Thursday 15 October 2015

Calgary Songs Project: Calgary Music and the Women Who Were There/Are Here

A note from Kenna Burima:
It should come as no surprise that Calgary has been and continues to be home to a bevy of badass women. We reached out to a few of them for their top five favourite Calgary songs and to get some of their thoughts, ponderings and memories on music in Calgary. We’re continuing to collect them, so if you’d like to contribute, make sure to connect with Arif and I. Reading these stories I am struck by what an amazing sense of community we have here in Calgary. I am honoured to be a part of this continuing history.

We start with one of the most important women in my life. One Yellow Rabbit’s fearless leader Ann Connors. I cannot emphasize enough how much respect I have for her and all the women included in this blog. There are many. Thank you for doing what you do.

Much love and respect,

Ann Connors - Managing Director, One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo
I am from and of Newfoundland. Am actually in St. John’s right now for the Festival of New Dance and am writing this post from my hotel room on Signal Hill Rd with a view that looks out over the harbour. If this was July during the St. John’s Sound Symposium the tugboats would right about this time be playing a harbour symphony composed by a Newfoundland musician.
So you see, music is deeply engrained in my culture; it is in my bones. It has been a part of my life that goes back as far as I can remember – when as a toddler the only way I could tell my mother’s identical twin brothers apart was I knew that Uncle Cyril played the fiddle and Uncle Bill played the spoons. And still to this day, every family gathering ends with a guitar, piano and many songs. And as always, you would be hard pressed to find a pub in downtown St. John’s (or anywhere on the island) on any night of the week where there isn’t some form of music begging you inside– be a gal on a guitar or a dance-up with a fiddler player. It’s everywhere really.
There are a lot of incredible musicians in Newfoundland. So many so that people often say “There must be something in the water”. As I discover more and more Alberta musicians I say “What is up with those mountains?”
I moved to Calgary three years ago. Ship and Anchor, Mickey’s Juke Joint, Ironwood (to name a few) – bursting with live music and cold beer. Wow Calgary – do you ever know how to make a girl feel at home. Since then I have been blessed with countless music events from the Folk Festival to Festival Hall series to the World Music Series and to all great pubs in between and am slowly but surely discovering this incredible music scene. And no surprise to see so many female artists front and centre. After all Calgary – you did give the world Fiest, Jann Arden, Tegan and Sara and so many fabulous female artists – pretty incredible role models for young musicians to follow. It’s a great scene and I fell blessed that it exists.

Nicola Lefevre - Musician (Sequicons, Chick Magnets, TUGS) Founder, Girls Rock Camp Calgary
I started playing in my first band in 1993, a few months after I had started grade 10 at Bishop Carroll High School. My new friends Dan Gaucher (drums) and Mike Hesketh (guitar) had been playing music together for a few years, and wanted to start a new band with another friend PJ Letourneau, and me. Bass and vocals were available, and since PJ wanted to sing, my parents bought me a Vantage short scale bass for my birthday and I tried to figure it out. My bass lessons consisted of a lot of Mike telling me "the third fret on the A string" in those days. We called ourselves "Drew" after Dan's best friend.
I knew there were other women in bands; one of the more prominent bands in the city at the time was Placebo with Leslie Feist, Elescia Eisler and Toby Connoly (and Kieran McCauley as the sole dude.) Just starting out as a contributing musician though, I didn't feel much of a connection yet with anyone in the scene that wasn't already a friend of mine. And my friends were dudes; consequently so was my musical circle.
Mike, Dan and I all had friends in other bands that played pretty regularly, and eventually the day came that we were invited to join a bill with Dayworld and Chixdiggit at the Black Lounge. June 18th, 1994; I know this because I still have the tape that was recorded off the sound board. I was 15, and this would be my first time playing bass guitar on stage. I was nervous, I needed to borrow an amp, I was the only girl, and a big fan of all the other bands on the bill. No matter how many shows I had been to, how many people I knew, how stoked I was on our songs, I did not feel like I belonged there. And that feeling lasted about 5 minutes. Before I even had to ask, one of the other bass players told me he had heard I needed an amp and was welcome to use his. Our friends AND people I didn't know cheered for us. A guy told me he didn't believe I had only been playing for a few months. In the 22 years since that show, I have been told I was "pretty good for a girl" more times than I can count, even now at 37. I have been asked which band my boyfriend was in while carrying my gear into a venue; I've been grabbed and leered at and aggressively propositioned and told I should smile more; but that first show really set the tone for the community I've been a part of for most of my life. And truly, it's an experience I always bring to mind when things seem unrelentingly awful and I wonder about why I should care to even try and help fix it.

Nicola’s Top Five!

1. 20 Something (by Rusty Nails. Technically this band was from Vancouver, but they had a VERY strong connection to this city and were here a lot. This is one of my favourite songs of all time by any band.)
2. You'll Need a Telescope (by Schecky Forme)

And more recently...
3. Sick Daze (by Zackariah and the Prophets)
4. Across the Country (by Miesha and the Spanks)
5. Loss Leaders (by Night Committee)
Special mention, cuz I gotta... "Feint of Heart" by Napalmpom.

