New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

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New Fiction for the week of February 19th : New Comics/Graphic Novels
Saigon Calling

Saigon Calling

London 1963-75
edition:Paperback
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Frank

Frank

illustrated by Ben Rankel
edited by Alexander Finbow
edition:Hardcover
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Frog Books

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PEI Books

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New Fiction for the week of December 31st : New Picture Books
You Hold Me Up

You Hold Me Up

edition:Hardcover
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Excerpt

You hold me up when you comfort me
   When you listen to me
   When you respect me.

You hold me up

I hold you up

We hold each other up.

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Bloom

Bloom

A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad
edition:Hardcover
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Triangle

Triangle

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jon Klassen
edition:Hardcover
also available: Hardcover
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Silas' Seven Grandparents

Silas' Seven Grandparents

by Anita Horrocks
illustrated by Helen Flook
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
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Excerpt

Silas' seven grandparents took him on outings over the July long weekend. Two took him camping. Two took him to the dog show. Two took him to the dinosaur museum. And one rode the roller coaster with him at the amusement park.
   But sometimes Silas couldn't keep up with his seven grandparents.
   "After all, I'm only one small boy," said Silas.

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Toxic Love

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Close to the falls

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New Fiction for the week of February 5th : New Fiction
Things Are Good Now
Excerpt

From “Heading Somewhere”

Holding the corner post for balance, Sara climbs onto the patio chair. She wraps the bedsheet she’s tied to the ledge like a rope around her arm and slowly climbs over her employers’ second floor balcony and down to the quiet street below. A metre or so before her feet touch the ground, she loses her grip and falls on the asphalt. She gets up quickly, adjusts the duffle bag on her back and looks up towards the house. The lights have not been turned on. She takes a deep breath and searches the dark street for the ride Ahmed, her employers’ gatekeeper had arranged for her. She spots an old van a few metres away. Its rear lights flash twice as agreed upon. She walks towards it as fast as she can without running.

“Get in the back,” the driver says from the half-open window before Sara has a chance to make eye contact.

“Cover yourself with that blanket and keep your head down,” he orders with a rushed voice.

Panic takes over as she slides the van door shut. What if this is a trap? She trusts Ahmed. He didn’t let her out of the compound alone for fear of losing his job but he was nice to her. And he has delivered on the promise of finding her someone who, for a fee, would help her. But this man on the other hand could be taking her to the police station instead of the outskirts of Damascus where she’s supposed to meet someone who will take her to Beirut. She shakes the distressing thought away. There is nothing she can do now but hope for the best.

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The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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Street of Riches
Excerpt

When he built our home, my father took as model the only other house then standing on the brief length of Rue Deschambault — still unencumbered by any sidewalk, as virginal as a country path stretching through thickets of wild roses and, in April, resonant with the music of frogs. Maman was pleased with the street, with the quiet, with the good, pure air there, for the children, but she objected to the servile copying of our neighbor’s house, which was luckily not too close to ours. This neighbor, a Monsieur Guilbert, was a colleague of my father’s at the Ministry of Colonization and his political enemy to boot, for Papa had remained passionately faithful to Laurier’s memory, while Monsieur Guilbert, when the Conservative party came into power, had become a turncoat. Over this the two men quarreled momentously. My father would return home after one of these set-tos chewing on his little clay pipe. He would inform my mother: “I’m through. I’ll never set foot there again. The old jackass, with his Borden government!”

My mother concurred: “Certainly. You’d do far better to stay home than go looking for an argument wherever you stick your nose.”

Yet no more than my father could forgo his skirmishes with Monsieur Guilbert could she forgo her own with our neighbor’s wife.

This lady was from St. Hyacinth, in the Province of Quebec, and she made much of it. But above all she had a way of extolling her own children which, while lauding them, seemed to belittle Maman’s. “My Lucien is almost too conscientious,” she would say. “The Fathers tell me they have never seen a child work so hard.”

My mother would retort: “Only yesterday the Fathers told me again that my Gervais is so intelligent everything comes to him effortlessly; and apparently that’s not too good a thing, either.”

My mother was most skillful in parrying what she called Madame Guilbert’s “thrusts.” Despite all this — or perhaps because of it — our two families could scarcely get along without each other.

Often of an evening my mother would go out on the open porch in front of our big house and say to my sister Odette, “Supper is ready. Run over and tell your father; he’s still at the Guilberts’. Bring him back before any argument begins.”

Odette would sally forth across the field. When she reached the Guilberts’, there my father would be, his pipe clamped between his teeth, leaning against our neighbor’s gate and chatting peaceably with Monsieur Guilbert about rosebushes, apple trees, and asparagus. So long as the two men were on such subjects, there was no need for alarm; and here Monsieur Guilbert was willing enough to accept my father’s views, since he granted that my father knew more about gardening than he did. Then Odette would espy Gisèle’s face at one of the upstairs windows. Gisèle would call out, “Wait for me, Odette; I’m coming down. I want to show you my tatting.”

In those days they were both fanatically devoted to piano playing and to a sort of lacemaking that involved the use of a shuttle and was, if my memory serves me well, called tatting.

Then my mother would send my brother Gervais to see what on earth could be keeping my Father and Odette over there. At the field’s edge, Gervais would encounter his classmate Lucien Guilbert, and the latter would entice my brother behind an ancient barn to smoke a cigarette; needless to say, Madame Guilbert always maintained that it was Gervais who had induced Lucien to indulge this bad habit.

Out of patience, Maman would ship me off to corral them all. But I would chance to meet the Guilberts’ dog, and we would start playing in the tall grass; among us all, now at loggerheads, now so closely knit, I think that only I and the Guilbert dog were always of the same temper.

At last my mother would tear off her apron and come marching along the footpath to reprimand us. “My supper’s been ready for an hour now!”

Madame Guilbert would then appear on her own porch and graciously exclaim, “Dear, dear! Do stay here for supper, seeing as you’re all here anyway.”

For Madame Guilbert, when you yielded her her full rights to superiority and distinction, was a most amiable person. Still, it was difficult to avoid, throughout an entire evening, the subject of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, or to settle once and for all which boy had induced the other to smoke; and the consequence was that often enough we came home from these kindly visits quite out of humor with the Guilberts.
Such was our situation — getting along together happily enough, I avow — when the unknown quite fantastically entered our lives, and brought with it relationships more difficult, yet how vastly more interesting!

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Atomic Road

Atomic Road

by Grant Buday
introduction by John O'Brian
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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Be My Wolff
Excerpt

“Marry me, Rachel.”
“Not yet.”
“Tomorrow, Rachel. Marry me.”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“There is no common blood between us. Say it,” pleads Zachariah.
“There is no common blood between us,” murmurs Rachel.
“I am not your brother.”
“I know.”
He traces her face with his swollen fingers, across the brow bones and down the zygomatics, and along the jaw from earlobe to chin, sweeping away the brine as he goes.
“I am your Wolff,” she replies.
Let the day begin.
 
·          
 
Zachariah crams his pockets, straps on a watch, skips to the loo for a splash.

“Skip to the loo, my DAR-ling!” sings Rachel, stroking the bed where Zach lay, moving into that place. I smell the smell of a Russian soul. If she were a dog, she would see the shape of the smell he has left in this imprint on the sheets, she could make an olfactory portrait of the man in his absence, yes. If she were a dog with a twentyfold amount of pri­mary receptors and an ability to detect an odour at concentrations one hundred times smaller than man’s, she could see him in scent. A dog can distinguish between molecules of smell that have mirror symme­try, virtually identical, but drastically different, such as caraway and peppermint.

