5 November 2016

alison reynolds

There is something exciting about discovering new music. Finding new sounds and artists that would never otherwise be on your radar. Well it beats the humdrum, manufactured sounds of modern pop music. Sketches has been fortunate and privileged over the past year to have interviewed a number of upcoming, young British folk artists. All different in their musical approach, all exciting in what message they are conveying. All deserving of success. For our latest interview we've crossed the pond (metaphorically on this occasion) to chat with multi instrumentalist (cello, guitar), singer / songwriter, Alison Reynolds from Canada. It's a candid, inspiring interview, so grab yourself a cuppa and enjoy Alison's story.

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds

SketchesWhat first made you pick up the cello?
Alison: I started playing cello in grade school. It was 4th grade, I
believe, and in those days, Orchestra classes started in 4th grade (really wish it was still the same way but unfortunately, we don’t hold teaching the arts as a priority.) I have two older sisters who had already started orchestra and they played violin and viola respectively so, they figured I should play cello so we could have a trio!

Well, I didn’t even know what a cello was!! I’m sure my eyes popped out of my head when the teacher brought it out to me. It was bigger than I was! Back then, there was no such thing as ¼, ½ or ¾ sized cellos. I’ll never forget carrying my cello on the bus everyday!

Funny thing is, my sisters both quit playing a few years later but, for some reason, I kept going (and going, and going.)

(S:) Were you ever tempted to try other instruments?
(A:) Oh, yes, indeed! While we still lived in El Paso, Tx., I started playing Baritone Ukulele. I took private lessons while still playing cello in school. Then I went through a clarinet phase when my family lived in Flagstaff Az. Then, when my family and I moved to Canada at the beginning of my High School years, I started playing flute.

If I had gone to High School in the U.S., there would have been several music classes I could choose to take. I’d had 5 years of playing cello by then and I knew music was going to be my future! When we moved to Canada, we lived in North Bay Ont., quite a ways north of Toronto. It was a beautiful small town and I was excited about living in a different country! Then came school. . . there were no choices in music classes, it was either band or orchestra and I discovered that everyone was just starting to play, while I had already had 5 years of playing cello in school plus private lessons!! I was devastated! My only choice was to join band and I decided to pick up flute. I ended up playing flute for quite a while (even after embarking on my professional journey. . .more on that later!) Never stopped playing cello though and while in high school, I traded in my baritone uke for a guitar, started a rather successful Folk Club and did a lot of singing and playing guitar. I remember almost quiting playing cello because it was “nerdy” but, fortunately, my friends talked me out of that idea!

The school put on musicals every year and I badly wanted to be on stage singing but, once my orchestra/band teacher found out I could play cello, I was sent into the orchestra pit. I had such a longing to be on stage!! At least the Folk Club gave me that opportunity!

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds 

(S:) Tell us a little about your musical journey
(A:) In 1972, my musical life changed forever! The Canadian government sponsored a summer music program called “Summersounds ‘72”. The music directors of that program set off to various towns in Ontario to audition musicians 16-20 years old. North Bay was one town they visited and I auditioned. I won the spot to represent North Bay and that summer, I headed to Niagra on the Lake to rehearse with all the other musicians who won spots. We stayed in the dorms of Niagra Christian College and rehearsed for two weeks. It was a varied program from folk music to rock. This is where I learned how to improvise on cello. After 2 weeks, we hit the road and for about a month, we took our show to many different towns in Ontario, from tiny paper mill towns in Northern Ont. to Ottawa and ending in Toronto. It is a summer I will never forget and it helped shape the music I do now.

I met my first music partner, Patricia Watson, while in that group. She lived in Sudbury (about 80 miles north of North Bay.) After I finished High School, my family moved to Sudbury. Pat and I got together and formed the duo Watson and Reynolds.

Pat played piano, guitar and flute and I played cello, guitar, mandolin, and flute so we had quite a diverse instrumentation going on! We both sang and our voices blended extremely well.  (See below from a TV programme they did)

We became pretty popular fairly quickly and moved to Toronto to further our career. I think the high point came when we were asked to open for Gino Vanelli at the Opera House in Ottawa. We finished our set with a piano/cello version of Desperado which melted into an original song by Pat. When we finished the song, you could have heard a pin drop, then an explosion of clapping. Took my breath away!

Anyway, we met a fellow musician, David James Bowen a few years later and formed a trio called Minstrels of Mirth. That expanded into a 5 piece (shortened to Mirth.) We put out an album called First Borne. . .unfortunately, a few years later we broke up. Too many personality conflicts!

Shortly after that I moved back to El Paso Tx. (my hometown) and went back to school to seriously study cello. I continued playing as a single singer/songwriter as well as a band called Tularosa. I met my husband during that time, married and had 2 beautiful children. My husband’s job was very demanding and playing music was all nights and weekends so I gave up my music career (except for playing in a symphony) to focus on raising my children.

