Monthly Archives: March 2015

“The Drill Sergeant of Canadian Rock ’n’ Roll”: Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins

BRIAN BRENNAN: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS 
March 2015   

"Ronnie Hawkins" by Tabercil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ronnie_Hawkins.jpg#/media/File:Ronnie_Hawkins.jpg

A person didn’t have to take lessons from Arthur Murray to dance to his kind of music, Ronnie Hawkins told Brian Brennan. “All you need is a drink.” Photo by Tabercil via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

In 1976, at age 41, Ronnie Hawkins was as old as Elvis. And like Elvis, he was packing some weight around the middle. But unlike Elvis, then rumoured to be near retirement (he died the following year), the Hawk had no plans yet to quit. “I still wanna play,” he told me. “As long as these young ladies keep coming out to hear us, I wanna boogie.” But, he added jokingly, “if I don’t hit the big time in the next 20 or 30 years, I’m gonna pack it in.”

Hawkins had been based in Canada for 18 years. He came up from the hills of Arkansas when the competition for gigs in the southern United States was fierce (“9,000 bands and only 50 clubs to play”) and found a welcoming home for his rockabilly music in the bars of Toronto.

He liked playing bars. Occasionally, he got booked to play a concert venue, but didn’t think it was as much fun. “We’re geared for drinkin’ and dancin’ and cuttin’ up,” he said. “The music always sounds better in a bar. How can you boogie with 20,000 people you can’t see? There’s no point in playing Maple Leaf Gardens unless you’ve got Bob Dylan playing rhythm guitar.”

Hawkins, of course, had an indirect link with Dylan that contributed in part to the Hawk’s enduring status as a living legend. The Band, then about to embark on its last-waltz tour, had ridden to popularity on Dylan’s coattails. Before that, as The Hawks, the Band had played backup for Hawkins. Another link with Dylan would be forged in 1978 when Hawkins appeared in the movie Renaldo and Clara. Hawkins would stand in for Dylan on screen while Dylan – who wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical film – would play the eponymous Renaldo.

Though constantly busy as a performer, Hawkins was perceived in the music industry as more of a talent spotter than a talent; more of a coach than a player. “The drill sergeant of Canadian rock ’n’ roll,” The Globe and Mail called him. People went to his shows hoping to see another rising star or two in the ranks. The leading contender when I saw the group was blues harp virtuoso Richard Newell, otherwise known as King Biscuit Boy. Newell had recently signed a deal with Epic Records in the U.S. and would later flourish as a solo artist. But he battled alcoholism and died young.

I asked Hawkins about The Band; how he felt about their success. “They’re better than the Beatles,” he said. “But I could be biased because I taught these guys how to play.” He was surprised how much country The Band added to their music after they left him to go on their own. “They were much more into the blues when they played with me.”

I also asked him about John and Yoko, who had stayed at Hawkins’s Mississauga mansion in 1969 when they came to Canada for their first Plastic Ono Band gig. How did Hawkins get to be their host? “I knew the guy promoting the show,” he laughed. Lennon and Ono apparently didn’t like hotels (though they later staged one of their so-called bed-ins for peace at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel) and wanted to stay at a private home. “I was very honoured,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins had been out of the limelight for a couple of years when I saw him perform, but was now ready to rock again. “Wine, women and a good-timin’ song, that’s the story of my life,” he said. “This is our 18th comeback. I’ve made more comebacks than (world boxing champion) Sugar Ray Robinson.” But then, as if to confuse me, the veteran rocker added that he never knew what the newspapers meant when they said he was warming up for another comeback. “I’ve never been anywhere to make a comeback from,” Hawkins insisted. “I’ve always done the same old thing – rockabilly.”

That “same old thing” included one song, Forty Days, that Hawkins had recorded when he first came to Canada. “It’s the one that took us from the hills and stills and put us on the pills,” he said. To translate: It was the song that allowed him to leave his rural home-distilling background behind and try more sophisticated urban mind-altering substances. Other crowd favourites included Who Do You Love, Patricia, Bluebirds Over the Mountain and a raft of other country-tinged rock tunes from the ’60s and ‘70s. To keep the crowd in the right mood, Hawkins shouted out between songs: “Everybody get drunk. The more you drink the better we sound.” A person didn’t have to take lessons from Arthur Murray to dance to his kind of music, Hawkins said. “All you need is a drink.”

That drinking-and-dancing image continued to define every Hawkins show for years afterwards, even when he dispensed with the hillbilly gear and donned a tuxedo to play the elegant Imperial Room of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel during the early 1980s. He said his fondest dream was to turn Maple Leaf Gardens into a giant honky-tonk for one night. “Dancin’ and drinkin’, waitresses and everything,” he told The Globe and Mail. “Then I’d know I was in the big time.” When he got his own network TV show in 1981, it was fittingly called Honky Tonk. It ran for one seven-month season on CTV.

Hawkins stopped drinking in 1985 after being diagnosed with a heart condition. In 2002, he stopped performing after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave him six months but Hawkins beat the odds and survived. The cancer, remarkably, went away. Hawkins said the cure came about through a combination of psychic cleansing and alternative therapies. He returned to performing, no longer in the bars but occasionally for short stints at music festivals and other special events.

