The Dark Road Diary: Part 10

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Humility on The Dark Road

In a truck stop in Marion, Illinois, just north of Clarkesville—the Clarkesville that the last train goes to, I think— we pulled into a no parking zone to have a “picnic”. This is a code word for “let’s make a meal from the green room food we didn’t eat last night.” In this case, last night’s green room was in Nashville and the leftovers consisted of an amazing fish stew,  Mulligatawny soup and some apples. One or two of us crossed the parking lot to the fast food joint that was there, but the rest dug in, standing huddled around the food bin, trying to stay out of the substantial wind that had been blowing all day.

Across the same parking lot came a man, his eyes locked on us and our van and trailer, and I was sure he was coming to A) tell us to move the illegally parked van/trailer or B) to get an autograph from Willie Nelson (happens in airports all the time). 

He heads straight for Stephen and says, “I was at your show in Nashville last night and had to say thank you.” Stunned us all. More than 200 miles from last nights’ show, in a no-frills truck stop, this man explains he is a palliative care nurse, that he lives and works in Chicago, and that he drove 4 and a half hours to come see The Night in an intimate theater in Nashville. “I just couldn’t believe my eyes when you pulled up…you and this fella, “ he said throwing his head towards me. “Everyone who works in my field should see this show.” 

In a truck stop on I 64 under a threatening sky, with a serious accident unfolding just ahead that will close down the interstate and change the lives of those involved (unknown to us as we huddle around the food bin) and more hours than we counted on to get to the next hotel, I was reminded why you never hold back when playing for people.

Nine hours on the road to see us…almost 1000 miles…with no clear expectations or promises of what the evening would be. 

That is humbling.

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Part 9

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Wrestling Old Ghosts

Theater 80, NYC

Sunday

New York City: You write those three words down, in that order, and there’s a feeling of having written a tight, picaresque novella. They have that weight, no doubt. They do for me, and I don’t favour the place. It has always been too much for me, all at once. But to play there: I’ll admit it on behalf of the band, was and remains a BIG FRIGGING DEAL. This is largely because I have a strong sense that everyone there HAS SEEN IT ALL, BABY, SEVENTEEN TIMES. 
So, if at the end of one of these most unlikely of evenings, undertaken in a speakeasy of previous times/now an off off Broadway atmospheric and odoriferous black box owned and operated by what is surely a bejeweled, silver cane-wielding aristocrat of a failed city state of yesteryear, the crowd’s generosity of spirit alive in their laughter, alive in their silences rises, and they rise en masse to bless you as you take leave of them … well, then, it seems you have truly stood and delivered, and served the Muses their portion, and kept to the covenantal jangle of the bardic road life.
And we shook that monkey of last year’s NYC audio debacle off our backs. Mercy prevailed.

Inside This is Red, Pittsburgh, PA

Tuesday

Pittsburgh: An eight hour bus ride down the highway to a lapsed and former Slavic Cathedral (I know. We did put ‘NO CHURCHES’ in the contract. Nobody seems to read the fine print. Myself included.), now one of the craziest, most seductive and tricked out high tech venues I’ve ever heard tell of. A three story high vaulted mahogany ceiling, Byzantine tiles set in the walls, spectacular Oaxacan-style brickwork, moody lighting, a green room where the priest once prepared for mass. A few ghosts from the Old World, wondering what became of their heirs. Grief and Mystery, alright.
Now, perhaps you’ve made rash but entirely necessary promises to yourself as your days have gone by. Vows, even. And if you lived through the eighties, those promises might have included something like this: “No matter what, I’ll never do a music video. Never, no matter what.” If you did, we have that in common. I had no reason to make such a vow, no lifestyle choice, no skill that would ever lift that strange vow to the realm of possibility or likelihood. But in truth, back in the day, I’d watched enough of those crude novelties – added up, whole days of my lifetime that I’ll never get back – that the vow at least made some kind of moral or artistic sense.
So you know what I’m going to tell you now. An hour before show time last night, the Grief and Mystery ensemble is on stage for a three-camera video shoot of various takes on what we do. At first it seemed like a record, a kind of archive thing, like recording a live show. But there was just enough ‘lights/camera/action’ to the business to give me the bends, morally or artistically speaking. Mr. Hoskins (‘Hoss’, we might come to call him), the dervish of detail in such moments, drove the film crew to fits of precision, focus and unwavering technical prowess, himself calling for retake after retake. With patrons for the evening’s show already lining up outside and looking through the stained glass for a glimpse of the shenanigans, the band hit their mark. They were tight, model musical professionals. I blew my lines several times, ludicrous because I wrote and crafted all of them some years ago, and the order and the cadence of them were mine, and barring neurodegenerative disarray should have come to me easily. But I’m no actor. That much self understanding was renewed.

