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February 2, 2023
The Daily Courier

Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn coming to Kelowna this weekend
By Anna Jacyszyn

Sitting down for a morning chat with Canadian music legend and member of the Order of Canada, Bruce Cockburn, it felt like meeting Canadian Royalty. I sensed a gentle smile and silent chuckle as I clumsily admitted I lost track of time due to the fact I had prepared myself for our interview far too early, then decided to read another chapter of Prince Harry’s book SPARE. We took a moment to chat about that. Cockburn admitted he was not one to read celebrity sensationalism or even want to, but in the circumstance of the moment, said he felt empathy for the prince, surmising that “he seems like a nice guy who fell in love with a pretty girl and now getting a raw deal because he wants to tell his side of the story.”

Cockburn expressed relief that his own tabloid experiences were gentle waves compared to the tsunami of invasive gossip this royal couple is having to endure.

As we moved through conversational topics and his own current affairs, I got the sense that this 77-year-old Canadian multi-platinum recording artist does not rest on his laurels but continues to create new music and is excited to start a 20-date concert tour of the U.S. and Canada, stopping at the Kelowna Community Theatre to perform on Sunday, Feb. 5.

This tour was supposed to happen in 2020 with 100 dates, celebrating 50 years as a recording artist and coinciding with the release of a greatest hits album curated from his 34 record-strong discography. But, due to a world-wide pandemic, that tour was cancelled, until now.

The greatest hits double album has a total of 30 songs that takes listeners on a chronological journey from his first single, “Going to the Country” (1970) to the last song on the disc 2, “States I’m In” (2017), showcasing his range of musical styles – from folk, blues, gospel, jazz, and echoes of funk, reggae, pop and rock.

Each song has a liner note written by Cockburn himself. We spoke about those memories that surfaced while penning the paragraphs of memorable anecdotes pertaining to each song. He also confided that a brand new album will be released in May with fresh music and lyrics – which proves the point that Cockburn continues to be a tour de force in the record music business with no warning of slowing down.

Bruce Douglas Cockburn was born in Ottawa, Ont. on May 27, 1945. Interested in music as a young boy, he learned to play clarinet and trumpet in school, but it wasn’t until he was 14 years old that he concentrated his musical efforts on guitar, piano, and music theory. While at Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying jazz composition with guitar as the instrument, Cockburn realized that music was his future but the path he was on was the wrong one.

After two and a half years at school, he moved back to his hometown, and “fell in” with a few musicians; one being Peter Hodgson (best known today as Sneezy Waters). “Sneezy opened me up to a whole new world of folk guitar playing that I was not aware of and we did a lot of playing together,” says Cockburn.

“Playing music with these guys, listening to Dylan, The Beatles and other writers of the era, and my love for writing poetry was the intuitive realization that this was the road I needed to take,” said Cockburn.

By the end of ’60’s Cockburn had enough songs to make his first record and needed to relieve himself of this music so he could “empty his vessel and fill it with more,” thinking naively that was how the creative process worked.

As luck would have it, he bumped into his friend Gene Martynec, at a coffeeshop in Yorkville and confessed he was itching to make a record.  Martynec’s band, Kensington Market, had recently broken up and he was looking to get into the production side of music, so they hatched a plot to work together, and knowing that ex manager Bernard Finkelstein wanted to start a record label, aka; True North – the timing was perfect, and the stars aligned.

The budget was obtainable because Bruce didn’t want a huge production and costly extras, he just wanted his art on vinyl.

Cockburn’s debut album of the same name was released in 1970 through True North Records and is still the only label Cockburn has ever released music through.

A career that continues with accolades to include Inductee into the Canada’s Walk Of Fame (2021), Canadian Songwriter and Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2017), Winner of Folk Alliance’s People’s Voice Award, as well 13 Juno awards from more than 30 nominations. Labelled as “the voice for our conscience,” Cockburn consistently highlights environmental, social, and indigenous issues and puts his lyrics where his heart is by supporting various causes, highlighting the work of Oxfam, the UN Summit for climate control, and the international campaign to ban landmines, among others.