As he approached his 80th birthday in 2014, he was still going strong. “I don’t know who’s left to hear us,” he said on his website. “But if there are people who want the real thing, we’ve got it. I plan to keep doing it till nobody shows up to see us any more.” That year he was named to the Order of Canada, as an honorary appointee because he still retains his American citizenship.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2015

 

Brian Brennan

Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Looking for The Lady in Red: Chris de Burgh

Chris de Burgh concert at Chateau de Gymnich. Photo by Laurent Tomassini  via Wikipedia

Chris de Burgh concert at Chateau de Gymnich. Photo by Laurent Tomassini via Wikipedia

BRIAN BRENNAN: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS
March 2015  

Chris de Burgh was 27 years old and something of a British cult favourite when I spoke to him about his music. A single from his first album, Far Beyond These Castle Walls, had spent 17 weeks at #1 in Brazil of all places, and an English music magazine had described him as “the most talented undiscovered solo artist in Britain.” Another publication had called him “the most revelatory supporting act since Leo Sayer toured with Procol Harum.” (Sayer was a British singer-songwriter who had scored big with such songs as You Make Me Feeling Like Dancing and When I Need You. Procol Harum was a one-hit wonder band that charted internationally with A Whiter Shade of Pale.)

So de Burgh had the critical acclaim, but what about mainstream success? Aye, there’s the rub. Like many other singer-songwriters, de Burgh had talent, original songs and an individual style to offer. But success in the music business is not always necessarily related to those attributes.

Part of the problem, de Burgh told me, was the absence in Britain of album-oriented FM radio stations that would have played the narrative-driven folk-pop ballads that were his specialty. AM radio was all about Top Forty hits and de Burgh didn’t write that kind of music. In North America, his music was being played regularly on FM stations, but at that point FM was synonymous with alternative programming and commanded only a small share of the listening audience.

I asked de Burgh about Flying, the single that had failed to make an impression in the UK or North America yet scored big in Brazil. “It took me a long time to figure that out,” he said. “It only goes to show there’s no point in trying to anticipate what people will like. I think the song may have been successful in Brazil because it was a big, dramatic ballad, and they like those kinds of songs down there.”

He told me that when he first started songwriting, after graduating from Dublin’s Trinity College with an English degree, he was impressed by the originality of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. “They reflected in their songs much of what they believed in, and I’ve tried to do the same.” De Burgh wrote songs with universal themes such as love and death as if he were looking through a window “but steaming up the glass to create effects that I think are interesting.”

His songwriting had been likened to the mystical poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and the dramatic monologues of Bertolt Brecht. But de Burgh found these comparisons mystifying because he had never heard of Rilke and read only one play by Brecht “that I thought was dreadfully boring.” He would have preferred being likened to Yeats or perhaps Browning, “who is one of the most brilliant I’ve read.”

De Burgh had written one song, Spanish Train, that owed its epic story-telling style to Browning, and he told me he hoped to use more of the poet’s techniques in his songs as time went on. Spanish Train was a ballad about the devil and God playing poker for human souls, and it ran close to seven minutes in performance. That made it unsuitable for AM radio play, which didn’t bother de Burgh’s coterie of fans but did cause his record company, A&M, to suggest he focus more on writing songs with best-selling chart potential. This meant cramping his artistic style, he said, but de Burgh knew he had to pay the piper at some point. “I have to be aware that there’s a lot of money involved in making records,” he said. “If this money is to become an investment, I have to write with commercial considerations in mind.”

As much as he enjoyed the writing, the real pleasure for de Burgh was in the performing and recording of his songs. “The writing just involves a moment of inspiration followed by a lot of hard work – like finding one piece of a jigsaw puzzle and then trying to develop the whole puzzle. The performing and the recording is where the song really comes together. I try to shape the music so that it becomes part of my personality. The songs are personal efforts that can only be mine and nobody else’s.”

He said his next album would include two or three commercial songs aimed at the AM radio market, which then provided the outlet for most of the hit songs heard by pop record buyers. “Hopefully, success will follow,” he said. “Hopefully, when this record comes out, some people will remember my name and I’ll no longer be an unknown artist.”

As it turned out, de Burgh eventually recorded the elusive pop hit, but it took six more albums to get there. In 1986, at age 38, he released The Lady in Red, a romantic ballad that at wedding receptions is now the song of choice for the first dance by the bride and groom. The song reached #1 in 25 countries including the UK, went to #2 in the United States and, by 2014, had sold more than eight million copies worldwide. “To this day, it remains one of the most played songs on the planet,” says de Burgh’s website (cdeb.com).

The success of The Lady in Red also meant that de Burgh was no longer opening for such now passé acts as Supertramp and Gallagher & Lyle, but was headlining his own concerts. He never made the American charts again, but that didn’t matter because de Burgh was now getting steadily booked for concert performances from North America to Europe and beyond. In December 2007, The New York Times reported that de Burgh was scheduled to do a show in Tehran. It was to be the first appearance by a major Western pop star in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, which denounced popular music as decadent. But the show never went ahead because the Iranian authorities didn’t grant the necessary permission. It wasn’t until February 2015 that Iran finally relented and allowed a Western band – not de Burgh’s group but a New York jazz quintet called Animation – to enter the country and perform. “Iran wants to show there are no issues here for foreigners, and we welcome culture and arts,” an official with the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance told The New York Times.

