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LEONARD COHEN KOANS – 1 night only with Australia’s ALI HUGHES, presented by JANE SIBERRY

I’m thrilled to announce that Australian vocalist/recording artist ALI HUGHES is bringing her inspiring celebration of the spirit, music and poetry of one of the greatest songwriters of the modern age to Toronto for a 1-night only performance:  LEONARD COHEN KOANS, presented by Jane Siberry, takes the stage at Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St West, Toronto, on Sunday June 2nd (8:30pm)

This passionate, sensuous vocalist “more than embodies the energy that one expects from an evening celebrating Cohen”, her startling range and remarkable ability to hold the stage meeting this exceptionally well-crafted curation of Cohen’s poetry, prose and song – Avalanche, Chelsea Hotel #2, and the beloved Suzanne – to offer a stirring meditation on the legend and his legacy.AliHughes-Triad1128181(42)__.jpgPart-concert and part-homage, these exciting and original interpretations explore Cohen’s music through jazz, gospel and rock genres, cracking wide open the incredible musicality in his work. Intertwined with excerpts of poetry and prose, and delivered through the lens of his Zen Buddhist spirituality LEONARD COHEN KOANS weaves a new pathway into your experience of this glorious Poet of the Holy Sinners. Accompanied by masterful Toronto pianist ADREAN FARRUGIA, this electrifying, vigorous 90min narrative concert is Cohen like you’ve never heard before. Inspiring, passionate, intimate and sincere, Leonard Cohen Koans gives you another chance to savour the creative spirit with which he so exquisitely courted the world.

I recently spoke with Ali back home in Sydney, Australia, about the show and her career highlights as she prepares her 4-track EP featuring songs from the show (available for purchase on show night)…..

What is your musical background or training – were you a singer/performer during childhood or teens? I don’t have formal music training, as such – I learnt to sing via my parents’ record collection!  The Andrews Sisters taught me how to harmonize, Tina Turner taught me rhythm, Bette Midler taught me emotional range, Annie Lennox taught me vibrato control and Aretha taught me to sing out!!arethaI went to drama school in my mid-20s and in my graduating year met my creative collaborator, Daryl Wallis – he is an incredible musician and artistic mind – when we started playing shows together, I was always surrounded by highly skilled, older musicians. That environment really allowed my intuitive musicality to develop.
You’ve performed in Canada before – when/where might we have seen you?  You might have seen me singing backing vocals on tour with Jane Siberry sometime over the last few years; or at Ori Dragan’s lovely 120Diner with my collaborator Daryl Wallis and Toronto locals John Alcorn, Bucky Berger and Terry Wilkins. Daryl and I also played an awesome house concert in The Annexe (hoping to do it again!!) and were super lucky to play in Northern Ontario on the magical Manitoulin Island.ALI_2710So why Leonard Cohen? What was the inspiration for this amazing project?  Actually, this show was built for a project-based unit of university study.  A theatre director friend of mine had suggested I do an interpretation of Suzanne. I sat on it for a long time… waiting for the way in.  In January 2010, I did a creative intensive as part of some further theatre training at university. It was a super intense, incredibly challenging course, held in a remote area, led by a small older woman who had the energy of a dragon and the presence of a Zen master. Every day pushed the students closer to breaking through our self imposed artistic limitations, and every evening ended in an exhilarated exhaustion and deep sleep. One night when I was super exhausted and almost asleep, I started hearing beautiful chords in my mind and realized they were the way into an arrangement of Suzanne! I made notes, called Daryl straight away and we started working on the arrangement as soon as I returned to Sydney. We played the arrangement at a show the following week and I knew something else was coming.LeonardI had the opportunity to do another unit of study with that same teacher. I made the proposal to create a show using only the words and works of one artist (none of my own personal patter, so to speak) and started devouring Cohen’s work. Researching his Zen Buddhist spiritual practice offered an entirely new way for us to conceptualize celebrating his work. The result is a unique experience of Cohen’s work which is accessible to Cohen devotees and newcomers, practitioners and non-practitioners of meditation, and people who just want to hear some really great music.
You’ve sung back-up with some pretty amazing artists (k.d. lang, Suzanne Vega, Rufus Wainwright) so why step into the spotlight now? What was the push that propelled you to take charge up front?  Being up front isn’t really new to me, I’ve always sung lead on projects at the same time as doing backing vocals on others. I love doing both. I love blending with another voice as a backing vocalist. When you’re really connecting energetically and vocally with someone, you feel you’re moving together like a murmuration of starlings.  And leading a room is an altogether different feeling – but has a similar sensibility to it in that, for me, its about opening oneself in order for the music resonate with the audience in all the ways it needs to.
A previous musical collaborator and Canadian icon, Jane Siberry, is presenting your concert – how cool is that? Did she approach you or visa versa?  Ah, my gosh, it’s the coolest. Jane is extraordinary – she is a close friend and such a huge supporter of this show; she saw an opportunity for us to work together in Toronto and she made it happen.Jane-SiberryOf all Cohen’s songs, are there one or two that you can relate to on an emotional level or that inspire you intellectually?  One or two?? Ha! Ok, I’ll try to keep it at one or two. Suzanne – I have a deep resonance with that song. My favourite line, ‘you know that she’s half crazy – that’s why you want to be there’. and, of course, Dance Me to the End of Love – there’s nothing I can say.
What can Toronto audiences expect to see/hear at the Leonard Cohen Koans show?  Audiences can expect to see a tall Australian woman singing some beautifully and dynamically arranged interpretations of Cohen favourites, including Chelsea Hotel #2, Sisters of Mercy, Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat, and some less well known tunes like The Guests and The Butcher, interwoven with a little spoken word and some story telling.  Jane Siberry will be performing as our very special guest opening act, and will also be moderating an artist Q&A session with me at the end of the show so make sure you stay for that.on stageAnything you’d like to share with those Leonard Cohen fans considering buying a ticket?  I am so happy you’re thinking of joining us at Hugh’s Room, and I really hope you decide to come along. We are excited to be just moments from releasing a 4 track EP, titled ‘TEA & ORANGES’. It’s our first recording of tunes from the show – you can find information about the EP, Leonard Cohen Koans, and also about Daryl and myself at www.bigsbabs.com or by connecting with us via our Facebook band page, Ali & the Thieves.

