When I was a kid I listened to a lot of Nat King Cole. His smooth vocals and almost confidential tone were part of my early exposure to jazz. I also listened endlessly to an album by his daughter, Natalie Cole, whose versions of “Nature Boy” and “Lush Life” still dominate my memory.
When I started writing the songs for this album, it was inevitable that these experiences would colour my style. I think of “They Say” as a song that Nat could have sung. It would have suited him perfectly, in lyrics and arrangement. It’s a tribute of sorts to that style of jazz, and the way it made me feel.
I wrote the lyrics for this track with a good deal of chuckling. There’s a verse about a bicycle riding couple in a park that was taken straight out of a summer walk I did one evening. The reference to a neighbor’s child is about the uncanny ability of children to read things we never tell them. As always, while these verses are mine, I hope they sound like a feeling you can relate to. This song was written with a smile on my face, and I hope it puts a smile on yours
Well, it’s been a long journey with a lot of unexpected delays, but my second album is almost ready to release. It will be called “Borderless Sky” and includes a mix of all original songs, from vintage jazz to a few tracks with a more folk or country twist. This album also includes one of my favorite songs of any I’ve written. It’s called “Back Country Blues”. The first line is: There’s a summer day in Georgia, I’ll wait for you there…
This song was one I wrote in my very first few months of songwriting. It was a crazy time, because it felt like a tap had been turned on in my mind, and suddenly there were lyrics and melodies tumbling out without warning. In that year I sometimes wrote a couple songs in a week.
Anyway, this particular song was unique because it started late at night. I’d been listing to some jug bands on Youtube late in the evening and thinking about how some music made it feel like summer, even when it was cold outside. It was February at the time. I soon curled up in bed and began drifting off to sleep. Then it happened.
There’s a summer day in Georgia, I’ll wait for you there…
I heard these words form in my mind, and with them the nub of an idea. Recognizing what was going on I knew I had to get out of bed and write it down. It would be gone by morning if I surrendered to sleep.
I jumped out of bed, grabbed my notebook and pen, and went out to the kitchen to turn on the stove light. There I stood, frantically scribbling at one a.m. I got the first two verses and the chorus on paper right then. Satisfied, I went back to bed.
The next morning I wrote the third verse and found a melody for the song.
Of course, I’ve never been to Georgia. That’s actually the point. Sometimes you can imagine a place– its sounds and smells, the feel of it– and it exists vividly in your imagination. It’s a place you can visit in dreams, by day or night. It’s the sort of place where other things that are impossible in your daily life might happen.
This song has remained one of my favorites, despite writing dozens more since then. For me, it still has a dreamy, lullaby quality that takes me away. I hope it has the same effect on you.
When I am not writing songs, I write poetry. In fact, reading and writing poetry was a regular part of my life for almost as long as I can remember… certainly since childhood. It was only later that I began to apply this drive to writing lyrics. This poem I wrote after a summer weekend in the woods.
I am very fortunate to live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I love Vancouver for its mountains and water…the feast of green and blue that floods the eye. While I’ve lived in other places, I always end up missing the landscape here. My happiest moments are being out in it, running a trail or hiking up a mountain to chase the view.
This song came out of that love of place. It’s about all the natural beauty that can make being alive such a vividly joyful experience, if you let yourself stop to notice it. It is often in contemplating loss and death that we can measure the value of what we have most accurately. Some people only think about this when that loss has occurred, but I think that imagining the inevitable helps sharpen my appreciation for what I have while it is still with me.
I started composing these lyrics on a trail run one spring afternoon, and finished them when I got home. From the moment I started working out a melody, I knew it had to have a cello in it. A simple arrangement that was clear and slow enough to let the words and emotions sink in is what I was trying to create.
When the time came to think about filming a video for this song, I mentioned it to a friend of mine (Craig Jones) who was visiting Vancouver from London to work on various film projects. He came up with a narrative vision for it which matched my sense of the song exactly.
