Live music galleries: Hopped and Confused festival 2019

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

The Hopped and Confused stage

Artists: Nobro, Alexandria Maillot, Weaves, July Talk, Taylor Knox, Cleopatrick, Born Ruffians, …
When: August 23rd and 24th, 2019
Where: Mill Street Brewery, Ottawa
Some words: If you’ve scrolled through any of my feeds on the various social media sites and apps out there, you may have noticed that, as well as being a fool for music (and vinyl collecting), I am also a card carrying Beer Enthusiast. So when you pair the two and call it a festival, as the good folks at Mill Street Brewery have done, you can bet that I would be interested. In fact, it is only by mere chance, and by chance I mean bad luck*, that it took until its fourth year running that I would finally get out to experience the Hopped and Confused festival.

With two excellent headliners this year, I took advantage of the two-day pass for an affordable $65 and was treated to an almost flawlessly run festival, mostly sunny skies, delicious beers, between set entertainment provided by local alternative radio station Live 88.5, and eight excellent and varied Canadian indie rock acts.

It all kicked off with Nobro, a Montreal-based four-piece punk rock act, or as frontwoman Kathryn McCaughey called them, “chicks who like to shred”. They were followed by a lovely set by singer/songwriter Alexandria Maillot and then, art-popsters, Weaves. The first evening was capped by the push/pull, he said/she said, Toronto rockers, July Talk, and the crowed they drew was quite eye-opening to me. Good for them indeed.

Day two started off with the power pop indie rock of Taylor Knox. Coburg, Ontario’s Cleopatrick then knocked everyone’s socks off with a blistering set that seemed way more gigantic than two people should be able to produce. Then, well, Born Ruffians were once again so excellent live, I had myself wondering why I didn’t have more of their albums.

I’m stopping there but if you’ve been counting, you might have noticed that there’s one act missing. I’m saving that one for tomorrow… Oh, and apologies for the blurriness of some of the photos but it was also a beer festival after all.

Point of reference song:Paper girl” by July Talk

Kathryn McCaughey, Sarah Dion, and Lisandre Bourdages of Nobro
Karolane Carbonneau of Nobro
Alexandria Maillot
Jasmyn Burke and Spencer Cole of Weaves
DJ Noel of Live 88.5 keeping the crowd pumped between sets
The Mills Street Brewpub on day two, before all the crowds descended
Taylor Knox
Luke Gruntz and Ian Fraser of Cleopatrick
Born Ruffians
Steve Hamelin of Born Ruffians
Luke Lalonde and Mitch Derosier of Born Ruffians
Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay of July Talk
Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay of July Talk
July Talk

* I even had tickets to last year’s event but came down with a wicked case of the man cold the day of the event.

Live music galleries: Ottawa Bluesfest 2019, day three – Children of Indigo, The Beths, Pup, This is the Kit

(Since I’ll be too busy attending Ottawa Bluesfest over the next week or so to continue with this blog’s regularly scheduled programming, I thought I would do a special ‘live galleries’ series this week to share some pics from some of the sets I am enjoying.)

Entrance to Bluesfest

Artists: Children of Indigo, The Beths, Pup, and This is the Kit
When: July 6th, 2019
Where: Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Some words: You might’ve noticed there wasn’t a post yesterday detailing Friday night’s exploits. There’s a good explanation. The original plan was to attend but when the main reason for going that night, Colter Wall, cancelled earlier in the day, I made the call to stay home, what with the dodgy weather, lack of sleep, early wake up hour the next day, and the country heavy musical content and expected crowds. By my count, that’s four cancellations for this year’s festival, bad luck in its twenty-fifth year. Here’s hoping the bad luck ends there and the rest of the festival runs smoothly.

When I arrived yesterday, nice and early, I still wasn’t expecting crowds in the entrance line so like Thursday night, the temporary barricade maze was more walking than I wanted to do in that heat. So after I entered, I once again headed inside to the Barney Danson theatre where a surprisingly large crowd had gathered to hear an early set by a lovely, local indie folk trio named Children of Indigo. Unlike Thursday, there was no overlap last night so I didn’t have to rush anywhere afterwards and actually got to enjoy some full sets.

