Day 2-5, hobson’s choice tour :Nova Scotia

We took two days to drive from Montreal to Harbourville Nova Scotia in the Annapolis Valley. During the drive we subsided on our bagels and other groceries, listened to a lot of great music and comedy. We stayed with our friend Becky at her house right overlooking the  Bay of Fundy and with the drive into Harbourville after seafood at Paddy’s Pub in Wolfeville, we felt like we’d arrived on the coast.

On Wednesday we spent the day driving around the valley, stopping in at various stores, cafes and look offs ( Frenchy’s, The Union Street Cafe in Berwick). We even checked out a couple of venues in the area that we’d like to play at next time we tour this way.

The whole experience at Sutton Oak Farms where the Coop is located, was amazing. Tim, Angela, Michelle, Kaylen, Toby, and Russel are  a  lovely family and welcomed us with warmth and enthusiasm. The venue in particular is amazing, it’s an old converted chicken coop with a new concrete floor and one very hot wood stove to heat the room. Although only a handful of people came to the concert, we got to meet everyone and we had a fun party after and drank a lot of proppeller beer. (We we’re excited to try their honey wheat, porter, and IPA.)

We recorded the Coop show and we’re planning on sending it to Danny Schwartz, who’s interviewing us for his radio show in Ottawa. He had asked for some live recordings to include in his show. We haven’t listened to the recordings yet, but we suspect that they captured the warmth and intimacy of the Coop.

Yesterday we arrived in Halifax in time for our soundcheck at Stayner’s Wharf. It was a beautiful day so we went and had lobster, mussels, and scallops at Murphy’s restaurant right on the water.

The Stayner’s Wharf show was good, well attended, but as we were warned it was kind of the loud pub gig on the tour. It’s challenging for any band to compete with a loud room of talkers, and it makes us realize how little we’ve really had to do those gigs in hobson’s choice. It was a boys night out for  alot of the local musicians though so it was a pleasure to play for a our fellow players of music. Our friend Geordie Haley from Toronto came out, as he has recently moved to Halifax with his family. Gigs like our show at Stayner’s Wharf have a particular function on a tour in my mind, because they finance the rest of the activity so that we can go to a farm and play for ten people, or in a small cafe in Montreal for gas money.

Stayner’s was also a full night of music so it was really fun to play through a bunch of our tunes, three sets worth. The music is really starting to reach that point from touring where the band feels like one dynamic organism.

Felicity picked up an unfortunate bug right at the start of the tour that she has been battling, and it seems to have progressed to her chest, we’re hoping she’s on the upswing and can give her best and enjoy the rest of the tour.

We’re off to play another full night in Moncton NB tonight at Cafe Aberdeen. But there has been talk about oysters for lunch, we’ll look into this prospect further first.

Stay tuned for more…

hobson’s choice

Day 1- hobson’s choice June tour- Montreal.

We packed the van yesterday and embarked on this summers tour. First stop Montreal, we made good time driving, didn’t hit much traffic, but a bit of rain. The talented Adam Kinner (tenor saxophone) and Hans Bernhard (bass) opened the show at Montreal’s Shaika Cafe. They played a short set of very beautiful pieces, mostly improvised, and then ended with a swinging and uplifting version of “When you’re smiling”. The two of them played intuitively with ease, displaying an incredible musical rapport. Their set was a perfect way to start the tour.

We had some troubles with the sound-system at the club. It cut out during the intro of our first tune not once but twice. However, there was a mysterious sound guy in the audience who isolated the problem right away and we played the rest of the set without any more technical difficulties. Thanks again to that dude. He wouldn’t divulge his secret fix though? strange fellow….

Evidently, we decided to start with a different tune, as it seemed like the universe was giving us a sign to play something else. Michael was ecstatic that his vibraphone motor was working perfectly again. Slow tremolo = heaven. The lonely night it spent outside can now be forgotten. Harley was excited to debut his new homemade pedal board. He made it with his own two hands.

Shaika is a very nice room, good for our sound and the people there are really cool. We’d definitely play there again.

After late night poutine at La Banquise we retired at Adam’s beautiful apartment for some rest. Harley’s poutine kept revisiting him sporadically through the night. Felicity had no trouble switching to sleep mode though. Michael, Harley, Rebecca and Adam had a late night chat about border crossings, sketchy unmarked navy blue vans, and the absurdity of those in power. Fun times! Thanks to Adam and Rachel for their generous hospitality.

