Award-winning author Grant Lawrence, whose resume includes an extensive musical career and various hosting gigs for CBC, brings his mix of music, humour and storytelling to Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on May 4.
“I often describe it as a West Coast version of Stuart McLean’s touring version of the Vinyl Cafe. I have been compared to him,” Lawrence said of the late CBC radio host, in an interview with Black Press Media.
“But instead of his stories about Dave and Morley and the record shop, my stories are about hermits and people who build flying machines and fly them over the mountains and oceans and cougar ladies and stuff like that.”
Lawrence, for the record, does not mind such comparisons at all.
“Stuart McLean was a friend of mine. He came to our wedding, (he was) a friend of my wife’s and when I was getting into writing, I turned to him for advice. He had me over to his home in Kensington Market in Toronto and he served me crumpets with blueberries – the only time I have ever eaten crumpets in my entire life.”
Ultimately, Lawrence will present stories and songs that allow audiences to see themselves, relate to the experience and relax.
A trio of accomplished musicians, each of them members of leading Canadian pop groups, will help Lawrence along the way. Kathryn Calder, previously of Immaculate Machine, now of the New Pornographers, Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash and Ashleigh Ball of Hey Ocean! will join him on stage.
“Because I worked at CBC Music for many years and because I was in my own band The Smugglers for many years, you meet people. One of the greatest things about being a touring musician is that you connect with a community of other touring musicians and you find common ground and you make these very long-lasting friendships. The show is called Grant Lawrence and Friends and these people really are my friends.”
The poster also promises special guests, raising the question of whether Lawrence’s wife Jill Barber, herself an accomplished musician, will appear on stage.
“My wife does periodically show up and play, so maybe,” he said. Inevitably, something or someone unexpected shows up, he added.
During a show on Hornby Island, the eight-year-old son of the promoter came onto stage. “And he was really adept at doing Beatles’ songs,” Lawrence said. “And I swear, the kid sat at the grand piano and within 20 seconds, everybody was clapping and singing along. The kid stole the show.”
That same show Lawrence asked Judith Lawrence, the longtime puppeteer on children’s show Mr. Dressup, to bring up the iconic Casey and Finnigan for a back-and-forth bit. “Those type of things have been known to happen. I can’t guarantee that level of Canadian celebrity in Sidney, but it is still a stellar show from top to bottom.”
Lawrence’s tour happens against the backdrop of the release of his book Return to Solitude, the sequel to Adventures in Solitude, the latter title derived from a New Pornographers song.
Lawrence’s father had bought property in Desolation Sound on the Sunshine Coast for a summer cabin in the 1970s and both books explore the colourful characters from diverse backgrounds who found their way to the rugged area.
“Misfits always have the best stories,” he writes at one stage, quoting a crusty oyster farmer.
This raises the question of whether Lawrence considers himself a misfit.
“I’m a misfit and I always had been a misfit. When I was a kid, I was a total nerd and I was bullied quite a bit. I couldn’t really fit in. I really didn’t fit in in my own family. My dad was very athletic and very handsome and very ambitious and my mom was very pretty. I just felt like, ‘what happened to me?’ Who smacked me around with the ugly stick?’ So I had gimpy knees, very hinged knee braces when I was a kid and big thick glasses.”
Lawrence responded to this outsider status by finding a niche in music, putting on all-ages rock’n’roll shows with his friend, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, whose unique personality and interview style has seen him become a YouTube sensation.
“I have always been attracted to misfits or people that walk on the edges of society or even right outside of it.” What interests him are those who buck the human nature of gathering in spaces with others, instead choosing to live in remote places, he added. “They fill both my books (about Desolation Sound).”
Ever since the First Peoples, people have recognized the richness of the area, he said. While Captain George Vancouver may have dismissed the area by giving Desolation Sound its name, he also forever added poetry to the place.
“That name has forever captured the imagination of people looking to escape,” Lawrence said. “So that name has drawn a certain breed of people from around the world.”
For ticket and other information about the May 4 show, visit marywinspear.ca.
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