De Burgh, meanwhile continues to tour and play concerts – primarily in Europe – at age 66.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2015 

Brian Brennan

Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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Canada PM distorts, inflates ISIS threat for electoral ends

America led the latest intervention in Iraq, starting in January, 2014. Above, U.S. Navy sailors with a F/A-18C Hornet, aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Margaret Keith

America led the latest intervention in Iraq, starting in January, 2014. Above, U.S. Navy sailors with a F/A-18C Hornet, aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Margaret Keith

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
March 20, 2015 

The decision by the Canadian government of Stephen Harper to extend and expand its military mission against ISIS in Iraq is in wilful disregard of the real threat posed by the radical Muslim group and how it can be overcome.

I say “wilful” purposefully, because it is evident that the government’s military and intelligence advisers are offering analysis and options that lead to very different conclusions than those being taken by the Prime Minister Harper and his inner circle.

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, stems from two outside interventions. First and foremost was the knuckleheaded decision by the Washington administration of President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 and depose Saddam Hussein. The second was western encouragement starting four years ago, led by United States President Barack Obama and with semi-house trained ‘coon hounds like Canada’s former foreign minister John Baird baying assent, for Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority to rise up against the Shiia Muslim regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

In both cases these interventions threw into turmoil the finely balanced but functional relationships between Shiia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria, both of which claim to be the true voice of Islam. In Iraq in particular, the ouster of Saddam and his minority Sunni regime has given power to the country’s vengeful Shiia majority. The refusal by the American invaders to include Saddam’s military or administrators in the new dispensation created a fearful, but highly skilled group on the sideline. First, Saddam’s veterans became the core of the Sunni insurgency against the American occupation, and after being subdued they have allied with Sunni brethren fighting the Shiia Assad regime in Syria to form ISIS.

Thus, in its perverse and brutal fashion – though its brutality is mainstream by the standards of the Middle East – ISIS is attempting to resolve that turmoil by creating a Sunni homeland free from Shiia predations.

As much as it obviously pains Harper to accept, ISIS is not a terrorist group, though it uses terror tactics as do almost all regimes in the Middle East. ISIS is intent on creating a nation state. It has already gone some way towards that goal with the establishment of an outline administration over a territory in the Iraq-Syria border region larger than the United Kingdom and with a population of eight million. The ISIS capital is in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Its territory stretches from near the coast of the Mediterranean in the west to the approaches to the Iraq capital Baghdad in the east and includes Iraq’s second city, Mosul.

ISIS has created a rudimentary administration in this territory it calls the revival of the ancient Muslim “Caliphate.” It has created civilian administrations and attempts to provide water, power and health care facilities, though these are being disrupted by the U.S.-led bombing of which Canada is a part.

Revenues come largely from the estimated $600,000 a day raised from sales of the oil reserves within ISIS-controlled territory. Output is believed to be only about 20,000 barrels a day, down because of bombing damage from the theoretical capacity of 70,000 barrels a day. Blackmarket customers in Turkey to the north, where regular gas prices at the pumps are double those of Canada, are supplied by clandestine pipelines under the border. And even the Syrian Assad regime, with whom ISIS is at war, is a buyer.

ISIS has about 30,000 fighters and much high-quality weaponry, including heavy tanks and artillery captured from the American-supplied Iraqi army in the early stages of the Islamic group’s expansion. In recent weeks ISIS has been pushed onto the back foot by resolute fighting by Kurdish troops, who blocked the attempt to capture the Syrian city of Kobani bordering Turkey, and by revived Iraqi forces trying to retake the city of Tikrit.

Some other militant Islamic groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, and an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen and al-Shabaab in Somalia, have declared loyalty to ISIS. But all these groups are intensely opportunistic, grabbing money and status wherever it is on offer. If the ISIS drive for the Caliphate stalls, as is now happening, or begins to wither, as seems probable, these fair weather friends will seek more potent patrons.

But it is evident that while ISIS can be depleted by the allied campaign on which Canada is a part, it cannot be defeated. ISIS represents the fear by Sunni Muslims of re-imposed submission to Shiia rule and the desire for communal security. That is not going to go away without a political solution.

ISIS is itself a growth out of a previous group dedicated to the defence of Sunni Muslims in Iraq. If ISIS is destroyed, a similar and perhaps even more fanatical group will spring up until the fundamental issue of cohabitation by fiercely rival communities is resolved.

So bombing ISIS into submission is no answer to the problem. Therefore the rational by the Harper government to not only continue the deployment of CF-18 fighter-bombers and about 100 Canadian special forces in Iraq, but perhaps also to expand operations into Syria, has nothing to do with the reality on the ground.

Canada has no national interest in this corner of the Middle East and ISIS is no credible threat to Canada. The claims that ISIS is intent on terrorist attacks in Canada fail the smell test. The attacks last October that killed two soldiers, one outside Quebec City and the other at the War Memorial in Ottawa, were by known criminals who should not have been at large. The socially dysfunctional couple being tried for plotting to bomb the crowd at the British Columbia Legislature celebrating Canada Day in 2013 were more in need of treatment for substance abuse than the fantasy reinforcement of a police sting operation.

In all three cases the perpetrators attempted to cast themselves as jihadi angels of retribution against supposed western excesses against Islam. But they all come across as sad and hopeless Walter Mittys.