We took our time leaving Montreal today and had a nice brunch with  Harley’s parents who came in from Ottawa for the show. We wrote a reggae song on my ukulele about our conquest for good bagels, and then enjoyed said bagels on the way out of the city.

Thanks for reading, we’ll chime in again soon.
hobson’s choice

The Story of Sechelt

The story of the song; “Sechelt” is an interesting one. It goes as far back as to when we were at the Kidney farm recording our second release; “The Farm EP”. We were actually only there in part to record the five songs that would become “The Farm EP”. We were also arranging a whole new set of tunes for the band, one of which is a composition by Michael and Felicity called; “Of The Waves”. At the time we were, at least loosely toying with the theme of incorporating imagery about the ocean and rolling waves in our music. We had been listening to the music of Steve Reich and some of the arrangements and improvisations we were creating were influenced by his writing. Specifically, the way he layers textures so that you don’t even hear the different instruments anymore, just one organic sound. This was something we were trying to explore at that time. This theme was suggested in the dynamic swells in “Of The Waves”, and I believe continues to play a part in how the four of us approach our material.

Once “The Farm EP” was released, we did a bunch of touring in Ontario, playing that music for people and the first little bit of the tune that would become “Sechelt” had begun taking shape. It was this little passage of 3 parallel chords, Bb add 9/D, Cadd 9/E, Dadd9/F#. It reminded me of Joni Mitchell and was a nice little thing to sound check on guitar while I was getting used to the venue we’d be playing at that night. I continued to work on the tune over the course of the summer of ’09 and finally completed the music on a train to Montreal, cutting and pasting sections of a recording on my computer until the form was just right. I began to work on some words but I was having trouble getting something I was happy with.

When I got back from my trip from Montreal I received an email from Dave Clark (Woodchopper’s Association, Woodshed Orchestra). He was just saying thanks for the copy of the farm ep that we had given him and he maintained that he’d found it to be a worthwhile, and inspiring second effort from the group. Dave (being the hyper-creative individual he is), said that while listening to the ep he was daydreaming about Joni Mitchell and jotted down some lyrics, he said “feel free to use them”. So here I was with this song that needed lyrics, a song that had been inspired by Joni, and Dave had written some words inspired by Joni as well. So I decided to spend a few minutes to see if it could work. Well, it did. I had to adapt the words and take some liberties so it would work with the melody, but in a lot of ways it seemed like Dave and I had been co-writing a song and we didn’t even know it.

The other curious thing was all the imagery about the ocean and waves that are contained in Dave’s lyrics. It seems that those ideas that we were working on at the farm were not lost on a listener as attuned as Dave Clark. I read somewhere once that Joni used to tune her guitar to the sound of the ocean. The song is named after Joni’s current home in Sechelt, British Columbia, and is featured on the most recent hobson’s choice recording.

waves swell up and then they crash back down
one upon the next there gathers a sound
that i now hear as well

deep down under the oh so blue
i can hear your heartbeat
as I’m calling to you with my soul laid bare
through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone
now I’m calling on out to you

upon a rock i look and see you there in the middle of the surf
with your soul laid bare for me to see as well
through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone
and I’m calling on out to you
and I’m calling on out to you
and I’m calling on out to you

the form you figured with each vocal line
sculpted and burnished transcended time
and now i call to you

through blue memories of the years they’ve passed and gone


Guitar as cheater instrument?

A friend of mine has a funny saying that guitar is a cheater instrument, because as long as you can play movable chords and melodies in an easy key, you don’t really need to know what the notes are in a more difficult key, you just move the fingering over and voila!

This is true to some extent and I think the fact that parallel sounds are easy to achieve on guitar is a valuable guitar-ism. Some great guitar music is based on this idea. However, if you want to achieve mastery over the music that you play, it’s important that you have a thorough technical knowledge of your instrument as well. After-all, you want to play something however guitaristic or not, because you chose to, not because you were limited to it.

A teacher once told me that he liked to think of practicing in all keys as “evening the keys”. The concept is basically that you want to be as equally comfortable in the “harder” keys (ie; Gb) as you are in the “easy” keys( ie; C.)

Lately I’ve extended the analogy by trying to imagine that I’m sanding down a table top and there are bumps that represent the things that I’m good at in a particular key, and there’s also crevasses that are things that I’m not so good at. So I’m sanding down this table top to make it smooth and even so that there’s no key that I’m particularly weaker or stronger at. The thing about a good table top is; it’s gonna get a lot of use. So I try to make a regular habit of sanding it down again to make it nice and smooth.