Fifty minutes later its time for ‘Ladies and Gentlemen …’, and we reach into the mortal depths once more, and we believe in these strange nights. And we earn our keep. Tears and applause enough, and enough ribaldry from the Steel City crowd, and three hours later weare sipping smokey whiskey with the owners and the local organizers in the emptied hall, all of us beginning to lie with alarming and escalating confidence about the epic edges of our lives, and for a while, as the Old Man, the patron saint of this operation unawares, so properly put it: 
The whole damn place goes crazy twice. And its once for the devil. And its once for Christ.

SJ

The Dark Road Diary: Part 8

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Prevail #2: by Lisa Hodgson

In the This Is Red venue, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo: Gabe Jenkinson

Prove more powerful than opposing forces; be victorious.

“We prevailed” has been the most commonly uttered first words spoken after walking the dark road from the stage and back to the temporary shelter of our greenroom.

Ahhh…the mercy, the kind labour’s of our many hosts providing us with a sanctuary, may you ALL know how immeasurably important and crucial your offerings are.

You see, we DO prevail….over and over again. And the opposing forces? Well…they are there, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Do we prevail because we are more powerful? No. We prevail because each one of us is willing to saunter along this dark road, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, other times with arms outstretched and a knowing glance to the mystery, all ragged and breathlessly whispering… “Shall we Dance?” Nights of Grief & Mystery…We asked for it, They deliver…and then some.

I’m in.

lisa

The Dark Road Diary: Part 7

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Sometimes you are asked to prevail.

Load In: NYC

Some nights you are just asked to show up and do your thing. Other nights, you are asked to prevail.  New York always asks the latter of us. 

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Part 6

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


The Church of What’s Happening Now

In The Maine Irish Heritage Hall. Photo by Adam Bowman.

We made a deal with ourselves, with each other, with whatever brought us together a few years back, that – having tried, mind you, tried and tried again – we wouldn’t play churches. Call it bad faith: I’m not sure I’d argue. Call it a fall from whatever grace would have us: a case could be made. But we put it in the contract: No Churches. No Used-to-be-Churches either. 
Obviously a good number of people have associations with such places that won’t or can’t be overcome, and so are deeply dissuaded from darkening the doorways. Given even the documented histories, that’s understandable. And I for one have spoken or played or performed under more crucifixions, tormented stick figures, metaphorized and raptured butterflies rising from the rack, back lit by incontestable stained glass vignettes, than is wise. But the tactical strategy for the prejudice is this: for reasons unknown to me, they built these places in the old days so that people in the pews couldn’t quite make out what was being said at the front of the hall. The sound, almost always, is swimming, turgid, swampy in all the ways you wouldn’t want, and unwarm. And entombed.

So we pull into Portland, Maine yesterday, and we adjust the set list to bring back one of our operatic favourites: Never Be a Poet. We’ve done so because we’ve been booked into the Maine Irish Heritage Hall, and the story is about my first trip to Ireland, and about all the weather of fatherhood and frailty, and because Portland has a noble history of welcoming ragged survivors of The Famine in the mid-1800’s. Beautiful confluence. Until we pull up to the Maine Irish Heritage Hall. And it is a proper Gothic pile, a nineteenth century used-to-be-a-cathedral, in fact. Oh oh.
Without our man in the house, Charles, we’d have been in the shit, in every way that can be imagined. But his chops with the knobs, and a way-too-long sound check, and a quick dressing room revamp of the set list to accommodate the utter lack of light on stage and cut down on us moving around, and a band that trusts itself now to rise, and faithful Erin-led local organizers/workers, and especially a curious, slow to warm but beautifully locked-in crowd of the children of the children’s children who Came From Away in those ruinous days: all of that wound itself around this once and only night granted to us to grieve and be mystified, and for a while all was marvellous and well. Street legal devastation of the uninvestigated life proceeded. The people in the book signing line testified to it, were strangely grateful for it. Elegant praise. Generosity of spirit. Burgundy in the back room afterwards. Reasons to live.