Christine Berger - former Night Gallery bartender and all around badass
These women...
With what I thought, coming from a vacuous small town to the bright lights and big city of Calgary, being a young and impressionable teenager, starting at the Night Gallery, I was pretty nervous and intimidated by the incredible talent I was surrounded by.

I remember watching these prodigious women walk into our club with such presence and stature, with gear in hand they would climb onto the stage and stand with what I thought was sheer grandeur and grace. They would either belt out their lyrics or play their instruments with such undulated purpose. I longed to have their courage. They had something to say to the world through their music and I intently wanted to listen and learn. These women with such raw aptitude helped me shape my way through my teens and give me my voice. I'm not sure if they all knew at the the time that they were breaking down barriers and creating new forks in the road for those to travel who might not be so bold, but their actions and presence made it okay for others to follow or break the mold.

I don't want to name names because there were and are so many intoxicating, creative visionaries out there that it's hard to do so, but if you do want a name, I can honestly remember looking up at Kara Keith on stage I thought she was at least 20 feet tall if she were a foot.

I would love to thank all those powerhouse women in the Calgary scene and beyond, those women who gave and still give it their all. I Thank you. X

Onalea Gilbertson – One Yellow Rabbit Ensemble Member, ACTOR, musician singer, Creator, Currently resides in NYCand is performing in the off Broadway show Sleep No More
God. Impossible to say only one musical memory. So I share a kaleidoscope - OYR - meeting and working with all of the freaks lovers brothers - on avant guarde music theatre. Life changing- genre shifting. Singing penultima arcane (in in klezskavania) with giant prosthetic breasts belting a high g! Working/touring in dream machine - all those tender tours - Michael greens America as we walk slowly towards him - no music but yet MUSIC!!! ZAPPA!! What?? Being only girl singing all of the high stuff - really dreaming out w the freaks. Working w all these freaks inspired me to write my own work. BANFF CENTRE 2007 my life changes forever as Morag Northey and Jonathan Lewis play my music with me - first time I play piano in public. RODEO 2010 world premiere REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL - written w composer marcel Bergmann and people experiencing homelessness - no words. Unbelievable And life changing. Bring supported in all of this - bringing my shows REQUIEM AND BLANCHE to NYC. Bringing MATA HARI IN 8 bullets ( solo version new creation) to NYC. all life changing. WHY? artists hearts - poetry expression audience discussion - laughter tears FREAKS

What can I say - emotional - abundant and unbelievable

Onalea’s Top Five!

Plaid tongue Devils - in klezskavania " spend a penny"
David Rhymer/Blake Brooker - surrounded by chrome from dream machine
Kris demeanor/ david Rhymer - Vesuvius from " crime does not pay"
Rhymer/Brooker " loneliness" from Mata Hari

Onalea Gilbertson/ Morag Northey -isn't it scandalous" from Blanche the bittersweet life of a wild prairie dame

Honourable Mentions: Illinois enemy bandit from zappa's little creatures/ Michael Green and the shiney beast ensemble

Bonus top 5's!

Vicki Stroich - surfer, dramaturg and Executive Director at Alberta Theatre Projects

They’re a Comin’ - The Dudes - I guess most folks might choose Dropkick Queen of the Weekend, which I also have a strong affection for, but if I were to choose one song by The Dudes that does it for me it’s this one. When I get ornery and rebellious I still sing to myself “It’s alright now, you won’t win and I don’t owe you anything” over and over.

Sunshine Snare Hits - Chad Van Gaalen - I have a CD I bought from Chad when he was playing out on 17th Avenue with a drawing he did of a little body with an analog telephone for a head. He did a panel discussion that I curated once and I remember exchanging an e-mail with him before we met at the University where he said he would be “the really tall, quiet guy.” I picked him out of the crowd immediately. This will always be my favourite of his songs.

Insensitive - performed by Jann Arden - A lovely song, to be sure, performed by one of Calgary’s own great voices but it makes the list for me because the video started an obsession with the Anderson Apartment building that has lasted through my teenage years and my entire adulthood.

Crowchild Trail - Huevos Rancheros - Every all ages gig I ever went to these guys were playing.

Tough Cookie - Samantha Savage Smith - A song for cold nights in February when the snow is falling outside and one is looking for something or someone warm to hold.

Mariel Buckley - Musician 

(and of course Mariel NEVER follows the rules, she's given us her favourite Calgary songwriters. "I'll allow it," says Kenna)

Really, I can't pick five songs specifically, because each of the people I've chosen has an insane catalogue and all of their songs should be put in high praises.

