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Local artists form the special group “131 Collective” and open pop-up gallery in Toronto’s chic Yorkville neighbourhood!

It was so exciting to walk through the doors of the brand new pop-up art gallery located at 131 Bloor St West…just a few doors East of Avenue Road, opposite the Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Burberry fancy-schmancy boutiques along what is affectionately referred to as Toronto’s mink mile. A group of talented fine artists came together when the opportunity to take over a vacant store space came their way and had only 4 days to hang their works and quickly promote themselves as the 131 Collective. The featured artists include Mark Gleberzon @mjggallery Morgan Jones @morganjonesart Todd Monk @toddmonkart Jeff Turner & Jane Pike @jandj_photo_art Vanessa Drew @vanessaracheldrew_art Adrienne Jackson @crushwrks and Huy Lam @_huylam_20210619_135210 (3) 20210619_134706 (2)Lots of large canvases hang in a space that offers great viewing perspectives and allows for several people to be inside at once, dutifully face-masked and socially distanced. The gallery provides hand sanitizer and follows all Covid safety protocols.

If you don’t have a lot of wall-space to collect and display large pieces of art, the group offers a number of smalls that would fit anyone’s loft, condo or cottage. See below…20210619_134908 (2)I spoke with Jane Pike who, along with her partner, Jeff Turner (of J&J Photographic Art) have been working hard to get the pop-up ready for this weekend’s launch and she said….

Check out these stunning floral pieces by Vanessa Drew…20210619_135305 (2)…and my long-time friend Mark Gleberzon is showcasing his beautiful chair series along with their real-life inspirations (below)20210619_135104 (2) 20210619_135249 (2)

So many exquisite paintings and wood/metal sculptures on show – you MUST visit in person to truly appreciate all the work created by Toronto’s leading local artists. 20210619_134743 (2) 20210619_134824 (2) 20210619_135004 (2) 20210619_135242 (3)20210619_141113 (2) 20210619_134807 (2) 20210619_135203 (2)20210619_135832 (2)20210619_135042 (2)Gallery hours: Monday thru Wednesdays 11am to 6pm, Thursdays thru Saturdays 11am to 8pm and Sundays 12noon to 5pm
Address: 131 Bloor St West (just west of the Colonnade)20210619_135149Just look for this stunning artwork in the window (below) and please follow each of the artists on IG (their indiv. handles were included in opening paragraph). Thank you for supporting Canadian artists.20210619_141922 (2)

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ACTOR, BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, HORSE-LOVER SHELLEY PETERSON SITS HIGH IN THE SADDLE AS SHE LAUNCHES HER 9TH NOVEL

Throughout the 80s and 90s, I’d become a fan of Canadian film and tv actress, SHELLEY PETERSON. She appeared in all the major hit tv shows like Night Heat, E.N.G., the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the comedy Dog House and another fave of mine, Twice in a Lifetime (2000). In 2007, Shelley appeared in the scary, spooky thriller Dead Silence alongside one of my favourite Australian actors, Ryan Kwanten, who starred with Aussie superstar Aaron Petersen in the original Mystery Road movie.  During all this time, Shelley was not only married to politician and future Ontario premier, David Peterson, she also raised a family and started writing books for Young Adults based on her love of horses. Oh, and by the way, she continued riding and owns a horse facility north of Toronto. Talk about an over-achiever and a great success story!

Her books are beautifully crafted novels targeting the tween/teen/young adult readership and focuses on horse-lovers and their adventures with their 4-legged best friends.  Her latest book is THE JAGGED CIRCLE which Shelley is currently promoting and hopefully will soon be able to do the usual meet-n-greet reading events with her fans as the province opens up after 15 months of Covid lockdown. I recently spoke with Shelley where we discovered our mutual love of horses, sharing our pony club stories from way-back…Cover final, Jagged Circle copy (1)Congratulations on the publication of your latest Y/A novel The Jagged Circle. You’ve written 9 books now involving horses so you must have been a pony club girl from way back…yes?  Yes, you’re right. I went to Pony Club in London, Ontario. We had wonderful teachers who were thorough and demanding. For example, we were timed taking our bridles apart, cleaning and oiling them, then putting them back together. We learned every part of a horse, how to look after them from top to bottom, including how to feed and groom them. The riding part was just as demanding, but more fun!  My favourite teacher was Dorinda Brickenden Greenway, who was an international show jumper. I admire her so much that I put her in ‘The Jagged Circle’ as a judge in the March Madness Steeplechase.

I gather you’ve always ridden throughout your adult life, too, and now own a fabulous horse facility, Fox Ridge – can you tell us about it and how it allows you to fulfil any childhood dreams?  I’ve been extremely lucky to have been around horses all my life. I had horses as a child in our backyard barn in London and then married a man whose father had a farm with Hereford cows. Pete loved horses and knew more about them than anybody else I’ve ever met. He’s a character in many of my books as Pete Pierson. He bought me my foundation mare, Sandpiper, and I’m now raising her great-grandchildren in Caledon where we live at Fox Ridge. I can think of nothing more fulfilling than guiding the journey from wobbly-legged new-born foal to a responsive, calm, willing adult horse.thumbnailI read a brief synopsis of one of your earlier books, Dancer, which was inspired by your then-teenage daughter. I must admit, the story could have been written about me, too. I was the class geek back home in Australia, and instead of 2-legged friends, I had a whole herd of 4-legged ones at the local stables. Have you found that your books offer comfort and validation to your predominantly tween and teenage female readers? And have you received “fan mail” reflecting that?  Absolutely. Readers’ emails and letters warm my heart and keep me writing. Each of my novels deals with a real issue (or several issues) that kids face, and each person will take what they need out of my books. If something that happens in one of my novels reflects a reader’s personal situation, I hope they’ll find strength and inspiration by how my characters cope with it. Otherwise, it’s just part of the story.sundancer (2)When you were acting on a regular basis, you appeared in 2 of my favourite Canadian tv series, E.N.G. and Night Heat. Do you miss those days or are they now just very fond memories?  I loved the world of theatre, television and film, and it was good to be a part of it. It’s very tough work, regardless of the glamourous perception of it, but very rewarding as well. The magic of theatre cannot be replicated elsewhere, and I revisited it in my novel, ‘Stagestruck’. One day I might go back to it as a little old lady, but for now I prefer allowing my imagination the freedom to create stories as opposed to acting them through other writers’ characters and dialogue.th (2)Being the wife of a politician must have been demanding – did you find horse-riding offered you relaxation and an outlet to de-stress?  Horses only relate to you when you set aside your stress. They actually turn away if you bring your troubles to the barn. As soon as you understand that, things go well. Through any turmoil in my life—being the wife of a politician, raising children, having a stressful career– horses have always demanded that I put my mental garbage in a sack and leave it metaphorically at the barn door.

Riding horse Prospero with grand-daughter Willow

Riding horse Prospero with grand-daughter Willow

The Jagged Circle is the second book in your Jockey Girl series and this time your heroine, Evangeline Gibb, is up to her stirrups in solving a murder while training her steeplechaser, Kazzam, for a big race. Can you give us any more clues as to how Evangeline does…with the helping the police solve the crime as well as the race?  Before the story begins, her grandmother Mary has been training Evie and Kazzam over jumps, and there’s already a very strong bond of trust between horse and rider which allows them to escalate their training over cross-country jumps with Piers Anders. And Evie’s love of her little sister, along with her curiosity and grit, won’t allow her to stop delving into the mysteries until they’re solved. The story takes place over a very short time, going from the boredom of being alone at Spring break to action overload as the drama unfolds. One reader told me he needed a nap when he finished reading my book!