Amen.

SJ

The Dark Road Diary: Part 5

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Highjacked, held hostage.

End of Night, Turners Falls

Some nights more than others, the emotional current seems to run higher.  There are a lot of reasons for this and I don’t know them all, and last night in Turners Falls…a full house, an old theatre, an absolute crack team of young people on the ground there (led by the intrepid Erica) setting the scene for us…was properly a high-octane Night, a perfect way to start this tour.

Sometimes, fatigue is the the crack that emotion seeps through for me. I’m not a fan of tears on stage, but occasionally I’m highjacked, held hostage by the moment until it relents. Last night was that kind of night for me, both in the dressing room and on stage. There was a different kind of fatigue in the house, too: the one that makes itself known living in these times, in this country specifically: people tired of carrying a weight they didn’t realize they were carrying.

So the wreckage was deep and very much in evidence for us in Turners Falls last night. I was lucky to be a witness.

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Part 4

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


4 Years On…

The Faces of The Great American Diner

According to the elves that live in silicone chips in my cell phone, 4 years ago today I was sitting in the El Quijote bar (right beside the Chelsea Hotel) in NYC. I was drinking not-so-great red wine and expensive but equally not-so-great gazpacho. Still, I was geeking out: it was THE El Quijote attached to THE Chelsea Hotel. I was waiting to meet up with Stephen at the venue a few blocks away for our first official gig…just the two of us.

Tonite, I’m in a Days Inn in Utica, NY. 

SJ is here, too.

And 7 others who in various capacities have thrown in their lot with us on dark road: Lisa, Charlie, Adam, Gabe, Colleen, The Spaniard, The Choirmaster. The packing, the repacking, the driving, the rendezvous-ing, the driving again, the border crossing, the border fingerprinting/picture taking/question answering, the driving, the diner stop, the driving…all leads tonite to a Days Inn in Utica. 

Tomorrow we begin. Tonite, we were driving on dark roads in America.

The Wide Shot of Truth

Árneshreppur, Iceland. Photo by Colleen Hodgson

Early on, Stephen described what we did on stage in the US and Australia as “carving in the air”. We’d walk on to a silent stage, just the two of us, with no idea what we’re going to do, so his description of what followed is bang on. We still walk on to silent stages, and I’ve come to describe the current edition of NOGM -— which boasts 7 people on stage— as “sauntering on a tightrope.”

We are always on the tightrope on this tour, and any unbalanced movement feels like jeopardy. I suppose there is a pressure to “know things” on a tour like this. Then again, for most of the last decade I’ve been thinking there comes a time in life that one is invited to plant a flag in what they’ve become certain of, even if it seems dangerous —as it does these days —to know things. If you’ve been lucky enough to have lived a life that has brought you into contact with vulnerability (your own and that of others) then you might not screw this up.

Standing in what you know doesn’t look anything like power. Quite the opposite. It leads to more vulnerability. It can lead to a lot of “not knowing”. That’s why it’s not for the faint of heart.

Or politicians. Or celebrities.

I’m trying to learn to not be faint of heart. Useful in a war and all that.

The wide shot of Truth.

Good thing I’m not alone in the learning.

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Part 3

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Another Kind of Light

Soundcheck at La Tulipe, Montreal.

You begin in the light
and you end in wisdom,
if the gods prevail.
But otherwise,
light.

SJ

There are some songs you can play in the morning or afternoon and there are songs that need the night. Some kinds of performative work live happily on a sun-drenched stage and others wilt under that kind of light. I’ve always felt more at home singing my stuff knowing that night has fallen, or at least is about to. The dark helps to contain things. Like being tenderly cupped in giant hands, the way we do with an insect we’re trying to transport out of the house to freedom without hurting it. The dark helps deliver a performance in the same way.  