The Harper government’s attempts to inflate these cases and ISIS into real threats against Canada smack of political opportunism. The government’s bill C-51 expanding the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other security agencies seems aimed more at instilling fear in the population in advance of this year’s election than it does in addressing any real threats.

But all governments like to try to keep voters worried and off balance. It makes it more easy to point voters at the issues of the government’s choice and to divert them from questions about which the administration feels uneasy.

The Harper government is following this well-worn formula, only with far more alarmist vigour than most.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

References:

Parliament of Canada, Bill C-51: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6932136&Col=1&File=4 

Related on F&O:

Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos, July 4, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State. August 21, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Libya finds its new Qaddafi. July 25, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate. July 16, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan October 31, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe
Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison 
Verbatim: Desert depredations. By F&O 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has traveled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Thank you for your patronage, and please tell others about us.

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Snowballs in Climate Hell

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY 
March, 2015 

Where I’ve been recently in Vancouver, Canada, the cherry blossom petals are already flocking on the ground, the daffodils wilting and the camellias almost over. The interior of the province of British Columbia posted heat records last weekend. But when a callous westerner posted these facts to Facebook, a Maritime easterner sourly noted that they were still surrounded by the evidence of record winter snow.

To the polemicist for climate realism, this is a problem. A lot of North American voters live in the swath of continent from roughly Atlanta north. The propaganda value of a savage winter was seized on by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who proudly tossed a snowball across the floor of the august chamber in late February and declared it more proof that climate change is, in his favourite word on the subject, “a hoax.”

But in fact, both extremes of weather tell a story about the climate, which is different from weather rather in the same way that attitude and personality are different from mood. Mood and weather are what I’m experiencing today. Climate, like attitude or personality, is the pattern of experience over a much longer period; a lifetime for a person, but decades and centuries in the case of climate.

Spring came unusually early to the Pacific Northwest. Above, Vancouver, Canada. © Deborah Jones 2015

Spring came unusually early to the Pacific Northwest. Above, Vancouver, Canada. © Deborah Jones 2015

And viewed that way, the climate of this century compared to the last is showing decided signs of advancing bi-polar disorder. It’s becoming more extreme at both ends of the spectrum. Crazy hot days at one end of Canada, crazy snowy ones on the other. Rainstorms of unprecedented intensity. Droughts also of unprecedented intensity.

Many of these effects are related (more on that in a moment). But here are three things worth knowing about our planetary disorder.

The widening extremes are not evenly distributed. Globally, high temperature records far outnumber low ones. A recent study of the ratio of record high to record low temperatures in 30 European cities over six decades (1950s to 2000s), found that those went from somewhere between zero and one, to closer to five or six to one in most cities, and reached an astonishing 25:1 on the high Arctic Norwegion island of Hopen. But even in Lisbon, Portugal, the records showed that by the 2000s, observations of new record daily maximum temperatures exceeded observations of new record daily minimum temperatures by nearly ten to one.

In America, where 2013 was a bit of a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s, when low temperature records slightly edged out highs (for a high:low ratio of about 0.85:1 that year, versus 0.77:1 and 0.78:1 in those two decades), the 2000s as a whole saw more than twice as many record hot days as cold ones. (I was unable to locate equivalent records for 2014.)

When it comes to temperature, in other words, Earth’s bipolar disorder is displaying far more up moments than down ones. That alone is a powerful signal from the real world, not the modeled one on which most climate forecasts are based, that the planet is, on the whole, heating up.

Much of eastern North America has experienced unusually cold winters recently.  Above, Marine One  lifts off in snow from the U.S. White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by John Sonderman via Flickr, Creative Commons

Much of eastern North America has experienced unusually cold winters recently. Above, Marine One lifts off in snow from the U.S. White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by John Sonderman via Flickr, Creative Commons

But secondly, the increasing occurrence of hot extremes is linked to another weather disparity: the fact that dry places aren’t experiencing more wet records, nor wet places dry ones. Instead, dry places are in general getting even drier, and wet ones wetter.

That is because for now the broad currents of air flow that move moisture around the planet are following more or less their familiar courses (with some exceptions, including the so-called ‘Arctic vortex’ phenomenon blamed for eastern North America’s two recent nasty winters). They’re simply likely to be hotter than before—often much hotter.

This means a couple of things. Hotter air passing over dry places is like hitting them with a giant blow-drier set on ‘Hi’. That hotter air sucks even more moisture from soil, trees and waterways, making droughts even more intense. But all that moisture doesn’t just vanish. It rides those global atmospheric currents until the air eventually does cool down, and then it drops as rain or snow. And because now there is more moisture to fall, the rain is heavier and the snow deeper.

Just such a mechanism may explain much of the heavy snowfall that buried the eastern North American seaboard repeatedly this past winter. The Atlantic at the latitude of the Carolinas is 0.5 to 1.5oC warmer now than it was in 1900. That means winds blowing across it are also warmer and able to absorb more moisture. That additional water falls as snow when it encounters the continental cold brought south by the aforementioned Vortex (itself, according to some earth scientists, the paradoxical result of a less-cold high Arctic inducing the jet-stream which normally fences in its chill, to meander deeper down into the low latitudes.) 