We did some brainstorming about the shots we wanted, and then made a list of props, locations, and people we would need. So began the whirlwind of preparation that always precedes the making of one of these videos. I do the location scouting, the casting, and the prop acquisition. When I drove out to Pitt Polder Ecological Reserve and saw the landscape, I knew I’d found the right location.
My hope is that the imagery in this video fills you with a sense of appreciation for the beauty and transience that marks our lives, and the love that makes it all that much more precious.
You leave me wordless
Raising worn out phrases like broken bowls
From the well within
Poor riven fragments, dripping and empty
From a place purer—deeper in me
Than anything I’ve known
Even to look at you
Sometimes is too much
And the water rises and overflows
Silent and bright
From the corners of my eyes
There is a place
Older than words
Wiser than thought
Longer than life
Deeper than waking
Quieter than silence
Closer than skin
You touch me there
I have notebooks everywhere. There is one I carry in my bag as I am out doing my errands. Another sits on my work desk. Still others lurk on the shelves of another room, and there is one beside my bed.
Why all this paper in the digital age?
It’s partly habit. I kept a diary for years. Something about the pen moving across paper, kept in a beautiful binding, was very attractive to me. I don’t do much diary writing these days, but after spending years in university, I had developed the habit of taking notes on important ideas, information, and details.
I still do this. Some of my notebooks are for music related projects. I jot down ideas for music videos, song arrangements, and the details of meetings with people I might work with to make these ideas into reality. Often there are lists of things I need to do to get a particular project started or finished.
I am always writing myself “To Do” lists actually, which is one reason why carrying a notebook around when I am out is so useful. But there is another reason I need them. It’s because you never know when inspiration will strike. I’ll be walking along, minding my business, and then a few words will begin to suggest themselves in my mind. Sometimes it’s an image that I have to find words to develop. Just as often, the words come with a melody, at which point I grab my phone and record a few seconds of me singing it, so I can remember it later.
I’ve learned from experience that these little sparks have to be captured when they happen. Otherwise they disappear. One of my favorite songs happened this way.
It was late one winter evening and I had been listening to some jug band music. Something about the sound of it made me think of summer, and I curled up in bed with it echoing in my head. I was drifting off toward sleep when a few words presented themselves. There’s a summer day in Georgia, I’ll wait for you there...
I realized that I had to write this down, or the idea would vanish forever. It was nearly midnight, but I grabbed my notebook and went out to the kitchen where I turned on the light and began writing. Two whole verses, full of sound and smell and sense of place tumbled out onto paper very quickly. The lilacs are spilling their scent on the air….Somebody’s barbecue flavours the breeze. The chorus came then too.
I stopped my frantic writing, and smiled. The entire concept of the song and its details were all there on the page. I went to bed content, and the next morning, after reviewing my notes, I wrote a third verse.
The result was “Back Country Blues”, which always feels a bit like a lullaby to me. It has that sense of traveling to a place in your mind, and is about an experience brought on by longing. It’s one of my favorite songs, and will be on my upcoming album “Borderless Sky”.
Meanwhile, I’m always adding things to my notebooks. You’ll probably see more of the results soon.
I just released the music video for my song “Voodoo Magic Man”, and I can’t quite believe we pulled it off. Getting to the finished product was a long series of twists, uncertainties and last minute crises. Somehow it all came together and everything found its place. You could say it was luck …or maybe a bit of magic.
It all started about a month ago when I had coffee with my friend and filming genius Ed. I had an idea for a new music video and wanted to hash out the details and see if he would be interested in working on it. Over excellent coffee, tea, and chocolate at Thierry’s Patisserie, we came up with a plan. I left with a list of things to procure: location, people, props, wardrobe, and equipment.
The next three weeks were a frantic rush of details. We needed extras to pose as patrons in a jazz bar, so I posted a casting call. We needed a convincing male lead to provide the compelling seduction of the Voodoo Magic Man. That was a tall order… and by tall I mean more than 6’2”, since I am not a small woman. More casting call announcements.
