April’s First Friday at the Cheeky Monkey With The Casuals

Vibrant Harmony Singing Gets The Toes-A-Tappin’

Saturday April 7, 2018

by Brian Hay

Solid and basically faultless rhythm playing that wasn’t quite straight out of textbooks didn’t hurt either. The Casuals found a pocket early on and projected everything clearly from its centre.

It’s a guess but, as their set progressed, there was a sense the cues were being set up by guitarist Bill Hines and not their rhythm players. The concept is great … when it works. If it isn’t done perfectly the energy falls out of the music faster than a skydiver who forgot about the parachute but when it is there’s not much that can stand beside it. The Rolling Stones and the Who came up with two of the most exciting rhythm sections on record with Keith Moon taking cues from Pete Townshend while Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts wove magic into setups crafted by Keith Moon Richards.

With ‘The Casuals’ all the changes were marked clearly by drummer Al Wallace. He stayed in time neatly and jumped ahead just slightly whenever there was a slight alteration in the patterns played by Hines. It was subtle but the dramatic effect it injected into musical shifts was pronounced. Bass player Will McCuaig was lock/step with everything while holding down both the time signature and reinforcing their melodic foundation. Guitarist David Wright wove six-string work into notably different sounds that came from the twelve-string acoustic played by Hines. Keyboard wizard Bob Martin and electric guitar player Ron Collacutt stepped out with delectably tasty nuggets while doing their part to strengthen the bands’ rhythmic foundation.

The lead singing was handled mainly by Martin who stepped aside a few times when Hines took over. The spots where everything took on a unique feel happened when the group sang as a whole unit. They weren’t always flawless but with the charge in their playing and how quickly they pulled things together when something went astray they transcended any minor blips effortlessly.

Their material drew heavily on groups, such as the Beatles, the Eagles and others who marked their catalogues with approachable melodies and stirring harmony but their spectrum delved into other territory as well. Over the evening they pulled out numbers such as ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon and Max Crook, and a great cover of Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor’s iconic song, ‘Wagon Wheel’. That piece especially was given a unique stamp.

The core members of the Casuals play regularly at the Sarnia Yacht Club and, apparently, are joined frequently by other musicians who step up on Open Stage Nights, which are also a feature there. There’s definitely good things happening musically in the Sarnia-Lambton area. All one has to do is look.

The Casuals illustrated that fact beautifully last night.

To go to the Cheeky Monkey’s website follow the link that’s included below. It includes information about upcoming events, what they offer and an option to subscribe to their newsletter. 

The Cheeky Monkey

Stephen Lane at the Lawrence House

Pianist Stephen Lane


Stephen Lane at the Lawrence House

Movie Themes Leaping Off The Piano

Monday March 26, 2018

by Brian Hay

Hearing music that’s been loved or appreciated for other reasons always has its own joy. When it comes in a way that’s spontaneous, as if its forming itself on its journey to the listeners’ ears it becomes an experience that’s truly exhilarating. Pianist Stephen Lane’s arrangements of theme music from films had that quality. Many of the numbers were known immediately. The ones that weren’t were, at the very least, familiar. Many conjured the name of particular songs even if the titles of their films were elusive. All of them seemed to be leaping off the piano.

Stephen Lane seems like a conduit, an antennae between listeners and preexisting entities awaiting transit from their corner of the universe to one inhabited by others. His method, which is to know the melody and fill in orchestral harmonics as the music appears to suggest, allows pieces to unfold as if the musician is taking dictation from an entity separate from themselves. It’s fraught with risks. Mistakes are inevitable, especially when a particular melody is less ingrained in the performer, but it can be magical because there’s a sense the work has never been done that way before and (probably) won’t be again. Because of his training, a lifetime of practice, and his desire to keep the music spontaneous, Stephen Lane is a musician who can do exactly that.

Displaying the refreshingly unguarded persona that he has as a performer, Lane cited his background and most important bits of his personal history at the outset along with a warning that “he would average about three of every four notes right” before sitting down to play. He may have exaggerated (or at least been conservative in his estimate) because his percentage of right notes versus wrong ones seemed a lot better than he’d suggested and it didn’t matter anyway. At his fingertips, the music flowed off the piano as if it was being conjured from somewhere while he relayed what he was being given. It was enchantment in its purest form.

Highlights were abundant. ’Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and other songs from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ had the freshness they’ve had since 1939. ‘Chariots Of Fire’, a piece that was played almost but not completely to death when it was on the airwaves became like new again. ‘The Way We Were’ and music from ‘The Sting’ resonated with the exuberance they carried when those films were first released.* Melodies from the score of ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ brought out goosebumps. Hearing it played as if plucked from the air created a lump in the throat that was a sheer joy to get.

Lane himself made the experience one where both sides had their role. His off-beat asides left people chuckling even as his playing tugged at their hearts. The Lawrence House, thanks to its brilliant and quite neutral acoustic provided the ideal fit for what he offered. He could do what he does in other venues but the closeness between performers and audiences that venue offers creates a singular opportunity for players to show what they have to the fullest. That, and the fact that people were there to really listen, opened a universe of possibilities.

To the delight of everyone Stephen Lane made full use of them.

* What Lane achieved with the themes from ‘The Sting’ and ‘The Way We Were’ was something special for me. I worked in a theatre that ran those films when they were first released and initially loved their music. After four months of ‘The Way We Were’ and six of ‘The Sting’ twice a night four or five nights a week though, it got to the point where I literally wanted run away whenever either one popped up. The feeling softened ages ago but ho-hum renditions of either one still get old as quickly as they start. Stephen Lane’s renditions not only rekindled their beauty, they brought out the joy that came when they were first heard all over again. That was amazing and he gets special thanks for it

For information about upcoming concerts and memberships at the Lawrence House follow the link that’s included below. 

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