Do you have social media where fans can follow you and learn more about your books?  I have a website, www.shelleypeterson.com  and a Facebook page “ShelleyPetersonBooks”. My publisher is Dundurn Press and I’m on their website as well. Any questions can be sent to me directly via my website, and I’ll answer them as soon as I get back from the barn.thumbnail (1)Thank you so much for sharing your life and loves, Shelley, and I know my readers will be checking out ALL your books which are available from Amazon as well as through your own website.  You can also visit the Dundurn Press website and social media: @dundurnpress
THE JAGGED CIRCLE by Shelley Peterson
Paperback ISBN: 9781459746947 • $14.99
eBook ISBN: 9781459746961 • $8.99willow riding Robyn

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CELEBRATING AUSTRALIAN FILM AT THE ANNUAL VISION SPLENDID OUTBACK FILM FESTIVAL

As a proud Aussie stuck here in Canada, it’s frustrating not being able to go home, hang out with my family and meet up with friends in the film industry over these past 15 months of Covid travel bans. But I always have my eye on what’s happening in the Down Under film and television industries and unashamedly admit to being obsessed with Indigenous superstar Aaron Pedersen (pictured below, left) whose performance as Det. Jay Swan in the film Goldstone is nothing short of Oscar-worthy! It just so happens Goldstone was filmed in the outback town of Winton, in the state of Queensland, as was his award-winning tv series, Mystery Road, based on his character Jay Swan, first introduced to us back in 2013 in the original film, Mystery Road, written and directed by Ivan Sen.126961990_10164102171740478_5870466753728279799_nWinton is also home to the newly opened Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a massive outdoor exhibition of the bones and fossils of extinct creatures that once roamed the country…imagine Jurassic Park without the scary man-eating beasts! It’s also the birthplace of the world’s leading int’l airline, QANTAS and where the song Waltzing Matilda was first performed some 100 years ago.  But it’s the unique cultural experience of watching movies under the stars – and boy those southern hemisphere starry skies are fantastic – that will be drawing me back home next year  to join film lovers, filmmakers and film media to the VISION SPLENDID OUTBACK FILM FESTIVAL.Royal Theatre Winton Image - Photographer Alan MathiesonThe opening feature film this year (June 25th) is the much-anticipated documentary about Australia’s legendary leading Indigenous actor, David Gulpilil (below – photo by Miles Rowland), who is now battling cancer yet has kept working as much as his health allows. Other films include June Again, starring award-winning actress of screen, tv and stage Noni Hazelhurst, and Rams starring another favourite actor of mine (and great wine maker, too) Sam Neill. The full festival programme, tickets and related events available online at: www.visionsplendidfilmfest.com 

I had the opportunity to chat online with Festival Director, Mark Melrose, who told me all about the Festival’s history, the stars who have attended and all the exciting Festival related activities…and of course, how to get there.

Congratulations on the upcoming Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival – please tell me a little about the genesis or inspiration for the festival, who was Butch Lenton, how long it’s been running and why Winton for a film festival location considering, in colloquial terms, it’s back o’ Burke, beyond the black stump and up Woop-Woop (i.e. the middle of nowhere!)  Vision Splendid was the brainchild of Clive Kitchen, a local businessman. He started discussions in 2013 with the then Mayor of Winton, Butch Lenton, following the success of the film, Mystery Road. In June 2014, the inaugural Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival took place, and it has grown ever since.Winton Royal Open Air Theatre 1 - Photographer Maree AzzopardiLenton was the major driving force behind Winton being what it is today. He had the vision to push for films to be made here on location and the drive to make it happen – sadly he is no longer with us to see how the Festival has grown – it’s a testament to his hard work in creating a film-friendly town that will ultimately create a new industry for Outback Queensland. There are several reasons Winton is the home of the Festival, but mainly it’s due to the fact several feature films and TV series have been shot there in recent times, including The Proposition, Mystery Road, Goldstone and Total Control. Its unique landscapes and vast open spaces cannot be replicated in a studio.

How has COVID-19 impacted the festival and what precautions are you taking to ensure audience safety this year?  Of course, COVID-19 has meant more precautions and risk mitigation elements have come into the festival. The 2020 Festival was postponed, thankfully not cancelled, until September as we found a window to push on with the event. Thankfully we did, as the event resulted in the best of the Festival’s short history with a 36% increase in crowds from 2019. The COVID safety plan included reduced capacities in the theatre and Town Hall, cleaning of the venues between each screening, all tickets being pre-purchased and not available at the door, contact tracing via ticketing and QR codes, and social distancing markers on the ground for queues. These elements will be in place again this year.

Since the Festival’s inception, which attending filmmakers or celebrities have caused major excitement with media and audiences alike?  There have been several filmmakers and celebrities that have caused a ‘stir’ in the media and audiences, including Ivan Sen (director/writer) and actor Aaron Pederson for Goldstone, Michael Caton and Mark Coles Smith for Last Cab to Darwin, Gyton Grantly for Beneath Hill 60, Margaret Pomeranz for David Stratton: A Cinematic Life, Roy Billing as the Festival Patron, Steve Le Marquand for Locusts, and Nicholas Hope for Book Week.last cabDr. Greg Dolgopolov is the Festival Curator and Creative Director and he kindly answered a question for me: How do you choose which films to showcase and what forgotten cinematic treasures to celebrate?   As the Creative Director, I am tasked with selecting and curating around 50 films each year –documentaries, shorts and feature films. These are mainly new films but every year we feature some classics – either silent films that are brought back to life with live musical accompaniment or films celebrating a significant anniversary. The guiding principle for the festival is that the films have to be Australian and sometimes that could include a film that has an Australian involvement, such as a film directed by an Australian but produced elsewhere or a foreign film that stars an Australian actor. Majority of the films are made in Australia and the Festival features a selection of the best available films made recently. The other guiding principle is that the films need to engage a mainstream audience. That means that we are looking for great crowd-pleasing films. I tend to program a few ‘testing’ or art house films as one thing that I have learnt over more than 15 years of curating is that you can never predict what audiences will like and that there are clearly different audiences for different films.

I try to curate in a representative manner capturing different communities and different ideas. The Festival tries to be democratic but not in some crazy quota system but just the best films possible across genres, themes and ideas and I do tend to lean towards outback stories featuring the Australian landscape as part of the drama largely because of where the Festival is located. The origins of the Festival were in presenting Mystery Road in 2013 in the town where most of the filming took place, so the Festival is very connected to the films that have been shot in the Winton area and regional Queensland more broadly. The Festival is intensely committed to drawing new productions to the region and in developing new and emerging filmmakers. Every year about eight new short films are made during the festival by the next generation of filmmakers, and we are confident that when they start helming major productions and need a rugged outback location or a remote rural community, they will come straight to Winton.EZGihnLWkAI4mx6Curating Australian ‘cinematic treasures’ is an art form in itself – sometimes it’s a films’ significant anniversary that justifies its inclusion in the program. Sometimes it because we are featuring a digital remastering of a classic or because one of the Festival guests is bringing their new film and we want to highlight their body of work in the program, so audiences can get a taste for what they have done in the past. Getting a sense that the selection was right by judging the mood in the room is incredibly satisfying as a curator, as well as bringing people together to discuss what they have seen in more robust ways than they would at a standard cinema experience.  That is the great thing about Winton – there is that time and opportunity to have a yarn with others about your experiences and we have a strong group of regulars who are not afraid to voice their opinions and that is just great for the dynamics of having a little festival in the middle of nowhere, but that continuously draws such huge crowds every year.

