Tag Archives: The Bicycle Café

Scott Merritt Emerges From The Cottage

by Bill Monahan (photo courtesy of Randy Sutherland)

If you are someone who recognizes the name Scott Merritt as a songwriter of promise from the 1980’s who toured with Jane Siberry and recorded with Daniel Lanois, then it’s as if you’ve been let in on a special secret.

Despite releasing only three albums in the past twenty-five years, Scott Merritt is still considered one of Canada’s best and most underappreciated singer-songwriters.

After some commercial airplay of his early songs, he was signed to Duke Street in Canada and IRS Records internationally.  Unfortunately both labels folded not long afterward.   A legal mess with IRS prevented him from recording for several years but he wasn’t entirely frustrated with the situation.  He hadn’t been particularly comfortable being marketed as a commodity.

“Yeah, my hands were tied, but I wasn’t in much of a mood to raise a stink to be honest,” he explained to Innerviews, “I had become SCOTT MERRITT in capital letters and it didn’t feel real anymore. There was a toxic feeling to it at an artistic level. So, I.R.S. had me in a position, but I wasn’t in any position to record anyway. I didn’t want to go back into that factory. I had really got to a place where it wasn’t fun and I had to promise to myself — something most of us do, but never keep — when it’s not fun to do, do something else for a while. So, at the time, the idea of a career wasn’t very attractive. I lost my taste for it.”

Since those early days, when promising record deals bloomed and withered with the vagaries of the business, Scott Merritt has spent most of his time working as a producer in his Guelph studio that he calls The Cottage.  Artists like Suzie Vinnick, Stephen Fearing, and others have made their pilgrimage to The Cottage for his producing services.

While he has released relatively few records in his career what they have in common is that every one has been greeted by effusive critical praise for an artist whose music and lyrics both come from a unique and moving place.

When he was young and riding high, Scott Merritt had a reputation and something of a guitar and effects wizard which stood alongside his reputation for evocative and poetic lyrics.  He never thought of himself as a commercial artist.  It took him by surprise when his second independent album “Serious Interference” in 1981 ended up on some commercial radio playlists and labels came calling.  The tours and awards were short-lived and strangely unsatisfying.

The Thursday Outlook – June 8 to 11, 2017

Shannon Lyon performs Friday night at The Red Door Grille and Pub.  The peripatetic folk singer, whose songs reveal a “continued affection for the darker edges of country & bluegrass music with the tenor banjo taking center stage” has been recording and touring since the late 80’s when he was in a band called ‘Strange Days‘.  He released his first solo album in 1994 (Buffalo White) and continued releasing albums and touring throughout North America up until the time he moved overseas to The Netherlands in 2000. In 2003 he was the first Canadian artist to sign with Richard Branson‘s (post-Virgin imprint) V2 Records (becoming label mates with The White Stripes and Paul Weller) with the release of his critically acclaimed album ‘Wandered‘.  After five years abroad he returned to Canada in 2012 and recorded with producer Rob Szabo an album called “The Lights Behind”, which included about twenty years of material from previous recordings, along with a few new songs.  It made sense because much of his earlier recorded work is no longer available. “Most people haven’t heard my early recordings. The record companies are no longer in business and the albums are no longer in print,” he says.  You’ll get a chance to hear this industry veteran’s “deep swaggering voice and melancholic minor chord songs” starting at 7 pm.

Saturday kicks off the new Songwriters’ Series at The Barn with Greg Smith and Tragedy Ann.  The series, conceived by Greg, will pair local emerging songwriters with visiting acts.

Saturday also brings a day-long party at the Marsh Street Centre in Clarksburg to celebrate their 90th anniversary.  Along with a full day of events, music from Chris Scerri and friends on the patio in the afternoon and some historical displays, there will be a concert in the evening in which Tyler Yarema will lead an all-star cast through several decades of musical styles.

Two acts from London, Ontario, representing opposite ends of the roots spectrum, will be visiting our area this weekend.  At The Harbour Street Fish Bar it’s The Focklers Blues Band.  The band consists of the three Fockler brothers with the addition of “honorary Fockler” Mat Power on bass and vocals.  Their promo material suggests a tempting attraction for this time of year: “Visualize yourself on the dock at the cottage, sun’s out, you’ve got the weekend off, and you just cracked your first tall can. How tasty was that? That’s what The Focklers sound like.”

Meanwhile, also from London, The Marrieds will be performing Saturday night at The Bicycle Café in Flesherton. The Marrieds, is a man-and-wife duo consisting of Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy, blending ukulele, guitar and vocal harmonies.   Lori Mastronardi of the London Free Press describes their “folk-country sound filled with playful lyrics and sweet harmonies” and Amantha Hather in Canadian Beats says that their “melodic and wistful folk music” is “full of tales that everyone can relate to in some way or another”.

It’s going to be a fun weekend at The Garafraxa Café in Durham.  On Friday night they present Jay Semko, singer-songwriter formerly with The Northern Pikes, a band he formed in Saskatoon which went on to achieve four Gold records and one Platinum, with sales of over 1 million units worldwide.  Jay received two Canadian Music Publishers Association Awards, for Teenland and Girl with a Problem. During the course of their career, the Northern Pikes have released twelve albums. In 2012 the iconic Canadian band was inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  After the Northern Pikes he embarked on a very successful career writing for films and television, collecting many awards over the years.  At the same time, he has exploited his talents with a lot of voiceover work and teaching songwriting, while continuing to release solo albums, so far nine and counting.