- Billy Cowsill: If you're not listening to Billy, or haven't listened, you're dead inside and not a local country artist. Or maybe you are and just haven't heard. My bad. (*When Will This Heartache End, *The Fool Is The Last One To Know, *Think On It)

- Tom Phillips: Same applies. Genius lyrical abilities, and a golden voice. (Like A Rodeo*)

- The Dudes: Holy fuck, pay attention, these guys are staples of the local scene and have a Christmas Party every year that blows your hair back. Not to forget the side project Dojo Workhorse - love their stuff. (Misbehave* - Dojo)

- Feist: Vocals and composition speak for themselves, she's a real gem and we should be proud as fuck that she came out of our city. (The Bad In Each Other*, When I Was A Young Girl*, Honey Honey*...)

- Tim Leacock: Not sure if I could locate a solo record to boast, but this guy has remained a faithful sideman to almost every notable roots artist in the city and has an incredible catalogue of original material. Flying under the radar may be his way, but I'm hoping to hear a solo record of material in the near future. (Nowhere Radio* - co-write with Tom Phillips)

Colleen Langford - Former Night Gallery Queen

Pussy Monster - Dracula's Teabag: At this time, the Riot Grrrl movement was fervent and totally happening. But not in Calgary. Women had a really difficult time getting any stage time, and despite what we know now about some internal sexism in the band, Pussy Monster was an electrifying Woman's Band! Val's vocals were raw, dirty and messy and she embodied a lot of classic rock machismo mixed with the tongue-in-cheek schoolgirl uniform that really signified the Riot Grrrl movement. Pussy Monster couldn't exactly be categorized as Riot Grrrl though. Their influences were as much English Punk as they were MC5 as they were garage. At any rate, this song still hits me right in the chest. How can you not love a song about used tampons?

At this time, the Riot Grrrl movement was fervent and totally happening. But not in Calgary. Women had a really difficult time getting any stage time, and despite what we know now about some internal sexism in the band, Pussy Monster was an electrifying Woman's Band! Val's vocals were raw, dirty and messy and she embodied a lot of classic rock machismo mixed with the tongue-in-cheek schoolgirl uniform that really signified the Riot Grrrl movement. Pussy Monster couldn't exactly be categorized as Riot Grrrl though. Their influences were as much English Punk as they were MC5 as they were garage. At any rate, this song still hits me right in the chest. How can you not love a song about used tampons?

The Puritans - Dennis Wilson: It was a tough choice between this and Wolloping Dollop. To me, The Puritans really epitomized Calgary rock and roll in the 90s. I'm sure I'd get a fair bit of argument from Von Zippers fans, but The Puritans had this incredible urgency about them, and Dennis Wilson was their signature. All tension and build, this song still makes the hair on my neck stand up.

Earthquake Pills - The Pink Bomb: I'm sure picking this makes me seem like a Chris Temple super fan - and maybe I am - but his voice could easily travel from whimper to bellow with so little effort, and I think of him as a bit of a hometown hero for that reason alone. Earthquake Pills were bit of an anomaly at the time and they're not remembered the same way that garage or novelty, costume-heavy bands from Calgary are. This song is all twee and feelie and still kind of breaks my heart.

The Ex-Boyfriends - Longer Than Your Memory: Calgary's Only Rock and Roll Band! TXBF easily put on the best rock and roll performance in Calgary and I miss seeing them! Djewel is a god and a legend because he knows everything about music and it all pours out when he's live. This one is snotty and sexy and arrogant. Like rock and roll should be.

The Von Zippers - Kill That Guy: I dunno. It's just their best song and they're amazing. But I kind of also wanted to pick The Mants - The Mants.

Dawn Loucks - Cheerleader. Believer in the Karma Economy.

1) Tom Phillips - Ribbons and Bows (or Life is a Rodeo). I truly believe that Tom is one of the best songwriters this city has ever produced. Ribbons and Bows, I think, is one of the best descriptions of the ending of a relationship that I've heard in song ("ribbons and bows have turned into chains..."

2) Lorrie Matheson - Mission to Inglewood. I honestly don't know that Lorrie ever recorded this beyond the 'demo stage'. This was from the 'Brass Tacks' period. We all know what amazing contributions Lorrie has made to the city and scene. This song describes his moving from Mission to Inglewood. So Calgary.

3) Rae Spoon - My heart is a piece of garbage, fight seagulls fight. I can't say enough about what a contribution Rae has made to present the issue of gender identity in a new and different light. And, through that work, Rae has shown the world that Calgary is not quite the place that it has often been 'labelled' as. This song mentions the Calgary Tower.

4) Primrods - I can't remember the song name, but it is the one about the swimming pool that is on the split 10" with Wagbeard (Santa Lucia). These guys were signed to Geffen. Amazing, totally crazy, brilliant.

5) Parkades - Attack Me. Highlighted so many elements of the DIY ethic. I still remember when The Parkades were on Nightlines (David Wisdom) on CBC.

Honorable Mentions - Chris Vail in any of his projects; Kara Keith/Falconhawk; FD.

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