snyth sounds triggered are directly out of the cartoon universe.  It just seemed so appropriate.  To make things even more interesting we decided not to program specific sounds for specific notes.  Instead we left it completely to chance.  And because this whole album was recorded straight to stereo with no overdubs or edits, what you hear on this track is a live take with all of the delightful accidents that can only happen when whimsy is invited.  And yes maybe encouraged.

Ah friend, you’ll permit me a bit of bemusement that this track is now almost twenty years old.  Remember, too, this was at a time when Canadian folk rulers had decreed that we musicians were not to mess with tradition.  It simply wasn’t done.  Apparently they were convinced that those traditions weren’t robust enough to take the abuse.  You can imagine how popular this made us among those folks.  I suspect you can also imagine how little I cared.  Happily, as is often the case, the official tastemakers were absolutely mistaken, and completely out of step with the general listening public, who asked for this again and again.  And again.  I’m often puzzled when I’m told that much of our stuff was ahead of it’s time.  But on listening, I guess some of it was getting a bit out there.

Sure was fun though.

the song –>The Jabberwock from the Anderson & Brown CD ‘Crimson’, 1991 (A&B102CD)

With No Instrument

You and I have been talking about memorising words for a while now and somehow I’m not sure it’s occurred to me to mention that I do most of my memorising with no instrument in my hand.  The reason is simple–it’s easier when I don’t have to think about what chords to play, or where my fingers go, or whether I’m in tune, or the gazillion other things that can interrupt my stream of recollection.  Actually I prefer to work on words while I’m walking, or doing chores, or anything that keeps my body occupied and leaves my mind free.  Yes, I can do it while I’m playing, but it just seems to take forever.  So no, when I really need to work on the words, that’s when I put the instrument down.  Just thought I’d mention it.


websitemusicfermataYou know there’s a question that I’ve heard more than once, sometimes even made as a statement of fact.  That we are going to run out of possible new combinations of notes, that eventually everything will have been written, and what will we do then?  Now I’ve seen a couple of calculations of numbers of possible combinations, and those numbers are pretty big, I mean tens to the power of, with a whole bunch of zeros after it.  Really big.  Which leads me to my response to that question.  Think about this for a moment–when we finally get to the last possible combination of notes, the last song that can be written fresh, what makes you think we’ll remember the first one?

No, I think we’re good for a while.

The Coldest Night

I hadn’t realised it’d been quite so long since I put any music up here.  I’ll have to see what I can do about that.  This is a song that I often have in my head somehow.  I guess the message is fairly clear, people seem to get it.  I have a few different settings of it, and it ended up being the song wrapped around one of the pivot points of the story in Witness.  But there’s also something quite special about this particular version.  The guitar sound is a lovely old tube pre-amp fed through a decent studio speaker, and then shot out into a concert hall where a stereo pair of mics makes sense of the image.  So, yes, whatever reverb you hear is the real thing.  But yeah, it’s about the words.

kbcdlongviewthe song–>The Coldest Night from the CD ‘The Long View’, 2006 (LV001)

These Are the Times Lyrics

I’ve been asked for the words for this so many times that I figured I should put them here.  The thoughts were collected from many people over the years, I feel honoured that folks seem to get something from this particular version of a thing we all seem to think but sometimes have trouble voicing.  So, with thanks…

These Are the Times

What if these are the times, what if these are the memories I should hold against myself
What if these are the things they will talk about when we are gone and laid to rest
What if these are the faces of friendship, what if this is the best of the wine
What if this is our life, and these are the times

What if the choices we make come to nothing, what if the chances we take are too few
What if all of the ways that we measure our days leave us with nothing to do
What if all of our rhyme and our reason is buried in season, with no one to pray
What if this is our life, and these are the times

What if these are the times…

What if all that we are is to anger, what if all that we do is to die
What if all that we ask is one piece of some apple, and all that we pay is one price
What if all we can be comes to nowhere near heaven, and some days it feels just like hell
What if this is our life, and these are the times

What if these are the times…

I will make of each moment a movement, I will take of my time every day
I will treasure what pleasure I can with my brothers and sisters I meet on the way
I will not spend my life in some distant haze, dreaming of tomorrow, long for yesterday
No, this is my life, and these are the times

These are the times, these are the memories I should hold against myself
These are the things they will talk about when we are gone and laid to rest
These are the faces of friendship, this is the best of the wine
This is our life, and these are the times

Not Traditional

Back in the stone age, before the internet, it was challenging to find the source of songs, even ones that were quite popular.  Things have changed since then, and while the innernet is full of all kinds of misinformation it does make basic fact-checking a lot easier.  Even so, it’s worth mentioning two songs which are still often referred to as ‘traditional’.  So for the record;

  • The Ballad of Glencoe was written by Jim McLean (Duart Music) around 1963
  • Wild Mountain Thyme (Will Ye Go Lassie, Go) was written by Francis McPeake around 1957

Worth noting that Wild Mountain Thyme as we know it now is actually Irish if you really want to get down to it.  No really.  Although the words are pretty much pulled from a song called ‘The Braes of Balquidder’ by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), there’s been some significant re-working to come up with the simple lyrics we know today, and the melody is completely different from the original.  So it’s really a new song in every meaningful sense of the word.  And McPeake = Belfast = Irish (last I checked).  (Although I did find one anecdotal reference to someone running a club in Belfast which McPeake played at back in the day.  The person suggested the song was learned from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork, who also recorded it for Alan Lomax.  The trail ends there as far as I can see.  Let me know if you find out any more.)