Clearly, the world changes at night. Behavioural patterns of all kinds shift in flora, fauna, and town folk. “I said, the night is a dangerous thing,” I once wrote. I was afraid of the dark for a long time. But then again…


If you look deep,
deep enough,
into the heart of night,
you’ll see that it is just another kind of light,
if you look deep enough into The Heart of Night.

From Take A Little Walk, gh

I wrote that once, too.

So, this tour, its not Grief & Mystery: its NIGHTS of Grief & Mystery. Because that is when grief, mystery, and all their relations show up at your door, insinuating themselves into your kitchens, living rooms, and beds, without your permission but probably with your blessing.

We turn the house lights down, affording you a kind of privacy and inviting the blurred edges the dark offers, and we bring up the lights on stage hopefully just enough that you can see the kindness in our eyes. We don’t use the light to illuminate us, per se. We use the light to accentuate the dark.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have someone at the lighting console who helps in this regard. Like Jeremy in La Tulipe in Montreal. Thank you, Jeremy.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 2

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Charlie

Charlie Scaife at the console, Kingston, ON.

This is Charlie. Charlie is joining us on the road as Front of House Sound Engineer. Charlie is gold. Charlie is a godsend. 

We have learned the hard way that we need to have someone at the soundboard who knows and cares for what we are doing on stage. We were lucky enough to have Joe Meekums with us in the UK for a few shows and we quickly learned how to love the soundman. We needed someone from this continent for this tour, though.

Enter Charlie. He is young and, shockingly, wants to be an FOH guy. He has no hidden aspirations to be in a band and is not a budding recording engineer who is just biding his time as a live engineer until he can get a studio gig.  No, Charlie wants to be a live sound guy. Chances are, a few years from now, you’ll be at a massive concert somewhere and it’ll be Charlie at the board. 

So we have traded the lean touring machine of the duo back in The Day for a bigger machine that boasts nine (!!!!) people on the road. But this machine has a proper mechanic tuning up the engine with Charlie in tow. I know (and you can hear my sigh in this) that not everyone will be satisfied with the sound at the concerts. It’s always something.  Having Charlie at the console is our way of doing everything we can to ensure what we are doing on stage gets to your ears in the best possible way.

And he is a ginger.  So, he’s in good company in this band.

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Part 1

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


The Choir

The Choir during soundcheck in Montreal. Photo by Dianna Sutherland.

They spin gossamer with their voices and drape it on to the rest of us. They are a projection from somewhere else…not quite earthly. Skilled and passionate, we in the band quickly became addicted to them.

“We’re not gonna get used to this, right?” was the cautionary phrase thrown about during our run in Ontario and Quebec. Turns out they are joining us on the rest of the tour.

Yes. We are going to get used to this.

gh

The Dark Road Diary: Prologue

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Loading in, London, UK.

You’ve heard the expression: Life on the road.

That’s the fabrication of someone who wasn’t there, or someone who is trying to fool their family or friends. The road is no kind of life, not really. It’s what you’re doing instead of your life, something you hope your normal life tolerates on a good day, survives on the rest of them. Part piratical ensemble, part motorcycle gang, part asylum choir, your companions on the road close ranks to stay sane and pliable, and you are wise to draw nigh to their care-laden ministrations. Mostly heavy weather, obliging you to peak just at the time of day that almost everyone within five hundred kilometres is cooling down, you strangely privileged and burdened and shanghaied by your fate, the road is stern and lacks moderation or compromise. It can be a riot of adamant joy, too, and redeeming. But that’s not the general weather of the thing. How to duck and avoid blinking at the same time: that’s the strategy.


Once in a while one of your confederates peeks out from under the teflon veneer, gains something like focus, and takes the measure of things. What you have here is Gregory Hoskins doing that as the Nights of Grief & Mystery erupt and ebb across the UK, and Canada, and the United States, in 2019. I for one rely on these notices from the fray, since my position in the scheme banishes whatever chance I’d have to attend one of these nights and see for myself. They are chance and momentous encounters with Our Times, and Mr. Hoskins is just left-of centre stage to get the hang of the thing.
So I recommend his glimpses of the road. Saves you the ordeal, and lends you gratitude for the ordinary days.

