an e-mail to Bob
Happened to Stringband?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
can't tell you where everyone is now, but:
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.
Mink is kd lang's writing partner and a Grammy winner.
He lives in Vancouver.
King is in New York City, a librarian by day and fiddler
Cairns is a fiddler and musical director in Victoria,
Nichol plays bass still. He lives in Saskatoon.