Next up was the band I was most excited to see last night, an indie rock trio out of New Zealand called The Beths. If you haven’t heard them, check them out. To my ears, they sound quite a bit like Alvvays and Camera Obscura but with more fuzz. I’ve been listening to their album a lot in the lead up to last night but their performance was so good, it pushed me to pick up a copy of their record at the merch tent.

Just after dinner time, I headed over to the main stage to catch Toronto punk band Pup struggle to reconcile their counter-culture cred and such a huge outdoor audience. They shouldn’t have worried so much as their fans were just as pleased to mosh and pump their fists outdoors as in. I stayed out of the fray and enjoyed the energy from afar. I finished my evening early, back where I started, in the Barney Danson theatre, with British folk songstress Kate Stables, who might be better known under stage name, This is the kit. I had originally thought to stick around for The Turbans, the headliners on one of the side stages, but after drinking a few beers in the afternoon heat, my bed and AC were the stronger calls.

Natasha Pedersen and David Campbell of Children of Indigo
Mitchell Jackson of Children of Indigo
Tristan Deck of The Beths
Jonathan Pearce of The Beths
Benjamin Sinclair of The Beths
Elizabeth Stokes of The Beths
Steve Sladkowski of Pup
Zack Mykula and Nestor Chumak of Pup
Stefan Babcock of Pup
This is the Kit with The Texas Horns
Kate Stables aka This is the Kit

Top five tunes: Billy Bragg

Singer/songwriter is the theme of today’s community-built, collaborative music post party, affectionately titled, “Your song”. (You can check out all the other posts by my fellow fantastic bloggers at “Living a beautiful life”, our host’s page here.) I wanted to participate so I thought long and hard about on whom I might consider focusing. When it finally came to me, I was nonplussed to wonder why it took me so long.

Of course! Billy Bragg!

Who? Billy Bragg

Years active: 1977 – present

Solo discography:
Life’s a riot with spy vs. spy (1983)
Brewing up with Billy Bragg (1984)
Talking with the taxman about poetry (1986)
Workers playtime (1988)
The internationale (1990)
Don’t try this at home (1991)
William Bloke (1996)
England, half English (2002)
Mr. Love & Justice (2008)
Tooth & nail (2013)

Context:
I first discovered the “bard of Barking” the same way I did a lot of artists in the early 90s, well before the rise of the internet and Wikipedia, watching music videos on MuchMusic’s “City Limits”. I found the video for “Sexuality” hilarious and bought “Don’t try this at home” off the back of my enamour of the ear worm. And later when I saw the video for “Levi Stubbs’ tears”, I went on a long hunt for “Talking about the taxman about poetry”, which finally ended when I recorded a copy off my friend Mark (which is another story for another time altogether).

I saw Billy Bragg live for the first time in a double bill with Robyn Hitchcock in 1996 with my roommates at the time, Meagan and John, and my friend Susan. It was a great show, of course, leading me to see him twice more over the years, and I’d see him live again in a heartbeat. Each time I’ve seen him it has been him solo on stage with his guitar and with Billy, that’s all you need. As you’ll notice in some of the live videos below (which I’ve chosen on purpose for evidence), the man has a presence. He’s a performer. And a storyteller. Half of what makes his shows great is the stage banter, the rapport with his audiences, the stories he tells, and the explanations he provides for his lyrics.

Billy Bragg got his start in music in a short-lived punk band in the late seventies with his good friend, Philip Wigg (aka Wiggy). His music and songwriting was particularly influenced by seeing The Clash live and witnessing firsthand the social conscience of Joe Strummer. After the briefest of stints in the British military, he recorded and released his debut album, “Life’s a riot with spy vs. spy”, in 1983. He quickly became known for his politically-charged lyrics, left wing views, and his famous opposition to Margaret Thatcher. But this pigeon-holing does him a disservice because he is much more than this. As he was once quoted as saying: “I don’t mind being labelled a political songwriter. The thing that troubles me is being dismissed as a political songwriter.”

The top five tunes represented below are my favourite of Billy Bragg’s tunes as of today, the beginning of March 2018. Narrowing down any artist’s tunes is a tough endeavour, one of I’ve struggled with a few times so far in this series, but this is the first time I’ve done one on an artist that is still active and could create more tunes in the future that might make me want to change this list some. That all being said, I hope you enjoy this tour and my explanation on each track. I’ve included as part of the words, my favourite lyric from each as well, which was apt, I thought, given that this is also a part of a focus group of sorts on singer/songwriters.