In Rachel’s dreams, Zachariah is sometimes a dog. Papa says this con­fusion is a well-known feature of sleep and dreaming, because there is a disconnection of brain hemispheres in the dormant callosus, between the hemisphere for recognition of speech and the hemisphere for recog­nition of faces. Rachel dreams Zachariah in various shapes—dog, wolf, bird, boy—and then wakes to the man, seeing him always in infinite detail, taking note this morning, for instance, as he exits the bathroom, of the overnight change in hue round his swollen sparkler, the emer­gence into lighter shades of blue and yellow, Belcher blue and yellow.

Don’t fight today.
“Whatever happened?” she asks. “The other day? You never said. Between you and Sandbags Shaw?”

Sandbag, Rach. It’s Sandbag.

“Sandbag, then.”

“Got to fly, Rach! Tell you later.”

“You won’t.”

“It was nothing,” he tells her. “A barney, a mere scrap. Man’s an idiot. Hit him in the head, there’s an echo! Blow in one ear, snuff a candle out the other end! Empty garret. With breezes blowing through it.”

Sandbag Shaw.

Rachel mistakes the name accidentally-on-purpose, because it irks her, hurts to utter. Shaw is an ogre in the forest.
 
Professionally, Wolff and Shaw fought twice and stand at 1–1, Zach losing the first, but winning the return, the title fight. It was Zach’s Pyr­rhic victory, Rachel decries, because of the damage done that freezing January night when the two men fought at light welter on the undercard of a name fighter who had drawn a big crowd. Theirs, however, was the battle of distinction and Zach became a name thereafter, for his fine win and gameness. Zach fought again too soon, defended his title too soon while still carrying the pain he would not own to of the orbital fracture Shaw inflicted in that famous return, a fracture entailing a legacy of recurring headache and double vision Zach cannot shake. Yet, in the usual hype of the pre-fight medical, Wolff was declared in prime condi­tion for the bout that would prove to be his last, against a sharp Geor­gian bruiser named Kubriashvili.

The Georgian was a walk-in fighter who punched at crazy angles, had a thunderous left hook and a brazen right-hand lead and was known not to be above raking the eyes, and hitting on the break and other indelica­cies. Moments before the bell to end the third round, Kubriashvili blind­sided the ref to butt out of a clinch, using his head, or “third fist” as it is sometimes known, the hardest part of the body, to open a spectacular cut on Zach’s cheekbone, those sculpted zygomatics leaving him more than usually prone to cuts. In the following round, as Zach gaped for air, pushing at his mouthpiece in a tell-tale sign of exhaustion, his antago­nist pounced, breaking his jaw, gashing the tongue and catching Zach with an uppercut as he fell, adding a scything blow to the ear to help him on his way to the floor, where he landed with sickening finality, one leg twitching. Zach had a clot removed and his licence also. It was not safe for him to fight ever again.

The ring is not safe, it’s a dangerous place! So what happens, Rachel wonders, when Zach sees Shaw? When the ogre comes at him out of the forest? What does he see that so unhinges him? What are the dynam­ics of rage, Papa? Tell me.

—Rachel. Explain reflection.
—A reflection is a mathematical concept, not a formula, not a shape. It’s a transformation.
—Expound.
—We are not bilaterally symmetric. Not invariant in reflection.
—Good, Rachel.
Perhaps, thinks Rachel, when Wolff and Shaw exchange glances at Izzy’s gym in Clerkenwell, they see into a glass, sharing a kind of mirror symmetry, each reflecting loss. Loss and fate. Sandbag feels a roiling fury because of that epic fight he lost in his prime, perhaps his one shot at the title, a bout after which he is not ever the same, eternally outclassed. And Zach sees in Shaw the bruiser he beat in such style he lost his head and gambled his title too soon, propelled like Stephenson’s Rocket into the ring with Kubriashvili to contest a title fight he barely survives.

Muzhik!” Zach had called himself as she sat in his hospital room in those long days of recovery. “Had they not passed me fit!” he mused. “If I had ducked, if I had danced, if I had hit through the target. If I had been fully fit. If I had not been so

“Bloody-minded?” she teased. “Hot? Impetuous?”

“All of that,” he smiled. “All of that.”

“Rubbish!” Rachel countered. “I mean, walker! As you love to say. Stuff and nonsense! You are a fighter,” she added. “Were a fighter. Noth­ing you could do,” she insisted, offering consolation now that she is cer­tain he will not ever be allowed to fight again. One of Nicky’s favourite sayings came to mind, though she did not voice it, words of the old soldier, his special wisdom.

“What is the point of ducking?” says the old soldier to the young soldier. “Each shot has a man’s name on it anyway!” he laughs. “Nothing you can do.”
 
 Zach pats his pockets in the bedroom doorway: keys, cash, mobile, yes.

“Bashing off now, be right back,” he says, frowning with decision. “And the Shaw thing—I’ll tell you later, Rach. OK? Full particulars, no holds barred!”

“You’re running away!” she accuses.

“I’m not! I’m late, that’s all. I need you to call the rat man. Tell him I’ll be a few minutes late. OK? Left the number on the kitchen table.”

“Come here for a moment,” says Rachel, and Zach kneels by the bed. “Does it hurt?” she asks, brushing his brow. “You don’t answer me.”

“It’s all your fault,” Zach smiles. “The scrap with Shaw. You and your rats. That essay you read to me. The ratcatcher in New York City.”

“Joseph Mitchell? The Rats on the Waterfront.

“Yeah. The catcher and his peanut butter sarnie. What he discovered.”

“The efficacy of peanut butter in attracting rats. But I don’t—”

“I called Shaw a rat,” Zach confesses, hangdog.

“That’s all? You fought over that? Can it be so silly?”

“Stupid,” he concedes.

“Didn’t you tell me about a fighter who won a round without ever throwing a punch? In the forties?”

“Willie Pep! Willie Pep, Will o’ the Wisp. Great featherweight. Yeah.”

“He won on skill, yes? Not a single blow thrown. I like that story,” insists Rachel. “Very much.”

“Well, he’s also famous for one of the dirtiest fights in history. OK?” “I still like it,” she says, and slips her hands up his sleeves, clasping him gently by the forearms—brachioradialis—forearms her fingers can-not quite encompass. “Makes one think, doesn’t it? Winning a round without a blow. Without a blow, Wolff!”

“Marry me,” Zach murmurs, dropping chin to chest.

“We are married. We’ve always been married. Every day, we marry,” she says quietly. “Can’t you see?”

