A Skydiggers Christmas Returns To Meaford Hall

This Thursday The Skydiggers bring their annual Christmas show to Meaford Hall.  This is part of a tour that actually started back in mid-November in Winnipeg.  The first part of the tour was to promote their latest album, “The Warmth of The Sun” and as we get closer to Christmas it has become a combination of songs from their album along with their Christmas favourites.

As Andy Maize told Exclaim! magazine, the new album “is a reflection of the live band, how good the players are, how quick they are, and we wanted to capture that energy and not overthink it.”  He added “I don’t think it was intentional, but I can hear a thread on these songs about reaching out, being honest with yourself and making a connection with people, in order to get to a better place. That’s definitely a goal for us, it always is.”

The original songs on the album were co-written, as always by The Skydiggers’ core members Andy Maize and Josh Findlayson. The title track was inspired by Gord Downie’s solo project “Secret Path”, which took a hard look at Canada’s national shame, the residential schools which wrenched indigenous children from their families right up until the 1990’s.  Josh Findlayson was particularly moved by the message of the album, and its accompanying graphic novel.  He was a close friend of Gord’s and played on most of the solo albums that he had released outside of The Tragically Hip.  He played in the live show of “Secret Path” last year, not long before Gord’s passing.

“We had talked a lot about the residential schools,” Josh says, “Gord and I are the same age and grew up being generally unaware of the residential school situation.  I don’t think I appreciated the scope of it, or that it had gone on until 1996.  One thing that I never appreciated was the reality of the generational trauma that families went through having family members that were taken out of their community.  It was very much a reaction to that.  I was very proud of Gord for figuring out a way to tell the story that impacted people.”

Most signicantly, he added, “ I think the most impactful thing about “Secret Path” is that it now is in 100,000 schools across Canada.  Now that part of our history is going to be presented in an accurate way.  I think it’s important for us to own it and to move forward.  So I’m incredibly proud of him and grateful to have shared that experience.  It was pretty powerful.

“’Warmth of The Sun’ was my attempt to address it and what is healing, what does reconciliation look like?  How do you start that conversation?”

Given that Gord Downie’s work was so central to the new album, it seems particularly fitting that it was a little over a week ago in Kingston that the album tour morphed into the album/Christmas tour.

“The Christmas shows started really in earnest last Friday,” says Josh, “We played a show with three of the members of The Tragically Hip who live there:  Paul Langois, Rob Baker and Gord Sinclair, and Sarah Harmer who lives just outside Kingston as well.  So we had them up as our special guests and made an evening of it.  Some of the proceeds of that show went to a hospice that Joanne Langois, who is Paul Langois’ wife, is involved with.  They don’t have their own hospice in Kingston and they’re raising money to create that.

“It was a real kind of healing evening in Kingston with those guys and it was nice to share a stage with them and nice to connect with them in music.  Music is good medicine for everyone, the performers and the audience, and it was nice to have that moment to share with them.”

The tradition of a Skydiggers’ Christmas concert goes back a long way, and also has a connection to The Tragically Hip.

“Probably late eighties, early nineties, we did a number of shows with the Tragically Hip and they were just coming off the success of their record ‘Up To Here’, says Josh, “and they had done a show just after Boxing Day which I guess was the 27th or whatever of December. 

“They had been doing that at the Horseshoe for a few years at that point.  I think we did a show with them that year, and then they decided they weren’t going to do that anymore.  So for one year we did the Boxing Day show that they had had and then somehow it turned into the weekend before Christmas. 

“I gotta figure it’s somewhere around twenty-five years now that we’ve been doing it.  It became a thing we did every year.  It was nice to have a little get-together before parting ways over the holidays.  It became a bit of a gathering for family and friends”. 

It evolved into something they took outside of Toronto.

“It’s just evolved into something that we continue to do and it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.  We thought maybe it would be cool to do a run of shows leading up to The Horseshoe.  It keeps growing every year which is nice.

 “This will be our second or third time playing in Meaford [see The Skydiggers’ Energy Warms A Wintry Night] and what a great little venue and a great little community.  The venue itself has obviously lots of history.  I’m told that the architect is the same that designed Massey Hall.  So we look forward to coming there.”

The Christmas part of the show is based on a Christmas album.

“Three years ago we made a Christmas record.  The core of that is ‘Good King Wenceslas’.  The tone and the message in that song is really not ultimately Christian.  It’s really about helping people that need our help.  As Andy often says any society is really judged by how they treat people that need help and assistance.  That’s sort of the message of that song.  The rest of the songs on the record, I would say, it’s more on the melancholy side of Christmas material. 

“Christmas is an interesting time.  Some people struggle at that time of year.  It wasn’t the best time of year for everyone.  If you had a difficult time of it as a kid, sometimes Christmas would be a time of year that you were not looking forward to and I think the record kind of reflects all of that, those aspects of that time of year.”

As a band that has been on the scene for decades, The Skydiggers represents something that is truly Canadian (see The Skydiggers Christmas road Trip).  Their sound, built around guitars and vocal harmonies, has changed little over the years.

“For better or for worse,” says Josh, “I suppose sounding like yourself, at times it’s a burden and at times it’s beneficial.  We always wanted to write songs and make recordings that sounded like they could have been written fifty years ago or fifty years from now.  In my mind if a song could endure and you could feel good getting up on stage and playing it twenty years after you’d put it on a record – and I have to say there’s no songs that we play, that we’ve played all our career that I don’t get up on stage wanting to play.”

There are other advantages to longevity.

“We’re fortunate now in that we’ve built up an audience from being around so long, that we are able to continue to connect with people. In some cases people have forgotten that we’re still around or they didn’t know that we’re still making records and we do shows.  Meaford’s a great example of a place that  we can come to and maybe there’s someone that saw us twenty years ago at university and now they live in Collingwood or Thornbury or in the area and they go ‘Wow, I didn’t know those guys were still playing and I’d love to go see them’. So it’s nice to reconnect with people that knew the band. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do with these shows.”

The touring band is the same band that recorded “The Warmth Of The Sun”.

“It’s a seven piece band. I’m so honoured and grateful to share the stage this year with these people,” says Josh, “they’re all incredibly talented.  They give so much to the songs and to the music and both Andy and I are both extremely grateful for that.  We have on drums Noel Webb who’s been playing with us for years, on bass guitar Derrick Brady, on piano Michael Johnson, and on vocals we have Jessy Bell Smith.  And then we have a fellow by the name of Aaron Comeau.  He played on ‘Warmth of The Sun’ and he’s a terrific player and a real gentleman.”

A Skydiggers Christmas happens this Thursday December 14, 2017 at 8 pm.

Tickets are $41.50 in advance or $51.50 at the door.

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