Stephen Jenkinson

The Dangers of Travel (with apologies to Don Rooke)

Note: Don wrote a song called “The Dangers of Travel” that I sang on The Henrys’ recording “Quiet Industry”. A beautiful song that has nothing to do with the following, except for the title, which I stole.

This travelling thing is not for the faint of heart.

There are the usual uncertainties of the road (food, lodging, language) and those can be challenging enough.  But I have been learning these last few years that the heart also has to be able and ready to be broken by the beauty of the land, some of the people you meet there, and by the stories of the place.

Cases in point…

Broken by People

Meet Gudjon. His name translates to English as “God Man”. He was born and raised in the north of Iceland on a farm on the edge of the Norwegian Sea…the very edge. He is a talented painter, carver, stone mason, builder, farmer, fisherman, singer, blacksmith, leather worker, and specializes in the restoration of ancient Viking buildings (he has 2 “practice houses” he built in a field behind his house…along with a handful of other buildings and a Viking boat). He studies runic writing. He tends to his herb gardens.

He was generous with tales of his family and generous with his praise of the previous evening’s concert. A language barrier can purify intent in the back-and-forth of trying to communicate. Of my singing, he said “Takes me on a journey here,” tapping his fingers to his chest.

Colleen, Gudjon (God Man), gh, Lisa

Emotions were hijacked saying farewell when I realized how much I liked this guy I had only known for 36 hours or so (this kind of raid on trying to be cool is happening more and mo re). As we hugged goodbye, the heart cracked open a bit. Sure, the fracture was to allow admission of one more, but a break is a break and there is scar tissue now, the kind that occurs when you find and then have to leave a kindred spirit.

And God Man was not the only one. There was Helgi the filmmaker who stumbled across us in the north and followed us for a day. There was the Lord of the Manor of Trefacwyn, with whom we spent some magical days in Pembrokeshire, Wales. And there was the Old Caretaker of the Reykholt Hall who bonded with the band for a few hours as we set up, played, tore down and loaded out, embracing me warmly and then bowing to us all from the loading dock as we got into the van and, catching and holding my eye, tipping his hat to me before closing the loading dock doors. I wear no hat, so the best I could do was to blow him a kiss, which he smiled at and accepted as he disappeared. Another kindred spirit, another co-conspirator, another older song and dance man.

Broken by Stories

Elin’s Ger

This Mongolian ger was a long dreamed of thing of our host in Iceland, Elin. We spent a day there, our little band accompanied by Gudjon and a filmmaker from Sweden who had taken a shining to us at our concert the night before, and we cooked a meal, and walked the coast. As of this moment, the ger sits on land that is becoming the flash point in a long battle against foreign interests (Canadian lead) aiming to build a large scale hydro electric dam in the area. 270 square miles of affected area, the large scale flooding of vast lands, the end of three major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls, annihilating the flora and fauna that have been there since before memory, and changing the landscape in the way that only humans have had the hubris to do. As I write this, the engines of the big machines have just been fired up in the little village we left yesterday, the machinery preparing the road for bigger machinery to come, and some of the locals are weighing out the consequences of lying down in front of them.

The heart breaks.

Broken by Place

Beauty so bright, I took to wearing my sleeping mask while travelling.

At the most unsuspecting moments, the land itself steals away the breath along with any certainties of how beautiful “home” is. You’d have to have no pulse to be unmoved by the scenery offered up through the window of the van. The visual hits keep coming, again and again and again, until you start to feel exhausted by awe, the impulse to capture things on your phone finally numbed, and the van gets quiet because there are no more exclamations left in anyones’s belly, no more air in the lungs.

Such beauty can easily cause the heart to ache. And when the moment comes to turn away, to put all that beauty at your back to journey home, the heart breaks. Happened to us in Scotland, happened to us in Wales, happened to us in Iceland.