He has toured and conducted fact-finding trips in Mozambique, Nepal, Vietnam, Baghdad, and Guatemala. He holds nine honourary doctorates and is a member of the Order of Canada. I asked him about these accolades and honours and as a reply he says “they are humbling and pleasing but they are not the essence of why I create …but the affirmation feels good!” 

Bruce tells me that he has been to Kelowna numerous times and the Okanagan was always a favoured destination, adding “its such a beautiful route, I love it there.”

Bruce Cockburn will be at the Kelowna Community Theatre, Sunday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.



February 2, 2023
Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Bruce Cockburn looks forward to Saskatoon stop on tour
by Jocelyn Bennett

Canadian music legend Bruce Cockburn has been writing and performing songs for more than 50 years.

His current tour, following a digital release of Rarities, brings him back to Saskatoon for the first time in many years.

“I’m really looking forward to being on the road, and looking forward to getting to Saskatoon. It’s been a while,” he said in a recent interview.

Cockburn performs at TCU Place on February 9.

Ahead of his performance, he chatted with the StarPhoenix about his music and his career.

Q: What is most important to you about your music, and what keeps you going?

A: Well, keeping going is not challenging, other than coming up with new ideas. I like what I do and I want to keep doing it. But the older I get, the longer I have to wait for ideas for things that I haven’t already thought of. (Laughs).

From the point of view of the music being out there, the important thing is for it to be as high quality as I can make it and to offer something. I don’t think art has to necessarily be about anything, but when you put words with a song, then, generally speaking, they are about something. So, it’s important to me to have those words be saying things that are meaningful and that are expressing those things in a way that works artistically, and also in terms of people’s ability to grasp what’s being said.

Q: Why did you decide to release Rarities as a digital album?

A: The idea was to put out a collection of these songs that were included, originally, in a box set we did when my book came out a few years ago (Rumours of Glory, 2014). We’ve added two more songs for this release.

A few years have gone by and it just seems like a good idea to make stuff available to everybody. I like the idea of people hearing the songs, especially a couple of the obscure demos of songs that were never recorded. They come up pretty well.

Q: How does it feel to have had so many of your songs covered by other artists?

A: Well, it’s gratifying, of course. I mean, it’s nice not to exist in a vacuum. The idea that somebody else heard something that they could relate to well enough to want to sing it themselves, that’s a nice feeling.

Q: Do you have a favourite cover?

A: Michael Occhipinti, Toronto jazz guitar player, has done beautiful versions of my stuff. I think if I had to pick one, it’d probably be that. They’re instrumental versions, for the most part. He kind of deconstructs the songs and rebuilds them, using my elements, but in a way that still comes out sounding respectful of the original material, which is quite a challenge and makes it very interesting for me to hear.

Q: What do you look forward to most in live performances?

A: Oh, the feeling that grows between me and the audience. I mean, when everything works right — which it does more than half the time, and maybe more than that, even — what you get is the sense of sharing with this group of people. In a big hall, that group of people loses its sense of being made up of individuals and becomes a collective personality that you engage with from the stage. When the connection gets established, it feels really good. And I think it’s probably the same for the audience. That’s the nicest effect of the shows for me.

Q: Is there a performance that’s especially memorable for you?

A: When we started touring with the second attempt at the 50th anniversary tour in 2022, there were some shows early in that tour that really stood out — partly because audiences and me, both, were very excited about being out after being cooped up for a couple of years. There was a sense of adventure about it that was a bit unusual. There was such a sense of the lid being off and people getting away with something, and it was really great. It was a nice thing to be part of.

Q: With no sign of stopping anytime soon, what’s next?

A: Just a bunch of touring. We have a new album that’s going to come out in May, (then) there’s more touring to follow that. I don’t look much further ahead than that.



