Charlie A’Court (Canada) talks about the Blues, recording with Australians, touring and more!

  • Chris Singh
  • December 3, 2015
  • Comments Off on Charlie A’Court (Canada) talks about the Blues, recording with Australians, touring and more!

While he was in Sydney last month to play Australian Music Week as well shows with UB40, Larry Heath caught up with Canadian blues artist Charlie A’Court to talk about his music, his time in Australia – his many musical connections here – and much more!

Welcome back to Sydney… All the way from Canada!

The exotic shores of Canada!

About as far as way as you can get from here.

Yeah, I don’t think you can get much further, maybe Greenland? It’s funny because the city that I live in Canada, Halifax, I looked this up a couple weeks ago and I was surprised, it’s only within a few miles but Halifax is as far north as Hobart is south of the equator. So for the most part we have somewhat similar temperatures, both port cities, very similar architecture, and similar layout to the city.

I was quite surprised the first time I went to Hobart. I have friends that moved from Halifax for Hobart, partly because the husband was from Launceston and she was from Nova Scotia so they moved back to Taz about eleven years ago, so every time I come over, failing this trip of course, I try to take a couple days and go down to Taz and hang out.

Get to MONA, check all that out?

Yep, indeed – try to catch a Pete Cornelius show, get down to Republic in Hobart. I love that place, it’s a great place to go catch a drink and hear live music and you know it’s always going to be good no matter what music is there.

So tell me a little bit about the tour you’re on now. You’ve got a new record to plug while you’re out here?

Yeah, for seven weeks, no less! Some of it has been getting to play electric having the band behind me. I love to play electric – any chance I get to crank and wail! A lot of it has been touring with Canned Heat. They were over from the states doing their 50th anniversary tour. They were in Canada over our summer, and then I did some Diesel shows while I’m here. Diesel, in fact, produced the new record and plays all the bass guitar on the record so that was a ton of fun. That came out of an experience of having toured with him a couple of times. One conversation would lead to another and the next thing I know I’m standing in the studio with him!

Where did you first meet him? Was it at Lizottes or?

No, actually it wasn’t through Lizottes. We had started working through the same booking agency and the timing of me being here worked out to support some of his shows, and he had come over to my neck of the woods a couple of years ago to showcase at the East Coast Music Awards. Part of the thing we’re doing here today at The Brass Monkey with Australian Music Week is the Canadian Blast and that’s kind of a co-op between Australian Music Week and East Coast Music Association, because the two entities have a reciprocal agreement to bring Canadians here and to bring Aussie acts to Canada to showcase in the hopes of creating partnerships and collaborating, so Mark was one of those!

He had come over and he did his thing and we got to know each other a bit more there and we discovered that we had a lot of the same influences, we loved playing the same guitars and that’s how we got to talking about song writing together. Then that went from having one or two songs together to doing a whole record together and that’s how it went down – as simple as that! We kept it pretty tight on the album, me doing 95% of guitars and Mark does all the bass.

His drummer, Lee Moloney does the drumming. Aside from Mahalia (Barnes) on the duet, there’s only one other musician on there and that was Andrew Bickers on saxophone on the title track. So personnel-wise we kept it really tight and that gave us the opportunity to also be, sonically, very focused with the recording. Up until now, a lot of my past recordings, as great as they have been, have stylistically always touched different genres whereas this one, I find, is sonically the most focused-sounding record and that has a lot to do with Mark sitting at the helm as the producer.

And it’s, without question then, your most Australian record to date then!

No kidding!

I imagine it’s eligible for ARIAs and things like that because it’s an Australian-produced record.

That’s what we’re hoping! I’ve been talking with the team, because I’m the only “foreigner” on the record. It was mastered here, it was recorded here, and all the other players are Australian. It gives me such great honour and pleasure to have these guys bring the level of calibre of musicianship and technical skill to the project and make the album sound the way it does. I would think at the very least, I would love to see a Producer nomination for this record. Even if I, as the artist, am not necessarily eligible for any awards per se, I would certainly love to see Mark recognised for the work that he did on the record as the Producer.