Back to Mark….The festival also actively involves film students from Griffith University Film School (GUFS) and the University of NSW (UNSW). How do they participate and why do you think it’s important for them to get hands-on experience at the festival level?  Having students involved is immensely important for a number of reasons: they request to travel to Winton for a two-week Outback Filmmaking Bootcamp where they create a short film in two weeks in an extremely remote region. This allows the students to experience the highs and lows of filmmaking – what it means to make a film without all the creature comforts available in the big cities; the highs of creating something seen by an audience in a short period of time; and getting used to working in groups of people across disciplines.  From an economic point-of-view for Winton, there are 60+ future filmmakers in town who now know about the locations and what Winton has to offer and potentially will make a feature film there in the future. The town opens its doors to the students, filming in houses, workplaces and the main streets. They are immersed with Indigenous Culture working closely with the Koa Aboriginal Corporation on the importance of the land and historical significance. The students are also volunteers for the festival and get some experience as to what it takes to put a festival together….and the need of volunteers to make it all happen.film studentsThe town of Winton has been the location of some of the most exciting films and TV shows, including one of my favourite films, Goldstone (directed by Ivan Sen and starring the great Aaron Pedersen) – what does Winton offer incoming productions apart from long days of great natural light and friendly people?  There are exciting things in the pipeline for Winton that, should they fall into place, will offer more incentives to shoot in this unique location. It already has the spectacular outback vistas, the town setting, the friendly people, but in 6 months time, we hope it will have two or three more major developments to bring in more filmmakers and cement the industry here in the Hollywood of the Outback.Winton Sign - Photographer Peter LikHow difficult is it to reach Winton from, say, Sydney or Brisbane? And what sort of guest accommodations can be found for overseas festival visitors?  It’s not that difficult to reach Winton, it just takes time. There is only one flight a day from Brisbane into the town of Longreach and from there Winton is a 2 hour drive (177km). There is a bus that departs Brisbane daily and a train that departs Brisbane for Longreach twice a week.  There are several hotels and motels including the North Gregory Hotel (where Waltzing Matilda was performed in public for the very first time over 100 years ago), and the Outback Motel to name two. There are also four caravan parks if that is how you are traveling.via airhotelGood luck for this year’s Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival – is there anything else you’d like to share with international film fans?   Thank you. We are excited to be able to operate during these bizarre times, however, we do miss our international friends. We can’t wait to open the borders and welcome you back  for (hopefully) next year’s Festival.  If you’re a filmmaker looking for somewhere different to make a film, check out Winton. We don’t call it the Hollywood of the Outback for nothing!Winton Royal Open Air Theatre 2 - Photographer Maree AzzopardiThanks to photographers Alan Mathieson and Maree Azzopardi for the amazing shots of previous Festivals. I’m sending my best wishes to Mark, Greg and all the wonderful volunteers and folks of Winton. I can’t wait until I head Down Under next year. There are so many activities for all the family including a daily kids club, “breakfast with the stars” each morning, local Indigenous storytellers and there are even silent movies being shown, too. Let’s not forget there’s great food and drinks as well as shopping – you gotta take home some great Aussie outback souvenirs!  If you can’t make it to Winton this year, I’ll see you there in June of 2022!Winton

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FUNNY LADY CARLA COLLINS OFFERS INFECTIOUS LAFFS WITH NEW COMEDY ALBUM “PANDEPIC!”

With three comedy albums currently available on iTunes – Mobius Stripper, The Best of the Worst of Carla Collins and Recovering Nudist, funny lady extraordinaire CARLA COLLINS has just unleashed…er, I meant released her latest album PandEPIC! available now on your favourite streaming platform. Here’s a teaser of the tracks: www.carlacollins.hearnow.comIMG_4218Recorded at the legendary El Mocambo nightclub in Toronto in between Covid lockdowns, this hilarious escape from reality delivered by our favorite emotional support cougar will have you laughing your ass off !

Carla’s reality show Carlawood is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, and she’ll soon be filming her first US comedy special produced by the legendary David Steinberg and Proven Entertainment once the industry opens back up post-pandemic. She recently launched her new podcast/web series Carla Collins Rox the Elmo where comedy, music and spirituality meet for the perfect three-way. Carla has also teamed up with bestie, entrepreneur and longtime vegan Michael Stuart Webb for a new podcast to complement their upcoming book called The Douchless Vegan: a Giddy Guide to Living a Delicious Life without Being a Dick.d veganCarla is the creator of Chuckle and Chill: Comedic Meditation, a revolutionary new concept where after delivering thirty minutes of her stand-up comedy, she leads the audience through an authentic, original, relaxing guided meditation. An instant hit, her comedic meditation has already been featured on NBC’s California Live, CP24 News, SiriusXM Radio, CBC’s Metro Morning and in The Eden Magazine and LA’s Splash Magazine.20CCEA42-71CB-46F0-B8B5-7B9781544E96Carla is the bestselling author of Angels, Vampires and Douche Bags, a comedic motivational tome which I read in one sitting – it’s so damned funny! – and is currently writing a new self-help coffee book entitled Stairs: A 30 Day Step by Step Guide to being Fab AF. Her hilarious comedy can be heard around the world on various Sirius XM stations, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TIDAL and Pandora. You can also hear her melodic voice on several commercials and cartoons. So you see…Carla is the reigning queen of all comedy media! Below, Carla shares the stage with Canadian comedy legend, Kenny Robinson.with KennyHaving known her since the early 90s (when she was a mere child!), I’ve watched Carla rise from her first comedy appearances in Toronto, through her stints as a TV reporter on the Oscar red carpet in Hollywood, to producer/host of her own network tv & webtv shows, to best-selling author, meditation guide, to headlining star in leading comedy clubs in Canada and the US. She’s so multi-talented, she out-Oprahs Oprah!!IMG_4199As we’re crossing fingers, toes, eyes for Covid restrictions to ease, why not enjoy a damn good laugh with Carla as she guides us through life, love and lust with a little squirt (yes, Carla, I told you I’d find a way to incorporate your fave word) of lascivious and licentious laughter via her brand new comedy album PandEPIC! now available via Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, Apple, Pandora, Deezer…etc.

If you wanna keep up with news of future  shows, books and live appearances, visit her website www.carlacollins.com and if you’d like to explore her wellness thru laughter program, visit: www.comedicmeditation.com   You go, girl!ECC32362-64EA-4F9F-BA47-EA1611C7EC47

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CANADIAN COUNTRY MUSIC STAR GRAHAM TRUDE RELEASES LATEST SINGLE AS TRIBUTE TO THOSE SUFFERING WITH PTSD…INCLUDING HIMSELF!

A fellow PR/artist management friend of mine, Michael Stuart Webb, recently signed an exciting new client and when I heard about said client, I knew I had to share his story with my readers/followers. Thanks for setting this up for me, Michael….it’s always great to support friends in da biz!

GRAHAM TRUDE is an award-winning Canadian singer/songwriter and he’s proud to release his brand new single titled PTSD today, Tuesday May 25th.  The song focuses on his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) which is a mental disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event such as warfare (which was the case for Graham), traffic collisions, sexual assault, child abuse, or other threats on a person’s life. Watch the video – see link at end of this article.Cover-PTSD-01Before embarking on a music career, Graham was a tank crewman in the Canadian military (pictured below), completing multiple tours in Afghanistan, an experience from which he mines a great deal of his deeply honest and raw songwriting. Upon his return home to Canada and discharge from military service, he continued his work on the frontlines as a police officer, during which time Graham was nominated for two lifesaving award and a commendation for a Chief’s Award.meta_eyJzcmNCdWNrZXQiOiJjb250ZW50LnNpdGV6b29nbGUuY29tIn0= (2)His heroic service overseas and his law enforcement career had a profound impact on his life as a whole, and Graham was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which led to addictive and self-destructive behaviours. Determined to conquer his demons, Graham sought and found refuge in his music which was instrumental in his recovery. His songwriting references these life experiences, creating powerful lyrics which he combines with edgy guitar riffs and infectious hooks. He is a master storyteller who uses a pop, rock and country fusion beats.

Graham has collaborated several times with renowned multi-Juno award-winning country music producer, Jason Barry, and has also written and performed the theme song for the television show The Real Canadian Joes, and won an Ontario songwriting competition – all this earned him the respect of his peers in Nashville where Trude has spent time perfecting his craft. To celebrate the release of his new single, I spoke with Graham and asked him to share his story and his song with us….2018-07-27 21.46 (2)Congratulations on your new single PTSD – I’m sure it will resonate with so many ex-military, police, firefighters and front-line medical staff. As a PTSD sufferer yourself, did you find the writing process cathartic and healing?  Thank you very much I greatly appreciate it and thank you very much for this wonderful interview. Usually in every song I write there is always some healing for me and it’s a way for me to express my emotions and get it out on paper. I find in my experience with trauma and addiction when I am feeling down or not myself, I love to write music and it helps bring me to a better light.

Were you an army brat or was your military career of your own making? And if so, what inspired you to sign-up?  My military career was certainly of my own making. My father was a chief of police in Collingwood for many years and my brother joined the military shortly after I joined in 2007. There was something about the calling of being a soldier that I always wanted to do and I always wanted to help people which is why I got into policing after as well. It is a personal goal of mine within my life to help people who are going through tough times and feel they are alone. image3I recently worked with an LA-based filmmaker client who produced, wrote and directed a movie (Battle Scars) that dealt with PTSD in the post-Vietnam War era which illustrated how inadequate support was for returning warriors nearly 50 years ago. Have things changed? Did you seek and receive therapy to help you deal with the trauma and your resulting addictions?  I feel that things have changed drastically within the last 50 years, especially in relation to mental health, but we are still not where we should be yet. I know of several homeless veterans, first responders and members of the general public who are dealing with intense mental health issues. During my time of intense depression and anxiety, I can honestly say that without the help of my friends and family I would have been in serious trouble. We need to think of that when we think about the individuals in our lives and how we can help them. Sometimes just being there for somebody is more than enough – it may not seem like it but it definitely is. I am still heavily involved with therapy and my addiction recovery.