February 1, 2023
Vancouver Sun

Bruce Cockburn looks back at career with release of Rarities collection
The latest from celebrated folk rocker Bruce Cockburn is a study in changing styles and guitar chops.

by Stuart Derdeyn


With a career spanning five decades, 35 albums and 400-plus songs, how did Bruce Cockburn narrow down the dozen ditties that make up his new Rarities record?

“It’s like turning over old mouldy newspaper clippings, looking through a scrapbook that’s been in the back of a drawer and discovering,” said Cockburn. “Some, like Grinning Moon, from the early 1990s, instantly and clearly takes me back to the mood I was in when I wrote it. But Bird Without Wings, which is the oldest one on the album, is so far in the past that the edges are well worn off of the memories.”

Most of the material on Rarities was previously only available on his Rumours of Glory limited edition box set. The album is not only a career-spanning collection by the Ottawa-born, 13 time Juno award winning artist, it’s also a tour of his considerable talents on the guitar, perhaps highlighted by the advance single theme for Waterwalker. The title track theme from a 1983 NFB film directed by Bill Mason, the tune is a study in atmospheric guitar riffs layered one upon the other with only a few seconds of breathy singing from Cockburn.

The Officer of the Order of Canada says his instrumental chops have really developed over the decades. But he still sees his playing as a more sophisticated version of what he started off trying to do in the mid-’60s.

“It didn’t really develop the way it has until the early 1970s, and has grown since,” he said. “Being fairly well-educated in jazz and classical theory with trumpet and clarinet as a kid, plus guitar lessons beginning at age 14, I was always interested in a wider variety of more complicated music than many of the people I hung out with. Ultimately, a lot of what I’ve done is take principles of playing like Mississippi John Hurt’s fingerpicking where he does both lead and rhythm and apply it to much more complex stuff because I have been exposed and educated in it.”

Bird Without Wings displays Cockburn’s developmental approach fusing disparate styles into a sound signature. He recalls exactly where the initial inspiration for the track came from. In some ways, you can hear that this was a performer who had realized dreams of being a rock-‘n’-roller weren’t going to happen, but something else could.

“I was listening to a Jesse Colin Young, I don’t remember which it was, that had a particular fingerpicked riff I thought would fit well with the lyrics of the song,” he said. “By the end of high school, I was more fascinated with writing music for large jazz ensembles than rock ‘n’ roll and went to Berklee School of Music to pursue that. But with the great songwriting coming out from Dylan, the Beatles and the Boston folk scene, I became steeped in that and dropped out to return to Canada and start playing in a group.”

So began a career that has a trove of gold and platinum-certified recordings and such frequently covered classics as Lovers in a Dangerous Time and Wondering Where the Lions Are, among other tunes. As he prepares for the coming solo tour in support of Rarities, a trio of key recordings are also being re-released on 180 gram black vinyl — 1996’s Charity of Night, 1999’s Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu and the 1970 Bruce Cockburn debut that began it all.

“There is a lot to choose from to play on the tour, including songs from Crowing Ignites, which didn’t get the usual support arriving at the time it did in the pandemic,” he said. “There are the reissues and also a brand new album we’ve just finished due for release in May called Oh Sun, Oh Moon. It’s a bit confusing trying to figure out what to do with it all.”

The new material includes a climate change song co-written with Inuk singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark, as well as a few songs he has been performing recently on tour as they seemed topical.

“I’ve been doing a few last year on tour as well which are an attempt to address the lack of civility and compassion that we see all around us of late,” he said. “In terms of instrumentation and general sound, I think the new album certainly drew upon the fact it was done at Colin Linden’s studio in Nashville and drew upon the incredibly deep talent base of musicians there. It’s full of some really lovely playing and Allison Russell sings on a few songs.”

Cockburn has been focusing on solo performances in recent years, keeping the band gigs to only a specific few where it “made sense.” He doesn’t so much plan these events as having them just “come out.” Fans have come to know that any setting they see this artist perform in will be a win.

