Today was one of those fine, fine days that only comes along once in a very long while. I knew it would be that kind of day when we stepped out in the early August morning and walked down the hill to the ferry terminal. The water had that deep blue hue and smoothness that happens only on crystal-clear morning where the glacier-topped mountains of Vancouver Island seem so close you can reach out and touch them.
In Comox, the shuttle was waiting and whisked us to the festival site. We waited in line for tickets for mere minutes then had a chance to take in the wide variety of artisans booths. The Filberg Festival is not your typical Island craft fair — the exhibitors are juried and of the highest quality, most sell unique objects like one fella who fashions weather vanes and kinetic water fountains out of discarded brass musical instruments, and the jewelry designer who shapes tiny strands of silver wire, gold, and pearls into miniature garden tools — hoes and rakes, and spades — that attach to gyproc walls the way our fond memories cling to our subconscious.
- 03-Buckets of Rain —
- 02 Woodsmoke and Oranges —
- BC Jaded — Pat Buckna
Today I had come to the festival for two reasons — one was to reconnect with an old musical friend, Roy Forbes; the other, to see, for the first time, Ian Tamblyn, one of Canada’s best and unfortunately least known songwriters, whose music I’ve admired since the early 1980’s. I had stumbled upon Ian’s earliest albums back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when I was wandering the backroads of British Columbia performing music and trying to recover from a failed marriage, a journey that eventually led me to a new life in the North.
Roy Forbes, early into his 40-year career, and who was still known as Bim in those days, had already entered my life back in the 1970’s when I’d first seen him perform in Vancouver at the Habitat Festival near Spanish Banks. Our paths would connect several times after that. In 1980 in Fairview Alberta, when I cancelled a gig at a pub to go see Bim and his band in concert, then three years later when I brought him up north to Fort Smith to perform a show, and later still, in Alberta where we both performed at the North Country Fair. At that festival Roy performed an unbelievable workshop with Diamond Joe White, then later that evening, after lightning had brought down the sound system, held the crowd spellbound in the pouring rain and pitch-blackness with an a cappella performance. Our paths crossed a few more time during Expo ’86 in Vancouver where we both performed at the Folklife pavilion, then later at the Vancouver Folk Festival.
Seeing Roy at Expo ’86 was in large part the reason I chose to stop performing. Witnessing his passion on stage, his desire and need to please an audience, made me realize what it took to sustain a life-long career in performing and entertaining audiences. Watching Roy, I knew I didn’t have that commitment, nor did I want to have it. Sure I enjoyed that rush that comes with thrilling an audience with a fine performance, but writing songs and composing music was much more of interest to me than standing on stage performing them. It’s taken me close to three decades to get back on stage, and now I do it for fun and as an end in itself.
Hearing Roy today was a great treat. He pulled out some of his very earliest compositions, his trademark voice and unmistakeable guitar playing, but his set was more reflective, less urgent, yet every bit as powerful as ever. He sang some cover songs like Singing the Blues, a piece from an album of old country songs he recorded for his mother before she passed away. He dedicated one of the songs today that he originally wrote for his daughter when she was a toddler to his day-old niece and invited all of us to sing along. “Your love is lifting me higher,” Roy sang and we all joined in, it was impossible not to.
Later at the cd tent I stood in line with my copy of Some Tunes for that Mother of Mine. A woman ahead of me handed Roy her copy of Kid Full of Dreams, the long out-of-print vinyl recorded he released back in 1975 and asked for his autograph. Another woman came up with several copies of Roy cd’s that she’d bought to replace the ones she’d lost in a devastating house fire. When my turn came around, Roy signed my copy and asked me to stick around and chat. He remembered the last time I seen him, at a garage sale in North Vancouver nearly 25 years ago, and hadn’t forgotten about a Jimmy Rodgers biography I’d given him in Fort Smith, nor had I forgotten about the copy of Dance Me Outside he given me as a thank you for staying in my home. He told me about his ever-growing record collection and it was an excellent short visit, not unlike other short encounters we’ve had over the years.
Seeing Ian Tamblyn was equally enjoyable. I can’t think of another Canadian songwriter with his ability to write the Canadian landscape in song. What first drew me to his music was this sense of place, and the haunting arrangement and harmonies on his early recordings. Like Tom Tompson the painter and the other members of the Group of Seven, Ian’s songs and lyrics have a defining quality, when he sings of canoeing on Lake Superior, the image of the North Shore floats in the air. One of his older tunes is a piece called One Horse Town, a somewhat scathing indictment of a small Canadian town. Back in 1984, I had the great fortune to travel and perform on the Northern BC Coffeehouse circuit and during that tour a number of people told me that Ian, who had done the tour a couple years before me, had written it about Burns Lake in northern BC. Having stopped in Burns Lake myself, I could see how that might be true, but I was never certain. Today I found out. I took the opportunity to sit and visit with Ian and asked him. “Yes,” he said, “but the people of Burns Lake weren’t that thrilled about it.”
I asked Ian about his impressions of the Home Routes folk music circuit he been a part of this past spring. We’ve recently become hosts for Home Routes and have been able to add Powell River to the Salmonberry Circuit. This fall and winter we’ll be hosting six house concerts. Ian spoke highly of his experience which was great news. While we were talking I also found out that he’s travelled to the Antarctic a dozen times, that a choir recently arranged and performed one of his compositions, that he had written several plays and that he’s a leader on aquatic adventures tours of the Arctic, Labrador and Scotland, Ireland, Greenland and Norway. Over the years, I had lost touch with Ian’s music and later tonight, on the internet, I discovered to my delight that Ian’s continued to make music for the past several decades and has now released over 35 albums of original musical, a staggering output.
Too soon it was time to head back to the shuttle and back to the ferry. At the Little River terminal as the ferry was approaching, a sea otter climbed down the breakwater and swam out into the bay, a great blue heron took up a position first on a piling near the dock, then shifted over to a safer spot on the breakwater, and our small herd of foot passengers boarded the boat back to Powell River in the warm air beneath a cloudless sky. A fine, fine day. One of the ones that only comes along once in a very long while.