I will consider myself to be a very fortunate man indeed if my heart keeps breaking like this.

Lost Nation Road: Ian Mackenzie Explains

Ian Mackenzie—or “Two Tone” or “Sport Coat” or “ Two Fiddy” as I call him—shows us a little behind the scenes stuff and explains how he came to understand why he wanted to create a film that documented the Nights of Grief & Mystery. He was there as close to the beginning as a person with a camera could possibly have been.

The Skill of Sauntering

Here’s what I learned in Árneshreppur this morning: the word “saunter” has its’ roots in the words “sanctity, sanity, sanitation (ie.respectful cleanliness)” and “terra”. In a nut shell, Holy Ground.

So, to saunter is to proceed as if one is walking on holy ground, taking time, watching where you step, altering the course when need be…walking WITH the place you are, not ON it. From a distance, this can look aimless.  Not so.

It’s the more artful approach to any kind of getting from Point A to Point B…and takes into account the territory you are travelling through and the inhabitants of that territory…be that on land, in your thoughts, or in a performance.

Tonight in this village at North  66° 3’  4.6002”  West 21° 32’ 55.5864” we will be doing exactly that.

All great stories are love stories, aren’t they?

And so are all great tragedies love stories, too.

All the great adventure stories, all the great comedies, have love at the centre of them.

As does this story that Ian Mackenzie has fashioned into a short film after some panel somewhere deemed him and the concept a worthy thing and gave him a small whack of dough to keep the wolves at bay and hire some folks to help him. Since 2015, when Stephen Jenkinson and I first went out on the road with little but a notion and a Quixotic mutual “I’m in”, Ian followed us with his camera, capturing the ephemera of touring America, shooting some of the shows, and conducting straight up interviews.  It was a tough row to hoe because SJ and I didn’t really know what we were doing and while the idea of the author and the singer figuring it out in front of a paying audience was something to see, I’d have to say we didn’t give him much to work with.

Except for the love story.

That handful of concerts Ian shot turned into 15 or so stops in America and then another dozen in Australia then another few in Canada then another 7 in the UK then another 25 in North America then another 8 in the UK and as I write this I am on a plane to Iceland where we will do another three, and then home to do another 25 in North America and then Scotland and then Ireland and then Istanbul and then Tel Aviv…you get the point. 

Somewhere along the way we began to understand what we were trying to do, what was possible to do. We learned theatre had a place in this so we added lights that I’d operate with my feet. We learned that pulse was important so we added a drummer. We learned that texture was important so we added another singer and taught her to play keys. We learned that this was something older than theatre, something like ceremony but older still, something like ritual, so we tore the wall down between us and the audience so that the audience is in on the ritual. We learned that every ship needs an anchor so we added a bass player and asked her to sing, too.

So where’s the love story, you ask? Well, let me ask you: why would we wake at ungodly hours to get to airports, suffer the lineups and indignation’s of the security gauntlet, fly for hours and hours, drive for hours and hours, lug gear in and out and in and out and up and down and down and up over and over and over and then crawl into a questionable bed in a questionable hotel only to do it again the next day and the next and the next?  Why would we risk the farm and the physical body to fund the thing? And why would we risk stepping out on to stages in (what is turning out) to be cities all over the world armed not with bullet proof grooves full of helium to lift people out of their lives and make them feel better about all the questionable moves we’ve made as a species but instead seek to crack the rib cage open and bathe the heart in songs and tales that are sorrowful, about endings of all kinds, and actually attempt to get people to sink into their sorrows?

Because of the love of the thing. Because of the life-long love of and respect for the alchemy of words. Because the love of the feeling of lungs full of air and the long note wrapping itself around a phrase, singing what life has to teach. Because of the love for the occasional moment where I can hear an echo of a song I wrote bounce of the walls of a strangers life. Because of the love that we have for the audience that is hungry and straining for a tasty groove to free them from the effects of going down that dark road with us. Because of the love we have playing that groove. And because we sure as hell don’t do it for the money, so we must do it for the love.

And because of the love we have for each other on stage. A slow, earned trust. And because of the love we have for life, for living, for getting up in the morning.