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New Non-Fiction for the week of January 29th : New Books on Music
The Man Who Carried Cash

The Man Who Carried Cash

Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and the Making of an American Icon
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

PROLOGUE

The sun was setting as Saul Holiff crossed the living-room floor, his shadow falling on the neatly packed bookshelves as he rounded the corner and entered his study. He looked trim in his tailored black slacks and cashmere sweater; his stride was smooth and purposeful. Despite his seventy-nine years, he was in fairly good health, aside from a heart condition that was controlled with medication. Pulling a set of keys from his pocket, he unlocked the top drawer and pulled it open. He removed the kit from a small black leather bag and placed it on top of the desk. Methodically, he began to remove his jewellery and place it in the drawer.
First he slipped off the slim Piaget watch from his left wrist, then the thin gold wristband from his right. He struggled to loosen the wedding band that had been a fixture on his hand for forty years. The wallet was last.
He reached for the keys, just as he had done in every practice run. But something had changed. He studied the keys in the palm of his hand. Locking the drawer was pointless. He dropped them into the drawer and closed it.
The curtain of dusk began to fall. As he returned to the living room, he flicked on a single lamp, which threw off just enough light to see. The leather sofa squeaked slightly as he sat. The kit, he placed in the centre of the glass coffee table in front of him.
He went over his checklist:
Sit in an upright position ( check).
Eat a little food to prevent vomiting (check).
Drink a small amount of alcohol to augment the action of the drug (check).
He unzipped the kit and parted it against the surface of the table. A television flickered in the corner but was silent. The bottle of pills clicked as he placed it on the table. He removed a black garbage bag and a large elastic band.
He separated a number of gelatin capsules and lightly tapped their contents into a crystal glass, forming a mound of fine reddish powder. Using a long spoon, his actions measured, he mixed in a liberal amount of Stolichnaya, his favourite vodka, and topped it off with a splash of orange juice. Then he lifted the glass to his lips and drank its contents without stopping.
The garbage bag lay beside him, edges rolled up carefully over the elastic band. This part, he had practised a number of times, unrolling and re-rolling the bag until it could be brought down over his face in one smooth action. His wife, Barbara, was on the couch next to him. He turned to meet her eyes and spoke his last words: “Remember what we agreed. You stay in the bedroom and don’t come out, no matter what, until this thing is over. ”
He pulled the bag over his head and filled it with air, before quickly placing the large elastic band around his throat to create a seal.
Barbara was in the bedroom when she heard the noise. Perched on the edge of her mattress, plucking at a stray thread on the bedspread, she raised her head at the sound, hoping she had just imagined it. Straining to listen over the pounding of her heart, it came again, a muffled shout. The third cry brought her to her feet, and instinct forced her out the door and into the living room, toward the sofa. Do not leave the bedroom, no matter what. His last words echoed in her mind. She froze. The Seconal, a fast-acting sedative used to calm patients before surgery, was beginning to hit his bloodstream in a vodka-enhanced flood. Barbara watched in horror as Saul’s arms rose and lagged in the air. She wanted nothing more than to tear that wretched thing off his head, if only to stop the sound he was making, a sound that was now etched into her mind.
She stood rooted to the carpet for a moment, her hands trembling, then turned mechanically and walked back into the bedroom. The lamp on her bedside table remained dark. She turned her wedding band around and around on her finger. I promised I wouldn’t interfere. If I revive him and he ends up a vegetable, or maimed in some way — no, it is impossible, he would never forgive me. As night fell, the patches of silence in the living room expanded until their edges bled together seamlessly. It was over.
It was March 17, 2005.
After what seemed like hours, Barbara emerged from the room. The slumped figure on the couch did not stir. She knew everything had to be left exactly as it was, so she touched nothing except to gently hold her husband’s hand, already cooling to the touch. She remained there for a moment, feeling the tears on her cheeks. Then, she slowly rose and called the police.

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The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Excerpt

Since 1947, except for a few blips and lean years best forgotten, the Horseshoe Tavern has stood guard just around the corner from Queen and Spadina. While other North American landmarks such as New York’s CBGB and the Bottom Line now exist only as commemorative plaques and music memories in people’s minds, the Horseshoe has somehow survived for more than seventy years. The more the landscape changes around 370 Queen Street West, the more the tavern remains the same. From the sidewalk, the facade is nondescript; it’s no architectural marvel. Inside, the dirty old lady is cramped, cozy and rough around the edges. For music lovers, though, the building, more affectionately known as the ’Shoe, is a shrine. It’s a place of firsts: One of the first places in Toronto where you could order liquor. One of the first places you could hear live music. And, one of the first bars to have a TV set. For the long-time staff members who have called the bar home — some for almost three decades — the timeless tavern means family. For many, bonds that became marriages — musical and otherwise — were first formed here. Their memories, along with the list of bands that have played the ’Shoe, are what make the venue so legendary. While some may call it a dive, it’s a beautiful dive.
Take a journey with me now. Dive into this icon’s past. Begin with a stroll through the ’Shoe’s front bar. Stop to peruse the posters, framed autographed photographs, newspaper clippings, and scrawled set lists that line the walls across from the pool table, where most nights you’ll find the regulars, who show little interest in the live music coming from the back bar as they shoot a game of stripes and solids. These artifacts tell only some of the stories from the past twenty-five years. Unfortunately, much of the memorabilia from the first half-century of the tavern’s existence were either lost or destroyed during the early 1980s. Only a few fragments from those early days remain, such as the huge movie poster advertising the 1963 musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie, plastered to the ceiling and peeling away but, like the venue itself, still hanging on near the stage in the back bar. Fortunately, thanks to newspaper reports and memories of those still around to recount their time spent there, there was much research to draw upon for this labour-of-love project.
The Horseshoe is a beacon for music lovers, a pilgrimage destination for those who understand its significance as part of Toronto’s rich musical history. One word sums up why it has survived: passion. Almost all the owners shared this passion — for the music and for the patrons. As original owner Jack Starr once told Toronto Star writer John Goddard, “It was family. I don’t mean we had kids there. I mean everyone seemed to know everyone.” More important, from the moment Starr booked music in his home away from home in the downtown core, he cared for — and showed congeniality toward — the musicians he booked. They, too, were like family. There are stories of Starr packing picnic lunches for Loretta Lynn and her band to take as they boarded their tour bus. Another famed story you can read about in more detail later in this book is about how Starr’s offer to give Stompin’ Tom Connors a raise made the late, great Canadian country outlaw cry.
Over the years, thanks to the ’Shoe and its owners, hundreds of Canadian bands have had their starts or have been helped to take that needed step to the next level in their careers. The list is endless: from Dick Nolan and other rising Canadian country stars in the 1960s to Stompin’ Tom Connors in the 1970s, to Blue Rodeo in the 1980s, to Nickelback, Rheostatics, Skydiggers, the Lowest of the Low, and the Watchmen in the 1990s. As most Canadian musicians attest, you’d “arrived” if you played the Horseshoe Tavern. Starr began this bequest to the Canadian music industry in the 1950s; today, current majority owner and music aficionado Jeff Cohen, along with his partner Craig Laskey, continue this tradition for the next generation of rising Canadian stars.
That same passion is what led me to write this book. For me, music is the elixir of life. A jolt of live music is always the best medicine when I’m feeling low. The thousands of ticket stubs I’ve saved over the years — and the lack of funds in my bank account — attest to my love of attending concerts. I came to the Horseshoe Tavern later than most. Like all the musicians I interviewed for this project, I felt its soul, its historical significance, and its pull from the first time I walked through those doors. A spirit lives there. The musicians feel it. So do the regulars. Even first-timers catch a whiff of these ghosts.
I watched my first show, the Old 97’s, in this cavernous, low-ceilinged room more than twenty years ago. Immediately I was hooked. Later, I recall seeing a young Serena Ryder summon the ghost of Etta James — who also once graced that storied stage — with an a cappella version of “At Last” that left the room stunned. I once drank Jack Daniel’s from the bottle with the Drive-By Truckers in their dressing room, and did tequila shots on the checkerboard dance floor with singer Jesse Malin following his set on a night the place was packed, fuelled by rumours The Boss was going to join the ex–D Generation singer. People often say about the ’Shoe, “If only these walls could talk.” Yes, the stories they would tell. Crazy shit happened inside the dimly lit, blue-collar tavern over the years. I share a few of those tales in these pages, but what this story is really about is a place, a Toronto institution seven decades young that has acquired a personality and mythology all its own. It’s part of the social fabric and the history of the city. While much of the Queen Street West strip surrounding the ’Shoe has changed and undergone gentrification, transformed from a desolate street surrounded by factories to a yuppie hangout with high-end fashion stores, the Horseshoe and its raison d’être has remained relatively intact.
Even though the Horseshoe Tavern has always been isolated musically and socially from its surroundings, this venue remains a cultural icon in the Canadian music landscape.
This project combines my love of music with my love of history. Through first-person interviews with musicians who have played the venue to extensive secondary source research, I’ve dug deep to unearth what has led to the bar’s longevity and to discover what makes the ’Shoe so legendary. I hope I’ve succeeded in bottling this passion and distilling it for your enjoyment.
Come with me now, dear reader, on this journey. Find out why this dame has survived when so many others, like the Beverley Tavern, the Ultrasound, the BamBoo, and the Silver Dollar Room, have come and gone.
Here’s to another seventy years of the Horseshoe Tavern. I hope one day my grandkids will walk through those fabled doors at 370 Queen Street West as I once did to hear the latest band on the rise, share a moment in time with fellow music lovers, and discover the ghosts and the soul of the place that are forever etched into the tavern’s walls.

