Circles in the Stream Review


Posted: October 17, 2005

Observations & Background
by Richard Hoare

Deluxe Edition
True North - TND 346
Rounder – 11661 - 3207 - 2
Released: 2005

Musicians: Bruce Cockburn: acoustic and electric guitars, dulcimer & vocals; Pat Godfrey:electric piano, marimbas & vocals; Robert Boucher: bass and Bill Usher: percussion & voice.
Recorded in concert at Massey Hall Toronto April 8+9 1977.
Remote recording: Fedco.
Mixed at Eastern Sound, Toronto-engineer Ken Friesen.
Produced by Eugene Martynec
Restoration + Re-mastering: Peter J Moore at the E Room.
Single CD: 79.27 minutes.

“The rediscovery of jazz at the time of the Joy album went on here. First time I had the nerve to involve musicians who were conspicuously superior to myself as players. Started thinking in terms of group performance in this period, too. Circles is a record of the first Bruce Cockburn band.” - Bruce Cockburn from the World Of Wonders tour programme.

Circles In The Stream first appeared as a double LP in 1977. It was first released on CD in an edited, limited edition in Japan before technology enabled the whole album to fit on one silver disc. In 1997 the original, unedited double album was restored and digitally re-mastered by Peter Moore on to one CD for True North release in Canada only. This Deluxe Edition has now been released around the world with an expanded booklet.

The recording comprises 17 tracks, which combines unreleased material with a collection of many of his best songs from the previous six albums. In my experience few double live albums stand up to repeated listening, they are just often a souvenir of a few excessive moments but this is a well sequenced and clear recording of terrific performances both solo & with the band. On vinyl the spaces in the music and atmosphere played as much a part of the sound as the instruments however the restoration & re-mastering puts you right there in Massey Hall.

Bruce assembled three musicians for the tour. Pat Godfrey had worked with Cockburn on David Wiffen’s Coast To Coast Fever and Paul Stoddart’s Day Coach Rider as well as playing keyboards on Night Vision and Joy Will Find A Way. Bill Usher had also worked on the same David Wiffen album and subsequently played on In The Falling Dark. Robert Boucher had played bass on the first two Jesse Winchester albums and also with Dan Hill who had employed a number of the same musicians that Cockburn played with on Ronney Abramson’s Stowaway.

1. The Pipes. The Pipes(1.32)

Pipe Major Mike Mackay from the 48th Highlanders heralds the start of the concert by playing a traditional Scottish tune on bagpipes that segues into....

2. Starwheel

Song first released on: Joy Will Find A Way 1975

Bruce Cockburn: Looking at big skies out of small eyes in ice-clear rural winter night.(a) All the instruments combine to set the standard for the album - listen to the percussion.

3. Never So Free

Song first released on: Salt Sun and Time 1974

BC: ...the rugged witch-misted coasts of Devon and Cornwall ...July days in Britain where the sun actually shone.(b)

4. Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror

Previously unreleased

Cockburn has played this instrumental solo on acoustic guitar from time to time in concert over the years, however this is the only place it can be found on CD.

5. Homme Brulant

This is the only place this song can be found on CD. An object lesson in bass and percussion interplay and possibly Bruce’s best jazz guitar solo of the record. The title is French for Burning Man and Bruce sings the song in that language. The same performance of this song also appeared in 1977 on the B side of a 7 inch vinyl single on True North. The A side was a studio cut of Free To Be. In the late 70’s Cockburn included songs sung in French on each of four consecutive albums starting with In The Falling Dark.

6. Free To Be (2.29)

Subtle marimba underpins this performance. A studio cut of this song (2.35) appeared on a 7 inch vinyl single on True North in 1977. The studio recording included an electric keyboard rather than a marimba. When True North compiled Waiting For A Miracle (Singles 1970 - 1987) they chose to include the live non-single version of this song.

7. Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long

Song first released on: Night Vision 1973

This is a solo acoustic rendition of a great blues based song. Bruce wrote this number soaking up the frustration surrounding the producing of David Wiffen’s Coast to Coast Fever album. This performance of the song subsequently appeared on the US-only LP compilation. Resume, released by Island in 1981.

8. Cader Idris

Previously unreleased

This is the only place this solo acoustic guitar instrumental can be found on CD. The title is named after a Welsh mountain that translates as Chair Of Arthur. It may have been inspired by a visit there during a visit to the UK. On Salt Sun and Time (1974) there is a song entitled Don’t Have To Tell You Why, written in Toronto which includes the line “...Just want to stand on some hillside in Wales with you...” Two other songs on that album were written in England.

9. Arrows Of Light

Song first released on: Joy Will Find A Way 1975

Bruce gives his dulcimer a rare outing backed with conga drum and bass joined by keyboards later in the song.

