Bloomistry Live at Zaphod’s (Solo Show)

Bloomistry Live at Zaphod's Solo Show

If you’ve spent any time in Ottawa, you know about Zaphod’s. For 25 years it hosted live performances by countless bands. In May, Zaphod’s closed. Recently while I was going through the Bloomistry archive, I found a recording of a solo show I did there in 2009. I’d forgotten all about it. So I dusted off the CD, did a bit of editing, and put together this post.

These recordings, made by Ottawa music veteran Tom Stewart, are from the soundboard.

Set list:

1. I Guess I’ll Need a Miracle
2. Wrecking Ball
3. Late Bloom
4. Bitter Sense of Melody
5. Four Leaf Clover
6. Higher Cloud
7. Come Down Easy
8. Unlucky at Luck

Bloomistry Live at Raw Sugar Cafe | 10.10.2009

Raw Sugar Cafe

Bloomistry live at the Raw Sugar Cafe, Ottawa, Canada. October 10, 2009

Audience recording. Dmitri Koev, bass; Simon Meilleur, drums; Terry Calder, guitar, b. vocal; Wayne K. Spear, guitar, vocal.

Bloomistry Raw Sugar 04

CBC radio’s Amanda Putz had just done a feature on our new album, To Be, so there was a bit of buzz in the air when we took to the stage in October of 2009. We were doing shows every week somewhere in town, which in retrospect was pushing things a bit into over-exposure.

This was a fun show. The audience was pretty low-key and sedate, but it was a good crowd and we were playing in a cafe, after all. This recording was made from the audience, and the quality is not great. Four of the songs we played were only partially recorded, and are not included. Yulia Teryaeva captured the evening in photos with her keen eye, as she did on many other occasions. I also asked a photographer named Jennifer Lapierre to come out to the show, which she did. It’s a funky and intimate venue, and we were really stoked to play this show. A lot of bands love Raw Sugar Cafe.

Set

1. The Wars
2. Trigger of Your Soul
3. A Crack in My Cup
4. Bitter Sense of Melody
5. Ragged Doll
6. River Wide Road
7. Late Bloom
8. Hook and Eye
9. I Guess I’ll Need A Miracle
10. North of Wasomee
11. Four Leaf Clover

Bloomistry, “To Be” (2015 Remaster)

To Be

For the 6th Bloomistry album I turned, as so often before and after, to the poets to get my ideas. To be or not to be, that was the question. And the answer was “Let’s be, and let’s make another album.”

But I didn’t want to make just another Bloomistry record. So I indulged every crazy idea, the crazier the better. I recorded twenty-minute songs, atonal compositions, and tunes with invented time signatures. I filled the studio with things that I banged together, in an attempt to make music without conventional instruments. Some of it was pretty interesting, at least to me, but other than Arrow of Time (which was my attempt to sound like the band Califone) the weirder stuff didn’t make it to the record.

Some of the songs, like Feet On the Mountain and Medley, were in fact ground-breaking for me. I don’t think there’s anything like it on the earlier records. And Never Gonna Nadia was the first Bloomistry song I could imagine hearing on the radio—and then one day, in Montreal, I did hear it on the radio. That and High Beam, a clearly Lennon-esque song—though I didn’t consciously intend that—were in college radio rotation for a time.

The 2008 recession was digging in, and To Be was a record about the rot of politics and rogue capitalism. The song Roses was dedicated to Anne Rogovin and its lyrics alluded to Rose Schneiderman as well as to the poem “Bread and Roses.” I was not very happy at this time, for a lot of reasons, most of them having to do with living in a staid bureaucratic city (as I saw it) where it seemed to be winter ten months a year. Maybe that’s why this record bogged down.

I’ve never been able to decide whether or not these songs are any good, or whether they work as a whole. The middle section—Wine and Women, On Top of the World, and To The Bottom—were taken from another project, Laketown. I call this section of the record the Tape Hiss Trio (listen and you’ll know what I mean) and it bothers me to this day that it’s there. Still, this is the most polished of my records, and I did a lot of interesting trickery in the studio to pull it off.

Simon Meilleur overdubbed the drums on Never Gonna Nadia and The Wars. I was never a strong drummer (I learned to play drums as I made these records!) so there was always timing issues. His contribution took things to a new level. And Edith Boucher’s artwork for this record was the first time I actually thought about such things in a serious way. So this is also my best-looking album.