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Relics and Tunes

Relics and Tunes

The Songs of Amelia Curran
edition:Paperback
tagged : lyrics
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Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers

Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers

The Rise of Motörhead
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : heavy metal
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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: “Hang on, what drugs were we doing that day?”

 

Born on the dole, born in the land of misfit rockers and always—always—born to lose, Motörhead was also born of a burn, its rank figurehead, Lemmy Kilmister, on fire to avenge his firing from the ranks of Hawkwind through the assemblage of a sonic force that would deafen all naysayers. Its name would be Motörhead, and the classic lineup this book celebrates—Fast Eddie Clarke, Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and lynchpin Lemmy his bad self—would grind up seven years’ worth of posers and pretenders. Motörhead would create a contrast against the industry, one that will live forever as the potent realization of punk ethics applied to original rock ’n’ roll and a bastard format called heavy metal, a genre nomenclature curiously dismissed by all three soldiers as mirage, but ultimately so much a part of their legacy, their home and hearth, their final resting place against a pop culture that rarely cared.

One mustn’t forget or diminish the accomplishments of lineups after the classic trio—most notably the band as it existed for the near quarter-century with Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee—but one also mustn’t forget that the classic lineup was not the original, and that the original . . . well, this is one of those happenstances where technically the original, or most salient, “lineup” just might consist of an army of one, namely Lemmy Kilmister.

Born on Christmas Eve in 1945 (and dead three days after Christmas 70 years later) in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Ian Fraser Kilmister, an only child, seemed destined for a life of independence and defiance. His father, an ex–Royal Air Force chaplain, left his mother when Lemmy was but three months old, and his mother, after nine years of single motherhood, took up with a footballer and washing machine factory worker who arrived with a couple of kids of his own, neither of whom Lemmy cooperated with. Stridently resentful of his father, conversely of his mother, Lemmy says, “She was a good mum. She was fair enough. She had a lot of good ideas.”

Later, living on a farm in north Wales, Lemmy says he “used to breed horses when I was younger, before I got into rock ’n’ roll.” He also was an enthusiastic reader, having been encouraged by his English teacher, and he worked the carnival when it was in town. But he soon discovered girls and rock ’n’ roll, at its birth in the ’50s. The only English kid among seven hundred Welsh children, Lemmy needed an edge against the inherent territorial resentment he suffered there. Always strategizing, Lemmy took his mother’s Hawaiian guitar to school to impress the girls. “It worked like a charm too,” recalled Kilmister to Classic Rock Revisited. “I saw this other kid with a guitar at school. He was immediately surrounded by chicks and I thought, ‘Oh, I see.’ Luckily, my mother had one laying around the house, so I grabbed it and took it to school. I couldn’t play it. Eventually, they expected me to play so I had to learn a couple of chords. It turned out all right.”

Lemmy recalls how, as a young boy, he used to have to go to the “electrical appliance” store and order records, after which they would arrive in three weeks’ time. Early favorites included Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Tommy Steele, Eddie Cochran, Elvis and Little Richard, who he always called the greatest rock ’n’ roll singer of all time.

But it was the Beatles that really lit the fire—Lemmy, all of 16, hitchhiked to Liverpool to see what the fuss was about and watched them live at the Cavern Club before they even had a record out. Our hero soon would play guitar in bands like the Sundowners, the Rainmakers, the Motown Sect and the mildly legendary Rocking Vickers (sometimes spelled Rockin’ and sometimes spelled Vicars), who managed to tour Europe and distinguish themselves as the first western band ever to play Yugoslavia.

“The Beatles had an influence on everybody,” Lemmy told Goldmine magazine. He admired the Beatles as hard men from Liverpool against the Stones, suburban Londoners in his estimation. “You have to realize what an incredible explosion the Beatles were. They were the first band to not have a lead singer in the band. They were the first band to write their own songs in Britain because we always just covered American songs before that. Everybody was singing at the same time and the harmonies were great. Daily papers in England used to have an entire page of the paper dedicated to what the Beatles had done the day before. When George died, the guards at Buckingham Palace played a medley of George’s songs during the changing of the guard; that sort of thing never happens.”

Lemmy says that his Rocking Vickers were as famed and respected in Northern England, north of Birmingham, as the Who and the Kinks were down in London, but that the other guys in the band seemed to content themselves with playing a predictable circuit, while he had grander plans. But even though the money was good, at £200 a week each, they couldn’t get a foothold in London themselves. And so, dispensing with the Rocking Vickers—which Lemmy ultimately describes as less of a garage band, more of a show band—he left the band house in Manchester empty-handed. “When I left the Vickers, the guitar stayed,” noted Lemmy to Classic Rock Revisited. “It was a band guitar. When people left that band then the instruments stayed and I think that really made a lot of sense. If you need a guitar player but he hasn’t got a guitar then you have one for him to use. When he leaves, you have one for the next guy so you don’t have to run around.” Traveling light not for the last time in his life, Lemmy found his way to London where his mind was about to get expanded through his apocryphal internship as a Jimi Hendrix roadie, living for a brief spell with bassist Noel Redding and road manager Neville Chesters.

“Lemmy has been my friend since 1963,” explains Chesters, who also worked with both the Who and Cream. “The story goes, and I can tell you, we have a different one on how the story goes but it ends up the same. I actually took Lemmy to London. He came to see us at the Odeon in Liverpool. He wanted to go to London; he asked me if I could give him a ride to London and I said yes. He slept on the floor of my room and then the next day I took him down to London via his house, which was inconvenient. He grabbed a few things. Gone to London, I said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ And he said, ‘Well I don’t really have anywhere; I was wondering if I could stay with you?’ His band then had been the Rocking Vickers, and I’d known him since then. So I happened to have a basement hovel that had three beds. One of them was given over to Noel when he was supposed to share the rent. And I had a spare bed, so Lemmy was in there. And then the next day it was . . . he couldn’t get a job at all. He couldn’t get anything, so I got him a job as my assistant to roadie for Jimi. And that was, at the time, his big claim to fame. In fact for years it was his claim to fame. It was a story that used to come out in many of his radio and TV interviews. But we have a different way of describing how he got to London.”