Obviously writing and recording this song is going to open conversations within families that had, perhaps, been suppressed – do you have any advice to those living with PTSD sufferers on how to communicate without judgement?  It’s very hard for me to tell other people how to open up with their emotion. Honestly, I found it best to explain it to my family in more of a struggling way. I tried to tell them about it before but it just wasn’t something that they could really understand because they weren’t going through it as well. The best thing in the world that ever happened to me was rehabilitation where I was involved in a process called “rigorous honesty”. This type of honesty is something you need to dig very deep in your life with, it is something that you have to be prepared to part with and to accept. This is not related to bad things that you’ve done in your past but more the dark things that you would take to your grave. When I had the ability to put all these “secrets” out into the universe and ask for forgiveness it was unbelievable how it was received. None of us is perfect but I truly believe life is about growth and learning. image6Have you always been a musician? What’s your musical background – guitar lessons as a kid?  I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a musician but I have certainly been a songwriter ever since I can remember. I learned how to play the basics of guitar when I was very young and taught myself simple songs. From those simple songs I would write lyrics and melody about anything that I was going through. Mind you, most of the songs were probably about girls that didn’t want to date me…. haa haa.

Performing as one half of the Singing Soldiers band (with your brother-in-arms Chris Earl) has no doubt raised your profile with the public and the music industry – how has this transformed or refocused you career goals?  The Singing Soldiers was an incredible experience and it was amazing to be doing stuff with Chris as he is a fantastic musician. Everything that we planned and wanted to do with The Singing Soldiers was a success. I just felt that it was time for me to get back to my roots and continue my solo career.2018-07-27 21.45 (1)I notice you’re also a big fan of ink – you have an amazing collection of tattoos across your body and have even opened up your own tattoo parlour, Rustuk Ink. Is there one tattoo that holds the most meaning for you? And at the parlour, what is the strangest request for a tattoo you’ve ever received?  Yes, I certainly have a lot of tattoos; I was a military guy so I got tattoos all over the world. My wife and I fell in love with tattooing so we decided to open a shop in Wasaga Beach, Ontario. It was very successful and we absolutely loved the shop so much but we had an opportunity to sell it to a larger franchise, and so we took the opportunity. Luckily, we knew music was picking back up and my wife is pregnant right now with our first child which I am extremely excited about.  Needless to say, I would like to place my time and efforts into my family. The most influential tattoo on my body would be my left hand with my army logo and poppies. This is dedicated to all my brothers and sisters who never made it home from Afghanistan along with many of my friends who did make it home but are still suffering. I would certainly say the funniest tattoo we had come in was an individual walk in who wanted a Pringle tattooed on his shoulder. When I asked him why he wanted that tattooed on his shoulder he said because his boss keeps telling him he has a chip on his shoulder! But really, we’ve had a ton of people with extremely interesting stuff and I love it all!

Graham, good luck with the single, PTSD, and as Ontario opens up for live events (hopefully this summer) do you have any plans for concerts or live appearances?  Thank you very much for everything! Live performances will certainly be picking back up once the world opens up again. We have a wicked show ready to roll and are looking forward to playing some great venues! Luckily, being with the Michael Stuart Webb Media Group has offered me some exceptional opportunities to share my music. Thank you all I look forward to meeting you and hopefully seeing you at a show.
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With his new release, this soulful, gentle giant who possesses that rare combination of extreme vulnerability and playful bravado, delivers his message loud and clear: whatever personal war you are currently fighting, you are not going into battle alone! 

Here’s a first look at Graham’s music video…and I encourage my readers to download the track via your favourite streaming platform. Thank you for supporting Canadian musicians…and thank you for your service, Graham Trude.

Follow Graham on IG: @grahamtrudemusic or visit his website to learn more about this talented singer/songwriter: https://grahamtrude.com/

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CANADIAN COMEDY ICON GLEN FOSTER TO RELEASE COMEDY ALBUM “UNCHECKED” MAY 25TH!

I’ve known GLEN FOSTER for nearly four decades, representing him during the 80s as part of the Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Klub agency Funny Business, then working with him again several years ago when he launched a series of independent comedy showcases featuring the best of the best of Canadian comedy talent.  Known as That Canadian Guy, Glen has become a mainstay on the Canadian comedy circuit – he didn’t just work the road, he’s one of the comics who built it! His comedy is clever and intelligent, combining reflections on his own personal experiences with razor sharp commentary on current events and popular culture.World_on_shoulders_0253 (2)He has appeared many times at the world-renowned Just For Laughs festival, had his own TV specials on the Comedy Network, can be heard frequently on CBC Radio’s “The Debaters” and he’s a club and corporate event favourite across the country.  That Canadian Guy is a reference to Glen’s first network comedy special during which he joked about the fact people could call him “that Canadian guy” if they couldn’t remember his name.  Sure enough, after the show aired, Glen received a flood of e-mails from viewers who said, “I couldn’t remember your name but I remembered “that Canadian guy.” This became a part of his act….

Glen contacted me recently with great news…he’s releasing a brand new comedy CD on a real-life record label, so I asked him a few questions about how the album, UnChecked, came to be during the pandemic lockdown as well as how the comedy industry has dealt with the lack of live audiences….

After being locked down and locked out of live performing for 14 months, you’re releasing your new comedy album “UnChecked” May 25th – is producing this album how you spent your time during Covid quarantine?  I’m a procrastinating perfectionist which is a terrible combination.  It means that a lot of things never get done.  And if by some miracle, they do get done, they’re never right.  Oddly, I was wildly productive at the beginning of the pandemic; I created a “Covid Comedy” website to showcase comedians who were doing online projects during lockdown.  I co-wrote a Covid parody song and I was one of the first Canadian comedians to attempt a Zoom show.  In fact, just hours before the lockdown, I borrowed a van and raced to Home Depot to get a piece of fake brick wall so I could build a virtual stage in my basement which I called “The Covid Club”.  But did I work on the album?  No, well, not right away.  The bulk of this album was recorded in January 2020 which is very lucky, because a month later, we were going lock down for three weeks to “flatten the curve”.  After it was done, I decided to set the recordings aside for a while so that I could come back and listen with “fresh ears”.  For me, “a little while” means “forget about altogether”, so it wasn’t until we were in full blown pandemic that I actually started listening.  And then I listened repeatedly, over and over.  I made detailed notes as I prepared a paper edit.  Being a bit of a purist, I was hoping to record the entire album from a single show.  (Personally, I think it’s cheating to record six shows and take the best bits of each), however, it turned out that the best recording was the Saturday early show, which is a shorter show because they have to bring in a second crowd. This meant that I couldn’t do a full headline set.  So, full disclosure, I had to edit in material from other shows. 18739257_612638128931218_5476678764500736413_o (2)As the pandemic dragged on, so did the editing process as I sent notes and audio files back and forth with the producer, who was a friend with a newborn who was also time-challenged in his own way.  I vacillated between completely ignoring the album and sudden urgency for completion.  First it was to release the album in time to qualify for the Junos. When that deadline passed, I thought Canada Day might be a good time to release.  Of course, I couldn’t get my shit together in time, so by late summer ‘20, I had decided to hold the release till Christmas.  Then I got a call that changed everything.  A comedian friend I have known for many years, put me in touch with 800Pound Gorilla Records, which is the largest producer of comedy albums in the world!  They wanted to hear my album but they couldn’t get to it until after Christmas so I made the decision to postpone yet again!  Finally, almost a full year after I had recorded it, I got word that they wanted to sign me to a distribution deal.  I am very excited because UnChecked will the first album that I have ever released on an actual record label.  It’s only taken forty years to get some US audience and media attention.Head_hands_out_0093 (2)How did you choose the material included on the album?  Well, first of all, I had to eliminate material that I had already done on previous albums, which I managed to do – mostly.  There were a couple of bits from earlier albums that I HAD to include because they were working well with some of the newer bits I had been working out, so they had become part of my regular set.  I would say though that there are only a couple of exact repeats.  Most of them are bits that were in an early development stage when I first recorded them.  Now, of course they’re much more polished, or I’ve spun them differently or changed the delivery.  Besides, I wouldn’t be the first comedian to get away with doing an “old” bit on a new album.  Unchecked has been growing as a concept in my mind (and in my act) for a few years now.  Partially it’s a reference to my scatterbrain existence. I have a To Do list with NO checkmarks, which is not entirely true, I suppose, because I did manage to get this album out…finally.   However, it also refers to the fact that as a “cis gendered white male” I don’t check any boxes.  If you look closely at the cover, you will see that it is made up of actual check boxes, some of which refer to things that are still on my “to do” list like “Screenplay” and “Taxes” (the deadline is looming as we speak), while others are boxes that I can’t check like “Female” or “LGBTQ”.  I’ve thrown in some more whimsical ones as well, like “Rich”, “Sexy”, “Astronaut” plus a few more contentious ones like “woke”, “safe”, “politically correct”. – things I am most definitely NOT.  So in that sense, the third meaning of UnChecked is not holding back, no holds barred, which is an approach I certainly take on this album.  I seem to have a penchant for ambiguity; I love it when things have two meanings, so UnChecked having three gives me a kind of nerdy thrill.