With my kids grown and having time on my hands, I am back at it! I play as much as I can now, I had forgotten how much I loved to perform!! I have 3 CD’s out. Two are from a cello quartet I started up a while back, La Cella Bella. One is my singer/songwriter effort. I am currently working on my second CD as a songwriter. (More of that later)

(S:) What is it about Folk and Rock music that inspires you?
(A:) My love of folk music goes way back (The Weavers, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Limeliters, then, of course Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, Pete Seeger. . .a very long list!)  I think what inspires me are the stories they tell and the message they send in the lyrics. My writing is similar in that most of what I write has a message or a story either social or every day situations. As folk songwriters I think we all have a hope to “change the world” as it were or at least make a difference in someone’s life! Folk music: music of and for people!

Classic Rock is really very similar to folk in that there is sometimes an underlying message in the lyrics and, of course, there is the beat! I love Talking Heads, for example, because I cannot stay still when I listen! Besides that I love their lyrics and I think David Byrne is a genius! My all time favorite rocker is Bonnie Raitt! She sings with so much passion and her lyrics are so relatable! She definitely moves me!

(S:) Tell us about life on the road
(A:) Early in my career, I spent a lot of time on the road. For about a year or so, we were on the road so much that I got rid of my apartment, put my stuff in storage and stayed with friends when I would have a day off! When I was younger, it was very exciting! Going new places, meeting new people, the parties, the performing, it was my dream! Later though, after we became a 5 piece band, life on the road became difficult. We started playing dives and strip clubs. Accommodations were shaky at best, bordering on filthy. Bands had a reputation of trashing rooms so, as a result, venues would put the bands up in the worst rooms! Pat and David were a “couple”(they eventually got married) and I was single. I got to where I was pretty lonely.

There were times that it was still a lot of fun, like when we played in Halifax and met up with Dr. Hook band. Those guys were a ton of fun! Or the time we played in Ottawa, went to a Supertramp concert and got invited to the after concert party. I got a chance to play some cello with Roger Hodgson! And then there were times like when we played in a small town on the St. Laurence Seaway called Rimouski. We were there for 2 weeks and stayed walking distance from the shore of the seaway. I remember watching the tide go in and out many times. It was lovely! Those were the good times!

(S:Who has influenced you in your songwriting?
(A:) That is kind of a tough question! I partly answered that in a previous question but, I think the main influence on writing at this current time is Bob Dylan. This is mostly because of something he said in an article I read. The interviewer asked how he came up with ideas for his songs and, essentially said, “I don’t write about anything new, I just say the same things in a different way.” That really struck me. I started listening to his music again, with different ears, and thinking of my own writing in a totally different way.

Joni Mitchell is a story teller extraordinaire! I listened to her poetry, her crafting. I can’t come close to her as a song writer but, she inspires me to grow and strive for better songs.

Then there is Bonnie Raitt’s passion! One thing I can say for sure, she has brought out the passion in me! The Beatles have also had an influenced me. I think their popularity was largely due to the fact that their songs were about every day situations. Things we can all relate to. I do try to achieve that in my writing.

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds 

(S:) So are you working on a new album?
(A:) I am currently working on a new album. I haven’t yet decided on a title, but, it looks like there will be quite a few songs on it with social content. “Care” is a song about taking care of our environment, “Listen to Your Heart” is all about finding your path, “Love Makes It True” is about how we are all connected and so on. 

On my “Back to You” CD, I added 3 older songs, Back to You, Please Don’t Tell Me and Childhood’s End, mostly because they were requested by friends from my “Mirth” days. Two of them are on the First Borne album but, I really didn’t like the production on them, so I decided to do them again MY way!

The new CD will have all current songs (I have a TON of new songs! It was tough deciding which ones to record!) The instrumentation will be much the same. I live in a small town without much choice in instrumentation! I will add cello to some but not too much, and have found a good mandolin player to add his touch to some and a few vocalists (I did all the harmonies on the last CD. Not that that’s a bad thing, you just don’t get the different timbres of different voices!)

Anyway, I am rather excited about it and am trying to take my time so as not to make too many mistakes!

(S:What advice would you give a young folk musician?
(A:) In a nutshell. . .Hang in there!! Folk music is NOT dead, there is an audience out there! Also, stay true to yourself and your art, don’t compromise for the sake of popularity. Our art is a noble cause!

We finished are interview with a few less serious questions! To get a flavour of what really rocks or is it folks Alison's musical boat.

(S:Techno or Heavy Metal?
(A:) Oh dear!! I suppose if I had to choose I’d say Heavy Metal. For me, there is a bit more substance to the music although I have heard some decent Techno! Metallica changed my mind about Heavy Metal when I did an arrangement for my cello quartet of Nothing Else Matters. Great song, lots of musicality and content! Then when I heard them do Whiskey in a Jar, which is an old folk song, they totally won me over.

(S:) Cello or Violin?
(A:) That’s a “no brainer” ha ha! Cello of course!! Cello is said to be closest to the human voice of all the stringed instruments, I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much! I love the mellowness of it’s sound and the huge range it has. . .I’m a mellow kind of gal!

(S:) Folk rock or acoustic folk?
(A:) That one is tough! Guess I am more of an acoustic type, but since I have discovered and learned the art of looping, I love the way I can rock out on some songs! I do tend to lean more towards acoustic though!


My thanks goes to Alison for the time she has given and wish her every success for the future. You can check out her website and youtube channel for all the latest news and tour dates. Details given.

Go on time to try some different music. 

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