Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Folk minstrel Valdy returned to a favourite theatre, the Gravenhurst Opera House, on Monday evening 12 September as a freshly minted Member of the Order of Canada. We were honoured and delighted to hear his flexible voice and inimitable guitar celebrating herons, Salt Spring Island Buddhist monks, life on the road and - after intermission - the birthday of Nancy in the audience, who sang along, mystified but enthusiastic. In addition to being a magician disguised as a magnificent musician, Valdy has the gift of friendship.

Nancy and I were blown away by Valdy’s guitar gifts, so much so that it has taken me a couple of days to find a few words to capture the experience. I’m going to have to fumble for them, beginning with impressions of Canadian folk singers heard at the Bohemian Embassy Coffee House on Toronto’s Gerard Street in the sixities.

We had a few headliners like Ian and Sylvia Tyson who could both sing and play the guitar very well indeed. Most performers did better on guitar than on singing, and that was OK. The guitar kept them in tune, basically. The better they played the accompaniment, the less it mattered that the tunes were mainly of the one-note variety because the harmonies carried the song.

Sundays were amateur nights, where a friend of mine found out the hard way that you couldn’t get away with just strumming your guitar; you had to be pretty handy with the strings. Her début as amateur performer at the Bohemian Embassy did not go over well with the blasé audience. She vowed never to bring her guitar again, a difficult resolve for an avid collector of folk music since childhood. But she couldn’t stay away, just left the guitar at home. Folk music was stretching its muscles, at an exciting time to live in.

One evening my friend felt like singing a favourite Irish traditional song and found out something surprising. The MC couldn’t believe her when she apologized for having no accompaniment. His eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets at the very idea of anyone simply singing. She didn’t even apologize for being a soprano. She was too far gone to turn back. The MC announced in hushed tones that the next number would be unaccompanied. Into the shocked hush that followed she poured “The Lover’s Curse”. A pin drop silence, then warm applause. This old, old song, fiercely anti-war, fitted in with the Sixties’ crucible of new music of the people. For a brief moment, the room reverted to the most basic instrument - the human voice.

Returning to our own exciting times, on Monday 12 September 2011 at the Gravenhurst Opera House, neither Nancy nor I could think of anyone we’d ever heard who could be so at one with a guitar and make it play in surprising keys, and whose voice can float or growl, who is also a poet with a gamut from pathos to unfettered fun. It would appear that Canada had to wait until the seventies before a minstrel came on the scene who had the gift of melody in his compositions, knew exactly what he wanted to do with his voice and made an orchestra out of his guitar. That was Valdy. And still is.

I may be wrong, but my honest impression of Valdy, gathered from hearing him in person for the first time the other night, is that nobody else can play guitar like that, with a voice so at one with the instrument that there were moments when I could have sworn the guitar was singing too. He delights in establishing rhythm patterns in the accompaniment that convey the movement of an 18-wheeler, a train on track, Rick Hanson’s globe-circling wheelchair or a tall dark stranger shambling into town.

As far as I am concerned, this is an artist who could pick up the Muskoka telephone book and make a ballad out of it that would have hearts beating in tune with an earthy sentiment of local and universal significance. There could be some sharp social commentary to hit a nerve and tickle a chuckle as well.

Now that I have managed, more or less, to describe the vibes of this concert, I’ll give the pen to Valdy himself, as found on his richly informative and entertaining website.

“Valdy, born Valdemar Horsdal in Ottawa, Canada has been part of the fabric of Canadian pop and folk music for over 34 years. A man with a thousand friends, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island to Texas to New Zealand, he's a singer, guitarist and songwriter who catches the small but telling moments that make up life.

"Remembered for Play Me a Rock and Roll Song, his bitter-sweet memory of finding himself, a relaxed and amiable story-teller, facing a rambunctious audience at the Aldergrove Rock Festival circa 1968, Valdy has sold almost half a million copies of his 13 albums, has two Juno Awards (Folk Singer of the Year and Folk Entertainer of the Year), a total of seven Juno nominations and four Gold albums to his credit.

“There is not enough music in the world. ... Play for the kids, you adults. Play for the adults, you kids."

We loved Valdy at the Gravenhurst Opera House as they will on his tour to Kinkardine, Toronto, Brampton, Port Hope, Goderich in Ontario and Amherst, Shelbourne, Annapolis Royal and Middle Musquodoboit in Nova Scotia, Riverview, Ford Mills, St. Andrew's in New Brunswick, Okanagan Valley, Sicamous in BC, and back to Ontario: Newburgh,Toronto, London, Alliston and the Holiday Train, Montreal to Vancouver, Nov. 26 to Dec. 17. And other places too numerous to list here. This shortened list of engagements gives a general idea of the energy generated by this outstanding Canadian troubadour.

Here he is on Youtube singing, “Play me a rock and roll song”.

And now back to