I think about this analogy in relation to both the study of the materials of music, and the study of all the notes on the fret-board. It is important for me, not only to master the muscle memory of patterns and shapes on the guitar, but also to know in a heartbeat what notes I’m playing and how they relate to the context of my music.

Here are some simple exersizes you can use to better your knowledge of the fret-board;

1. Choose note names at random and play every single instance of that note on the guitar. Some pitches have 4 different places on the fret-board multiplied by 2-4 octaves of the pitch as well.

2. Play scales up and down one string, slowly with a metronome while saying the pitches out loud. This is particularily hard when you descend in keys with lots of accidentals.

Open strings are our friends.
Another idiosyncratic aspect of the guitar, like any stringed instrument, is the unique timbre of the open strings. The combination of open and fretted notes is one of the more interesting textures you can achieve on the instrument.
When combining open strings with fretted notes to generate voicings, unlike movable chord voicings that involve only fretted notes, it is usually not possible to transpose them to different keys. But even if you’re only going to be able to play a voicing in one key, it’s worthwhile exploring, as it can give that key some distinct personality.
Counter to the idea of evening the keys, open strings can help set the keys apart on the guitar.

If the guitar was a video game, these voicings would be your special moves.

Here are some examples of interesting open stringed voicings; (from lowest to highest string, X meaning a string muted.)

Bb 6/9 #11- in fifth position Bb- X- open D- C-F- open E.
Eb Maj9 #11- in fifth pos. X-Eb- open D- open G- F- A.
E Maj7 b5- in third pos. open E-X-G#-Bb-D#-open E.
C# Min add9- in fourth pos. G#-C#-X- C#- D#-open E.
A Maj9- in fifth pos. X- open A-G#-C#-open B- open E.
A Minmaj9- in fifth pos. X-open A- G#-C- open B- B.
FMin11- (without root) fourth pos. X-X-Ab-open G- F-Bb.
F Min 6/9 add 14- first pos. F-C-open D- open G- F- X.

CMaj9 eighth pos. C-E-open D-open G- open B- C. (this one is funny ‘cause it’s your basic open G chord fingering moved up to the eight fret.)
CMaj13 #11- third pos. G-C-F#-open G-open B-A.

One easy way to transpose open voicings on the guitar is to use a capo. I like to use a capo because it creates an effect when playing open stringed voicings, that your playing a higher tuned instrument. Even simple “campfire chords” sound surprising and unusual when capoed higher up the neck.

Open tunings man!
A colorful singer I know in Toronto was once biking towards me while I was walking down Bloor street. Upon noticing my guitar case in hand he exclaimed; “Open tunings man!”
Maybe you had to be there…..

Lately I’ve experimented with alternate tunings that only deviate from standard tuning slightly, like tuning the A string down to a G or the G string down to an F#. This makes different open stringed voicings possible while still retaining your knowledge of the other 4 or 5 strings, that you’ve left in their standard tuning. In general, alternate tunings are a great tool for writing guitar music because you tend to make many exciting discoveries quickly when exploring the unfamiliar tuning.

The most obvious example is the celebrated “drop D tuning”, that is just as popular in classical and folk music, as it is in heavy metal and rock.

Try these tunings for fun; (from lowest to highest string)

drop D- D-A-D-G-B-E
double drop D- D-A-D-G-B-D
drop F# E-A-D-F#-B-E
drop G- E-G-D-G-B-E
dadgad- D-A-D-G-A-D                                                                                                                                                                                           drop C- C-G-D-G-B-E

Check out these guitarists for great uses of alternate tunings; Joni Mitchell, Don Ross, Andy Mckee, and Nick Drake.


Stop by our band website

OCFF recap

We had the pleasure to attend the OCFF conference in Ottawa this past weekend and it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. The Ontario Council of Folk Festivals hold a conference every October to bring it’s members together to discuss the various topics that concern the community in a series of panel discussions and meetings. It also functions as a showcasing and networking event for artists, artistic directors, labels, and management companies alike.

Being our first time there, we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but it was our intention to meet a bunch of people, collaborate with friends old and new, and present a couple private showcases in our hotel room. We hoped that we’d gain a fan or two and open the doors for some work in the Folk Festival community. We turned both beds into one huge sofa, lit candles, set up a sound-system and offered beer, wine, and hot apple cider to our guests.

