A NIGHT OF DARK SONGS AND SILLY SONGS
HEATHER BLUSH AND THE UPPERCUTS, The Beannick Subscription Concert Series Studio / Stage Door, Cranbrook – Saturday, January 15th, 2011, 8:00 pm
Way, way back before Recplex time and almost before Key City Theatre time, Gordon and Jill Johnston ran a very successful concert series at the Studio/Stage Door. Over the years the series was devoted to featuring great performers who were relatively unknown by the general public. Stephen Fearing, Martin Simpson, Garnett Rogers, Andy Irvine, Kelly Joe Phelps, Alex Houghton and Ron Kavana are a few of the great performers who graced the stage at the Stage Door in this series. Although not well known by the general public these musicians were and, in many instances, still are giants in their fields. Alas, all things come to an end and such was the fate of the concert series. For one season a couple of years back the Cranbrook and District Arts Council attempted to revive a similar series and, although an artistic success, financially it was not sustainable.
The demise of opportunities for traveling troubadours has left a vacuum in the local entertainment field. It is a situation that has bothered Terry Miller (Production Manager for the Cranbrook Community Theatre) for some time. Following a casual conversation with Gordon Johnston in the paint aisle of Canadian Tire the creative wheels started to grind and the production team of Terry Miller as the Producer and Gordon Johnston as the Musical Director came into being. To fill the void they put together a new subscription concert series. The patron “saint” of this series is “Beannick”, the icon that stood over the front entrance of the Swing Street Coffee shop for so many years. Ben Blomander the sound engineer of the old series also quickly came on board to complete an unbeatable team. What is remarkable about the new venture is that the subscriptions for the series sold out within a week of the first and only offering.
So much for the preamble; the first band of traveling troubadours or road warriors (considering the road conditions) to play the first concert in the new series, set out from Calgary on Saturday morning with the temperature hovering around -27oC. By the time they reached Cranbrook the temperature had climbed and the bass amplifier was suffering from major humidity problems that required an extensive reheat to bring it back to life for the show. The band led by Heather Blush (a.k.a as Heather Johnson in real life) on guitar and vocals, with her band mates, The Uppercuts, Dale Ulan on upright acoustic bass and Steve Hazlett on drums had played the Green Phoenix in Kimberley in the recent past but they are still relatively unknown in this area. That should change in the future.
Heather is a singer song/writer who is definitely not a child of her times. Her contemporaries may be into indie or classic rock but Heather reaches back to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone for her vocal inspirations. Her writing influences include the likes of Stephen Fearing, Tom Waits, Randi Carlyle and Rick Fines. The ensemble is a tight little band that delivers music that is described by Heather as “jazzy, but not jazz” and by Steve Hazlett the drummer as “cabaret”. Not that a label matters. Heather’s voice is honey smooth and the material is delightful and very original. Heather does not sound like anybody else and to describe her in comparable terms to other well known performers does not do her voice or her talents justice.
The band has two CDs under their belt, “Vice” (the dark side) and “Versa” (the silly side). The Stage Door performances were drawn mostly from those two sources. Although the “dark side’ was featured the overall tenor of the night’s performance was humorous, joyful and upbeat. This band of musicians is very relaxed and they obviously enjoy what they are doing. This was a fun night that the audience got to share by becoming willing participants. There was lots of repartee between the band and the audience. The Stage Door is one of the few venues that allow this intimate back and forth between the performers and the audience. The two songs that had the greatest response was “Damsel in Distress” (“I’m just a girl”) and the encore piece “Soon enough Dead” (“do it day for tomorrow we die”).
It was in the encore piece that all was revealed. It was co-written with her uncle, a musician who has traveled and performed in this area numerous times, Rick Fines of “Jackson Delta” fame. The song contained the humor and blues twists that are so typical of a Rick Fines tune. So it is easy to see where Heather gets her talents.
Diana Krall made it by re-channeling the Nat”King” Cole Trio; Michael Buble by reinventing the crooners; Madeleine Peyroux with a Billie Holliday like voice and a four on the floor rhythm section so, if there is any justice in the world, then Heather Blush should be the next big thing. She has a great voice, great stage presence and an absolute bag full of originality. She lives in Calgary so there is every chance that she will be back in this area in the not too distant future. Watch for it!
Published in the Townsman, Thursday January 20, 2011 page 5