You pride yourself in working “clean”, but with all the frustrations of isolating with the family, were you tempted to go from That Canadian Guy to That Pissed Off & Angry Canadian GuyI used to be more of a stickler on the clean thing, but now I like to play both sides of the fence.  I can do a completely clean show if that is what’s required, but shows where you can cut loose are a lot more fun.  I don’t mind dropping the odd F bomb, but I would never swear for the sake of swearing.  If you’re going to do it, it should help the joke. There is only ONE F bomb on the entire new album, but there is no way to do the joke without it.  I’ve tried, but F*ck is the only word that really works.  I could have cut the joke, but I really wanted to include it because, apart from getting a great laugh, it makes an important point about the state of comedy and what should be considered “funny”.  In fact, there are a few observations about the state of comedy, particularly with regards to political correctness, cancel culture and what you can and can’t say.  Or more specifically what I, as a cis gendered white male, can’t say.  Or certain taboo topics that comedians are not allowed to joke about.  The only rule I have in comedy is that there should be no rules.  In fact, when someone tells me that I can’t do a joke about such and such, I see it as a challenge to find a way to do it.  For me, the jokes that create the most tension are the ones that bring the biggest laughs and the best of those are the ones that leave you wondering “Was that offensive?”  I would say that about 70% of this album is pretty close to “Disney clean”, and another 20% could be considered questionable, but that last 10% is going to make some people’s heads explode!!  So I look forward to the release of UnChecked and my subsequent cancellation…LOLliveWith the possibility of live performances starting up by end of summer, are you already planning shows in Toronto and across the country in support of the album?  If I do any touring, I don’t think it will be in Canada, not for a while at least.  We are way behind on vaccinations, so I don’t see things opening up again until fall.  Even then, I think older crowds, which I appeal most to, are going to be pretty skittish about going into crowded spaces for some time. Or maybe, if they ever perfect Zoom, we’ll be doing more virtual shows.  I’ve done a few of them during the pandemic, and some of them were awful.  Even the good ones don’t compare to LIVE though.  Of course, if the album is a big hit, who knows?  This is the first time that my comedy will be heard all over the world and that may bring some new and interesting opportunities.

Several years ago, you presented a series of live stand-up shows (The Canadian Aces) featuring comedy greats like the late Mike MacDonald, Evan Carter, Ron Vaudry, Ronnie Edwards and Simon Rakoff, as well as your then Hump Dump Live radio show co-host Lawrence Morgenstern. The rooms were packed with fans who appreciated the sharp and timely material. Could such a series of shows happen again, either with the Aces or the young’ens once we’re allowed to go back in to the clubs?  Again, it remains to be seen. And again, the primary market for that sort of thing would be an older crowd who, as I say, might be a little skittish about crowded spaces for a while.  The good news is more and more comics have been in this game for twenty years or longer, although due to all the lockdowns and on again off again closures of live venues, 2020/2021 may have an asterisk in the margin of the record books.

In That Canadian Guy’s opinion, how has the comedy scene changed over the past 4 decades since you started out?  Comedy reflects reality, so all the issues that have been part of that reality like racial tension, the #metoo movement, gender issues have all had an influence on comedy. The biggest thing I’ve noticed would be the rise of political correctness, which isn’t unique to comedy of course, though comedy seems to be the focal point of a lot of anger lately. Certainly a number of comedians have been under the threat of being “cancelled” for mere jokes.  This is another one of the themes of UnCheckedGlen Foster_Unchecked coverThere is this notion that comedy, like everything else needs to be more diverse and inclusive.  Along with that comes the idea that old, white, male comedians such as myself should step aside, give up our privilege, etc.  As a result, I find that a lot of comedy is more preachy than it used to be.  It’s more about making your point, or standing up for this group or that group, not punching down, etc.  There is a lot “clapter” these days which is a term for an audience half laughing, but more clapping and agreeing with whatever point a comedian might be making: I think it’s all a bit of nonsense.  To me, the only thing comedy has to be is funny.  My rule is be funny first, then you can preach or do whatever the hell else you like, but be funny first.

Where can we purchase/download your UnChecked album and how much will it cost to enjoy and own great comedy?  On May 25th, it will be available on all the usual music download platforms like Apple, Amazon etc.  Or you could just visit my website www.thatcanadianguy.com because I will have all the links listed there.

Good luck with the launch, Glen…I hope everyone buys the album and the next blog interview I do with you will be for next year’s Juno awards!!  Make sure you visit Glen’s new website, follow him on Fcbk at  www.facebook.com/thatcanadianguy or visit the record label    www.800poundgorillarecords.com

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COOL CALIFORNIA BAND BRINGS GARAGE/INDIE ROCK VIBE TO THIS YEAR’S “VIRTUAL” CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK

Last week, I read an interesting Fcbk post from Boyce & Hart (award-winning pop/rock songwriters) via The Monkees’ Fcbk account about a young indie band out of California covering one of the 60’s iconic hit-writers’ songs, (I’m not your) Stepping Stone which was originally recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders but it was The Monkees who created magic with the tune. As many of you know, I’m a huge Monkees fan – I used to argue with my BFF at high school who was better, The Monkees or the Rolling Stones (LOL) – then in the 80’s I got to work press for the eastern Canadian leg of their original reunion tour (sans Mike Nesmith). Below, hanging with Davy Jones backstage pre-show in Toronto.Davy-Jones-80s-tour-197x300Needless to say, I was intrigued by this groovy young band, the VELVET STARLINGS, and clicked thru to their cover version of “Stepping Stone”…WOW! Big juicy sound, great licks, fab vocals. Bravo, boys! I was hooked and said so by leaving a comment on the Boyce & Hart page who seemed to like my response. So when the songwriters of a classic pop song endorse your cover version, you must be pretty damn good. VELVET STARLINGS MAIN BAND 1The band was founded by young lead singer, guitarist & organ player Christian Gisborne, brothers Foster Polling (drums) and Hudson Polling (bass), and new addition Ashton Minnich on second guitar.  I wanted to make sure I shared news of my latest discovery with my music-lovin’ friends and industry colleagues so I reached out to the band who is participating in this year’s virtual version of Canadian Music Week and asked them a few questions….

Congratulations, lads, on your participation in this year’s CMW, even though it’s online only. How has Covid quarantining and travel bans affected your new album launch and reaching new audiences?   We’ve actually finished 2 albums during Covid and we’re finally putting out our debut album “Technicolour Shakedown” this summer (to be distributed by AWAL/The Orchard in US.)! While Covid did put a damper on touring, it gave us the time we needed to really focus in on the music. We’ve started doing a lot more livestreams and such so that’s been pretty fun getting to connect with people mid-song, playing requested songs and what not.