This is a love story that Ian Mackenzie has caught. A 25 minute visual poem carved from umpteen hours of footage after he and a small crew followed us on the road last year and captured some ephemera again, conducted interviews again…the same questions but with different answers. This is not a show reel, but a glimpse into the mechanics of the thing. And if he were to train a camera on us again and asked those questions again, we would have different answers again for him because we keep learning about this thing. The Nights of Grief & Mystery is an alive thing now.

Pretty high fallutin’ words, you say. Yeah. Probably. I’ve stopped being perplexed by life and have settled into the reality that, at the age of 55, I might know a thing or two. I’ve grown tired of pretending I don’t. So here I am on a plane with Stephen, Lisa, and Colleen, a few moments out from Reykjavik, flying east into the sun and so there was no real night for us. We will land, bleary, rent the van, gather the gear, and play in a city, try to sleep, play in a town, and then to the edge of the world to play in a 1000 year old village that is dying.  For the love of the thing.

Watch Ian’s movie.

gh

Me vs St.David: Round 2

When I first stepped into this cathedral in Wales a couple years ago, I was more than a little undone by the 1500+ year story of the place. When Christianity started to move into this part of the world, it often set up shop near or on sites that the more local gods already inhabited…places that were already considered sacred by the locals. St. David’s has our man setting up shop in 500AD or so. The building convulses a few times (conquerors, fire, raiders, an earthquake) but much of the material is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old.

That is a lot of memory in that old stone and wood.

Places like this were mostly about wielding power. Have you ever seen the Welsh coast?? The whole thing is a cathedral and the very last thing one would need in a place like this is a building that god purportedly lives in.

So, to me these places are full of sadness and impotency and I’m sure all us visitors are wading hip-deep through old prayers that were sighed upwards toward the heavens only to be blocked by the cathedral ceilings and fall back to the stone floors. Not to mention the garden variety bad stuff that goes along with places and people of power. All this can make a walk-through more than a little intense, if you’re so inclined.

I am so inclined, so this time I kept my guard up, kept my hands in my pockets, and kept my distance from the truth of the place. I became a tourist. A tourist with a mission: to take a Vain+Alone shot.

London Night 2

Stephen insisted it was a punk club. We did sort of roar out of the gate and then careen off the tracks, which is kind of punk. And the room was underground. And the air was close and it was hot. And it was a black box.

So I guess all that adds up to sort of punk. In fact, the room was part of a local arts organization. Pretty tame stuff.

We were to have played in Canterbury but the host there became ill and it fell on Justin’s shoulders to find us a room to play so we opted to do a second night in London. By this point, Justin’s shoulders were already chock full of other things but he took it on anyway and, in the end, the joint was full.

Learning to love the Soundman…is easy.

When I started out with The Stickpeople a million years ago, I had a soundman, Leslie Charbon. He was a part of the band. It was a luxury, something I learned when I started touring without him. Every night became a crapshoot, and chances were that the more competent the person sounded over the phone in the days/weeks leading up to landing at their venue, the bigger the gamble when it came to showtime and the more disappointed I would be. Sometimes it would feel like yelling into the wind for two hours.

As the band has grown for the Nights of Grief & Mystery, it has become clear that we need a sound person, so for this tour we bit the bullet and hired Joe Meekums. I had long forgotten the impact on stage of knowing that shit was being handled out front, that we had a co-conspirator out there with a vested interest in helping us get to where we so deeply want to go every Night we do this.

I am (we are) indebted to Joe (quite literally) for being reminded that the words, lyrics, melodies, grace notes, subtleties, silences and roars are all worth being heard out there in the rooms we play.

Thank you, Joe.

First time in Scotland for the lot of us on stage.

Why would I be shocked about our reception in Edinburgh? The foot stomping calls for an encore; the random couples dancing and clinging to each other throughout the night; the calls for “Carry Me” (where the hell did that come from?) and being sung home by those full voiced people at the very end of the night…? Why was I shocked?

My grandmother was born in Dundee.

Vain + Alone in Brighton, UK.