Thirdly, the occurrence of these extremes makes comforting nonsense of scientific predictions that global average temperatures may rise by one or two degrees Celsius by the middle of this century. There are numerous uncertainties about that forecast, drawn from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest review of the available science. But in fact those uncertainties are much less relevant to what we’re actually going to experience than is the fact that our encounters will take place in the real world, not the imaginary one of mathematical averages.

None us actually live in that imaginary world of averages where, as diminutive U.S. pundit Robert Reich likes to observe, he and basketball player Shaquille O’Neal have an average height of 6 ft. 1 in (185 cm). The ‘average’ is simply an imaginary line splitting the difference between the extremes above it and the extremes beneath it. Which means, among other things, that as the longer-scale climate changes, we experience (are already experiencing) daily weather extremes far more acute and far sooner than any forecast change in average temperature or precipitation.


So no, Senator Inhofe’s snowball did not, as a Forbes headline credulously claimed, “destroy global warming claims.” Nor are the meters of snow that piled up in Halifax in any way contrary to the balmy early spring in the southern Rocky Mountains.

Both are symptoms of a common cause: a climate system suffering increasingly acute bipolar disorder. And as anyone who has lived even briefly with a sufferer of that disorder can attest, the experience is likely to prove disorienting, exhausting and highly corrosive to their quality of life.

Copyright Chris Wood 2015

Contact: cwood@factsandopinions.com

 

References:

“Ratios of record high to record low temperatures in Europe exhibit sharp increases since 2000 despite a slowdown in the rise of mean temperatures.” Martin Beniston Climatic Change vol 128:1-2, Jan. 2015.  (Available free here: http://www.unige.ch/climate/Publications/Beniston/CC2015.pdf

Record Cold And Snow Destroy Global Warming Claims was the headline on an op-ed penned by James Taylor, a senior fellow at the climate-denialist Heartland Institute. It is available here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2015/02/25/cold-and-snow-destroy-global-warming-claims/

Further reading on F&O:

A new age of ignorance, by Tom Regan

Ordinarily, it would be laughable for a U.S. Republican senator to throw a snowball in the chamber, as did climate change denier James Inhofe, and say that recent cold temperatures in Washington, D.C., prove that climate change was a hoax. But Inhofe is the head of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee, which means he gets to highly influence American policy about climate change. It is like a member of the Ku Klux Klan being appointed the head of a anti-racism committee.

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Abandoning Playwriting for Novel Writing: Robertson Davies

BRIAN BRENNAN: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS
March 2015 

Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies

The Mephistophelean eyebrows, like symmetrical question marks on a massive forehead, projected an attitude of fierceness. But the twinkling eyes, grandfatherly disposition and easy laugh told another story. If you had dressed him in a red suit, with his bushy beard and snowy-white mane, Robertson Davies could have passed for a department-store Santa Claus. He knew people put him on a pedestal because of what they saw as his elitist professorial bearing (“very embarrassing, they don’t treat you as a human being”). But he was, in fact, approachable and friendly.

He was on the road giving interviews because his publisher was convinced a promotional tour would be good for the sale of what was then his latest novel, The Rebel Angels. Davies, an old newspaper hand, thought the money would be better spent on a print advertising campaign. But he went along with the tour anyhow because “it’s all part of the hype of modern publishing.” If nothing else, the tour might provide him with another anecdote to add to his collection of memorable stories from the road. One of his favourites was about the Ontario municipal politician who, famed for his malapropisms, described Davies as “a man of many faucets.”

Our interview took place in 1981, when the 68-year-old Davies was well established as one of Canada’s most eminent post-war novelists. He had produced one trio of novels titled The Salterton Trilogy and a second, more critically acclaimed and commercially successful threesome titled The Deptford Trilogy. Was The Rebel Angels, a satire of university life, going to be the first volume of a new trilogy? Not necessarily, said Davies. “But it’s certainly the start of at least one more book, because I’m working on that now.” He had a problem with the term trilogy anyhow because he viewed all of his books as independent novels. “But that’s how they’re put together for the convenience of the reader.”

He said his work-in-progress (which would be published four years later under the title What’s Bred in the Bone) was about money, how it affected people’s lives, and the kinds of complications it brought. “The lives of very rich people are peculiar,” said Davies. “In a way, they’re almost like royalty. They live in a sort of public way, which must be very difficult for them.”

I asked him if the work-in-progress would be informed by the precepts of Jungian analysis, as had been the case with the books in his Deptford Trilogy. “If it is,” he said, “I’m not conscious of that as I write it.” Nor was he conscious of having drawn on Jung’s ideas while he was writing The Rebel Angels. “I don’t know that it really helps to understand the book,” he said. “There’s a very great tendency among academics to explain books according to systems. It does nothing for the books but it gives them something to talk about.”

A former academic himself, who spent 18 happy years as Master of the University of Toronto’s Massey College before he retired in 1981, Davies said he had no plans to pursue further connections with the university life beyond writing about it. He would not, for example, accept a college post as writer-in-residence. “This is something that makes me very unpopular with academics and some writers,” he said. “I just don’t believe you can teach people to write. If they’re going to write, they’ll do it in their own way and teach themselves.”