Has the band participated in any online concerts or socially distanced events over the past year, and if so, how were you received by fans?  Yes! We did a livestream benefitting Alexandria House, raising money for displaced women and children. It was super fun as we had to learn how to do multi-camera editing which ended up being the reason for our new extremely DIY music videos coming out this summer…haa haa!  We’ve played a couple of socially-distanced local shows and they’ve been pretty fun, I think people are ready for live stuff to come back – just gotta get on that vaccine!VELVET STARLINGS PRESS MAIN BAND 2 808How long have each of you been playing/performing? And do any of you have formal music training?  Drummer Foster says:  I started playing when I was about 12, and my brother, our bass player, Hudson started playing when he was about 10. We both took music classes at our middle school and high school, but we really started getting serious about music when we started playing in high school bands. That’s around the time we figured out that we really just liked playing rock n roll as opposed to the jazz and classical music we’d play in school.  Lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Christian (pictured below) says:  I guess with music I took the same approach as Brian Wilson, McCartney and Lennon. I learned to play by ear for most part, found all of the chords in my Beatles songbook and just applied them to my own songwriting. I had heard that George Martin made sure Lennon & McCartney didn’t learn to read and write as he thought it would confine them creatively. I wanted to play organs and keyboards after hearing Alan Price (The Animals) & Ray Manzerek (The Doors) – those guys are huge influences.10_VelvetStarlings_SkylerBarberio_53A3819What drew you together as a band? Was it style, genre or simply the love of music creation?  Christian:  I met brothers Foster and Hudson at a Cage the Elephant show and we’ve been friends ever since. Ashton used to play in their band and now we’re all rocking out together. I think growing up in a time when everyone at school worships Drake and Post Malone definitely contributed to the ‘want’ to find other people who dig rock’n’roll and organic instruments. We all love the same bands and it all just somehow worked out.

Being an oldie, I am truly impressed with your musical influences from the 60’s – legendary artists such as The Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Iron Maiden…even Humble Pie! Did you each discover these groups via your parents (or grandparents)? And what appealed most to you about the rock/R&B grooves? Foster:  We just love rock’n’roll. The energy of playing music in a room or outdoors and getting a reaction out of the audience is really what we love to see each time we play, and we work hard to try and squeeze it out of an audience at each concert. Of course, this has a lot to do with what music we were introduced to when we were younger. Growing up during the garage rock revival was huge for us, listening to all these killer bands like The White Stripes or Jet really kickstarted our love of the energy that rock n roll gives off. From that point, you start to really get into it and research who influenced who, and then you just go down the rabbit hole from there.4_VelvetStarlings_SkylerBarberio_53A2967I discovered Velvet Starlings thanks to a Boyce & Hart/Monkees Facebook shout-out …you covered their “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. Why this song…what did you hear in it that prompted you to cover it with your own style?  Stepping Stone is such a bad-ass moment in their discography. We were gonna try and do Valleri but the solo just rips too hard and I couldn’t figure it out..haa haa. That’s so sick that you worked with them for their reunion tour! Seeing The Monkees live would be the dream – I saw Mickey Dolenz play Pleasant Valley Sunday and Last Train to Clarksville at a mini local festival in Laurel Canyon and just that blew my mind.

Thanks, guys, any messages for your new fans in Canada and around the world?  We’re big fans of Canadian rock’n’roll. Arcade Fire, DFA1979, Mac Demarco. The New Pornographers was actually the last show I went to right before Covid. We’re hoping to make it up to Canada some day…hopefully in 2022.  Toronto & Montreal are on our list of places to rock. We really appreciate Steven Dagenais & Robert Singerman for including us on this year’s CMW line up. The funny thing is we were supposed to be in Toronto in 2020 for CMW & Indie Week, but due to Covid they were postponed along with our official SXSW conference slot and our UK tour. We look forward to getting back out there again playing to a live audience.

Good luck with CMW, fellas – check out news of the Velvet Starlings and other great artists at www.cmw.net (online May 18-21) and I encourage you to visit VS’s own website for more music videos & band news as well as social media links www.velvetstarlings.com

Big thanks to Roger Gisborne, Owner/CEO Sound x 3 Records and Gemma Downes, Label Mgr/A&R/Artist Development at Sound x 3 Music UK for their kind assistance with writing this blog. Band photos courtesy: Skyler Barberio

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“WILD AT HEART” TAKES READERS ON AN EXCITING RIDE WITH 3 AUSTRALIAN BRUMBIES & 1 BRAVE HORSEWOMAN

Having all this Covid lockdown time to explore online stories from home (Australia), I was thrilled when I came across a Facebook post announcing the launch of an exciting new book, Wild at Heart, by French-born Aliénor le Gouvello, who undertook an intense and challenging solo journey stretching an extraordinary 5,330kms from Healesville in Victoria (the s.e. corner of the country) up to Cooktown in the tropical far north of Queensland; she had three horses that were once wild brumbies (the Aussie equivalent of mustangs) as her only  companions.151677445_3743509249096164_5844396051903961977_nThroughout her grueling trek across some of Australia’s most spectacular terrain, Aliénor battled both isolation and the harsh elements, but she forged a close bond with her horses Roxanne, River & Cooper, as well as experiencing unexpected life-changing discoveries. Surrounded by wildlife that included deadly spiders, snakes and crocodiles, she also suffered tropical illnesses and injuries but pushed on to complete the ride and join an exclusive club of those few who have triumphed before her. Her sturdy bush horses all live with her now in peaceful  retirement on her cattle station in outback Queensland.59788288_2167293760051062_5017374520239980544_nAs a child, Aliénor dreamed of travelling and having adventures around the world. When she decided to take on the Bicentennial National Trail – Australia’s longest non-motorized, self-reliant trek – she had already completed a horseback trek in Mongolia as well as a sidecar motorbike expedition across Asia and Europe from Siberia to Paris. At the time of making the decision to mount up and trek the breadth of Australia, she was working in an aboriginal community near Uluru (the giant red monolith in the heart of the country) in the Australian Central Desert. She had recently fallen in love with Australia’s wild brumbies and hatched a plan for her most ambitious solo expedition to date; the adventure would also draw attention to the plight of Australia’s wild horses. The horses were originally brought in with the settlers, helping build the country and even taken with the troops to fight wars abroad; they are part of the country’s heritage and culture. Australia now has the largest population of wild horses in the world. They have adapted to all sorts of environments and can be found all across Australia. Their plight has been controversial in the media when the government has resorted to aerial culling as a mean to manage their population, a cruel method that leaves horses to bleed to death for days. Alienor’s trek was dedicated to bring a light on these very resilient horses and promote better management of them.  These tough equines were perfectly showcased in The Man From Snowy River movie from back in the 80s – if you get a chance, do watch it and witness some of the most exciting horse chases ever recorded on film.29572387_1613619402085170_1085232860379005776_nAs Aliénor said in a recent ABC television news interview about her book, “It was the longest and most challenging trek I’ve done so far but also the most rewarding and amazing experience I have had with horses,” she said. “I pushed my limits further than I could have imagined, you discover strengths you didn’t even know you have.”  Wild at Heart tells of her physical and mental challenges of being a lone traveler and having to be so self-sufficient along with caring for her horses along the deserted track but the book contains some spectacular photographs, courtesy of world-renowned adventure photographer Cat Vinton.

Since her book launched last month, she’s been busy attending bookstore meet-n-greets (yes, Australia has mostly come out of Covid lockdown and gatherings are permitted) and giving numerous media interviews; in fact, Aliénor has become something of a “folk hero” and a champion of the brumbies.165438475_3828394140607674_6649526619257448360_n 169076026_3845201365593618_8839215924954813680_nInternational sales of her book are available from the Book Depository website (yes, they ship around the world):  https://www.bookdepository.com/Wild-at-Heart-Alienor-le-Gouvello-Cat-Vinton/9781922419200
Watch for my article/review in the June issue of THE RIDER newspaper (www.therider.com) and you can follow Wild at Heart on on social media at:  www.facebook.com/wild.at.heart.australia

WILD AT HEART
By Aliénor le Gouvello, Photographs by Cat Vinton
Format: Paperback | 288 pages
Publication date: 30 March, 2021
Published by Affirm Press, Mulgrave, VIC, Australia
ISBN10 1922419206
ISBN13 978192241920022310472_1447770742003371_766571780966721878_n

Chillin' in Niagara on the Lake

ACTOR, ARTIST & POET PHILIP CAIRNS RELEASES BOOK OF POEMS ABOUT HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS….AND BED BUGS!!

