Shawville Oct. 11, 2023
Ian Tamblyn’s official introduction on the 2021 Governor General’s list of appointments to the Order of Canada, as an Officer, states that he is being so honoured for his “enduring contributions as a folk music icon, adventurer and cultural ambassador for Canada.” He brought all of that - ALL - to stage at The Little Red Wagon Winery on Saturday evening for the fourth time in the last five years, disrupted only by the upending of 2020.
The at-times boisterous hum which usually precedes events at the winery was somewhat subdued and one had a sense that there was some type of deference at play. Once Tamblyn took stage, it took but scant moments to realize why.
From the first moment Tamblyn addressed the mic, he had everyone in his hands. Granted, they were likely predisposed to be so guided as almost all present were already familiar with him, his story and his artistry, and those unfamiliar were immediately charmed by his unpresuming candour.
Tamblyn governed the flow of things with his balance of story-telling and musicianship, for his is a story where life and artistry have fused to the extent that delineation between the two is now difficult, perhaps as many folk musicians have previously experienced. Thus, he regaled the gathered with tales both amusing and serious, small and grand, local and worldly all while leveraging a somewhat vast catalogue of songs to segue between them all.
The primary billing was given to Tamblyn, but it could equally, and perhaps more accurately, have been billed as “Ian and Friends”.
Accompanying Tamblyn on stage were two equally captivating personages in the form of Fred Guignon and Pat Maher. While Tamblyn’s story-telling while strumming his own guitar was the base, it was the expressive phrasing of the two additional talents which brought the stories to life. The trio has a long history of playing together and their familiarity was apparent.
Guignon has long been a part of the local music scene, appearing on albums by Sudbury songstress Kate Maki and by Montreal-born Ottawan and Greek Canadian, George Sapounidis. His luster, while offering subtle backdrop to Tamblyn’s words, was book-ended by captivating solo riffs where his talent on guitar, both electric and steel, was evident and electrifying. Notably, his quiet confidence made all vulnerable to his searing delivery.
For his part, Maher, who often plays neighbouring Wakefield at Le Hibou or Fairbairn House, either solo or as a part of Tractor or Pickachune, brought contrast. Not so much in his demeanour, as he is one with Tamblyn and Guignon on that score, but for what he brought to bear. One could almost decide that his contributions on bass guitar were the highlight of his offerings - if not for the equitable nature of the quality soundboard which allowed for wonderful nuance in his background vocals. Almost-not-there, Maher’s voice softened Tamblyn’s own delivery and brought depth to the story being told.
Together, the three musicians offered much more than three chord progressions. Tamblyn capoed his guitar for several numbers, bringing the sound up to the realm of that of a mandolin. He even tuned his guitar at one point while singing and playing through – a feat deserving of great praise from, at the very least, those of us challenged by chewing bubble-gum and walking at the same time.
Guignon, swapping out his guitar for the lap steel and back, gladly took the reigns when offered, as if bringing operatic-style string arias to en epic tale unfolding beside him. And through it all, Maher anchored things with an unwavering bass which at times belied the folksiness with an uptown edge.
Altogether? Mesmerizing seems the only description possible.
For just under two and a half hours, Tamblyn took the audience with him on a tour of both his memories and his escapades, offering generous anecdotes along the way. From Sable Island to St. John’s and from Scotland to White River, you could have heard a pin drop while Tamblyn held court. There were no murmurs or chatting or cell phone interruptions; only artistry on display.
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