Bruce Cockburn Canadian tour dates:

Feb. 2, 2023  Royal Theatre  Victoria BC Canada
Feb. 4, 2023  Centre for the Performing Arts  Vancouver BC Canada
Feb. 5, 2023
 Community Theatre  Kelowna BC Canada
Feb. 6, 2023 
Jack Singer Theatre  Calgary AB Canada
Feb. 8, 2023 
Winspear Centre  Edmonton AB Canada
Feb. 9, 2023
 TCU Place  Saskatoon SK Canada
Feb. 10, 2023 
Burton Cummings Theatre  Winnipeg MB Canada


January 25, 2023
Nexus

Bruce Cockburn looks back, moves ahead
by Fred Cameron

One of Canada’s finest musicians, Bruce Cockburn is difficult to define. His unique blend of folk, rock,  jazz, and blues has led Cockburn on a musical journey that has spanned seven decades and produced 22 gold records, countless awards and accolades, and 9 million albums sold.

photo by daniel keeber

A 2020 tour was booked to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his self-titled debut but was cancelled due to COVID; however, Cockburn’s now returning to town. He’s now unsure how to describe the tour, as he says at least one of the shows is being billed as a 50th anniversary show but he points to December’s digital release Rarities as well as his upcoming album O Sun O Moon, coming out on May 12, as being equally important to the tour.

Bruce Cockburn is returning to Victoria in February (photo provided).

Cockburn says that audiences can look forward to hearing at least a couple of songs from the upcoming record, which he says sounds like a typical ’70s Cockburn album in a lot of ways. However, he adds a disclaimer to avoid misleading fans who know those records.

“I think of it as being in the same world as In the Falling Dark or Further Adventures Of or something of that era—not musically at all but not not musically either,” says Cockburn. “The songs don’t sound like the songs from back then exactly, but the way we approached putting the album together was more like that. That’s a little obscure, but you’ll understand what I mean when you hear it.”

Long recognized for his political presence, Cockburn says he has never really thought of himself as an activist but he recognizes that the world around him shapes his writing. The issues that we’re surrounded by are all the same ones that have always been with us, except, Cockburn says, a lot of those issues are a little closer to the tipping point.

“War isn’t new in the world and the destruction of the environment isn’t new in the world. Our culture has pulled it all together,” he says. “Everything that happens everywhere affects everybody. The same themes are showing up on the songs from the new album.”

Cockburn says that if you can’t speak to each other coming from a place of tolerance and respect, you can’t get anywhere because you just fight with people.

“We’re seeing it increasingly,” he says. “It’s partly the internet; It’s partly Donald Trump; it’s partly the pressure that everyone’s feeling from the threats we’re faced with. There’s fear of nuclear war now after most people were able to avoid thinking about it for a long time. It’s always been there but I guess what I have to say about those things is coming out in song right now.”

These days Cockburn is living in San Francisco as a full-time dad to an 11-year-old daughter, which shapes his days.

“We’re up at 6:15 and I get her to school and then do whatever I’ve got going on that day, which at my age is usually medical,” he says. “Nothing major but ongoing stuff that I think everybody my age deals with.”

Cockburn says that being a father influences his feelings about the future.

“I’ve had a life, quite a lot of it actually,” says Cockburn. “It might not affect me but that horizon is obviously approaching. Any of us can look at that horizon and think, ‘I’m not gonna be around for that so I’m not gonna worry about it,’ but that’s never been my approach. Especially now, with grandchildren and children who are going to have to deal with it. It lights a little fire under you.”

Bruce Cockburn
8 pm Thursday, February 2
$58 and up, Royal Theatre
Victoria, BC


January 13, 2023
The Bluegrass Situation

For Bruce Cockburn, The Job Is To Tell The Truth Of The Human Experience
by Lynne Margolis


Fifty-five years into a career that has earned him superstar status in Canada, singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn is in a reflective mood. In November, he released Rarities, a digital collection of songs previously available only in his very limited-edition Rumours of Glory box set, plus four tracks plucked from tribute compilations and remastered, one very early demo (“Bird Without Wings,” from 1966) and a track heard only on the Japanese version of Life Short Call Now (“Twilight On the Champlain Sea,” featuring Ani DiFranco). He also reissued audiophile-quality editions of his self-titled 1970 debut album, 1996’s Charity of Night and 1999’s Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu.

