Holiday Notes: Upcoming Highlights on the Music Scene

Written by Gerry Blackwell

Yikes! The yuletide is almost upon us. How does this sneak up on us every year?

If you’re already being driven bonkers by cheesy Christmas muzak, here’s my advice: insert earplugs before braving the malls. But good live music is the best antidote, and we have a ton of it in London and area this Noël.

Let’s start with the explicitly Christmas fare. Aeolian Hall kicks it off on Sunday, November 25 (afternoon) with Broadsway Christmas, a jazzy evening with a trio of great voices: Juno-nominee and National Jazz Award Vocalist of the Year Heather Bambrick, Dora Mavor Moore Award nominee Diane Leah, and Julie Michels. CBC Radio called their seasonal album, The Most Wonderful Time…Maybe, “a musical version of the best office Christmas party ever!”

Christmas picks up steam in December. London Symphonia does its annual rendition of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday, December 1 at First-Saint Andrew’s Church (7:30 pm), joined as usual by London Pro Musica Choir and the baroque soloists from Capella Intima, all under the baton of conductor Kevin Mallon. The Messiah never gets stale.

On Sunday, December 2 it’s another songstress trio, this time in the folk music vein. Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club is bringing Boreal to Chaucer’s Pub (7:30 pm). The three women, all from Guelph — Tannis Slimmon, Katherine Wheatley, and Jude Vadala — get together every year to tour their “Songs for the Snowy Season” show. It started with a kitchen concert 11 years ago, and has become a seasonal tradition for their many fans.

Magisterra Soloists check in with “Christmas Baroque,” a concert of Yule-themed favourites from Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and other baroquistes. It goes at St. Luke’s Anglican Church on Thursday, December 6 (7 pm). The Grand Theatre’s musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol opens the next night, and runs until December 23. This is the same sparkling production as last year – with one interesting wrinkle: Scrooge is played by a woman, Grand favourite Jan Alexandra Smith.

Aeolian Hall has dynamite back-to-back Christmas concerts on Monday, December 10 and Tuesday, December 11 (both at 8 pm). The Good Lovelies — yet another female threesome: Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Susan Passmore — are in on the Monday with their charming Christmas concert of folk-tinged favourites. This is a return engagement; the Lovelies were here last year and it is becoming an annual fixture. Then on the Tuesday, it’s Newfoundland’s The Ennis Sisters. That’s right, another threesome: Maureen, Karen and Teresa. Their show includes originals and Christmas standards. The Ennises are known for tight sisterly harmonies and between-song banter.

Sunfest presents A Next Generation Leahy Christmas on Wednesday, December 12 (8 pm), at London Music Hall. The group features six of the nine children of fiddler Doug Leahy, a member of the celebrated family band Leahy and his wife Jennifer, who plays piano and sings. Ages eight through sixteen, the Leahy children already are highly accomplished multi-instrumentalists, playing traditional country and folk styles, filled with the high‐energy, Celtic‐based music of their family’s holiday traditions.

Another London Christmas tradition is a visit from Canada’s Ballet Jörgen with its production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Centennial Hall has one show, on Sunday, December 23 (3 pm). A cool thing about Jörgen is that the troupe works with area dance schools and features local child dancers in its performances.

Enough of Christmas. There’s lots of other good music coming our way too.

Let’s double back to Wednesday, November 14, when Jazz for the People brings The Joe Policastro Trio to Wolf Performance Hall at the Central Library (7:15 pm). Led by bassist Policastro and featuring guitarist Dave Miller, the Chicago-based trio is a rarity in that it almost always plays together, a true group. They do straight-up jazz, but also branch into blues, funk, pop and free jazz. As always, it’s a free concert. (Whoop

As part of the TD Sunfest World Music & Jazz Series, in cooperation with the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club, Swedish folk band Kolonien takes the stage November 16 (7:30 pm)at Chaucer’s Pub. Billed as “Sweden’s most exciting folk band,” Kolonien has been making its mark with its visionary folk and roots music in Europe and Scandinavia. 