Over the past five or six years, I’ve had the opportunity to promote plays, art shows or poetry readings by my friend and client PHILIP CAIRNS. He’s currently celebrating the release of his latest book HOLLYWOOD POEMS AND OTHER DIVERSIONS, now available from Amazon.ca. The first section of the book offers stream-of-consciousness narrative poems about Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, Lee Grant, Anita Ekberg, Gloria Grahame and Canada’s own Jackie Burroughs. The author weaves biographical tidbits about these women into each poem, and includes snippets about his own life growing up as a gender-questioning, queer boy in Scarborough, then living as a struggling artist in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. The second half, “Bedbugs and Cockroaches” features satirical, comical stories and poems in which these itchy-scratchy critters come to life. They are like truth-telling cartoon characters, forcing the protagonist in each piece to face reality. The first half is mostly serious in tone and confessional while the second half will make you laugh out loud!coverPhilip has already garnered glowing kudos and thumbs-up from fellow writers and literary media, and I recently spoke with him and asked him to share his thoughts on completing the book during this past year of Covid.

What was the inspiration for your new book of poetry & prose, Hollywood Poems and Other Diversions?  It was David Bateman, my editor, who suggested the concept. He’s very familiar with my work through my public readings. We’ve also co-written short plays that were performed at various festivals. This book is 12 years’ worth of poems, written on the theme of the Golden Age of Hollywood, though not by any means the only poems I wrote during that period. I’ve been a movie freak since I was 9 years old. I was sleep-deprived all through my adolescence because I stayed up half the night watching classic films on the late show. As a teenager, I once saw 4 movies in one day with my best friend. I always identified with the actresses. I loved to get lost in a different world in the dark. I would often sit through a movie more than once. I once saw a double bill of a Robert Altman film and a Jane Fonda movie and I sat through both of them twice…8 hours of movies. I was in my late teens and seeing Bonnie and Clyde was a turning point for me; I came out of the theatre wanting to have sex with Warren Beatty and wanting to be Faye Dunaway. That was scary for a 14 year old. Many of the poems in my book are loving biographies of movie stars I love like Anita Ekberg, Gloria Grahame, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. And Canadian icons like Mary Pickford and someone who was supportive of my work, Jackie Burroughs. But interwoven in many of the narratives, there are incidents from my life growing up as a queer, gender-questioning person in Scarborough. The second section of the book is pure fun, the Bedbugs and Cockroaches chapter. These critters come to life and do tasks like raiding a jewellery box and hiding pills, and they comment on the action with razor sharp accuracy. They are satirical and fun pieces and mostly fictional. They usually get laughs – I used to perform these works live a fair amount. I love to hear an audience laugh. Bringing laughter into people’s lives is manna from heaven. This is such a challenging planet to live on. Economically, it’s like being a hamster on a wheel.IMG_4161Have you spent time in Hollywood and visited any of the homes of those legends about which you write?  I’ve never been to L.A. It seems kind of scary with all those back streets full of pup tents close to movie star mansions. I’ve been outside of Brad and Angelina’s former place in the French Quarter and I did go to the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago where I starred in a short film that played at the Short Film Corner. I went to lots of cocktail parties and met filmmakers from all over the world. It was surreal. I went to one queer party in a tent on the beach but that said, No Celebrities Allowed although it was hosted by a queer celebrity. When I left the party, there were fireworks over the water. We’d been to a screening of our movie that day as well. I think it was the happiest day of my life. I felt like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief without her jewels and fine gowns.

As a young man, were you a big movie fan and if so, who was your favourite star and what was your favourite film?  Probably from 8 or 9 years old, I’ve loved movies. I was precocious. I was reading newspaper reviews of foreign films when I was 9 or 10. I wanted to be on TV from the age of 4 or 5. My favourites as a child were Hayley Mills and Annette Funicello. As a teenager, it was Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. In high school, I once asked my mother if she would write me a note for the office saying I had a dentist appointment. I told her I wanted to see a Marilyn Monroe movie on TV. You know what her response was? “Okay. You’ve been working hard at school and I know how much you like her so I’ll do it.” Wasn’t that cool? She and I didn’t always get along that well but that’s another story. My favourite film is The Wizard of Oz. Number two is 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Cabaret with Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, is on my Top Ten list of fave movies. Judy Garland is my fave singer and her record, Judy at Carnegie Hall, is my favourite album. My second favourite album would be Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Notice a theme here? And of course, All About Eve is on my Top Ten list, as well. I think I have about 25 films on my top ten list. I love many of Robert Altman’s films. Watching James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden on the late show when I was 16 was a turning point. I sobbed in my bedroom the whole next day. I love Brando, Montgomery Clift, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Lee Grant, Bette Davis. The list goes on. I work as a background performer in film and TV – I feel lucky that I get to be on set with famous actors and watch them work and be well paid to do it. My family isn’t impressed because being a background performer is the lowliest position on a film set. It was worse back in the 1970s when I started out. I’ve been at this a long time, plugging away in the underground trying to be heard. I don’t go to a lot of auditions these days. I would love a really juicy part in a film. The character would be someone who questions their gender. I lived the life of a gay male for decades, and now I don’t identify as male or female. For me, gender is totally irrelevant. What I have between my legs serves as a function and gives pleasure but does not define who I am. What difference does it make what gender I am? At the same time, I wish to be considered for male roles in film, TV and theatre.  Below, Philip performing poetry readings around Toronto.1799986_10151999725607129_1737786910_o readingsIn the second part of the book, you’ve written about bedbugs – those stories are so funny and biting (pun intended!) – what motivated you to explore those themes?  I suppose it was losing my bed to bedbugs. They kept spraying and spraying but they wouldn’t go away so I threw out my mattress and box spring. It was the only one I had ever bought as an adult. I have been sleeping on the floor every since. They are really horrid little creatures. I don’t know what made me give them voices. Weed, maybe? I can’t for the life of me recall. I love writing those pieces because the bedbugs and cockroaches can say things that people normally are too polite to say…like a little devil sitting on your shoulder. It’s almost like those pieces write themselves. I am just the channel or conduit. I think they work because audiences laugh and even request them.

Philip, you’re quite the renaissance man – a fine artist, a writer, poet and an actor for both film and theatre…what do you find more challenging or fulfilling?  I think I do all these things because I don’t like to be bored and I bore easily. What I found hardest was making a living. I always had to have another part time job to get by, and I would have to juggle things. Sometimes the Universe is kind. I was rehearsing a play and I got 2 TV commercials which shot at night so it meant not much sleep but I could still attend rehearsals. And then finding time to paint, write, draw. I’m pretty driven but I also need down time to recharge. Often, it’s marketing time that goes out the window. I’d rather get out the drawing book and coloured pencils than start submitting myself for film roles or my work to publications. I think I find painting the most relaxing even though I feel it is not my strongest talent or skill. Reading my poetry in public or sitting in the audience watching one of my plays is exhilarating and fulfilling when you really connect with an audience. You can feel it in the air. Total silence. No snoring. Ha!! Hearing a big, big belly laugh from an audience is indescribably wonderful.  I suffer from stage fright these days. I have a terror of forgetting my lines. But if I’m reading one of my poems, I’m fine. I have it right in front of me. I’ve been studying with the most wonderful acting teacher, Alan C. Peterson, which has taught me to tune out everything on a film set or on stage, and just focus on what is happening in a scene. That is all that is happening.  Below, Philip running lines as Julius Caesar and as a glammed up blonde for a recent indie filmRoadrunner Commercial Durango Miller’s Abortion is FunHas the isolation and quarantining throughout this past year of Covid affected your writing or ability to earn a living?   My income from film and TV has dropped considerably but then my expenses have dropped, too. I used to spend a fortune going out with friends and colleagues. Now, I make all my meals at home. But it has afforded me the time to assemble the book and edit and rewrite it which is much harder than the initial writing of a poem or story.  It’s a great feeling when you’re in the zone and it’s flowing out of you onto the page or screen. That usually happens with the first draft. Since the first lockdown, I’ve written a lot and done a lot of drawing and painting. I don’t like to watch more than one movie or TV show per day, if that. It’s been a time of deep, deep reflection. What is awful is that all the dumb, stupid things I’ve done in my life have come bubbling up to haunt me, perhaps to teach me a lesson or something. It has helped me to grow but has been quite painful to behold.head shot (2)

Below is a selection of Philip’s paintings that have been exhibited in Toronto galleries…Crystals on my Kitchen Table Terra_Multi-Gender Being From Another Solar SystemAbout the author: Philip Cairns writes poetry, performance-pieces, plays and short stories. His work has been published in Labour of Love, Resistance Poetry 2, Excalibur Monthly, Xtra! and The Body Politic. In Toronto, Philip has performed his own writing at “Plasticine Poetry” at The Central, A Space, The Art Bar, the Black Swan, the Gladstone Hotel, Glad Day Bookshop & the Theatre Centre. He was one of the organizers, and a frequent host for The Beautiful and the Damned Poetry Cabaret at The Central. He was MC for “Sexy Words” at Lula Lounge and “Bent Expressions” and “Smash Words” at Press Club. He performed in “Hard and Able #2” at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, on the TV series “William Shatner’s Weird or What” and in “The Judy Monologues” at the Toronto Fringe Festival and in a province-wide tour (winning the Best Actor award at the London One Act Festival). Philip has exhibited his acrylic paintings, watercolours and coloured pencil drawings in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Toronto and Edmonton, most recently at Urban Gallery, the Parliament Street Library and at Arcadia Art Gallery in Toronto.