Bruce-Cockburn-by-Daniel-Keebler

The San Francisco resident, 77, also became a U.S. citizen in November, a development he calls “quite exciting.” (His wife and 11-year-old daughter are American-born.) In January, he’s kicking off another tour, during which he’ll likely perform tracks from an album he just finished recording. He plans to release the still-untitled work sometime in 2023.

BGS: So what prompted the Rarities release now?

Cockburn: It just seemed like a good time. When my book [the 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory] came out, we put together a 10-CD box set with all the songs discussed in the book. And there was one disc of rarities. This record is basically the same record, except there’s a couple of extra songs, and there were only 1,000 copies of that box made, so the idea was to get these obscure things — some go back to the ‘60s even, so that is historical stuff, and some live performances and some film music that was never released elsewhere — into wider circulation.

BGS: On “Bird Without Wings,” I was struck by the self-doubt of some of the lyrics, which doesn’t surprise me in someone’s early work. I wonder if you would still write a song like that today?

That’s an interesting question. Probably not, not exactly that. I mean, I recognize the person. But my life has been through a lot of changes since then. Back then it was so personal, I hardly ever sang it in public. But a band called 3’s a Crowd recorded it. I didn’t particularly like their version; it was a little too processed for my tastes. That album was produced by Mama Cass and I’m assuming she applied the techniques that the Mamas & the Papas used to get their harmonies, and it might have suited them, but it didn’t really work with that band. In my view, anyway.

BGS: You bring up an interesting point regarding how you feel when somebody records your song. Some artists are like, how I feel about it is how big the checks are when they arrive.

Well, that’s a factor, too. It’s not a simple thing. They were more or less friends of mine, so it was a bit awkward. They may have felt that I was less their friend after they heard what I thought of their version, but I wouldn’t be as bothered now, either. When I wrote that song, I’d probably just turned 21. As well as being too personal to sing for people, it was so personal that any sort of departure from my concept of how the song should sound was really hard to deal with. That’s not the case now. I have opinions about different people’s versions of my stuff, but I’ve heard a lot more things happen to my songs since then. Some better, some worse. I’d be more charitable now.

BGS: When Folk Alliance International gave you its inaugural People’s Voice Award — created to recognize “an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public career” — in 2017, you noted it was the first honor you received in the United States. It seems like acknowledgement in this country has been uneven for you.

Yeah. There’s an audience that allows me to tour. But I mean, we had significant radio play in the ‘80s (with) “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and other songs; as long as it was triple-A radio, my records got played. To the extent that there are some of those stations left, and sometimes on certain shows on public radio, I’ll show up. But it’s certainly not what it once was. I think that it’s partly being not from here. If I were in the pop world, that wouldn’t be an issue because it’s all global. But in the more esoteric area that I operate in, that’s made a difference. The profile in Canada is a lot higher.

But every now and then. … We're in the process of making a new album, which we recorded at (producer) Colin Linden’s studio in Nashville. I had shipped a bunch of gear there and went to the depot to pick it up. There’s a young woman doing the paperwork, and the supervisor comes by and he looks at the name on that paperwork and he looks at me and he goes, “You’re Bruce Cockburn?” So he turns to all these people in the office, and he’s going, “You gotta hear this guy! He’s one of the greatest musicians in the world!” It was a lovely feeling to hear somebody getting so enthusiastic about it. For me, in this country, that’s quite rare.

BGS: Does that ever get old?

Are you kidding? I mean, if people are importuning you because they want something, that gets old fast. But the fact that people are appreciating what they know of what I do? That’s a wonderful thing.