As far as his own writing was concerned, Davies planned to keep on writing novels as he had been doing for 30 years. He wouldn’t be going back to writing plays, which he had done with some success during the 1940s and 1950s while simultaneously serving as editor of the Peterborough Examiner. He had won the 1948 Dominion Drama Festival Award for best Canadian play with Eros at Breakfast, a fantasy set in a man’s stomach. But his kind of theatre had since gone out of fashion. “I’m very strongly disposed toward comedy, and comedy is not the thing that goes in Canadian theatre any more,” he said. “I really don’t care about writing miserable plays; I’d rather write novels.” He’d had a good run as a playwright but ultimately decided to leave it behind because he saw the theatre turning into “a sort of coterie diversion for serious-minded academics.”

His one Broadway venture, Love and Libel, had been a failure in 1960. But Davies didn’t lose much sleep over that, and he didn’t think other Canadian playwrights should be discouraged by their failure to achieve recognition in New York or elsewhere. “It’s very Canadian,” he said. “We’re always exposing ourselves like a puppy asking to be loved. You do that to some people and they kick the puppy. Why don’t we stay home and make them come to see us, which they will do if our plays are good enough? We’re always craving for approval and a sense of our own worth to be provided by somebody else.” He suggested that Canadians should be looking inward rather than beyond the country’s borders for affirmation. “The voyage of self-discovery – that’s what I’m trying to say in all my books because I very profoundly believe in it. If only we could realize how interesting and provocative we are. But there’s some kind of crippling self-doubt about Canada.”

The Rebel Angels, following the pattern of Davies’s previous fictional explorations, was the first of what came to be known as The Cornish Trilogy. This trilogy brought Davies a Booker Prize shortlisting for What’s Bred in the Bone and a recommendation from Anthony Burgess, who picked The Rebel Angels as one of the best 99 novels in English published since 1939. Then came the first two Davies novels in what was to be called The Toronto Trilogy. Davies was working on the third book in that series at the time of his death, in 1995 from a stroke at age 82. “We are all fortunate that he continued to work hard into his 80s,” said his publisher, Douglas Gibson. “He enriched all of our lives with his imaginative world of wonders.”

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2015 

Brian Brennan

Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Jean Vanier of the Big Questions wins Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arch, and recipient of the 2015 Templeton Prize. Photo via the Templeton Foundation

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arch, and recipient of the 2015 Templeton Prize. Photo via the Templeton Foundation

In 1964 in France, Jean Vanier invited two disabled men into his home and life, as friends. It was the start of L’Arche, a global network of communities in which people with and without disabilities live and work together. Today, Vanier received the 2015 Templeton Prize, sometimes called the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in the realm of spirituality.

The prize, currently worth about $1.7 in U.S. dollars, “honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”

“Vanier’s five decades of living with deeply vulnerable people have led him to an understanding of weakness and common humanity,” said the Templeton Foundation in a statement announcing the award. “This learned wisdom reflects the essence of the Big Questions that have become a hallmark of the Prize and continue the legacy of its founder Sir John Templeton, the late global investor and philanthropist, in encouraging and recognizing spiritual progress.”

The late John Templeton, who was a Christian, had a big-minded approach to spiritual questions. He famously said, “I grew up as a Presbyterian. Presbyterians thought the Methodists were wrong. Catholics thought all Protestants were wrong. The Jews thought the Christians were wrong. So, what I’m financing is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn’t think you know it all.” 

Templeton, who continues after death to make a difference in the world, would in today’s constrained Western zeitgeist have likely been viewed as an eccentric, especially where evidence-based inquiry meets faith. 

“Scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century,” he once said. “All of nature reveals something of the creator. And god is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”

YouTube videos of Jean Vanier  are available here. Below, he addresses the big questions.

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

 

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Suit by Wikimedia and partners targets American mass surveillance

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. U.S. government photo, public domain

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. U.S. government photo, public domain

A law suit aimed at mass surveillance was filed Tuesday against America’s  National Security Agency and Department of Justice, by the Wikimedia Foundation and eight other complainants.

“The surveillance exceeds the scope of the authority that Congress provided in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (“FAA”) and violates the First and Fourth Amendments,” stated the suit, filed in Maryland. “Because it is predicated on programmatic surveillance orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”) in the absence of any case or controversy, the surveillance also violates Article III of the Constitution.”

 A statement from Wikimedia said the suit challenges the NSA’s large-scale search and seizure of internet communications, and aims “to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world.”

“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in the statement.

“Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information,” said foundation executive director Lila Tretikov. “By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”

The joint suit was filed by the Wikimedia Foundation; the U.S. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers;  Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; PEN American Centre; the Global Fund for Women; the Nation Magazine; the Rutherford Institute; and the Washington Office on Latin America. 

The defendants are the U.S. National Security Agency; NSA director Adm. Michael S. Rogers; the office of the Director of National Intelligence and its director James R. Clapper; U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder.

Excerpt of the statement:

Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom. It is a universal right that sustains the freedoms of expression and association. These principles enable inquiry, dialogue, and creation and are central to Wikimedia’s vision of empowering everyone to share in the sum of all human knowledge. When they are endangered, our mission is threatened. If people look over their shoulders before searching, pause before contributing to controversial articles, or refrain from sharing verifiable but unpopular information, Wikimedia and the world are poorer for it. …

Our case today challenges the NSA’s use of upstream surveillance conducted under the authority of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA). Upstream surveillance taps the internet’s “backbone” to capture communications with “non-U.S. persons.” The FAA authorizes the collection of these communications if they fall into the broad category of “foreign intelligence information” that includes nearly any information that could be construed as relating to national security or foreign affairs. The program casts a vast net, and as a result, captures communications that are not connected to any “target,” or may be entirely domestic. This includes communications by our users and staff.