So both of these songs are written in the tradition, absolutely.  But ‘traditional’?  Nope, not at all.

And while we’re here, if you’d like to have a look at some real historic material (as opposed to ‘traditional’, which is a term I’ve never really understood, does that mean it was written by a committee?), you might enjoy having a look at the Scottish National Library’s collection of Broadsides.  Now there’s a beautiful use of the internet.  Nice work.  Thanks.


It’s funny how much the public discussion about climate change got lost in a nasty argument about ideology, at least here in North America.  Far more virulent in the States than the version we had here in Canada, but we had it too.  Our current federal goverment is the same party that argued that global warming wasn’t a serious problem.  Odd that very basic science should become something one can argue about as a matter of faith.  We don’t take sides and get all knotted up over whether we believe in the second law of thermodynamics.  Or maybe I just missed it.

I haven’t sung this song for years now, but I’ve been wondering if it might be good to add a few verses.  Although I could wish the piece was a little more dated than it seems.  I guess these sorts of unfortunate behaviours on the part of governments never go completely out of fashion.  The verses were written deep in the middle of a time when the politics of blame still held power.  We’re still feeling the effects of some of it.  Around here they gutted mental health services, and generally as much of the public healthcare system as they could get away with.  On the one hand telling us that we can’t afford it, and on the other hand trying to convince you and me that it’s somehow bogus to believe that a complete and fair public healthcare system is part of what makes our society Canadian.  And of course there will always be business interests who will make good money if the government does as little as possible.  I just honestly don’t understand how a business which must make a healthy profit in order to exist is going to do things more cheaply than a public system which doesn’t need to make that profit.  And am I the only one who has noticed that where our current system seems to be having difficulty is at exactly the same point where the public part of our system has to give way to the private part?  We’ve never had a completely public system.  Too many self-made business-people telling us it’s not possible.

kbcdlettersAh well, what do I know?  Not much, apparently.  Guess I’ll just have to stick to singing songs.

the song –>Learn to Behave–from the CD ‘letters from home’, 1997 (NHC 401)

Of Pedestals and Genetics

I was talking with someone last week about this song.  Well, actually we were talking about what this song is about, I’d completely forgotten about this piece.  The conversation had rolled around for a while and we found ourselves talking about how putting someone up on a pedestal removes them from the normal human experience.  I think I was pointing out that in fact it’s sometimes a way that people convince themselves that whatever is good in that person is completely unattainable for us mere mortals.  They’re up on that pedestal, and they’re perfect, and I could never be that.  So I don’t have to try.

I figure it’s the same kind of thought-mechanism that some folks are trying to use when they tell me they are convinced that the reason why I am ‘so musical’ is because ‘musical ability is genetic’.  What I’ve discovered in these conversations over the years is that they’re trying to close the door on not ‘being musical’ themselves.  They’re convinced  that musical grooviness is purely genetic.  And since ‘no one in their family is musical’, then it’s okay that they’re not musical themselves.  Makes their personal disappointment easier somehow.  The theory kind of falls apart when I explain that there was no music in my family.  Nope, none.

kbcdlongviewAnyway, it’s maybe just a little too weird that I’ve actually written a song about that whole thought, but there you are.  I guess the thought is that pedestals are no good for nobody.  I think the song maybe says it better.

the song–>Wisdom from the CD ‘The Long View’, 2006 (LV001)


I stumbled across this the other day, had completely forgotten about it.  A little bit of ancient history, getting close to twenty years old by my reckoning.  Al Cross is playing the drums on this track, if memory serves that’s Henry Heilig on the bass, and yes I’m on the electric guitar (I’ve played electric as long as I’ve had an acoustic guitar so this recording wasn’t unusual in that sense).  I don’t seem to have the masters for these sessions any more, didn’t make it through several life changes.  I remember there was a particularly interesting arrangement of the pumping shanty ‘Leave Her, Johnny’.  Oh well.  I think I’ve still got the version of ‘Lanigan’s Ball’ somewhere.  That was sort of my party piece for years.  People told me later that it was ahead of the curve at the time, although I imagine it would probably seem kind of normal by today’s standards.  I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.  In the meantime, this was intended for dancing, so feel free…

kbsitepicinstrument007the song–>Tom O’Bedlam

I never had any reason to release the tracks from these sessions, at the time there were no Canadian performers on the scene using electric instruments to play traditional music.  No gigs, no support, that simple.  God forbid I should’ve showed up to play jigs and reels with an electric guitar.  Like playing political music, electrified traditional music was deeply frowned upon–unless you came from somewhere else.  (‘Where are the political artists in Canada?’ said the well known British political musician during his visit to an early Canadian folk-business conference.  ‘Mumble mumble mumble,’ replied the individuals who were deciding who got hired or not at the time.  I was there.  Yes, that’s a quote.)  Apparently things are different now.  No longer being part of that world I really couldn’t care less.  But yeah, the scene really was that provincial.  Shame.

Tiger, Tiger

It was one of those images that stuck with me for a while before I decided to do something with it.  Afraid of something, but you don’t know what it is exactly.  Not fear of the unknown in general, more like a fear of a specific unknown, which is a different thing somehow.  As sometimes happens, I was talking about the concept with someone and I grabbed a phrase out of thin air.  “You know what that is,” I said, “it’s a tiger in the long grass.”  The concept hung around long enough that I figured I should do something with it.  And eventually this song came along.

kbcdlongviewthe song–>The Long Grass from the CD ‘The Long View’, 2006 (LV001)

Sometimes just by naming something it loses its power over us, calling it something that amuses you is even more potent.  Try it some time.  I know what that is…