On Saturday night, the Garafraxa presents Richard Garvey, whose songs of environmental justice and social change have drawn comparisons to Pete Seeger and David Francey.  He’ll be sharing the evening with The Ever-Lovin’ Jug Band, which plays original tunes inspired by the jug bands and string bands of the 1920s, plus some old-time, ragtime, cajun, and more from a bygone era or two.

As always, there is a lot of choice for live music this weekend (see the complete listings at the right of this page).  And don’t forget the open stages, where you can enjoy a grab-bag of talent and possibly witness the kind of magical moments that occur when a bunch of different artists feed off each other’s inspiration.

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Thursday Update May 18 to 21, 2017

If you just can’t get enough of the McCarthy clan, you’ll get your chance this weekend full of inspiration from their recent pilgrimage to Nashville.  Austin is at Bruce Wine Bar tonight and at The Huron Club on Saturday, while Mike and Erica play Gustav’s on Saturday night.  Then Austin is back at The Huron Club on Sunday afternoon for their Sidelaunch Series.

Summerfolk has put together its annual tribute concert happening on Saturday at the Harmony Centre, with a bunch of local talents paying homage to The Tragically Hip.

With some great little venues presenting live music within a short drive from the lakeshore, this would be a good weekend to cruise around and check them out.

Start your musical weekend on Friday night at the Desboro Music Hall to see the virtuoso ukulele/cello duo James Hill & Anne Janelle with special guest prodigy Brontae Hunter opening.  This is one of those venues that is under inspired management and the quality of their offerings is well worth the drive to Desboro.

The Bicycle Café in Flesherton is gaining a reputation among both performers and music fans as a venue that goes the extra mile to provide quality entertainment.  In the past they’ve presented stellar shows from Culture Reject and Andrew McPherson and this Saturday they are featuring legendary folkies Fraser and Girard.

Allan Fraser and Marianne Girard played last weekend in Massie where a new concert season is ramping up for the summer.  This is another venue inspired by the love of live music.  Although they have nothing planned for this weekend, mark your calendars for Steve Dickinson next weekend on May 26th and Christina Martin on June 17th.  Steve was the first performer to play at Massie Hall when they started presenting music 13 years ago and when Christina Martin comes in June she’ll be freshly returned from a successful European tour.

In Durham this weekend The Garafraxa Café is presenting singer-songwriter Bry Webb, formerly of the indie band The Constantines.  This great little venue has been struggling with the tendency of artists to book nearby gigs within days of their Garafraxa appearances and it’s the case this weekend with Bry Webb, who is playing at Heartwood tonight.  Maybe you’ll want to see him twice, or you’ll just want to support a little venue that is far enough away from a big city that they have to draw from quite a distance if they are to survive.

The Garafraxa is starting a Sunday afternoon series this weekend with the Doug Tielli Trio and next weekend they will be featuring a Sunday afternoon with Deep Blue Honey which is the stage name of the impressive local poet Richard-Yves Sitoski and his wife Mary Little.

The more we support these venues that are a little off the beaten track the more we are opening up the possibilities for a variety of performers to visit our area.

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The Renaissance of the Folk Duo with Fraser and Girard

This Saturday the folk duo, Fraser and Girard, will be playing at The Bicycle Café in Flesherton.   They have been called “the best Canadian folk duo mix since Ian and Sylvia”.   As with many artists who choose to play there, they are particularly looking forward to this venue.   “Venues have a reputation,” says Allan, “This is one of our favourite places to play.  Peter has a theatre background and he knows how to do it right.”  It’s an opinion shared by many who attend shows at The Bicycle Café as well.

“We love these little halls,” says Marianne, “The environment really affects my sound.  It’s a lovely experience to play somewhere there’s an audience that listens.  It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Although they have been performing as a duo for just a few years, both Allan Fraser and Marianne Girard are veterans whose individual careers go back a long way.  Allan achieved a measure of fame in the early seventies in a duo with Daisy DeBolt, working the Weintraub circuit out of New York.  His songs have been recorded by other artists, most notably John Oates who has twice recorded “Dance Hall Girls”, Allan’s song which has been called by National Public Radio in the U.S. “one of the 10 best songs of all time”. Marianne Girard has recorded three solo albums and appeared on many compilation albums, as artist and session musician. She has toured her music in North America and Europe several times.  When the two of them, whose paths had previously crossed several times, teamed up it became immediately apparent that combining their talents resulted in something greater than the sum of their parts.

The focus of the most critical praise is the blend of their voices.

John Apice in No Depression magazine said, “Maybe it’s the power in their voices. It’s something beyond mere harmonizing…the two voices jell and become unified as one voice that belongs to no one vocalist… These two singers fit well together. It’s like listening and revisiting the visual and distinctive songs of Richard and Linda Thompson…”

“One of the most valuable aspects of our life is to work together”.

David Olds said in The Whole Note magazine, “It seems that Allan Fraser has met a new kindred musical spirit in Marianne Girard and…this new duo has developed a voice of its own. Girard’s husky contralto…blends well with Fraser’s sometimes gravelly low tenor and I love it when their harmonies are reversed and he takes the high line…”