Jazz and folk not your thing? How about reggae then? The same night, London Music Hall has the legendary Wailers (7 pm/8 pm). That’s right, of Bob Marley and the Wailers. Except, well… The Wailers play on Marley-less, led by bassist and band founder Aston “Familyman” Barrett. The good news: the music sounds as infectious, mellow and danceable as ever.

Magisterra Soloists continue their Magisterra at the Museum series at Museum London on Thursday, November 15 (7 pm). The concert is titled
“Masquerade,” subtitled, “Revised, Revived, Rebooted.” The publicity material teases with, “get surprised by works of Bach/Mozart…” – funny, we didn’t know those two wrote together – “…Dvorak, Piazolla…” We’re not sure what to expect. The evening also includes a little-heard early piano quintet by the great mid-20th century symphony conductor George Szell.

Opera at Western is back with “The Turn of the Screw,” by Benjamin Britten, an opera adaptation of the very scary ghost story by Henry James. It goes November 15 and 16 (8 pm), and November 17 and 18 (2 pm) at the Paul Davenport Theatre (Talbot College) on Western University’s campus. If you’ve shied away from opera because of the language barrier, know that this one is written and sung entirely in English.

Aeolian Hall has Canada’s “Goddess of the Blues,” Rita Chiarelli and her band Sweet Loretta, on Saturday, November 17 (8 pm). Chiarelli, a Juno winner, is an accomplished songwriter and dynamic performer with an awesome three-octave set of pipes. “A voice so blue it could make the angels weep,” one critic gushed. There’s more to Chiarelli. Her latest CD release is the soundtrack to the documentary Music From The Big House. It’s a live recording featuring Chiarelli with musician-inmates at Louisiana’s maximum-security Angola Prison, considered by some to be the birthplace of the blues.

Answer me this: why does Brantford get Blue Rodeo and London apparently can’t? The iconic folk-rockers are at the Sanderson Centre on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, November 24 (8 pm). Oh, well. Brantford is only an hour or so away. Might be worth the drive? The Rodeo are playing Kitchener’s Centre in the Square too, on December 29. London does get the legendary Gordon Lightfoot — at Budweiser Gardens on Saturday, November 24 (8 pm). How much longer can the venerable Lightfoot keep doing this? Catch him while you can.

Canadian roots music everywhere-man Colin Linden is at Aeolian Hall on Thursday, November 29 (8 pm). The multi-award-winning Linden is one third of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, an in-demand record producer with over 70 albums to his credit, musical director of the hit TV show Nashville, and a guitarist-for-hire to the stars, including Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss. Need we say more? Oh yeah, he has 13 solo albums to his credit too.

Now here’s a name from the storied past: John Prine. The American folk troubadour plays Centennial Hall on Saturday, December 8 (8 pm). Once spoken of in the same breath as Dylan, Prine never became a superstar. He just continued to write intelligent, heartfelt songs and play them in his inimitable style. He’s still doing it. His latest CD, The Tree of Forgiveness, the latest in a string of releases dating back to 1971, came out earlier this year. Forgotten about Prine? Refresh your memory here:

Sunfest is bringing prolific jazzman Michael Kaeshammer to Aeolian Hall on Thursday, December 13 (8 pm). Kaeshammer is the interesting dude who discovered his love of boogie-woogie and stride piano as a teen while living in his native Germany, before emigrating with his family to BC. Twenty-two years and 12 albums later, you’d have to say he made a success of it here. He was nominated for a Juno for his last album, his eighth nod (he’s won twice). Don’t know Kaeshammer’s music? Check it out here:

And finally, with Christmas done and dusted, why not lighten the mid-winter blues with Martha Wainwright. She’s at Aeolian Hall on Wednesday, January 16 (8 pm), along with special guest Beyries, an up-and-coming Montreal singer-songwriter. If ever a performer had pedigree, it’s Wainwright: daughter of Kate McGarrigle (of the McGarrigle Sisters) and Loudon Wainwright III, and sister of Rufus. Her music is raw and honest. She’s touring a new album, Goodnight City, billed as a return to the form of her career-making 2005 debut. Martha rocks.

About the author

Gerry Blackwell

Gerry Blackwell is a London-based freelance writer.