Murray McLauchlan keeps songs from street alive
Canadian folk icon Murray McLauchlan plays the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines Saturday. PHOTO: Submitted
Like the other great Canadian folk singers of his generation, a big part of Murray McLachlan’s heart belongs to the United States.
It was there he gave up some stage time at the Mariposa Folk Festival so Joni Mitchell could perform.
It was there he lived in New York’s Greenwich Village as a teen, making his mark as a songwriter.
It was there he worked with American Pie producer Ed Freeman to record his self-titled album in 1972, yielding the Canadiana classic Farmer’s Song.
Alas, it’s a place his heart aches for now. First with the “homeland security chill” after 9/11, and now with the prevalent hostile mood across the country.
“I’ve avoided going to the United States, I don’t like going to the United States,” he says. “Especially right now, I’m very sad for what’s become of it and I’m very sad for my friends who are living in the middle of it.
“I’m not a Canadian by virtue of being anti-American. I don’t believe in that. I’m certainly aware of the immense contribution American culture’s made everywhere - it’s the elephant to the rest of the world being the mouse. But right now, it’s taking such a dangerous and horrible turn to someplace really, really dark.”
McLachlan recalls touring in the U.S. during the height of the Vietnam War, when having long hair put you at risk of a beating. The only consolation, it seemed, was a soon-to-be wave of legendary folk music which helped change the culture.
He doesn’t know what will change the culture this time, but it likely won’t be the music.
“It’s not a driving social force any more,” he says. “I mean, f—ing pop music right now seems to be all about getting enough dough together to buy a Bugatti Veyron, so f— it. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be so demonstrative.
“It has nothing to do with me, I got nothing to do with it. It’s gone from inspiring to vulgar.”
The flipside to less U.S. dates means more Canadian shows for McLauchlan, who wraps up a brief Canadian tour Nov. 18 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
Still, seeing a solo McLauchlan is not as plentiful as it used to be, with so much of his time spent in the group Lunch at Allen’s with friends Marc Jordan, Cindy Church and Ian Thomas. On his own, McLauchlan is free to dig into one of Canada’s richest songbooks, including classic northern staples Down By the Henry Moore, On the Boulevard and Never Did Like That Train.
He released his 18th album this year, Love Can’t Tell Time, but like so many artists of his generation, McLauchlan only looks at them as indulgences now. It makes performing the music more important than ever - it gives the songs a brief opportunity to be heard.
“When the album-a-year thing was going on, really through the ‘70s, the whole industrial model was completely different than the way it is now,” he says. “There was a cycle - you’d make the record, put the record out, give it to radio, tour the record, then the tour would be over and you’d go back and make another record and do the same thing over again.
“That’s totally, completely, absolutely gone now. There’s no driving force that compels you to make records. Now it’s a labour of love. The principal difference now is, if I put out a record like Human Writes or Love Can’t Tell Time, I have a huge amount of fun doing them - they’re artistic driven projects for me - and I have zero commercial expectations of them.
“I do enjoy going out and playing them, but if I don’t, probably nobody’s going to hear the songs.”
In addition to his 11 Juno Awards, McLauchlan was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1993, and his efforts for songwriters’ rights earned him the National Achievement Award from the SOCAN Awards in 2001.
But being a Canadian institution doesn’t mean trotting out the oldies out of habit. Every McLauchlan show comes with a new twist or two.
“The concert I do is a bit of a cabaret experience, really,” he says. “There’s a lot of set-up. It’s not verbose, but I like to frame the songs and their context - why they exist.
“They’re topics you can mine pretty deeply, and my expectation or hope is that when people leave the auditorium is that they’re going to be slightly different than they were when they walked in.”
- Who: Murray McLauchlan
- Where: FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre; 250 St. Paul Street; St. Catharines
- When: Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.
- Tickets: $40.05 www.firstontariopac.ca