As always, I’d be happy to read your own top five of Billy Bragg’s tunes in the comments section below. Enjoy.

The top five:

#5: There will be a reckoning (from “Tooth & nail”, 2013)

We start things off with the most recently recorded song on this list. Though the sound is more Americana than anything else (having been recorded in Joe Henry’s basement studio), it is still vintage Bragg. His rough and proudly working class accented vocals simmer over top a bed of countrified guitars and tempered keys. It’s a song that calls out cynicism and hate and wishes for more hope and optimism. “Just a few days later, a man came to my door to ask me if I thought that this place was worth fighting for. And though I recognize his reasons, I just could not agree when they told me that my neighbour would be my enemy.” I’m reasonably certain he performed it live when I saw him in 2012, a year before this album’s release, because I remember him before the song, ranting about cynicism and the politics of division.


#4: Accident waiting to happen (from “Don’t try this at home”, 1991)

This one is the opening track off “Don’t try this at home”, Bragg’s first and only concerted attempt at a pop album and as I mentioned above, the album that was my introduction to his music. It starts off classic Bragg, with him it just him singing and wailing away at his guitar, but little by little the rest of his backing band fills in, hinting at the different feel on the rest of the album. It’s a pop track for sure, not overtly political, but playfully taking shots at himself and his situation. “And my sins are so unoriginal. I have all the self-loathing of a wolf in sheep’s clothing in this carnival of carnivores. Heaven help me.” I’ll never forget the live performance I saw of this track in 2001. He opened for local Toronto indie legends, Lowest of the Low’s reunion stadium show and after his set, returned to the stage to perform this song with the headliners. Of course, he was an influence on frontman Ron Hawkins and it was likely a dream come true for the Low.


#3: Waiting for the great leap forwards (from “Workers playtime”, 1988)

This particular track was never one of my favourite of his songs until I saw him perform it live, not once or twice but multiple times, and I realized that it was a living song. The lyrics are constantly changing, being updated with the times. This means that as a fan favourite, audiences have a hard time singing along with anything but the chorus line. But it also means that Bragg is constantly challenging himself, his fans, and everyone else to look at ourselves and our collective absurdity. The recorded version that appears on “Workers playtime” is incredible and includes some of Bragg’s best lyrics. “So join the struggle while you may, the Revolution is just a T-shirt away.” It is a song about his struggles as a political songwriter in a pop world and obviously, the struggle continues to be real.


#2: Levi Stubbs’ tears (from “Talking with the taxman about poetry”, 1994)

The first single released off Billy Bragg’s third album mines his trademark sound here, solo singing over solo guitar, a riff on the loneliness of the song’s protagonist. And when the trumpet comes in at the end, it takes us away on a wail of tears. It’s a heart wrenching song about abuse and pain. “One dark night he came home from the sea and put a hole in her body where no hole should be. It hurt her more to see him walking out the door and though they stitched her back together they left her heart in pieces on the floor.” But it’s also a song about the power of music to fill holes and give hope. “When the world falls apart some things stay in place. She takes off the four tops tape and puts it back in it’s case.” It’s a simply stunning song and even more so live. I love the hush that comes over audiences when they recognize those opening guitar riffs. I would go to a show just to see him perform this again.


#1: New England (from “Life’s a riot with spy vs. spy”, 1983)

It’s funny that what is now likely considered Billy Bragg’s best known song was never actually released by him as a single. It is definitely a fan favourite and these roots may have been sown when Kirsty MacColl covered it and scored a hit with it. Bragg’s version appears on his debut, a short 15 minute album that fits on one side of an LP and features Billy and his guitar, the epitome of folk punk bard, an angry young man against the world. Of course, this isn’t a political song, not wanting to change the world as he suggests in the chorus, but a song about unrequited love. “I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them but they were only satellites. Is it wrong to wish on space hardware? I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.” It’s a great sing along and at the chorus, to be shouted along with at the top of your lungs. When he performs it live these days, he adds in the extra verse he wrote for Kirsty MacColl’s cover as a sort of tribute to MacColl, who died tragically in a boating accident in 2000. It adds a whole other layer of poignancy to an already lovely tune.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.