References:

Read the full Wikimedia Foundation statement here: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Press_releases/Wikimedia_v._NSA:_Wikimedia_Foundation_files_suit_against_NSA_to_challenge_upstream_mass_surveillance

Read the legal suit, Case 1:15-cv-00662-RDB Document 1 filed in U.S. District Court, District of Maryland, here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/foundation/4/44/Wikimedia_v._NSA_Complaint.pdf

Q&A: Why is the Wikimedia Foundation suing the NSA? ACLU blog post: https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/qa-why-wikimedia-foundation-suing-nsa

Reports elsewhere, by Reuters; Politico; Guardian;  PC Magazine; Time Magazine

Related stories on F&O:

Spy scandal confirms Germans’ growing mistrust of Washington, July, 2014, Jonathan Manthorpe column (paywall)

Privacy Tools: Encrypt What You Can, May 2014

What Edward Snowden said to European Parliamentarians,  March 2014

Privacy Tools: How to Safely Browse the Web, January, 2014

Evidence lacking in U.S. claim that NSA thwarted attacks, October, 2013

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

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Lessons from Norway in getting women onto corporate boards

By Cathrine SeierstadMorten Huse, and Silvija Seres1, The Conversation
March 8, 2015

It recently emerged that there were more men named John running large companies in the United States than women. Actually the U.S.S is about average when it comes to the percentage of women it has on boards – 19 per cent. Japan does badly with women holding just 3 per cent of board seats, but Norway has one of the best records with women holding 35.5 per cent of the seats on Norwegian stock index companies.

Norway’s success at having such a relatively high percentage of women on boards is largely a result of the country’s introduction of quotas. There has been a great deal of debate over whether or not quotas are a good way of addressing gender imbalance on boards, but Norway provides a real-life example how this works.

In 2003 the Norwegian government passed a law that requires companies to have at least 40 per cent of company board members to be women. In place since 2006, it stipulated dramatic regulatory measures for non-compliance. After an initial grace period of two years for existing companies, a failure to achieve the 40 per cent quota would lead to the company being delisted.

The initial reactions in Norway were strong and overwhelmingly sceptical, and arguments elsewhere opposed to quotas mirror those raised in Norway in 2006. They range from the principal, such as the unfortunate tampering with free market mechanics, to the practical, such as the severe lack of qualified women.

But now, the quota law has largely become a non-issue in Norway. We present an insider’s view on some of the major cultural and organisational trends affecting the introduction of a quota law.

There have been many dubious statistics used to show how introducing quotas will detrimentally affect company performance, but we find most of this work tenuous and a tad sensationalist. The sample size is often small and the time horizon short with many other strong factors such as the financial crisis ignored.

A loud argument against board quotas was a lack of qualified female candidates, as well as the lack of women that wanted these types of positions. To the first argument, as long as the qualification was something as narrow as “past corporate leadership in the same or nearby sector”, the playing field was indeed very narrow, as there simply weren’t (and still aren’t) many past female corporate CEOs to go around. But we know how good necessity is at fostering innovation, and that is exactly what it did.

Nomination committees and owners were forced to broaden the criteria, and many new and interesting board candidates appeared, including younger female specialists, in technology, finance, law or some other field highly relevant to companies’ strategy. This has even broadened the board recruitment field for men, as more young men with international and entrepreneurial backgrounds appear on boards now. Another important effect of the gender balance law is that it has resulted in diversity beyond gender to include different backgrounds, edutcation and experience.

There are studies that show women directors have higher formal education than their male counterparts. Sociologist Vibeke Heidenreich has shown how finding suitable women with interest in board work proved to be relatively easy. They were recruited from similar arenas as men without previous board experience – professional networks.

There was an initial rush for the few highly-networked women perceived as qualified by old standards, and a few women got multiple directorships. But, there are now four key clusters of well-educated and qualified women entering the boardroom. These are:

  1. Younger women, with experience from consultancy, well-educated, highly knowledgeable and with supporting mentors
  2. Highly experienced business women without non-executive experience actively seeking directorships
  3. Women with broad experience from national and international politics
  4. Experienced women with past pre-law broad experience, both executive and non-executive.

The important thing is they are all qualified, just not in the traditional way. And, the increased use of professional recruiters and experienced nomination committees to find candidates is reducing the dominance of networks. They are often charged with the task of finding candidates with alternative profiles beyond the circles of the “usual suspects”.

Another lesson learned from Norway’s quota law is that gender balanced boards also spread to companies where it was not enforced. The gender representation law affected two types of companies: all publicly-owned enterprises and all PLCs in the private sector. No rules have yet been proposed for privately owned limited liability companies. However, the focus on improved selection processes and nominating more women, has led to increased diversity across all companies. This is the case in both private and public, and both commercial and non-profit sectors.

Anecdotal evidence shows that the new boards are more dynamic, more open and more innovative than the old ones. This is supported by research demonstrating that increased diversity and more women on boards has the potential to increase firm innovation and board effectiveness more broadly.

Societal change is hard. If the change requires a significant change in culture over relatively short time, nudging and encouragement are not enough. The Norwegian case shows that negative incentives create a sense of urgency and provide the necessary motivation to increase the number of women on boards.