What a party! The private showcases, which take place between 11:30pm and 4am on both the Friday and Saturday nights, occupy two entire floors of the hotel, with each room presenting showcase sets every half hour. There was plenty of jamming, sometimes lasting till the wee, wee hours.

I enjoyed some interesting discussions with an array of folks and the experience was an affirmation to me that we are slowly finding our place in the music community at large. We have sometimes struggled with being too jazz for the folk crowd and too folk for the jazz crowd, but I think now more than ever we are sure of our identity as a group of creative and open minded artists with some songs to share, and plenty to learn from our predecessors. If we can use our music to bring some people together from these and other seemingly disparate musical worlds than we’re on the right track….. I think.

Thanks to everybody who took the time with everything going on to come hear us play, and a very special thanks to Jaron Freeman Fox who sat in with us on Saturday with some beautiful fiddle playing.


3 gigs are better than none.

I thought I’d write a blog, since the sound on my computer is mysteriously not working and that pretty much rules out any Youtube adventures.

We played some music tonight for a “Rock Eucharist” at a church here in Toronto where they feature the music of artists who aren’t necessarily in the “Christian” genre. We got invited to play because of our reputation for playing the beautiful music of Bruce Cockburn. Tonight’s Eucharist featured his songs entirely.

I am eager to play again at Church of the Redeemer because of it’s full and complimentary sound. Even with only one house speaker we were able to create a lush and dynamic sound in the room.

Next week we are intending to get back to the drawing board and begin focusing our efforts on some new material. I personally feel like we have, not only new tunes to work on but older tunes to revisit and possibly rearrange.

The other two shows this week were also great, the first was opening for Winnipeg’s; The Duhks. It was a great honor to share the stage with such an accomplished band. It was one of the best show I’ve seen in a long time. The Duhks energy, spirit, and groove uplift their audiences to great heights. I wish they would play Toronto more often.

Our Sage West gig was a great and intimate experience as well, where as the featured act for the night, we explored a lot of older material that we haven’t played for some time. We also played some of the Cockburn material we’ve been working on. We hope to return to Sage West soon, the food and the vibe there are fantastic.

over and out,


Home again, home again jiggity jog.

Well, I guess I’ll blog again about the end of our tour. Just before leaving Ottawa, Rebecca accidentally crushed her pinky finger in between a door and a hard place, fortunately she’s tough, and with some ice and salt water she was able to avoid being sick from the pain. After a Jameson on the rocks administered by Dr. Card, we were ready to hit the road again. It was a good thing we didn’t have a gig that night, but after a couple days at the cottage she was pretty much back to normal. We had a great time at the cottage, fishing, jumping off rocks, telling ghost stories, eating BBQ, the whole nine.

Peterborough’s The Spill did not let us down, Typewriter (Joe Fortin), and Caylie Staples played beautiful, intimate sets and the crowd was great. We then stayed with the wonderful Fortin’s and had a little party, as it was the first day of their holidays. Thanks again to Rob and Susan for their hospitality. 

Upon our return to Toronto, we had the privilege to open for T.O.’s Flashlight Radio, for their exciting debut EP release. It was a great night, playing for a packed Rivoli, catching up with some friends and celebrating the end of a successful tour. Flashlight Radio impressed me with their polish and effortless groove. I’m looking forward to hearing them again soon.

We got a ton of video from the gigs, so I imagine we’ll get some of it up on the site soon. Thanks to everyone who came to the shows!


Sudbury, Ottawa, Cottage deserved.

We’re a little further into the tour now with a show last night in Ottawa (where we currently are at my parents house), and another fun show in Sudbury on Friday night.

We opened for our friends Hear comes the Cavalry at Sudbury’s famed venue; The Townehouse Tavern. It was my first time there and I could really see why it’s the destination for touring bands of all sorts when making the long drive down the Trans-Canada. The crowd there is consistent, warm and appreciative, and they really know how to party! Props to the guy who slid across the dance floor during our set and to Perry who did the awesome close-up video.

Last night’s show was also a success with a bill of 3 acts; Ottawa Songwriters; Ann Walton, The Megan Jerome Trio and us hooligans. We played at Irene’s on Bank street to a full, attentive house. We loved playing with all the talented folks so far on this tour and I’m excited to collaborate with everyone again in the future.

We’re pumped for the next couple shows with our friends in Peterborough and TO, but first we’ve got to go take a load off at Mike’s cottage for a couple days and jump in the lake repeatedly. My folks Gary and Sue are the best, and have left us a ton of food left-over from their BBQ, so our grocery list for the cottage should be minimal.