BGS: Here’s a quote from the story I wrote about your Folk Alliance award. “When he became known as a political writer, as opposed to previous tags of Christian writer or ‘the John Denver of Canada,’ [Cockburn] said, ‘I had not thought much about the effect of the political aspect of my songwriting; I’d always felt, and I still do, that the job is to tell the truth of the human experience as we live it. I’ve never been interested in protest for its own sake, or in ideological polemicizing. Just fucking tell it like you see it and feel it. If you don’t see it and feel it, write about something else. Songs need to come from the heart or they don’t count for much.'”

It seems like it should go without saying, but it apparently doesn’t.

BGS: As somebody who has written political songs, do you feel like those songs still have an impact, or can still have an impact?

Well, they do, in a limited way — assuming that it’s a good song to begin with; that it has something about it that people are going to be tweaked by. It really depends on the fertility of the field on which it falls. If there’s a body of public sentiment around an issue, and a song touches on that, and speaks to that, it will have an effect on people. It’ll help maybe reinforce their feelings and their willingness to get involved, or it may provide a kind of rallying point. But without that, it has no power. It’s really about the people more than the song. But there’s no question that a song like “We Shall Overcome” became an anthem that moved a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t have been so moved were they not invited to sing along with a song like that.

BGS: In this era, it’s harder to imagine something like that happening, and I think we’re worse off for it. But what’s your impression as the person on stage or in the studio, or in the room with the pen and paper?

I don’t know. You quoted me there and I kind of stand by that. I think it’s always worth doing. If you see yourself as an artist in the broadest sense, or maybe in the classical sense, let’s say, someone who practices an art as opposed to somebody who gets on TV — not that you can’t be both — but if you see yourself that way, it’s just the job. Sing about what you’re moved by, what you see around you and feel around you and feel coming at you.

For me, the elements of that change with passage of time. But I’m still pretty much the person that I started out being, at the core. I’ve always been playing to a minority audience because of that, and I think that’s what anybody who’s trying to do something real should expect. Once in a while, somebody doing something real cracks through, or there’s a window that opens in terms of the public and the media’s willingness to expose stuff that doesn’t conform to the norm. But those windows are usually not open for long.

BGS: Let’s talk about the new album. Anything you want to tell me about the songs you’re writing today?

There’s a lot of spiritual content — not explicitly Christian, although I consider myself a Christian. But I think the impulse to experience something on the spiritual level is universal, and more power to anybody that can go there. That’s partly a reflection of age, too; these are concerns that are larger than some other ones at this point in my life. But there are songs that have topical content; there’s a song called “To Keep the World We Know,” about global warming, that I’ve co-written with an Inuit artist, Susan Aglukark, a Juno Award-winning Canadian. But mostly, they’re personal, which is typical of me.

BGS: What about the three rereleases? Why those?

It was the 50th anniversary of True North. It was my 50th anniversary as a recording artist and my first album was the first album on True North Records. So they put out a commemorative thing. This is a better-sounding pressing. And then to go along with that, those two albums from the ‘90s are ones that I particularly like as an example of what I do. Those albums have never been on vinyl. That was the exciting part; there’s something really nice about vinyl. Not just the sound but the tactile thing, the big-format cover and all that.

There’s a couple of songs that are obscure; “Grinning Moon” would have fit on those ‘90s albums. I’m not really sure why it wasn’t included, but I think it’s a pretty good song. There’s another called “Come Down Healing” that includes verses that were recycled into other songs on Charity of Night. There was something about the song that didn’t work for me at the time, but when I listen to it now, it’s pretty good. I like the idea of these being out there and not being completely lost.

BGS: That gorgeous guitar intro on “Grinning Moon” really grabbed me. And on “Come Down Healing,” the imagery, the guitar work and the urgency — and I love the lyrics: “Sometimes darkness is your friend”; “On the seven cooling towers of the cancer apocalypse/on the 7 billion dreaming souls.” And to think that you’ve had that song around for this long and it still feels current and important.

This shit doesn’t go away.

BGS: That’s why we need people like you, to make sure we know.

Photo Credit: Daniel Keebler

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2023