Fairness is relative. When the playing field is skewed with strong historical and cultural biases hindering change towards a more equitable use of the talent pool, incentives such as the quota law can establish new role models and new, more effective standards.

Board gender quotas should no longer be seen as a radical concept nor a shock to regulatory or economic systems. Norway shows how the policy can be a realistic and successful tool that created real improvements in the way companies are run and achieve greater gender parity.

Creative Commons

1. Cathrine Seierstad is at the University of SussexMorten Huse is at BI Norwegian Business School, and Silvija Seres, at the University of Oslo

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Blood, Sweat & Tears: David Clayton-Thomas

BRIAN BRENNAN: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS
March 2015

Photo by Diane Lafond

Photo by Diane Lafond

David Clayton-Thomas was a Canadian singer who fronted an American brass-rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T), during the four years, 1968-71, when it achieved its greatest commercial success. One of the first groups to add horns and jazz elements to the backbeat of rock ’n’ roll, BS&T scored with a succession of million-selling singles, including Spinning Wheel, You’ve Made Me So Very Happy and And When I Died. Then, as Clayton-Thomas put it, “the band floundered in a wave of its own imitators.”

“When we first hit, we had a unique sound because we were the first rock band to use a big horn section,” he told me in 1979. “But it’s not so unique any more. Everybody’s doing it now – Tower of Power, Chicago, all those bands. The Blood, Sweat & Tears sound has become part of American mainstream music.”

Another thing that made BS&T unique was the presence of Clayton-Thomas, a self-styled “raw belter” who had developed his gritty singing style performing in Toronto’s so-called “basket houses” – clubs that didn’t pay singers but granted them a few minutes of stage time and allowed them to pass the basket afterwards. 

“It was an unlikely, unusual marriage,” Clayton-Thomas said of his 1968-71 stint with BS&T. “If they had gotten a conservatory-trained vocalist, I don’t think the band would have had the same power, the same raw excitement.” He had been recruited to front the band after moving from Toronto to New York where, he said, he was “discovered” by folk singer Judy Collins. 

After his four years with BS&T, Clayton-Thomas left in 1972 because, he said, he no longer felt “musical rapport” with the group. He thought the conservatory-trained musicians in the band were not giving him the respect he deserved, and he couldn’t stand to be on the road with them any more. While he struggled to reinvent himself as a Tom Jones-style singer appearing in front of large orchestras, BS&T struggled to survive without him. Neither succeeded. Clayton-Thomas rejoined a revamped BS&T in 1974, and the band’s fortunes began to improve again. While not as successful as it had been in 1968-71, the band did make the charts with an album called New City, featuring a cover of the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life.

Clayton-Thomas left the band for a second time in 1978. He was burned out and wanted to try some musical things that wouldn’t work within the BS&T context. “I guess an artist always feels he wants to be more than a cog in a machine,” he told me. “He wants to make his own personal statements. And that’s what I’m doing right now.” 

He maintained, however, that this separation was only temporary. The first breakup had occurred when Clayton-Thomas thought the band members were making fun of him onstage, mimicking his movements, and laughing behind his back. This split was only going to last a few months, until he got time to catch his breath. Because he was the only singer, he had to work all the time while other band members could come and go as they pleased. A trumpeter or a sax player could take a couple of months off to rest, “but I had to keep grinding it out, month after month.”

BS&T ceased activity while Clayton-Thomas tried for a second time to establish himself as a solo artist. He told me that while he did plan to return to the band when the time was right, he would never again let his identity as the lead singer of BS&T become the sum total of what he was. “It’s just too much of a burden having to carry this 20-man organization on my back 12 months a year.”

His second attempt at becoming a solo artist was no more successful than the first. In 1979, I saw him do a club gig where a lot of his newer material sounded like it might have come from the old BS&T repertoire. “His continued emphasis on horn-based arrangements seems to indicate he really doesn’t want to stray too far from the kind of music he has been performing for the past 10 years,” I wrote in my review. Later that year, Clayton-Thomas was back touring with yet another version of BS&T, this time with a predominantly Canadian lineup.

In 1983, Clayton-Thomas made one last attempt to go it alone, again to little avail. In 1984, he accepted the inevitable, acquired the rights to the BS&T name, and spent the next 20 years playing festivals, concerts and casinos all over the world with a constantly-changing roster of players. In 2004, at age 63, he finally disbanded the group. “It was a big decision, but not necessarily a hard one,” he told the Edmonton Journal. Touring had become so much of a hassle that Clayton-Thomas didn’t want to do it any more. “There’s a wear and tear on your mind, body and spirit.”

The hardest part was giving longtime friends and associates their notice. “Shutting down BS&T was a big undertaking,” said Clayton-Thomas. “We had over 30 people on the payroll and you’ve got to deal with workers’ compensation and all sorts of details.” He moved back to Toronto from New York, phoned up some old musical friends, and started making plans to do the occasional blues and jazz festival in Canada. Just enough to keep his hand in, he said. He’d done the road thing for long enough. In June 2014, at age 72, he played the main stage at the Toronto Jazz Festival as part of a 10-day showcase featuring such pop luminaries as Chaka Kahn, Dianne Reeves and Melissa Etheridge.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2015 

Brian Brennan

Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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