Place and Time

Place and the passage of time are the threads that run through my songs. They are observations—both of “self” and the world around us—that come from not always moving but instead, of staying in one place long enough to gain a perspective not otherwise able to be seen.

Movement and speed are the cornerstones of our modern world. We think nothing of hopping on a plane to fly to a new destination or, on a smaller level, of constantly rushing with overloaded work lives made even more frantic by our “always-on” connected society. All this rushing about can make us forget where we come from, and despite having greater and greater records of our lives through photos, selfies, digital trails, and geo-tracking, we can easily lose a sense of how we fit into our own life’s short story.

So, I write songs as a way of making sense of who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going (maybe) and in general, of finding some meaning through the discovery of the threads that make up the cloak of my life. It’s my hope, you will find some common threads in the songs I share.

Shingle Spit, Hornby Island, BC, Canada

My First Concert

Vancouver East Cultural Centre
May 26, 1985, Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Left to Right: Blaine Dunaway, Dale Diduck, Rob Marr, John McLachlan, Robert Cornejo
Concert Poster on a fan's wall
Concert Poster on a fan’s wall

I performed my first professional, full-length concert at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on May 26, 1985 with a band I’d put together from fellow musicians I’d met while attending the commercial music program at Capilano University (formerly Capilano College) in North Vancouver, BC. It was one big, huge, scary undertaking to prepare a full evening of songs to be presented in one of the premiere small concert venues in the city, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. What an education it was to learn how to book a theatre, put promo materials together and sell tickets.

My first promo shoot was done in the basement of my brother’s townhouse. He took some crazy photos (black and white of course) of me having fun posing with my guitar. In fact, one of them was picked up and used by a couple of local newspapers. It was my first learning that catchy images get used (something that would come in handy some years later when I worked as a graphic designer working in the arts).

I was helped out with promoting the concert by my (then) sister-in-law, Patricia. We were both pretty blind going into how to prepare press releases and approach the media. I still remember her getting yelled at by the theatre’s press person for not having the correct materials together. Still, live and learn, and I learned.

John Promo Photo
First Promo Shoot (photo by Robert McLachlan)

The concert was self-produced—the first of eight I’d present at this theatre over the next eight years—and it meant trying to sell as many of the 300+ seats as I could. I thought it would be impossible but by the time friends, family and the adept assistance from many who helped sell tickets did their magic things looked very promising. I can still feel the excitement 15 minutes before show time when I heard they added a few chairs and we had sold 306 seats: SOLD OUT!

What a thrill it was to present the concert. I realized this first show was mostly filled with people who knew me or the band and that we were still a little rough around the edges but we also had lots to be proud of. The band consisted of Rob Marr on bass, Robert Cornejo on guitar, Dale Diduck on drums, Blaine Dunaway on violin and trumpet, and Melanie Johnson who sang a few duets with me. It was over 30 years ago, but I will never forget that night above all the rest.

Melanie Johnson singing a few songs with the band, May 26, 1985
Melanie Johnson singing a few songs with the band, May 26, 1985

 

Finding My Way Home

Recording the songs for my new album Call It Home has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. It started in 2015 and carried through to early 2016 at The Barn Studio on Hornby Island, BC. The studio is operated by Marc Atkinson who is an accomplished musician with his own group called the Marc Atkinson Trio and is a member of the folk-roots band, The Bills. Marc is the engineer and a multi-instrument musician as well as the co-producer on the recording.

Marc Atkinson's Studio
The Barn Studio

The path to Home is like many things in life: a combination of intent and pure happenstance. The story began a little earlier when I was asked to sing a song at the 2014 Hornby Island Fall Fair that I’d written in 1993 about Albert Savoie who had brought the first car ferry service to Hornby Island in the 1950s. Even though I’d not sung the song on Hornby Island in 20 years it turns out it had been picked up by a school teacher and taught to students to sing as a choir piece, so a number of people knew of it. That was the only song I sang that day but it made something click in me.

During the fall of 2014 I started brushing up my rhythm guitar chops and decided to buy a lovely new guitar seeing as I’d sold my two good 6-string acoustics some years earlier (I’d never parted with my old 1968 Gibson 12-string). It was a treat to have a new guitar and a new interest in singing and writing. The first song I wrote that fall–“Your Day Is Done”–finds its way onto this recording as do a number of others that followed. It seems the writing bug also returned to me after an absence of over 20 years. Really, I was quite surprised by it.

Sample of songwriting

Around this time, fellow Hornby Islander Marc Atkinson invited me over to his studio one night to record a song, just for fun. I think he may have first thought I was a newbie in the studio but I proved him wrong and we had a good evening laying down a simple arrangement with me on guitar and singing and him playing bass. The wheels starting turning and I began hatching the plan to record more.

My first idea was to record a straight-forward album of my older songs and then follow it with another album of ten new songs that I’d made a commitment to write by the end of 2015. But as the recording went along another path became clear. I realized that I had ten songs—six of which were brand new—that we’re all about or inspired by the place I live, Hornby Island. It meant putting some of the other songs I’d been recording on hold and focusing on these more “themed” selections. When I realized this, it made so much sense and it felt right. Call It Home it would be.

Calling It Home

Getting back into the world of songwriting and performing after a close to 20 year hiatus has been a very fulfilling and also, spirit-lifting experience. There are some regrets that I put music on the sidelines for this time but on the other hand it’s given me the opportunity to approach my older material with fresh eyes and a bit of wisdom I didn’t have when I was in my 20s and 30s. But, it’s writing new material that has been the most engaging experience for me and offered up surprises.

Songwriting Pages

John McLachlanPerhaps it’s just “pent up demand” but writing a dozen or so new songs in the last year felt very different from how I remember feeling when writing years ago. Today, I feel like I’m able to stand back more from my topics, even if the topic is my own experience. Instead of being so literal with everything I write, I’ve found it’s ok to be somewhat more abstract. For me, who always wrote so literally, this is a nice discovery.

Discovery and re-discovery have really been the emerging theme for me over the past 18 months as I dust off and then polish up the “chops” I once used to make my living. I’m looking forward to sharing the music again both on recordings and on stage.