On February 16, 2009, I started recording The Gutter and the Gut, as it was called. Phil Bova mixed the album on August 12–13 and we mastered on September 22, two weeks after I had mixed Laketown with Dave Draves. I took three songs off that record and substituted them on To Be. The rest is history.

Tracks.

1. High Beam
2. A Crack in my Cup
3. Four Leaf Clover
4. Wine and Women
5. On Top of the World
6. To the Bottom
7. Never Gonna Nadia
8. Feet on the Mountain
9. Broken (Medley)
10. Arrow of Time
11. Roses
12. The Wars

Bloomistry Live at Kaffé | 23.10.2009

_cover

Bloomistry live at Kaffé 1870, Wakefield, Quebec. October 23, 2009

Audience recording. Dmitri Koev, bass; Simon Meilleur, drums; Terry Calder, guitar, b. vocal; Wayne K. Spear, guitar, vocal.

We did a bunch of shows at Kaffé 1870, a bar in the postcard-perfect, riverside village of Wakefield, Quebec, run by members of The Fiftymen. It was a great venue, and I remembered this being one of those beautiful, clear fall nights when the autumn leaves are at their peak and the air is crisp in a good way that makes you feel alive. But then I listened to the recording this week for the very first time, and in one of the songs I mention it’s raining outside! So either I was remembering the show I did a week earlier with Chris Page, or my brain is just making this all up.

The crowd that night was rowdy and ready. We were never a dance band, and I wasn’t prepared for a crowded dance floor—but when it happened, I loved it. My friend Flecton Big Sky shared the bill, joined by his band The Dreamcatchers, featuring Scott Terry on guitar and Tom Werbowetski on drums. Scott was my first drummer, and you’ll hear him heckling in good fun. As for The Dreamcatchers, I think this may have been the last time they performed together, but like my recollection of the weather I could be wrong.

We did a photo shoot with Yulia Teryaeva before this show in Mackenzie King Park and spent the day in and around the village. I don’t remember when we took the stage, but it was a long night. I went home exhausted but happy.

This recording is rough, but it gives you an idea of the night. The set list doesn’t exactly match the recording, but it wasn’t unusual for us to change things up on the fly. Or maybe I just didn’t read the set list properly. We played three songs that we didn’t often perform—What Might Have Been, The Wars, and Fountain of Light. I’ve always thought Fountain of Light was among my better songs, maybe because of how it happened. I was struggling with something in the studio, so I just took a break and went off to the side with my guitar to decompress. And in one uninterrupted go, out came this song, exactly like it is on the record. I recorded it right then and there. Creepy. That had never happened to me before, and it’s never happened to me since.

Set List

2009-10-23_Kaffe

Flecton Big Sky
Flecton Big Sky and The Dreamcatchers | Kaffé 1870 23.10.2009

 

Bloomistry Live at Westfest | 12.06.2010

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 4.44.34 PM

Bloomistry live at Westfest, Ottawa, Canada. June 12, 2010

Soundboard recording, MP3 (320 kbps). Dmitri Koev, bass; Simon Meilleur, drums; Terry Calder, guitar, b. vocal; Wayne K. Spear, guitar, vocal.

Westfest is a yearly Ottawa music festival started by Elaina Martin. In 2010, I had the privilege of being invited by Elaina to play on the Saturday night slot, with Sloan headlining. The weather was perfect and the sound was great, although with this recording (taken from the soundboard) the instruments are a bit unbalanced and you can’t hear the audience. We didn’t get a sound check, so on the first song the engineer is figuring out the levels. Hang in, it gets better. For what it’s worth, on stage the sound was a great, big stadium sound.

By this point To Be had been out for around 8 months and we had a well-established set list drawn from 6 albums and a bunch of other, unreleased material. We rotated songs in and out to keep it fresh. I think we had about 30 songs in total that were stage-ready, plus a few rarities that we threw in on special nights like this. For Westfest we played Hook & Eye, a song we hardly ever played. I think we may have even rehearsed it specifically for this show.

It was a great day, and one of the Bloomistry highlights of 2010. Enjoy.

Playlist

Introduction: Amanda Putz, CBC Bandwidth

1. Trigger of Your Soul
2. As Far As Wheels Go
3. Wrecking Ball
4. Late Bloom
5. The All About A Girl
6. Four Leaf Clover
7. Feet On The Mountain
8. Hook & Eye
9. Come Down Easy
10. Unlucky at Luck


_cover

Bloomistry, “Late Bloom” (2015 Remaster)

_cover.png

The third Bloomistry album, Late Bloom, was recorded from January 4 to March 31, 2007 and released on August 28—14 months after its predecessor, Ca Marche. In the coming 14 months, there would be three more albums worth of new Bloomistry material. This was the “bloom” to which the title referred.