“I mean, I used to say he did his work,” says Chesters, unwittingly helping to establish Lemmy’s reputation as unsuitable for any gainful employment other than the haphazard helming of his own shambolic show. “I did an interview for a documentary, and they say to him, ‘Didn’t you roadie with Hendrix at one time?’ And he goes, ‘Speak to Neville about that.’ So I get a phone call. So, ‘Yes, he came in supposedly to help me’ and they said, ‘Did he work? Did he do anything?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘Well what do you mean?’ ‘Because most people said he just hung out with the band.’ And I said, ‘Actually, come to think of it, yeah, that’s what he did.’”

“It was very confusing because we were tripping all the time,” reminisced Lemmy in October 2006. “[Hendrix] came over to England from America and there was this guy named Owsley Stanley the Third. He was one of those guys who had a laboratory and he gave Hendrix about ten thousand tabs of acid. It was even legal back then. Hendrix put it in his suitcase and gave it out to the crew—there were only two of us. We had the best acid in the world in 1967 and most of 1968. After a while it doesn’t affect your work because you learn to function. I drove the van from London to Bletchley, which is about 150 miles, on acid with a pair of those strobe sunglasses on. They had the vision of a fly, where you would see eight times around. I drove the van with those on for 150 miles on acid, and we got there.”

Lemmy’s also been known to say that he would score drugs for Mitch Mitchell as well, but when obtaining acid for Jimi, he said his pay came in the three tabs of ten that he would have to take on the spot, while Jimi took seven.

But working for a genius must have been a trip of its own. “Oh yeah, everybody knew it as soon as he came to England,” continued Lemmy. “When he came to the States, you had Monterey and everybody knew about it. It was like that in England. He played one show and everyone knew. It went around like a wildfire. Pete Townshend came out of a club where Hendrix was playing and Eric Clapton was going in. Eric asked Pete, ‘What is he like?’ and Pete replied, ‘We are in a lot of trouble.’ We used to get Clapton sitting in a chair behind the stack with his ear pressed up against it trying to figure out what he was doing. But I was just hired part time while he was in England. When he went abroad, I was not invited. I was living at Noel Redding’s house and he needed an extra pair of hands. I have been really lucky. I have been in a few of the right places at the right time. My street credibility is incredible. I saw the Beatles at the Cavern, too. It ends up that I was on hallowed ground but it was actually a filthy hole.”

 

“Lemmy was there about three months maximum,” laughs Chesters. “Somewhere between two and three months. After that I really only saw him intermittently. After the Hendrix thing, we always had the same women, one way or another. Sometimes I got there before he did and got one over, but only infrequently. In the early days he wasn’t the most outstanding musician I’d seen, but he did pull himself together and managed to be . . . he’s almost an icon, Lemmy, and it’s funny. It’s not necessarily because of his music. There was a period in the mid- or the late ’70s where he was known to hang out with debutantes in London. Now you know Lemmy, you know what he looks like, we all know the features. And none of us could understand why there was constantly, almost weekly, photographs of him in the leading London newspapers hanging out with debutantes. But that’s what he did. And he became an icon.”

“I lived with him for some time,” muses Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner, answering Lemmy’s drug question. “I thought Lemmy was a lovely guy, actually. We got on very well. He was a bit difficult to live with in some ways, because he would be sort of on a different time scale to other people in the band. He went his own way very much. I mean, the band were leaning towards a psychedelic sort of influence, really, and Lemmy wasn’t particularly into psychedelics. He was more into speed, you might say.”

Plus, he wasn’t much of a hippie. More like a biker, says Dave Brock. “Yeah, we used to know a lot of the Hells Angels in the early days and all that. But Lemmy was always more so buddies with them. I mean Motörhead had more of a problem with them than we did. Lemmy used to always put down on his guest list, ‘Hells Angels England.’ And sometimes you wouldn’t know who the fuck was turning up there. You’d go to his dressing room, and all the food and drink would be gone and you’d walk in, ‘What the fuck?! We don’t know anybody here.’ A bit problematic sometimes, you know. But we still do the odd bikers thing. We get along well with them actually. I mean, a lot of them are our age now. Their festivals are always well organized, well together. You very rarely get any trouble.”

With respect to Lemmy’s burgeoning recording career, following up his three singles with the Rocking Vickers, in 1969 Lemmy appeared on his first full-length record, Escalator, by Malaysian percussionist Sam Gopal. Lemmy is credited as Ian Willis, as he had been considering changing his last name to that of his stepfather, George Willis. Already long known informally as Lemmy, for years it was assumed the nickname came from young Ian’s frequent attempts to borrow money, as in “Lemme a fiver.” However, Lemmy later confessed that he made up the story and had been paying for it ever since.

“It was very convoluted, because we had no songs,” recalls Lemmy, when asked about those Sam Gopal days. “And then I stayed up all night on methamphetamine and wrote all the songs on the fucking album in one night. I was playing guitar then. But we never really could play live shows too well back then because they didn’t have contact mics for the tablas and things, which are very odd to amplify, because they rely on boom inside to get the sound; you can’t really record that. I mean you couldn’t microphone that; you couldn’t then anyway. That was 1968.”

Lemmy’s next gig, after a brief situation with Simon King as Opal Butterfly, was to provide a breeding ground for Lemmy’s nasty sound, as it rumbled from both his bass and his face.

“After Hendrix, I became a dope dealer for a while and that was a natural apprenticeship for Hawkwind,” laughs Lem. “The guy that played the audio generator in Hawkwind ran out of money and went back to the band. He took me with him because he wanted one of his mates in the band. I had never played bass in my life. The idiot that was there before me left his bass there. It was like he said, ‘Please steal my gig’ so I stole his gig. So me being a bass player was an accident. I went to get a job as a guitar player with Hawkwind, and they decided they weren’t going to have another guitar player. The guy doing rhythm was going to do lead, so they said, ‘Who plays bass?’ And Dik Mik said, ‘He does.’ Bastard; I’d never even picked one up in my life. And I get up on stage with the fucking thing, because the bass player left his guitar in the gear truck. And Nik Turner was very helpful. He came over and said, ‘Make some noises in E. This song is called ‘You Shouldn’t Do That.’ And walked away from me.”

The “audio generator” Lemmy refers to is in fact Dik Mik, and it is said that a mutual fondness for amphetamines cemented Lemmy’s entry into the ranks of the notorious space rockers, through the recommendation of Dik Mik. Ironically, Lemmy’s behavior on speed would also be the reason he’d be thumped from the band later on.

“You’ve got to remember, Lemmy was a guitarist to start with,” notes Hawkwind guitarist and leader Dave Brock, spiritual twin to the original, pre-Motörhead Lemmy. “I mean, what happened was when Dik Mik brought Lemmy along, he didn’t have a bass. We had to go and buy him a second-hand bass. And of course Lemmy’s bass playing is very similar to guitar playing, in a sense, by playing block chords and stuff like that. So it was a different technique. Lemmy’s fantastic, obviously, now, but you have to think that at the time, the way he played, it was just different. So consequently, that’s why me and him used to play really well together, because I used to play similar lines to Lemmy. So that’s why we were able to play together very well. And now when I do a solo album, my bass playing is a bit like Lemmy’s. I play chords on the bass quite often. It’s a style of playing, really. Instead of picking it and playing note by note, quite often . . . it’s hard to explain without playing the bass. But when you’re playing, it’s quite easy, and Lemmy and I used to be able to do that together.”