Eventually, the rain I’ve always associated with England but have never met (after a couple tours) shows itself here in Brighton. It drives me indoors at 5:30am, into the lobby of our small hotel on the Brunswick Square, vain and alone.
Brighton 1

Dickens, Sherlock, Trump, The Queen and me.

Portsmouth, Hampshire, England.

Last night’s gig was sold out thanks to the tireless efforts of a few visionary folk here. I’m shitty at geography, so didn’t know much about this place.


Here’s what I DO know now:

I’m staying in a house once owned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle;

The theatre we played in was built in 1874;
Henry the 8th stood on a tower around the corner from where I’m writing and watched his beloved ship, the Mary Rose, unexplainably sink before his eyes en route to battle the French;
The theatre we played in was where Charles Dickens’ mother went into labour with him;
In a part of England that was flattened by bombing in WW2, the theatre we played in was left standing because it was owned at the time by a Nazi sympathizer who helped guide German war planes toward the harbour using lights on the theatre roof;
The queen of England is here today.
The president of the United States is here today.
Peter Sellers was born above the Chinese food place down on the corner;
The neighbourhood I’m staying in was in lockdown last night, a curfew enforced, and our drummer had to leave the post-gig meal withoutapple crumble and creme fraiche so as not to be arrested after midnight;

There are snipers on roof tops;


Choppers in the air, keeping the tension company.

Back on the dark road to the dark, dark woods.

Friends are forged on the dark road headed out of town, and so we head there again, beginning on June 4, 2019 in Portsmouth, UK.

MAP and thing

A quick note from the factory floor here.

There are a lot of things that slay me about touring with Nights of Grief & Mystery, but few more so than what can land on the table when wrestling with language to properly describe the thing. We seem to be learning about “what this is” as we go along. In the beginning, we were happy to admit that we didn’t know and were more likely to be able to tell you a whole lot of “what it isn’t”. The more we travelled with The Nights, though, the more we understood that simply saying “what it isn’t” was, in fact, a cop-out. Follow?

So here’s our latest understanding:

We have an idea where the monsters are. That’s where we’re headed.

You can read the full new blurb at the new nightsofgriefandmystery.com landing page.

The tour will Take us to 28 cities in the UK and North America for 32…shows?Performances? Nights, is what I prefer to call them.
Or 32 chances to get it right. We know what “it” is.

That dark road thing?
That image is more than an image. That is what we do. That is our devotional act. And those monsters? Probably not what you expecting. That’s another thing that slays me about the Nights: mostly they are everything you wouldn’t expect.

See you out there.

gh

The Unrepentant Night: A New Recording (coming soon)

UNREP_COVER_ANNOUN

The Unrepentant Night is a recasting of songs from 2017’s Vain + Alone 2.0. There is not much to say with regard to the “why” of it, except to say that it is this artist’s desire to have his songs live for more than the allotted 2 minutes the current clime affords them, such is his attachment to them. Also, it is this artist’s opinion that Kevin Breit is a genius and the honour of having him turn his considerable talents on these songs is all mine. Breit’s playing and producing relationship with music is all chest down: there is very little of The Head that gets in the way, other than the requisite amount to move muscles, tendons, and the like, and there is palpable feel and intention in his approach. It could be said that his head helps him get to the heart of the thing, then it fucks off.

I’m proud of what I did on Vain + Alone and equally proud of the decision to pursue this recording in the manner I did. I learned an untold amount from afar watching Kevin Breit reshape the songs. Understand, I was not a part of any of those decisions. I wrote the songs and sang the songs. That’s all.  As he describes it, the kids would leave for school at 8:30am, he’d sit with a pad in his lap in front of his gear and put his head down to listen to the V+A version, then its 3:30pm, the kids would be coming through the door, the head would snap up to greet them and the bulk of a track was done.

About as close to magic as I might ever get.

gh

 

 

Produced, performed, arranged, engineered, and mastered by Kevin Breit
Written and sung by Gregory Hoskins
Additional appearances by:
Mike Stevens, harmonica
Ciro De Batista, drums and percussion
Batt Brubeck, cello
Davide Direnzo, drums
Lisa Hodgson, bg vox

Produced in part thanks to a grant from The Ontario Arts Council.