The other tricky thing was finding a location. I had already done a fair amount of research on possible filming locations, but one stood out luminously in my imagination. A bar called Prohibition, at the five- star Hotel Georgia. I had only seen pictures of it online. Convinced it was probably impossible, I decided to do a solo reconnaissance mission. I went down to that bar, bought myself a martini, and quizzed the bartender about whom I needed to convince to let me film there. He eventually put me in touch with the right person.
Still, it took nearly three weeks of daily back and forth emails and phone calls to Prohibition. I knew filming there was a very long shot, and had a back-up list of locations ready to go. Getting a final “yes” or “no” took longer than expected, and I was under pressure to finalise the location and the shoot date. I was at the point where I knew I would have to go ahead and book another location that day, when I got an email from them with permission to film. I was ecstatic! It was a huge win.
The second piece of the puzzle was getting a leading man. A friend of mine heard about my problem and put me in touch with a fabulous actor who was not local, but happened to be in town. He was perfect—and he agreed to take on the role. With a list of extras complete, a leading man, and a trio of musicians, I was all set to film. Or so I thought.
In the days leading up to the shoot I obsessed about every detail. Did the drummer know he needed to bring his drum kit? When I contacted him to make sure, I found out he didn’t have one. Quickly, I asked the pianist (also a drummer elsewhere) to bring his kit, as well as his keyboard. And then I bought some drumsticks.
05:50 am. I woke up to my alarm, ready for the big day. The first thing I saw on my phone was a message from the pianist. He was sick and not coming. Neither were the keyboard and drum kit he was supposed to bring. I was down a band, and the day had just started.
I threw on my clothes and packed my car with all the gear, wardrobe and food we needed on set. Hitting the road at 6:15, my mind was whirling. What was I going to do if I had only an upright bass player? I sent a quick text to Ed. “We may have to get very creative on set today. We are missing a band.” I spent the next two hours sitting in the make-up chair, getting face and hair prepped for filming.
8:15 am. Another friend, who was helping with the shoot called me. “How is it going?” she asked innocently. “Well actually,” I said, “we have a situation.” My friend Ruth is incredible. In a few short questions she absorbed the situation and began working on a solution. “I’m on it,” she said. Mission instant band had begun. Who were we going to get before 10:30 on a Sunday morning?
I spent the rest of the session sending messages and fielding calls while my somewhat exasperated make-up artist (my sister Edina) tried to do her job. “You can’t be on your phone all the time”, she said.
9:45 am. We were leaving for the set and I had a pianist.
10:45 am When Ruth arrived on set she informed me we had a drummer on the way. Incredible. I enlisted the original drummer, who was very well dressed, as the bartender, while my new drummer set up his kit on stage. “I don’t have drumsticks” he said. “Well as it happens, I do” I replied. Standing in the gorgeous interior of the bar I began to think this was going to work after all.
I pulled out the haze machine that Ed had suggested we rent for this shoot. “Did you get them to show you how to use that thing?” he asked. Uh oh. “No”, I said. “Good luck!” he replied. Having come this far, I was NOT going to be thwarted by a machine. How hard could it be? I plugged it in and pushed all the promising buttons. Nothing seemed to be happening. More buttons, more switches. No sign of life. Sighing, I walked away to attend to more urgent matters. People were asking me where they needed to be. When I returned to the haze machine I decided to pick it up and move it closer to the stage, on the off chance that it was still warming up. When I put it down on the ground– rather heavily– a plume of hazy fumes came gushing out the front. “It lives!” I shouted, fists raised in victory.
11:15 am We were ready to go. With a crew of friends, friends of friends, and people who were fast becoming friends, we started to shoot.
I had a vision for the look and feel of this video, and somehow, despite many bumps in the road, it was becoming reality in front of me. It felt like being in a waking dream. Strange, unpredictable, and a bit magical.