Inspiring, passionate, intimate and sincere, LEONARD COHEN KOANS gives you another chance to savour the creative spirit with which he so exquisitely courted the world.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
Heart-stopping” (www.theatermania.com)
Spine-tingling” (SX Magazine)
“… Hands down the best I’ve ever heard!” (nytheater.com).
“…  Sensual, enigmatic… intense warmth, startling range.”  -Veronica Hanlon, SX Magazine
“… Exceptionally well-crafted…3 1/2 stars out of 4 “ – Michael Giltz, Huffington Post NYC

Get your tickets now for Sunday June 2nd from www.HughsRoomLive.com  $40 Advance/$45 at doorposter

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JOIN CIUT 89.5FM RADIO SPRING MEMBERSHIP CAMPAIGN WITH THE HOSTS OF “HOWL!”

Over the past three decades, I’ve had the privilege of working with the hosts of CIUT radio’s “Howl!” spoken word/music show (Tuesdays, live at 10-11pm) who have interviewed numerous clients of mine, supported events I’ve promoted and I’ve even appeared on-air myself chatting about life as an arts publicist.  Howl! is one of the few live media platforms available to local Toronto artists to promote their creations and performances, and as CIUT 89.5FM is holding it’s annual Spring membership drive May 8-14, I would like to encourage all my readers/followers to kindly support this amazing grassroots radio station.CIUT-30th-HelveticaNeueCondensed-WhiteOnBlackNancy Bullis and Valentino Assenza share hosting duties, alternating on-air duties each week. They have welcomed poets, authors, musicians, actors, theatre folk, songwriters – all sorts of entertainers who add to our city’s cultural landscape. Please join them Tues. May 9th between 10pm and 11pm and call-in or log on to the CIUT website to donate (details at end of this story)

Above - Valentino, Nancy & studio engineer Robert

Above L to R – Valentino, Nancy & studio engineer Robert

“It is an honour, a privilege and a sheer joy to prepare for and interview writers and artists in Canada of all genres to showcase their work on HOWL,” Nancy told me. “The radio is a great place for them to introduce new work and CIUT 89.5FM provides for this opportunity. A conduit is available here for, as you say, Glenda, “the grassroots promotions & media opps for emerging artists via HOWL!” Exactly! I think that society would be a dismal place without music, poetry, spoken word and the other arts to help us understand who we are and for artists of all kinds to express themselves. I’m a big believer in Kurt Vonnegut’s “canary in the coal mine theory of the arts.” It truly is my pleasure to be part of HOWL, CIUT 89.5FM since December 1999.” 

And Valentino added….  “For me, life is about words, and so I make HOWL! about words too.  Whether it’s a series of them that make up a novel or a cool poem, sound lyrics in a song, HOWL! is about words, and how powerful they are, and I like to expose the people that transcend words through their art.”

20150623_223457Above, Nancy interviews Grammy-nominated flutist and composer Ron Korb prior to his departure for LA and the Grammy red carpet. And below, she’s with Cuban jazz trumpeter and composer Alexis Baro whose CD launch was the following weekend.20160719_215957Before Nancy and Valentino took the helm at Howl!, the show was the sole domain of legendary poet, artist and musician Nik Beat (pictured below).  I remember working closely with Nik back when the CIUT studios were located in an old Edwardian house on St. George St…up 2 flights of rickety stairs, into the rafters.  Nik was one of the first people in the city to support poetry and spoken word performers and he and I just clicked when we first met at one of my Scribes & Muses! (or S&M for short…LOL) performances back in the late 80’s. I headed up an artists’ collective of writers, poets, musicians who performed live around the city – Nik was the only media host who gave us on-air time. Needless to say, I am indebted to Nik and Howl!/CIUT for the successes that came from those early days.NikSo to honour Nik and all those artists he helped over the years, and for Nancy & Valentino’s ongoing weekly showcase, please reach out and support the station which supports the artists. Thank you.

