Posts Tagged ‘CBC’

Ukulele me

February 27th, 2015

It’s that time of year again here in Vancouver: yes, it’s ukulele season. Next weekend is the annual Vancouver Ukulele Festival, a three-day celebration of the weirdest little instrument on earth.

I’m highly attuned to news related to ukuleles, because there was a time in my life when people kept on giving them to me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve got three now. I don’t really know how to play them, but they’re fun to have around.

ukulele 2

And I love the sound of them, too. In fact, the first story I ever wrote for the CBC show Definitely Not The Opera was about the ukulele — its reputation as a goofy comedy instrument and its growing popularity. The uke was still the underdog and the bad joke of the music world back then, but over the past decade, as I predicted, it’s gained a lot more respect.

More and more musicians have discovered the uke’s versatility and its tiny, tender heart. Since I recorded that story for CBC, Eddie Vedder has recorded an entire album full of ukulele songs (appropriately titled Ukulele Songs). And the instrument has gained some indie cred at the hands of artists such as tUnE-yArDs and Jens Lekman, too.

But the master of the ukulele love song, in my estimation, is still Stephin Merritt. From his many Magnetic Fields masterpieces, to his work with the 6ths, to his silly solo ukulele ditties, he breaks my heart with every strum.

ukulele 1

Still not convinced that the uke can be a soulful instrument? Check out this cover of “Motherless Child” by Vancouver musician (and Ukulele Festival organizer) Daphne Roubini.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I have something in my eye…

Dancing to a different tune

January 31st, 2014

I told a story on the CBC Radio show Definitely Not The Opera this week. It was for an episode that’s all about seeing your parents in a new light.

It’s a tricky maneuver, telling a story about your parents on national radio. Especially when it involves describing how you saw them when you were a child. I’m now a parent myself and can look back and recognize how hard they worked and how little I appreciated their efforts at the time.

That must be part of the joy of becoming a grandparent… knowing that your own offspring are finally going to understand how grateful they ought to be.

Anyway, my story on DNTO is about the first time I saw my parents dance together. They have some moves, see, and the first time I saw them on the dance floor, I realized that they’d had a whole life before me during which they’d had quite a lot of fun.

Thanks for giving up on nights out at jazz clubs in favour of endless chores and exhausting family vacations, Mum and Dad! 

Telling my story on DNTO also made me think about how my own kids see me these days. During the brief moments in between dropping them off at school, trying to meet deadlines, shopping for groceries, doing laundry and desperately trying to make it to extracurricular activities on time, I’m not exactly a barrel of laughs most days.

It’s been a good reminder that when your kids see you having fun, it makes you more human in their eyes. And presumably less of a bossy, errand-running, robotic parental unit. Note to self: loosen up a little.

You can listen to my story about my parents here (my bit starts at around 0:13:45).

Meanwhile, I’ll be thinking up new ways to thank them for all of their hard work. It might be an impossible task, but at least I know I’ve given them one gift they genuinely enjoy: a new dance partner who really knows how to move.



The Birth of Canadian Indie: Winnipeg

March 3rd, 2012

The Winnipeg episode of my ongoing series for CBC Radio 3 is on Grant Lawrence’s podcast this week. What a fun episode to put together. Really made me want to visit Winnipeg, too. It’s a city I’m fond of without ever having been there. I have an affinity for small prairie cities with chips on their shoulders.


The episode gives a seven-minute overview of Winnipeg’s early punk scene and how it developed into the unusually literate and politically charged music scene that exists in the city today. As always, it was rather a lot to cover in seven short minutes. But, of course, huge fun trying to squeeze as much in as possible. One of the highlights was an interview with The Weakerthans’ cerebral, articulate frontman John K. Samson. Here’s my favourite outtake from the interview:

“I’m kind of a thwarted fiction writer, that’s what I’ve always wanted to be since I was a kid, so I’ve tried to transfer those ambitions into pop songs. So that’s the starting point for my lyrics, I think, is to try and tell stories, and to tell stories about the city that I’m from. It’s kind of become the main theme of my work, and something that I’ll be writing about for the rest of my life trying to figure out.”

I also had a long chat with Do Make Say Think’s brilliant Julie Penner, who gave me a lot of background on the city as well as a list of amazing old Winnipeg bands, almost none of whom, alas, I managed to fit into the story. I did dig up this superb YouTube clip of Red Fisher, though, one of the late 80s bands that almost all of my interviewees mentioned. The fashions in the video are almost as much fun as the music. Red Fisher’s drummer, Jason Tait, now plays with The Weakerthans.

Special thanks to Blair from Endearing Records for this episode. He gave me a lesson on Winnipeg’s early music scene and told me where to start.

You can hear the episode on CBC Radio 3’s podcast #310, or you can stream it right here.

Daisy DeBolt

October 14th, 2011

Canadian musician Daisy DeBolt passed away last week. Such a shock when I heard. My first thought was: “my Facebook’s just not going to be the same without your feisty comments, Daize.” And my second was, man, I am so lucky to have been able to meet her last year and tell the story of her iconoclastic 70s psych folk band Fraser and DeBolt. Her presence is such an important part of the documentary and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to pay tribute with it to her indomitable spirit and her incomparable voice. In light of her passing, CBC’s Inside The Music is re-airing the documentary this Sunday (October 16) at 3 pm on Radio 2 and 9 pm on Radio One.


Thanks for the interview, Daisy. May your music and your spirit live on.

If you’d like to hear the documentary on Fraser and DeBolt you can stream it right here:

An Overnight Sensation: The Story of Fraser and DeBolt

Thanks for listening!


The Birth of Canadian Indie: Montreal

September 23rd, 2011

Episode three of my series The Birth of Canadian Indie is on this week’s CBC Radio 3 podcast. Putting together the Montreal episode was a much different experience than the previous two in the series. Unlike Halifax and Toronto, I didn’t know that much about the Montreal music scene before I started my research.

I knew of bands like the Gruesomes and Deja Voodoo, of course. And later in the 90s I was a big Me Mom and Morgentaler fan (in fact I think I still have a giant, oversized Me Mom and Morgentaler concert tee somewhere in a box in my crawlspace). But I wasn’t sure what tied any of these bands together. Once I figured it out, though, it seemed so obvious. Montreal bands, as is evidenced today by the Arcade Fire and the Dears, hold nothing back. As Murray Lightburn of the Dears said, Montreal bands like to turn the dial to 11.

An interview with longtime concert promoter Daniel Webster gave me a great starting point for this episode. And it felt like a special privilege to talk to Gerard Van Herk of the legendary Deja Voodoo. Here’s what he had to say about his city:

“There’s a lot more arts in Montreal, period. You get all these places across Canada that say our postal code has the most artists per capita! But it’s not true, it’s Montreal that has the most artists. There’s more government support for the arts. Not our art, I mean at no point did the Quebec government say “wow it would be great to give money to a sludgeabilly band but it was OK to be an artist. There were tons and tons of people working 10-20 hour a week day jobs so that they could be a musician or performance artist or whatever, so that just sort of encouraged a culture of wonkiness or whatever that became popular and that’s always been around. It’s very OK to be wonky in Montreal.”

All in all, putting together the Montreal episode was very educational. And, as with the previous two, the whole experience was enormously fun.

The episode is on a Montreal-themed Radio 3 podcast, or you can stream it right here on my site.