10. One Day I Walk

Song first released on: High Winds White Sky 1971

BC: I don’t remember much about the writing of this one. Kim Semenik, whose father made my dulcimer, told me that she sang it to an old derelict gentleman she happened to be sharing an abandoned house with while hitchhiking. She said it cheered him up, and how come I don’t write more stuff with this kind of universality? (c)

11. Love Song

Song first released on: High Winds White Sky 1971

This version of the song is preceded by BC on acoustic guitar playing an instrumental piece from 15th century composed by Gilles Binchois. (d)

12. Red Brother Red Sister (3.54)

Previously unreleased

BC: In the early 70’s, I met Native Canadians for the first time. I began to understand their situation and the history that led to it. There was this cab driver in Regina, an older guy, with a white ducktail gone yellow at the edges. We must have been getting the truck fixed or something, but he was taking us somewhere and recommending racially “correct ”establishments. (e)

A studio cut of this track (4.11) subsequently appeared on the True North Mummy Dust (1981) compilation with credits that located it as an outtake from the 1976 sessions for In The Falling Dark.

13. Lord Of The Starfields

Song first appeared on: In The Falling Dark 1976

BC: I was trying to write something like a psalm. (f) Bass, guitar, keyboard and percussion spar in a confounding introduction to this familiar song where all these instruments create more than the sum of the parts including a neat solo by Cockburn.

14. All The Diamonds

Song first appeared on: Salt Sun and Time 1974

BC: A boat trip through the Stockholm archipelago - barren islands, sun on waves - the balance tipping toward a commitment to Christ. The words seemed to want a church-like music, so I used more chords than usual. It must have worked. My friend, Paul Stoddart, the Vancouver poet, would-be rounder and confirmed agnostic exclaimed on first hearing it, “It sounds like a hymn!” (g) (h)

15. Dialogue With The Devil (8.37)

Song first appeared on: Sunwheel Dance 1972 (6.20)

On this version Bruce uses a subtle effect on the guitar sound, injects more soul into the performance and plays a great solo. This performance of the song subsequently appeared on the US-only LP compilation, Resume, released on Island in 1981.

16. Joy Will Find A Way

Song first appeared on: Joy Will Find A Way 1975

BC: With a few minor changes, I ripped off an Ethiopian thumb harp piece to make the guitar part for this. I was thinking about death, and what a big part of life it is. (i) Bass, marimba, percussion and guitar lay down a hypnotic rhythm. The marimba solo is beautiful.

17. God Bless The Children

Song first appeared on: Night Vision 1973

BC: C S Lewis meets the surrealists! (j) Magnificent understated keyboard and percussion.

Bart Schoales was credited with art direction for the original LP sleeve. (l) In 1977 True North released the double LP in a gatefold sleeve in Canada with the wonderful Bart Schoales photo of circles in the stream on the front cover and the photo of Bruce by Skip Dean on the inside of the gatefold. The inner sleeves carried the lyrics in English & French. For the US release however Island reversed the concept with Cockburn on the front cover & the circles in the gatefold.

This latest release retains the same orientation of the cover photographs as the original True North LP. In addition to the hand written lyrics in English and French and the original inner gatefold photo reproduced in colour there are four un-credited photographs from the tour – three of Bruce and one of the whole band – all on stage. These photographs, whilst not of the clearest quality, do provide a visual flavour of the shows and I have not seen them in other publications. One page has the track listing in a modern font rather than the lettering from 1977 used in the 1997 release.

Unfortunately unlike the first two batches of the Deluxe Edition CDs this release does not include a clear jewel case or cardboard slipcase but it does have sleeve notes by Nicholas Jennings. In my view this release is the third LP in a jazz trilogy that included Joy Will Find Away (1975) and In The Falling Dark (1976). At that time Bruce was married to Kitty and together with their year old daughter, Jenny, they lived in a modest rural maison in the Ottawa valley.

Bill Usher: Listening back to the show it’s amazing to hear how tight we are together. There’s almost a baroque quality to some of the playing. We’re all hitting the same accents at the same time and in harness with each other. (k)

This release is an excellent live album and serves as a best of collection of Cockburn’s early work.

The title of this album appears as a phrase in the song Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand that includes the lyric:

Young men see visions and old men dream dreams

see them pluck bright pebbles out of circles in the stream

The song was subsequently released on the album that followed Circles In The Stream, Further Adventures Of (1978).


(a),(b),(c),(f),(g),(i),(j) BC quotes from songbook: All The Diamonds, Vol.One, 1969-1979, OFC Publications, Ottawa, Canada.

(d) During the 15th century there was considerable musical activity at the court and chapel of Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Gilles Binchois from Flanders spent the latter half of his life as a musician to the Burgundian court where he was the leading composer of chansons, which was the name given to polyphonic settings of French secular poetry - from Art & Music by Cleaver & Eddins 1977 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

(e) BC quote from songbook: Rumours Of Glory, 1980-1990, OFC Publications, Ottawa, Canada.

(h) BC played on & produced Paul Stoddart’s album Day Coach Rider (1974) released on True North.

(k) Quote from an interview with Bill Usher by Daniel Keebler in Gavin’s Woodpile Issue Number 22, August 1997.

(l) Bart Schoales was credited with art direction for three earlier BC albums.

This article is an updated version of the review that was published in Cala Luna No5 1999.

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2023