As the preceeding suggests, this would be the most autobiographical of the early Bloomistry records. The opening track, Late Bloom, rehearses the project’s background: “It started years ago, in a basement in our town.” It was the 1980s, the town was St. Catharines, and I was in a band called The Shade, hauling a Fender Dual Showman amp head that my cousin Al had integrated into a customized maple cabinet. (The song mentions a Fender Twin, but my Showman was just as back-breaking all the same). The next track, When Time Was on Fire, recalls the same period. Come Down Easy takes an ironic and self-deprecating look at the musical aspirations of those days: “Your face/Never on a magazine/You never made the hipster scene.” This is rock and roll seen from my 42-year-old perspective.

I asked my friend Ken McClelland to do the piano overdubs. We were in The Shade together, and it meant a lot to me that this nostalgia album of mine would have him on it. I felt like I was doing with Bloomistry what I’d been unable to do with The Shade: find my voice and my own writing style. “Oh well—better late than never” was the basic philosophy of this record.

(Ken’s parts were recorded on Sunday, March 4, 2007. That’s him playing the organ and piano on the songs Late Bloom, When Time Was on Fire, and Walk On. I especially love the piano at the end of When Time Was on Fire: so, so simple, and yet I can’t imagine the song without it.)

All of the Bloomistry albums were recorded in my basement home studio, often between midnight and 3 am, at very low cost, with me playing all the instruments, unless otherwise noted. Bloomistry albums are all lo-fi (I actually consider them demos and hope to re-record the better songs one day with a professional studio band) but with Late Bloom the production took a step forward.

It was also at this time that I performed the songs live for the first time, in a pub called The Manx. It would be over a year before I formed a band, with Ottawa musicians Dmitri Koev, Terry Calder and Scott Terry (on drums, later replaced by Simon Meilleur). But the band never recorded, even though that was my eventual plan: all the albums were solo projects, made in the same Hull, Quebec basement studio.

Late Bloom was mixed on April 14–15, 2007 by engineer Dave Draves (who also overdubbed, while mixing, the Vox organ on Hook and Eye and the Mellotron vibraphone on Interstate) and released on August 28.

Tracks.

1. Late Bloom
2. When Time Was On Fire
3. Come Down Easy
4. Walk On
5. Left Behind
6. Sault Ste Marie
7. Hook and Eye
8. Bone Club
9. Interstate

Bloomistry, “Laketown” (2015 Remaster)

_cover

In theory, Laketown was the 7th Bloomistry album. It quickly followed To Be, with recording taking place on August 21–23, 2009. But with To Be absorbing most of my attention, and getting all the promotional focus, Laketown remained in the background. It was lost in the flurry. In fact, I raided it for three songs to put on To Be: Wine and Women, On Top of the World, and To The Bottom.

The sessions for To Be—from February 16 to August 9—were long, drawn-out, and frustrating. Enough material was recorded for three or four albums, but much of it was unreleasable. Many of the songs simply didn’t work, for one reason or another. The irony is that I was being really ambitious on To Be, writing songs with key changes and odd time signatures  and movements. It was my prog-rock album! But the songs that were making me crazy were the three-minute, conventional pop tunes. Some I abandoned, others I re-recorded from the ground up, two or three or more times. One of those songs was Fallen Leaves, picked up once again for the Laketown session. The version on this album is one of many, and while this song never quite came together, the idea never lost its interest. I am still wondering how to get that one right. It’ll be amazing when I do.

This album was a return to the approach of All I Know Is The Skin Of The Earth—making a record in a marathon weekend session. After the exhausting mess of To Be, the appeal of the recording studio had somewhat diminished. I didn’t want ten months of pain—a weekend was enough. The record was also in a sense a return to the first Bloomistry album, Galetta Street Wharf, which has always had a soft spot in my heart. Both were based on a fictional town, and both were made without any concern for conforming to an overall album style or genre. As a result, Laketown ranges in style from rock to country. At 18 seconds in length, the final song “In Summary….” is a musical jest as well as a Reader’s Digest take on pop music: “I love her, but she don’t love me.”

