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Whatever Happened to Stringband?

Stringband is at last coming to CD. You can help. Click here: www.stringband.net

Gary Cristall, then artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, wrote of Stringband (in 1991): "[Stringband] opened the door to a glorious chapter in the cultural history of this country. They proved there was an enormous amount of music worth playing in Canada. They proved musicians could actually make a living without leaving the country. They paved the way for artists like Stan Rogers, Connie Kaldor and dozens of others and helped create a vibrant alternative acoustic music scene that featured songs which actually had something to say... While various artists have covered one or another aspect of the ground that Stringband trod, no group has covered the waterfront in the way they did.

Bob Bossin and Marie-Lynn Hammond

Stringband began in 1971 when Marie-Lynn Hammond moved to Toronto to study art. I fell in love with her voice. Meanwhile, Jerry Lewycky, a violin student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, was developing an ear for fiddle tunes. I had the brilliant idea of starting a folk band.

After two years and our first album (Canadian Sunset) Marie-Lynn and I decided to go full time. Jerry decided to finish school. Luckily, Ben Mink - even then, one of the country's truly inventive musicians - took over on fiddle. In 1976, jazz fiddler and, er, unique individual, Terry King took over from Ben. Eventually, the well-travelled Canadian country fiddler Zeke Mazurek took over from Terry and, a couple years after that, Calvin Cairns relieved Zeke. Calvin played with us through the 80s, as did Dennis Nichol, who joined us on bass in 1978, and Steve Darke, who rounded out the company as road mom.

Stringband

We toured together for fifteen years, crossing and re-crossing Canada, collecting, writing and playing music that we thought expressed the concerns, humour and cussedness of people from St. John's to Tofino to Tuktoyaktuk. Poet and journalist Doug Fetherling wrote of us, "They search relentlessly for a Canadian sound; not hearing it, they have perhaps invented it." Connie Kaldor once said, "It was while listening to Stringband when I was a student at University of Alberta that I thought, I can do that!" Lots of others told us over the years that our music helped them out, which is more important than money, isn't it?

Stringband recorded 7 albums, two of which, The Old Masters and Across Russia By Stage, are still available. We played, over the years, in the US, UK, USSR, Europe, Japan, Mexico and Newfoundland. The list of musicians who sat in or recorded with us is too long to recite, though it includes Nancy Ahern, Daniel Lanois, Stan Rogers, Kieran Overs and Jane Fair. The songs we made (sort of) famous include Dief Will Be the Chief Again, The Maple Leaf Dog, I Don't Sleep with Strangers Anymore, La jeune mariee, Tugboats, Daddy Was a Ballplayer, All the Horses Running, Lunenburg Concerto and Show Us the Length.

Stringband in Moscow

Apart from a brief 20th anniversary re-union tour in 1991, Stringband played its last gig in 1986. By then we lived in different parts of the country and all had individual projects we wanted to pursue. (Calvin formed The Romaniacs, Marie-Lynn wrote and performed Beautiful Deeds/de beaux gestes and I wrote and performed Bossin's Home Remedy for Nuclear War.) By that time, as well, folk venues were getting scarcer and so were government gigs and grants - a significant factor in a country where cities, and the venues they contain, are literally few and far between. So, after fifteen years, we hung up the bow. A defeat in some ways. On the other hand, just for a Canadian band to reach 15 is no mean feat; to do so playing folk music (and not playing bars) is as rare as, well, Stringband was.

I can't tell you where everyone is now, but:
  • Marie-Lynn still lives in Toronto. In addition to writing and performing her music, she writes plays and edits books. A few years back she hosted CBC Radio's Musical Friends. For information about Marie-Lynn, and for a Stringband discography, please visit her website <www.marielynnhammond.com> which is maintained by Richard Hess <www.richardhess.com>. Some of Marie-Lynn's solo albums are now available on CD. We have also restored the Stringband masters and will eventually release a Stringband CD. When the baby is older.

  • Ben Mink is kd lang's writing partner and a Grammy winner. He lives in Vancouver.

  • Terry King is in New York City, a librarian by day and fiddler by night.

  • Calvin Cairns is a fiddler and musical director in Victoria, BC.

  • Dennis Nichol plays bass still. He lives in Saskatoon.


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