“I don’t use distortion,” clarifies Lem. “I don’t use any pedals. No effects, just plug it straight into the amp. Just a basic Marshall, but it’s turned up very loud, and I hit the guitar very hard. That helps, too. But you’ve got to know how to hit it very hard. A lot of people hit it very hard and it don’t happen. Yeah, I’m doing the old-school version, no mechanics for me. Actually I don’t play bass. I play rhythm guitar and a bit of cockamamie lead guitar on a bass—that’s what I do. It’s a unique style but it’s not one that people have copied, if you’ve noticed, so I don’t think it’s that popular, but it works for me. I always hated it when you get a band playing that was really good, and then the riff drops out because the guitar player has to do a solo, and it sounds wimpy as shit with just the bass player behind him. So I always swore I’d never let that happen.”

Nik Turner drills down further to posit a source for the churning bass sound Lemmy would make famous. “The idea came from the fact that the previous bass player had been Dave Anderson, and Dave Anderson had a Rickenbacker. And Lemmy was a friend of Dik Mik’s, and he turned up at a rehearsal, and he said, ‘Oh, we need a bass player,’ and Lemmy said, ‘Well, I don’t play bass. I play guitar.’ He’d previously been a road manager for Jimi Hendrix. And we said, ‘Well, you know, there’s a bass here,’ which was Dave Anderson’s bass. And we gave the bass to Lemmy to play in that situation at that time. I’m not saying we gave him the bass. We gave him the bass to play. And then I think that’s where he started, really. Because he was an advocate of the Rickenbacker bass from then on, and he quickly gave it a great popularity, really. But Dave Anderson had played with Amon Duul II and I think he played the Rickenbacker then too. And so Lemmy had the Rickenbacker, but he had a guitar technique, and he played the Rickenbacker bass like a guitar—chords and stuff like that, rather than just notes. So he created his own sort of musical genre, really, with what he had at hand, and the situation he was in.”

Below proper chords there are bar (or barre) chords and then double stops, which generally refers to two strings being played at once but normally on a bowed instrument. Lemmy would go on to use mostly double stops, switching from fourths to fifths, plus single notes, as well as his turgid and toppy bass sound: lacking in low-end warmth and high on distortion through mid-range and high-end frequencies. His chosen weapon was a Rickenbacker 4001 bass which naturally lacks in low end, even more so when played through a stack and with acceptance of distortion and volume. This general philosophy when it comes to bass puts Lemmy in a club with the likes of Rush’s Geddy Lee and Chris Squire from Yes. The difference is that those two guys want their individual notes, their playing, to be heard whereas Lemmy just wanted to be heard.

“The bass and treble are all the way off and the mid-range is all the way up,” Lemmy told Jeb Wright of Classic Rock Revisited. “I came up with that by just fucking with the sound. I like that sound; it is kind of brutal but that is what we were looking for. I had a Rickenbacker with a Thunderbird pickup on it back in the old days. It was a horrible monster but it wore out eventually. I love the shape of Rickenbackers. I buy guitars for how they look. You can always fuck with the sound once you have them. You always had to change the pickups on the old Rickenbackers because they were crap. Now they have really good pickups. I have a signature bass with them that I designed.”

And as for his propensity to play more than one string at a time, having started on guitar is a piece of the story, continued Lem. “Partly it is, but it’s also because I am the only back end for the guitar player. I always hated bands where when the guitar player stopped playing the riff and started playing the solo, the whole back end falls out. I always made sure there was plenty behind them.”

Lemmy quickly became a beloved member of the Hawkwind clan. Appearing first on the band’s third studio album Doremi Fasol Latido (1972), plus Hall of the Mountain Grill (1974), Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) and seminal 1973 double live album Space Ritual. Toward the end of his time with the band, Lemmy gave us signature rock songs soon to become Motörhead staples, namely “Lost Johnny” and “Motörhead.”

“Lost Johnny” is a co-write between Lemmy and the Deviants’ Mick Farren, but “Motörhead” (existing in versions with Lemmy singing and with Dave Brock singing) is a rare sole-Kilmister credit and his last for Hawkwind before his firing. The set piece for the band and life philosophy to come would be written at the Hyatt House hotel on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, ironic for the fact that Hollywood, and specifically the Strip, would become Lemmy’s home for the last decades of his life. “Did you know I wrote ‘Motörhead’ just down the street from here?” Lemmy told Jon Sutherland in 1982. “I was on the seventh floor of the Hyatt House, stoned out of my mind, playing Roy Wood’s guitar. Cars would keep stopping and cops would get out and get back in the car thinking, ‘I’m not going up there.’”

Reflects Brock on that Warrior on the Edge of Time era, “That [album has] got the ‘Motörhead’ with Lemmy singing it, and me singing it. Basically, it’s the last record that Lemmy did with us, and after that, we changed quite a bit, because of Lemmy, or because Lemmy went. Lemmy was a great influence.”

Lemmy’s firing from Hawkwind in May 1975 is the stuff of legends, almost amusing for the fact that he was already proving to be such an outlaw with substances that he could be fired from this notoriously drug-addled band for going too far.

“I was fired from Hawkwind,” explains Lemmy, in his curiously matter-of-fact manner indicative of the man’s view of an unjust world—in fact one in which he called his ex-mates fascists, rather than hippies. “I got busted going into Canada. My last gig with them was in Toronto. It was thrown out of court anyway, because it wasn’t what they said it was. So there was no criminal record attached to it. Hawkwind just threw me out because they were trying to throw me out for ages.” The border agents thought the white substance was heroin, but it was speed, not yet banned.

Asked about how these stories take on lives of their own over the years, Lemmy agrees, adding, “You know, I tell you, it’s a funny thing. If you go back as long as I do, there are a lot of people in bands. Bands don’t remember that well apparently. Take any four members of Hawkwind and me, you will find five different recollections of the same incident and it runs all the way through your time with the band. You think, is that really what happened? Am I right and they fucked up? Hang on, what drugs were we doing that day? Was I out of it? Was there something that pissed me off? You try explain it and there is no explanation. You remember it different, because you’re standing in a different part of the room and somebody else spoke to you at the same time the incident went on. It’s funny. That’s why I really don’t rely on eyewitnesses anymore, man. If I was the cops, I’d throw that category out.”

Concerning Lemmy’s ousting from the Hawkwind ranks, Nik Turner recalls that “the conditions in which he left were sad, really. We were playing in Detroit and were going to Toronto. We were in the United States still, and I think we stopped at a service station, and Lemmy went to the toilet and fell asleep in the toilet or something and we couldn’t find him. We were ready to go to travel on, and we looked everywhere for him. We couldn’t find him. We thought he’d probably hooked up with some people that he may have met and gone off with them, because he did spontaneous things like that, quite frequently. Not on a regular basis, but it wasn’t out of the question in our minds that he might’ve done that. And so consequently we traveled on without him. And apparently he did; he’d fallen asleep in the toilet.”

Not so, says Lemmy, who has said that he wandered off with his camera to take some pictures and was knocked out and mugged of his camera, only to awaken and begin his odyssey.

“And then coming through customs,” continues Turner, “he’d been searched and they found what they thought was cocaine in his possession, and they arrested him for supposedly possession of cocaine. But when they analyzed it, they found out it was amphetamines, and they didn’t take such a dim view of amphetamines, so they let him go. But by this time, certain things had happened that had made him rather difficult to work with. And so we had a meeting and it was decided that he should leave the band. And then everybody was saying, ‘Well, who’s going to tell him?’ And nobody wanted to. But I just took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Well, I’ll tell him.’ I had the very unpleasant job of breaking the news to him. And by this time we’d flown another bass player out from England. We had another guitarist, actually. We had Paul Rudolph from the Pink Fairies and he wasn’t a bass player either. He was a guitarist. But we knew he could play bass, and we asked him to come and play with us, and Lemmy was sort of sent back to Britain. I mean, it was all very sad, and Lemmy sort of held it against me, because I was the one who told him. Although now having explained it to him, it’s not something he still really holds against me. But it was all a bit of a problem, even though he did make it through the border.”

