The first time I met Warren Major, I had just come off stage after the first half of my first-ever Canadian gig, at the Black Sheep in Wakefield, Quebec.
Andrea had wangled a show for me at the famous roadhouse. I was already nervous, but the nerves got worse when she invited a host of her relatives and friends. Then her mother invited a host of her friends. I was a wreck by the time I struck the first note.
But by interval time I had settled – the Black Sheep is a wonderful venue, with a great sound system and a superb atmosphere. As always, once I found my range and my sound, I was happy. I was a man at work. The material was going over quite well and I was beginning to think maybe I had given Andrea and her clan something to be proud of. I mean, the only thing worse than enduring the performance of your relative’s talentless partners is... being the one who issued the invitations and is now seeing the look of dread on their faces.
I was feeling pretty smug, and headed for the bar, when this athletic-looking guy came up beside me and asked: ‘Have you played “Electricity” yet?’
I say ‘athletic-looking’. He was white-haired and lean, wearing shorts and a sports shirt and a pair of crocs. He was also, bizarrely, soaked from head to toe - and actually dripping onto the floor. I looked at him for a second.
‘Er... no.’ I said, eventually.
‘Have you done “Cousins at Funerals”?’
‘Yes,’ I said. But I was so delighted that someone had actually checked me out on MySpace prior to the gig that I offered to play it again for him - since he had arrived slightly late, and apparently via the river.
Thus began a friendship with Warren and his wife Marilyn, who have become two very dear friends in the Gatineau/Wakefield area. Over the last four years they have come along to all the shows, told their friends to come along, attempted to get other showcase opportunities for me in the area, and turned loads of people onto my music. Along the way we have finished off many a bottle of wine and shared many a musical crush – we’re constantly loaning CDs and swapping paperback recommendations.
Marilyn and Warren run their own business and they own a beautiful farmhouse home (see above) – built in the 19th centuryand packed with fabulous art and furniture. It has that glorious ‘winding’ feel, where rooms open off other rooms and have back staircases and windows that look into other rooms.
This year, they threw their doors and property open, and hosted a house concert on their front lawn, featuring yours truly and Wakefield-based author and songwriter Phil Jenkins. ‘Warrenstock’ was a definite cut above what songwriters have come to think of as ‘house concerts’. These events usually entail a dozen to twenty people in a large living room. The visitors have been asked to make a contribution to help pay the musician, and everyone brings a bottle of wine and hopefully buys an album or two before departing.
This was different - Warren and Marilyn staged the concert on the porch of their home, with guests (almost forty of them) bringing their chairs and some refreshments and making themselves comfortable on the lawn as the sun started to set. Marilyn lit candles all around the porch and provided some snacks and we were all set.
Phil is a very talented man – he’s the author of a wonderful book called An Acre of Time that deals with the history one of Ottawa’s most famous districts. He’s also a journalist, freelancing with a number of publications including the Ottawa Citizen, and he’s a terrific songwriter. He has a country song called ‘I’m Drinking About It’ that has ‘HIT’ written all over it, and which makes me jealous every time he sings it. He also has a pastiche of The Boxer that is a delight, and some jazzy love songs that are a treat.
The evening was one of the highlights of my trip, and some of those present (Andrea and her sister in law Anna) got to watch proceedings from a hammock in the garden. As night fell, we played out into the dark, illuminated by the glimmer of candles, with the sound of the crickets as a background. At one point, Phil finished one his songs exactly to coincide with the far-off sound of a train, And as Paul Simon once said, ‘everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance’.
Warren had asked if we could play a Dylan song each. My selection was ‘Born in Time’ from the recent Tell Tale Signs collection. Out it went, into the vastness of the Quebec night, littered with stars and the transient glow of passing cars on the distant road. A magical, magical evening – an experience that will live with me forever. And one that will change my definition of ‘house concert’ from now on.