Laketown is uneven and rough, and some of it makes me cringe, but it features three gems in Port Aurora, Fear, and Another Day. It was mixed by Dave Draves on September 8, 2009, two weeks before the mastering of To Be on September 22, at Bova Sound studio.

Tracks.

1. Beautiful Posers
2. Over and Under
3. Fallen Leaves
4. Fear
5. Another Day
6. Port Aurora
7. Deep As a River
8. Wake Up
9. In Summary….

Bloomistry, “At The End Of A Difficult Day” (2015 Remaster)

ateoadd

Recording of the 5th Bloomistry album began on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, at The Underground in Hull, Quebec—three months after the previous album, All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth, was completed.

The working title of this record, The All American Five, provides a clue to the approach of these sessions. “The All American Five” refers to the tubes commonly found in US-made tube radios, and that’s what this album was intended to be: an American record, grounded in American sensibilities and sounds. Also, I was a gear junkie at this point, buying vintage amps on eBay. So I knew a lot about vacuum tubes.

Everything Bloomistry was tongue-in-cheek. So of course I opened my Americana album with a quintessentially British snippet from the Beatles 1965 Rubber Soul sessions. At the time The All American Five was being recorded, I was reading Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and listening to the four-track sessions of the Beatles early recordings. I really got into studio work in a big way. The intro to “Has Been Blues,” which I recorded on May 26, 2008, features a Scouse exchange between John Lennon and a recording engineer I lifted from the 4-track beds for the song “Run For your Life” (“Okay boys?” “Okay Johnny!”). The reference pays tribute to the album that came out the week I was born—also, coincidentally the album that made me want to record music.

The previous album, All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth, was recorded over a weekend. At The End Of A Difficult Day, as it finally came to be known, was finished in 10 months, on September 21, 2008. On that day, tuba and piano overdubs were added to the track “Diane,” and the album was mixed by Dave Draves two months later, at Little Bullhorn, on November 21 and December 2, 2008.

Beginning with the album At The End Of A Difficult Day, Bloomistry recording sessions tended to be chaotic, multi-tasking affairs. Several parallel records were conceived and in the works during this period, including two recorded but unreleased EPs—one called Yes! and a second with Ottawa musician and friend Flecton Big Sky, recorded on December 14, 2007. This would be even more the case with the next album, To Be.

Despite the chaos, At The End Of A Difficult Day is, I think, one of the most cohesive and focused Bloomistry albums. It would also feature, as its closing track, the song I consider my best. I remember listening to the mix of River Wide Road for the first time and being blown away by what Dave did with it. I also really like the lyrics. They’re playful, ironic, and clever—but also a fundamentally sad reflection on the reality of disappointment:

You know, the poets had it right:
They left it to their verses,
And either filled their beds at night
Or filled their lead with curses.
I guess there’s many ways to cope with bitter sorrow,
And when you’ve had enough of hope
There’s always hoping for tomorrow.

Tracks.

1. Has-Been Blues
2. I Guess I’ll Need A Miracle
3. You’re So Lyrical
4. Over The Moon
5. Near You
6. Symphony For The Street
7. Ragged Doll
8. My Meija
9. Diane
10. The Majesty
11. Sunday Afternoon
12. River Wide Road

Bloomistry, “All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth” (2015 Remaster)

Bloomistry Cover

2007–2008 was an incredibly productive musical year for me. Recorded over three days (August 17–19, 2007), All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth was the 4th full-length Bloomistry album, following Late Bloom by only a few months. By the fall of 2008, a fifth album—At the End of a Difficult Day—would be finished.

Late Bloom was an album about returning to recording and live performance at age 40, after a long hiatus. All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth is a line from a Pablo Neruda poem. The working title, A City Like Me, reflected a growing desire to find a new place to call home. I was getting sick of Ottawa. Also, most of the songs for this album were written in hotel rooms, as was the case with Ca Marche and Late Bloom, adding to the album’s overall feel of restlessness.

All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth was made in a weekend marathon session and recorded to eight-track tape. That’s the best way to do it, in my opinion. The most focused and ambitious of my first four Bloomistry albums, it was self-consciously retro, featuring 60s instruments including most notably the combo organ. I imagined myself playing the soundtrack to a hip movie in 1962, kind of like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Phil Bova mixed and mastered the record at Bova Sound, in Ottawa, on March 24–25, 2008. This remaster builds on this earlier version.