Notes Hawkwind expert Rob Godwin, “Apparently they flew Paul Rudolph in from England because he was Canadian, and he could actually get into Canada without a work permit at the last minute. As for Lemmy’s bust, I’ve heard two stories on why he was let go. One was that he was released because they charged him with possession of the wrong thing, and under Canadian law you can’t charge somebody twice with the same crime. The other story was that they released him because amphetamine was considered a foodstuff in Canada and was not illegal.”

To clarify, the band had played Detroit on a Saturday and traveled separately, stranding a temporarily lost Lemmy on the Sunday, as Nik explains, with most of the guys arriving in Toronto on that day. Lemmy, having had to hitchhike on the U.S. side and then having been flown from Windsor, Ontario, shows up on the Monday and the gig that night at Massey Hall is to be his last with Hawkwind. It is decided on Tuesday that Lemmy be sent home, and Paul Rudolph’s first gig with the band turns out to be Cleveland the following Friday, with an interim gig in Dayton, Ohio, having been canceled.

Further explaining the firing, Nik says, “Because we didn’t know where he was, and because we were told he’d been busted for hard drugs, it was very inconvenient. We didn’t know how long he was going to be in custody. We just had to make other arrangements, basically. So I think he played one gig and then we dispensed with him. And I mean, he was still on bail for supposed possession of hard drugs. It was all too complicated, really. It’s not the sort of thing you want in the band. All you want to do is get to the next gig and play. You’re on a tour, you’re committed, and you don’t really need those sorts of complications. You just want to get on with it and not deal with the side issues of people’s personal problems within the band.”

“The story as it goes is that he was using different drugs to the rest of them,” says Godwin. “They were mostly into hallucinogenics—LSD and stuff like that—and pot, and he was taking speed. Him and Dik Mik, who was ostensibly the synthesizer player, they were speed freaks, and the problem—I don’t think was a personality clash as much as it was a case of that the speed guys would stay up for 24 hours and sleep for 24 hours, and frequently Lemmy would be late or barely show up to get in the bus or get on the truck or show up on stage. And the bust at the border was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you look at the interviews he gave, he’s said he’d still be in the band if they hadn’t fired him. He loved being in that band. Dave loved playing with him. And that period of Hawkwind, if you actually listen to what they were playing when he was in the band, which is from January ’72 to May ’75, it’s the stuff that particularly stands out.”

“He was not at all in the limelight,” answers Rob, when asked what Lemmy’s stage presence was like during his run with Hawkwind. “He was quite content to stand in the shadows as the rest of them were. They all stood in the shadows. In ’72, when I saw them, the house lights went down and all you can see onstage was red lights on the amps. And then Nik Turner walks out and starts throwing joss sticks into the audience—lit. You can imagine the fire marshal letting them do that now. And you cannot see the band at all. And then they start playing and the psychedelic lights and smoke take over and you never saw them. If you look at photos from that period, you will see that Lemmy is standing in the back lineup, along with Dave, and the only people who step forward to the microphone were Nik and Bob Calvert, when they were alternating doing narrations. And then Dave would step up to sing. But Lemmy was always singing backing vocals for the most part. And he’d stand in the back, right in front of his amps stacked up, virtually further back than the drummer—Simon King was further forward than Lemmy was. And Dave too.”

“So Dave and Lemmy more or less stood side by side, back, almost behind the drummer,” continues Godwin. “And both of them said over the years that they had this telepathic sort of empathy when they were playing together. And Lemmy, right up to just before he died, said he’d never had that before or since with anybody else. Him and Dave were totally lockstep. You only have to listen to Space Ritual to hear it. It’s a live album, and you’re going, fucking hell, how are these guys doing this?!”

Cleaved from his space-rock soul brother, Lemmy managed to wrestle home from Canada three bass guitars and a suitcase on the plane. Licking his wounds in England, he would have to plot his next move, forever saddened by the loss of his Hawkwind family. His first plan of action back in London would be to abscond with what was on the band premises of his leftover Hawkwind gear and promptly paint it all black.