CIUT 89.5 FM SPRING 2017 MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
Presenting the Sound of Your City for 30 years
On Air Campaign Runs May 8-14
Your contributions and support have kept CIUT thriving for 30 years and we want to continue to be the sound of your city for another 30 + years!
Donations can be made right now by simply clicking on the Donation button on the website www.ciut.fm
Phone lines are open 6am-2am 416-946-7800 OR 1-888-204-8976
Show your support on this 30th anniversary because we can’t do it without you!
GOAL: $60,000 Total so far: $2,700

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NICEST GUY IN CANADIAN SHOWBIZ CELEBRATES 5th ANNIVERSARY AS ARTISTIC DIR. @ PEMBROKE’S FESTIVAL HALL

With so many live music and entertainment venues closing on an almost weekly basis across the country, Pembroke’s 600-seat FESTIVAL HALL is steadily building audience attendance and presenting line-ups that include music legends, current hit-makers, orchestral recitals and outrageous comedy shows that are the envy of show promoters in major cities. And the person largely responsible for this outstanding achievement is Artistic Director (and my dear friend) RICK WHARTON who celebrates 5 years at the helm next month, April 2017.b&wAfter starting his showbiz career as a comedian at Yuk Yuk’s and Second City, Rick created his popular television character “The Conspiracy Guy” on SPACE: The Imagination Station. Rick then spent 20 years in the Canadian music industry, working with Universal Music where he began as the liaison between record company, radio and retail – he helped maximize profile and value of the company’s music catalogue; marketed, tracked and promoted influential recording artists including The Tragically Hip, U2, Guns’n’Roses, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Rik Emmett, Alanis, Pursuit of Happiness, Michael W. Smith and others. He was quickly promoted to Head of Promotion in Ontario. Independently, he has also helped develop and manage the careers of many musicians as well as handled production and marketing duties.

with Alanis Morissette

with Alanis Morissette

Flanked by Aerosmith

Flanked by Aerosmith

Stepping into the role of Artistic Director at Festival Hall in 2012, he spearheaded the revival of the Hall by attracting big name performers from all music genres, comedians, classical recording artists, as well as celebrity guest speakers and supporting local theatrical groups. Some of the artists to grace the stage under his direction include:  Gord Downie, Matt Dusk, Rik Emmett, Randy Bachman, John McDermott, Gowan, Michael Burgess, Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe, Lunch at Allen’s, Sab and the Family Band, Malcom Burn and The Spoons , The Barra McNeils . Country stars Marty Stuart, April Verch and Corb Lund. Comedians Gerry Dee, Glenn Foster, Ron James, Derek Edwards, Carla Collins, Mary Walsh, the comic ensemble Women Full Clothed, as well as hosting the Canadian Comedy Awards’ Funniest Person In The Valley show.  He has also opened the doors to many theatrical events and Festival Hall is now home to local theatre groups.

I want people to experience the wonder of what the theatre offers. The magic of taking you away from life’s problems for a little while theatre can change and affect lives for the better.   Rick Wharton

Pembroke-Festival-Hall-Interior-1-1024x684Pembroke’s Festival Hall Centre for the Arts (above) is the largest performing arts centre in the Ottawa Valley. Through theatre, music, dance, storytelling, comedy, visual arts and educational programming, Festival Hall fosters artistic and historic awareness.   Since 2012, the hall has hosted over 55,000 theatre patrons for hundreds of productions that reflect the rich cultural diversity of the region. It’s also home to the Streetlight Theatre Company, Pembroke Symphony Orchestra, Kiwanis Music Festival, UTurn, and the Sears Drama Festival.

Rick and I go way back to the early 80’s when I ran Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret in Toronto – he was a frequent performer there. When I left to open my own talent & media relations agency in 1986, I would often run in to him backstage at the various concerts and tours I worked. One of my fave photos is this one (below) where Rick unexpectedly “photo bombed” me when posing with Monkee Davy Jones. Hey hey, it's Davy Jones with GlendaRick has often worked with leading comedians such as Rick Mercer and the late great Robin Williams (below)
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wharton and williams…and he’s remained close friends with Canadian guitar god, Rik Emmett (below) with whom he’s worked on numerous tours and celebrity appearances.rikemmettCONGRATULATIONS, Rick, on reaching this milestone anniversary at Festival Hall…and thank you for supporting so many Canadian artists as well as securing the big name acts for your stage. Bravo, Spudman, and wishing you many more years as the impresario of Pembroke!spaceDuring Rick’s fifth anniversary month, Festival Hall presents the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra’s We Got Rhythm on Saturday Apr. 8th, int’l recording star John McDermott (Raised on Songs and Stories) on Friday Apr.28th and Whiskey Jack performing Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom on Saturday Apr.22nd. See www.festhall.ca for details of these and other April concerts.