“I’m not compelled to the stage,” said veteran singer-songwriter Ian Tamblyn, who has just released his latest album, A Longing For Innocence.
“I don’t need the stage like some people do. But I miss it. I miss the energy that exists between myself and an audience. It’s an unspoken thing, but it exists, and I miss that as much as anything.”
Ian has been longing for a return to performing. The pandemic-induced break from touring has given him an insight into retired life, but he said it’s one he doesn’t want.
I long for the stage,” he said, laughing, “and just for that communication. At this point, I feel like I’ve been retired and [I’m] not ready to retire, so I’m hoping it would change.”
While Ian busied himself with the creation of the new album, he was also creative in other endeavours.
“I wrote a play, the fourth in a series set in the Gatineau Hills,” he said. “I wrote it about the ice storm of 1998, which hit the Gatineau Hills hard, particularly Chelsea, QC, where I live. So the play is about the response and re-birth of the community in response to the disaster. And I’ve been writing a series of short stories as well. So that’s kept me busy.”
Keeping busy is nothing new to Ian, who has recorded dozens of albums, going back to 1972’s Moose Tracks. He’s written 14 plays and over a hundred theatre soundtracks. He worked for Adventure Canada for many years, for which he was made a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Ian is also the winner of the Estelle Klein and Helen Verger Awards in recognition of his contributions to folk music in Canada.
Putting together A Longing For Innocence presented Ian with some interesting challenges as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.
“I live in the Gatineaus, and the studio’s in the adjacent district called the Pontiac, and sometimes we weren’t supposed to travel between the two areas, so I had to take the back roads to get to the studio. In some cases, we had to record in another studio and link it up to the one in Quyon,” he said. “Also I had a children’s choir on one song, “Soldier Down,” so I had to record them individually.”
Ian used only three members of the Chelsea Youth Choir, so to get the sound of a larger group, he employed a few tricks of the trade.
“I asked them to sing it 5 times, change how they sang the song [each time] but not in the phrasing. In some cases I said, ‘I want you to be like you’re in a big church and sing with the big voice’, then ‘sing the song like you’re in a country band with a bit of a twang.’ The effect was it broadened the tone of the choir. So it didn’t sound like three or four people; it sounded like 15 people singing.”
A Longing For Innocence is somewhat of a departure for Ian in that many of his albums follow a theme, whether it’s Walking In The Footsteps, which deals with the Group of Seven, his Four Coast Project albums or Willisville Mountain, about Northern Ontario. The new album contains songs of landscapes, songs of whimsy, songs of longing and songs of serious concern.
“You may remember a folk singer by the name of Patrick Sky,” Ian said. “He was popular in the 60s, and he had an album out called, Harvest Of The Gentle Clang. He was an interesting songwriter and presented albums that had that combination of serious songs, whimsical songs and innocent songs all in the same package. In some sense The Beatles did that too. So I’ve done so many sort of thematically structured albums, I just wanted to do one that had that sense of innocence but also some hard-hitting songs as well.”
“Dark Secrets” from the new album deals with the issues of anti-Indigenous racism Ian witnessed in his hometown of Thunder Bay.
“It does come across a lot [from] my time growing up in Fort William specifically,” he said. “It’s also inspired by Tanya Talaga’s book Seven Fallen Feathers and the same systemic racism that went on in that town and Northwestern Ontario. I remember writing about it in 1975 in a song called “Northern Journey.” At that time, the lament was about the English-Wabigoon River system that had been polluted with mercury by the Reed Paper Company in Dryden. I’ve been writing about it for my whole writing career, and nothing changes! That was the frustration in the song, and also this terrible attitude of not taking responsibility for the difficulties and dysfunctional world of First Nations. With recent revelations, it’s just a further shock about what happened, and to some degree still happens. I was worried about [writing the song] but then I talked with Tom Wilson and a few other First Nations people, and they said, ‘go for it,’ so I did.”
One of the strengths of Ian’s songwriting throughout his career has been his ability to create beautifully descriptive songs about the Canadian landscape, and he does so again with “For The Love Of A Lake” about Lake Superior.
“It’s more of a close-up I think than ‘Woodsmoke And Oranges’ or “‘Higher Plain,’” Ian said. “It’s more of an intimate, close-up look based on a more intimate knowledge of the lake. The little corners of the lake, not journeys or destinations, just rock formations, lovely coves and things like that.”
The song “The Dolphins Came To Venice” is a bit of a flight of fancy that got its inspiration from a news item about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which later turned out to be “fake news.”
“If there was any good to come from COVID, the less traffic in Venice might have brought the dolphins back,” he said. “So I wrote the song and then was disappointed to find it was fake news, but as it turned out, this spring, the dolphins did come back to Venice. They did return. Very much like the pandemic, [the song] had different ups and downs to it. It was a wishful thinking song. There is a bridge in Venice called The Bridge Of Sighs, and I think that’s where one wishes for the almost impossible wishes to come true.”
For more information on Ian Tamblyn and A Longing For Innocence, go to www.iantamblyn.com.