Philip has a number of interviews coming up in May, including CIUT-FM radio’s Howl! show as well as on the Art Bar online poetry show May 11. Follow Philip on Facebook for all the news… Facebook.com/philip.cairns.16

HOLLYWOOD POEMS AND OTHER DIVERSIONS
By Philip Cairns
Purple Poet Press (April, 2021)
$17.89 – Soft-cover, 186 pages
ISBN-13: 979-8701703214
Available from Amazon.ca

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CANADIAN POET, ARTIST & ARTS JOURNALIST DAVID BATEMAN LAUNCHES HIS FIRST NOVEL “DR. SAD”

I’m pleased to introduce you to Canadian freelance arts journalist, artist and performance poet DAVID BATEMAN, who currently resides in Toronto, Canada. David has published several books of poetry and contributes literary reviews in several leading national and local newspapers & magazines. He has also taught creative writing and literature at post-secondary institutions across Canada. He has recently published his debut novel DR. SAD, and although Covid quarantining and stay-at-home directives have forced him to cancel live readings and book signings at bookstores and coffee houses around Toronto, David is utilizing the internet and social media to reach his fans and attract new readers (and book sales!).Dr-Sad-2x3-RGBStory synopsis: Discover the difference between living a life and simply enduring on in this cross-campus, cross-country comedy of manners, queerness, poetry and HIV.

Bateman has crafted a brilliant novel featuring a main character, Stephen, who is a middle-aged teacher who is also gay. He’s content, except when he isn’t. He’s a poet. He has a new teaching job in Kamloops, British Columbia……Stephen has HIV.  DR. SAD is the story of one man’s journey across Canada and through his diagnosis. It is the story of the distance between queer urban spaces and a small campus in small-town BC.  It’s the story of discovering the self within the world and the world within the self, of discovering the difference between living a life and simply enduring one. This is a tragicomic cross-campus, cross-country romp that believes in the power of romance.  Weaving together narratives of past and present, of Toronto’s Gay Village and the streets of Kamloops, this lively and dynamic semi-autobiographical novel dives deeply into gender and queerness, class and privilege, and the realities of aging. It is a dynamic and engaging hybrid, stylistically daring while remaining intimate and human.  Leaping through time and mixing the playfully serious with the seriously playful, DR SAD blends poetry with prose and finds the humour in despair in one complete, glittering tragedy of triumph.20210317_153614 (2)I recently spoke with David, socially distanced, of course, and he shared his thoughts on the writing process and of life under Covid:

Congratulations on your first novel, David. What inspired you to share your small town/big city experiences in the semi-autobiographical DR. SAD?  The diagnosis that begins the novel motivated me to write the openings chapters. It was a very curious and startling way of receiving the news, and I thought it would work well as an introduction to a kind of tragicomic, semi-fictional narrative around survival and endurance under challenging circumstances. The diagnosis was revealed in the first chapter, in the fist draft of the manuscript. After a variety of editing suggestions from various editors, I decided that moving this to a slightly later chapter would work better.

Your career has included arts journalism, book editor, poet and performance artist – now you add novelist to your CV; compared with your other pursuits, how difficult was it to complete the book?  It was much more difficult with a longer project to find the time to develop it. With arts journalism, poetry, editing, and performance, over the years there have always been deadlines in those areas, so that made it easier for me to focus on an end result. But with a novel there was no sense of a deadline so it just kept being put off. But I had always wanted to write a novel, and started a few but never got very far. I was writing poetry more at the time, in my thirties and forties, and had a publisher in Calgary who published four collections of mine over a ten-year period, and that was my main focus. A longer narrative project always seemed out of reach, never enough time to devote to a novel length project. Soon after I returned to Toronto, after living and teaching in Alberta and B.C. for close to ten years, I applied for a year long Fellowship and was delighted and surprised when I got it, so basically, the funding and the lengthy time period, one year, motivated me to sit down almost every day and work on a first draft of the novel. The application for the fellowship included the original first chapter for the manuscript.

Covid has obviously put a stop to live readings and bookstore meet-n-greets with your fans – what’s been the most difficult or inconvenient part of the lockdown/stay home situation for you as a writer?  Actually, I have found that the pandemic has afforded me more time to write, and develop various projects. I have been very fortunate to be in a relatively safe and comfortable environment over the past year and have had a couple of small grants that have supported my creative work. It is disappointing, of course, not to be able to take part in live readings and events, but I have found zoom and various online platforms to be very satisfying and inspiring to be able to continue to take part in events with a variety of other artists across the country, and beyond. But the hardest part of this I think has been not being able to go out and exchange ideas and hear other writers present their work in community settings. That was a very inspiring and motivating part of my life as an artist, and a lot of that has disappeared during the lockdown/stay at home period. And yet, on the other hand, online platforms have extended some of my connections as an artist to people from parts of the world I might never have had the opportunity to connect with through readings, festivals, interviews etc.

So many people are utilizing the pandemic stay-home time writing their own books of short stories, poems or novels – what advice can you share with them?  I try to have a routine, dividing my time between painting and writing. Deadlines give me a focus, and even if there isn’t a set deadline from a gallery or a press or an arts publication, I try to write down rough deadlines, and creative ideas, and follow them as much as possible – with a list of projects itemized by priority. Of course I often stray from those deadlines, but just having them there, written down and always present in a way, can keep me interested and motivated in continuing the creative process within each separate area – poetry, painting, editing, arts journalism, and longer prose and performance works. And searching online about various grant possibilities is also helpful. Even if I don’t get them, which I often don’t, it can be a great source of motivation to re-consider various projects in the context of a grant application. This helps me to develop the project in formal ways I might not consider outside of a grant application framework – when I am sitting around just thinking or jotting down lists around ideas for a number of projects. Applications often ask artists to describe various ideas in specific itemized ways. I find this very helpful as I move forward with any given creative idea.

Any other comments you’d like to share?  I try to think of everything I do as part of the creative process. Sometimes it can feel a little silly, and enormously privileged to be able to just binge on Netflix, or any of the big movie and television channels available. But especially now, within this pandemic, watching a variety of narrative structures, flash across the screen, whether they be contained within a kind of documentary style or pseudo reality tv show about a painter, or something as mainstream as Ozark or The Queen’s Gambit, or a series like Flowers or Fleabag, well, it all acts as inspiration for ideas and images that contribute to the ideas and images racing through my head. This has always been the case, as we live in an image world, but now, confined more to our homes and workspaces, film and television, and some reading, can be a welcome and nurturing distraction.20210317_155215 (2)David has a number of interviews in May, including the popular HOWL! radio show on CIUT-FM 89.5 with host Valentino Assenza on Tues. May 4th (10pm to 11pm) and another scheduled for taping in mid-May with Mark Tara of Rainbow Country radio (for broadcast in July). Follow David on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/david.h.bateman

DR. SAD, Soft-cover, 310 pages
Price: $28.99 Cdn. (hardcover) or $15.94 (Kindle e-book)
University of Calgary Press (Dec.2020)
ISBN: 9781773 851037
Available from: Amazon.ca, Type Books & Glad Day bookstores in Toronto & Waterstones Books (UK)