The album began as a series of stories told by characters (the pirate of “Sand and Sea,” the Casanova of “Bitter Sense of Melody” and the eponymous Undertaker) and in some cases real people that I knew. “On the Western Trail” tells the true story of an acquaintance of mine who was taken to Spain—kidnapped I would say—by the country’s poet laureate. “Higher Cloud” rehearses the sad story of Harold Funk, an attorney who suffered from mental illness and became a local legend by putting conspiratorial leaflets on the car windshields of Ottawa. There is an actual recording of Funk shouting at the US Embassy that I made on my walk to work one day and mixed into the song’s bridge.

All I Know Is the Skin of the Earth came closest to perfecting the post-punk, 60s-pop blend that was my aspiration. The next album would explore Americana, turning to lap steel guitars, banjo, Les Pauls and 50s amps and instruments. I regard this album as my best work. It was massive fun to make, and when it was done I had the best sushi dinner ever, at Wasabi in Ottawa.

Tracks.

1. The Found Cause
2. Via Maria
3. Another Other Life
4. The All About A Girl
5. Winter’s Summer Song
6. On The Western Trail
7. Sand And Sea
8. Mosquito
9. Bitter Sense of Melody
10. A City Like Me
11. Higher Cloud
12. Beatrice
13. With The Violins
14. The Undertaker

Bloomistry Live at Zaphod | 03.15.2010

MackenziePark

Bloomistry live at Zaphod, Ottawa, Canada. March 15, 2010

Soundboard recording, MP3 (320 kbps). Dmitri Koev, bass; Simon Meilleur, drums; Terry Calder, guitar, b. vocal; Wayne K. Spear, guitar, vocal.

Playlist

1. Trigger of Your Soul
2. As Far As Wheels Go
3. Wrecking Ball
4. Wine and Women
5. The All About A Girl
6. Feet On The Mountain
7. Interstate
8. Late Bloom
9. Come Down Easy
10. Unlucky at Luck

043Zaphods

Show notes. Bloomistry played Zaphod numerous times over the years, often on the “Showcase Monday” evenings. There was a band legend that Zaphod carried a curse: it was several Zaphod shows before the whole band was able to be on-stage together for a show. On previous occasions, illness and accidents struck a band member. For one of the Zaphod shows, Dmitri was ill. Simon cut the end off a finger and was unable to play the drums for another (Terry played the drums for that show). So by the time the four band members took the stage for the first time, on March 15, 2010, there had already been several Zaphod Bloomistry shows, including a solo show I played to open for a promising young band called James and Blackburn (I think). Wonder where they are now? The show was captured by Tom Stewart, a great guy and a great sound engineer. This show features two tracks from the new (at that time) record To Be, “Feet On The Mountain” and “Wine and Women” (a song whose lyrics are taken from John Donne’s 17th-century poem “Song: Go and catch a falling star).” This evening was the first and possibly only public performance of the latter. I was in a great mood that night and remember having a blast. Live music is the best drug.

Bloom_Poster005

posters

2010-05-08_Elmdale

Looking Back At Nirvana

Kurt Cobain

KURT COBAIN WAS NOT a generation’s representative, a spokesperson, or even a rock star. Many tried to press him into these and other molds, much to his frustration, but it happens that he was a songwriter always on the search for a new sound. When he died, by medical estimation on the fifth of April in 1994, some (among them R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe) believed he was about to abandon the grunge formula for which he had become known. There is evidence he was about to quit music altogether. In any case, the posthumous album, MTV Unplugged in New York, is the best indication we have of the band’s unrealized prospects. Perhaps Nirvana’s most accessible and widely known recording, Unplugged is an accomplished example of musical understatement, disclosing Cobain’s intuitive ability to compose songs (or in the case of The Vaselines, Meat Puppets, Lead Belly, and David Bowie covers, select them) which complement his particular vocal and playing styles.

Continue reading “Looking Back At Nirvana”

Rock On, Rock Off: Reflections of an Ageing Musician

Bloomistry at the Rainbow Room, January 29, 2010, Ottawa, Ontario

TEN YEARS AGO, in 2003, an acquaintance of mine named Elaina Martin created Westfest. This free-of-charge Ottawa street music festival first took place on June 12, 2004, the year that Jane Sibbery was the headlining act. Elaina was then, as she would remain, what is generally termed a force. Every June since, with the help of local businesses and community volunteers, she has steered the festival to harbour. One of the highlights of my time in Ottawa was performing at Westfest 2010, on a bill with Sloan, a memory which came to the surface as the festival once again took to the stage on Thursday June 6, 2013.

Read More