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Essential Song

Essential Song

Three Decades of Northern Cree Music
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The Mariposa Folk Festival
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
In the Beginning
Club Pavalon, more commonly known as “the Pav,” was an old-time dance hall situated on the edge of Couchiching Beach Park in Orillia. It had a reputation for bringing in great bands and was a popular hangout for teens, who would dance to the likes of Bobby Curtola, the Stitch in Tyme, the Downchild Blues Band, and the Guess Who. The Pav also doubled as a community meeting hall.
On a cold January evening in 1961, John Fisher took to the Pav’s stage to address the local Chamber of Commerce about tourism and, specifically, how to promote it in small towns. Fisher had been nicknamed “Mr. Canada” for his enthusiastic and influential CBC broadcasts about Canadian culture and history. He would go on to be a key figure in putting on Expo 67 during the centennial year. But in 1961 in Orillia, he had come to town to speak about what would make Orillia a desirable tourist destination. Little did he dream that he was planting the seed of an idea that would lead to the creation of a Canadian institution — the Mariposa Folk Festival.
In the audience that night was Ruth Jones, a young, community-minded mother, who was a folk music enthusiast. She and her husband would often make the trek south to Toronto to hear the traditional and the new sounds coming from the coffee houses and folk clubs in the city. Ever since the Kingston Trio had topped the popular music charts with their 1958 hit “Tom Dooley,” folk music had gained increasing popularity, especially with young people. The folk boom — some wags have called it the “folk scare” — was well underway in the winter of 1961. A number of folk clubs already existed in the city, especially in the Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto. Ruth was intrigued by what Fisher said about the growing number of arts festivals around the country and how Orillia might benefit from staging something of that sort.
The wheels were set in motion. Several days later, as she lay in bed with a nasty flu bug and time to think, Ruth came up with the idea of putting on a folk music festival in town.
Orillia at that time was a quiet place of about fourteen thousand residents. Situated between two lakes, its summertime population allegedly doubled with the arrival of cottagers and nearby resort guests. Orillia’s biggest employer was the Ontario Hospital School, one of the largest mental institutions in the country. That was also the workplace of Ruth’s husband, Dr. Casey Jones. The rest of the town’s economy was based on its moderately sized factories and depended upon the tourism business in the surrounding area. The sleepy demeanour was not all that far removed from the quirky fictional village of Mariposa that Stephen Leacock had described in his 1912 novel Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Leacock, a summer resident of Orillia, based many of his characters and events on real people and real incidents in the community. The book propelled Leacock into stardom as an international humorist, and it put Orillia on the map as the archetypal small Canadian town.
A few days after Fisher’s speech, Ruth made a call to Pete McGarvey, a local broadcaster and a town alderman who was also interested in promoting Orillia as a travel destination. Only a few years earlier McGarvey had almost single-handedly saved Stephen Leacock’s home from the wrecker’s ball. By 1961 it had become a local museum and a tourist attraction, thanks to Pete’s efforts and hard work.
“She had this glorious idea that we could stage a folk festival in Orillia that very summer. She thought that would be the dimension that John Fisher was calling for,” recalled McGarvey. “I agreed wholeheartedly that it should be done; nobody else was doing it; the talent was near at hand; Orillia was, of course, a resort community accustomed to summer visitors; and we had plenty of places to show their talents — the Opera House, the community centre outdoors, or the Oval [the town’s sports arena]. So that was it.”1
The name Mariposa was suggested in tribute to Leacock’s literary invention — his satiric jab at the Orillia he knew in 1912. Why he chose the Spanish word for butterfly has never been documented. He may simply have scanned his Ontario map and noticed that there was a Mariposa Township near Lindsay, Ontario, and liked the name. We’ll probably never know. What we do know is that no attempt to mock Orillia was intended in the naming of the festival! Pete, Ruth, and her husband Casey all laid claim to having come up with the name. Ruth’s notebook history credits Casey.
* * *
Ruth and her husband had been folk music enthusiasts for a number of years and they had an insider’s knowledge of the folk community in Toronto. Ruth boldly and confidently approached many of her contacts in the city. An important group on that list was the Toronto Guild of Canadian Folk Artists. Among its somewhat radical left-wing members were people like Estelle Klein, who would eventually become artistic director of the festival, and Sid Dolgay, a member of the folk group the Travellers. Sid’s band had recorded its own version of Woody Guthrie’s folk classic “This Land Is Your Land” in 1955 and had a reputation as Canada’s top folk draw.
The first meeting of the board of directors for the fledgling festival took place at the Jones home on Bay Street in Orillia. Ruth became president; Pete was elected vice-president, and Casey would act as secretary-treasurer. It was appropriate that Casey be treasurer: he contributed $5,000 of the Jones’s own money, a sizable amount in 1961, indeed (the equivalent of about $40,000 in 2016).
The trio got the approval of Orillia town council and was even given a small amount of money — $250 — to help fund the festival. Ruth and her team solicited advice from what was then the only other modern folk festival in North America, the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.2 A date in August was selected, and even though it was still a snowy February, that summer weekend loomed ominously.
Much of the work and direction over the next few months came from Toronto. Under Ruth’s leadership, an informal group of advisors from the city helped to bring in the acts, organize the minutia, and set in motion the procedures that would make her dream into a reality. In addition to Estelle Klein and Sid Dolgay, Syd Banks, who was a renowned television and music producer, helped out. Ed Cowan was asked to be the first producer of the festival and Ted Schafer was named the first emcee. Edith Fowke, host of CBC’s Folk Song Time and a renowned folklorist in her own right, also chipped in. Edith — who was the quintessential expert on Canadian folk music at that time — pushed for an all-Canadian flavour. Ruth’s brother David Major did a lot of the legwork “in the trenches,” according to Ruth. Emerging musical star Ian Tyson used his early training as a graphic artist to design the first poster and the initial Mariposa logo. Many of the meetings were held in Ian’s downtown-Toronto apartment. In his 2010 autobiography, The Long Trail: My Life in the West, Tyson makes mention of the fact that the poster for the first Mariposa Folk Festival still hangs in the kitchen of his home in rural Alberta.
Innumerable phone calls and hectic meetings took place in those months between February and August of 1961. Ruth and her helpers put a lot of wear and tear on their cars as they drove up and down the 125 or so kilometres of highway between Orillia and Toronto. Decisions were made on a lineup, on how to advertise and sell the new concept, and on where to actually hold the event. Numerous solutions had to be found for problems that no one had ever encountered before. Where would visitors stay? Where would they house the performers overnight? How would they recruit the necessary volunteers to man all aspects of the actual staging of the festival?
Ruth became something of a publicist for the festival as she travelled all over Ontario touting her new “baby.” She gave numerous radio, TV, and press interviews and made the pages of Chatelaine and Maclean’s magazines. In an unpublished manuscript Ruth recalled, “I arranged that all milk delivered to summer cottagers would have a promotional collar attached…. Every piece of mail that went through the Orillia post office for the month preceding the event got a special cancellation stamp. I travelled all over Ontario doing newspaper, radio, and TV interviews and made a trip to my hometown, Halifax, for a special media event…. We sent out hundreds of news releases — every one sealed and stamped by my four children, David, Bruce, Nancy, and Barb, while they learned and sang folk songs.”3
Ruth sent out letters to people such as Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, Ed McCurdy and Alan Mills, inviting them to come and play at the festival. Few replied (Bikel, for instance, said he was “busy”), but she remained determined. Her goal was to teach Canadians about their own musical heritage, to give some of our homegrown musicians the publicity they badly needed, and to supply her hometown with a tourist attraction that was both exciting and wholesome. The lineup eventually took on an all-Canadian flavour, showcasing both established and new acts on the Canadian folk scene. The Travellers, Alan Mills, Quebec chanteur Jacques Labrecque, and fiddler Jean Carignan were among the established names hired. Younger performers such as Bonnie Dobson, Mary Jane and Winston Young, and the up-and-coming team of Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker were hired to draw the college crowd and show that folk had bright new faces to present to the world. Ruth asked Ian and Sylvia early in February, and both had responded enthusiastically.
There were definitely struggles. The Y’s Men, a local service club, initially pledged $1,000 in exchange for the right to sell 750 tickets at a reduced price. A similar arrangement with the Jaycees, another service club, failed to materialize. Nevertheless Ruth remained optimistic and enthusiastic, as demonstrated by remarks in her journal: “They liked Finvola’s tape — we are trying for LeBreque [sic] again! Oh — this thing is BIG!!”4 Orillia’s town council finally discussed and approved the event on May 1, and the Oval was rented for $150. Ruth even approached the army at nearby CFB Borden about a tent for the Oval grounds.
One of the key figures in the organizing and especially in the programming of Mariposa was Edith Fowke, though her contribution is often overlooked. Her input for the fledgling and later Mariposa Folk Festivals would be invaluable. She held strong views that Canadians should be exposed to traditional Canadian songs, and it was thanks to her that a number of traditional singers made their way onto Mariposa stages.
* * *
On August 18 the initial Mariposa Folk Festival was launched on the green space at the Orillia Oval. The festival’s souvenir pamphlet described it as “Canada’s FIRST National Folk Festival,” but the designation of “first” can be debated.
The Miramichi Folksong Festival in Newcastle, New Brunswick, lays claim to being the first “folksong” festival and predates Mariposa by a number of years. Ruth had contacted that festival, but the only advice given was that they relied on grants from the New Brunswick provincial government.
Purists would argue that neither festival can claim to be the first since there were a number of folk festivals — many sponsored by Canadian Pacific Railway — staged in places like Vancouver, Banff, Regina, Toronto, and Quebec City during the 1930s.
Whatever the case may be, the Mariposa Folk Festival was certainly one of the first, and its size and influence make it by far the most important folk festival in Canadian history.
From the beginning the festival, though smaller than it would later become, was a success, drawing large crowds. Its first home was at a site in Orillia known as the Oval. This area, home to Orillia’s community centre and arena, was tucked between the imposing limestone Roman Catholic church, the local armoury, and modest, middle-class homes along the side streets. It served as the location for local trade shows and the annual Orillia Fall Fair, and it included a somewhat rickety set of bleachers for the local baseball teams and their fans (the baseball diamond was transformed into a concert venue for the festival, the stage an elaborate model of a medieval tent — a nod to Casey Jones’s fascination with the pageantry of the Middle Ages). The entire property was surrounded by a secure high fence, likely a factor in selecting the venue when “nicer” but less secure parks in town could have served the same purpose.

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A Distorted Revolution

A Distorted Revolution

How Eric's Trip Changed Music, Moncton, and Me
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