And your love affair with Australia has been going on for a while now. What was your first trip to Australia, how long ago was that?

You know what, it feels like it’s been forever, but it’s really only been about four years, maybe, but this is my sixth time here, so it’s been a pretty active run. The first time I was here was to perform at the Woodford Folk Festival and it was Chloe Goodyear who was doing the artistic directing at the point. She had come over to one of the East Coast Music Awards conferences, had seen a bunch of Canadians that she enjoyed and wanted to give a platform to and put them in front of her audience. Matt Andersen was one of them, Tim Chassion was another, Amelia Curran, The Trews – there have been a lot of East Coast artists in particular given the opportunity to shine here in Australia.

I have Woodford Folk Festival to thank for being the very first festival to have me here on Australian soil and it’s really just built form there. I’ve supported Diesel on a number of shows; I’ve supported James Reyne, Ian Moss. Now, getting to work with Mahalia, having her sing on the record, getting in front of some really cool audiences at festivals. I find that blues here thrives in a way that in Canada; it’s a little tougher to get blues out to the masses.

I mean look at the Ottawa line-up, that hasn’t been a “bluesfest” for a long time.

No, and any major bluesfest that needs to sort of make that foray into the commercial side of ticket selling has those challenges. They need the philosophy of wanting to bring something new to the newer audiences, but still have that vein of seeing people like Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray, Johnny Lang, or Tedeschi Trucks, Buddy Guy.

You’re never gonna go to Ottawa Bluesfest or Bluesfest here and not walk away hearing amazing blues, but in addition to that, you’re gonna see some artists that are really turning heads in the commercial, mainstream music world that you may not have given them the consideration of listening to before, but because they’re here amongst a lot of blues fans and R&B and soul fans, you may be more inclined to give them a shot and say ‘holy shit, what they’re doing is actually really hip’ and it makes total sense because I’ve always been a fan of contemporising blues music. Having picked up some awards back home at different levels of the industry, especially on this new record, but it’s always been my mantra to bring a contemporary approach to playing blues.

I grew up listening to traditional blues, the solid 12-bar shuffle, or just a fat snare on the back-beat and laying it down, but from a songwriter’s point of view, I’ve always struggled a little bit as a lyricist and songwriter because in most traditional blues songs, you’re looking at, first two lines are verbatim and then the third line rhymes with the first two. You end up with only so many options at the end of the day.

That doesn’t mean you cant get the emotion across but from a song writing standpoint that’s not the only type of music that I wanted to be known for writing and creating. I think you see that a lot with artists of this day operating in this genre. When you look at someone like Johnny Lang, he came out with the Lie to Me record, you can already see that there were those elements of playing straight ahead, cut your teeth blues, but because of the production of the album and the musicianship of the album, you can hear those other influences on the album creeping in and adding stuff to the mix. We still call him a blues artist after all this time.

If you look at his last record, called Fight for my Soul, there isn’t a 12-bar style blues on that record, but you hear his guitar playing and you hear the way he sings and it’s just dripped in soul and its dripped in Stevie Wonder and the most classic of ripping electric guitar blues, but played over arrangements that aren’t I-IV-V chord progressions. It pushes it a little outside the box and it makes it contemporary which it needs to be if it’s gonna live and thrive.

I remember years ago, going to the Blues Summit at the Toronto Maple Blues Awards, and this was like 2003 maybe, and the President of Alligator Records was there as the keynote speaker and his opening remark, I’ll never forget this until the day I die, said, ‘If I have to listen to another version of “Sweet Home Chicago”, I’m gonna jump off a fucking bridge’, and then he just went silent for about 10-15 seconds while the audience went like “what?” This is coming from the apex of blues labels and the head honcho of this level, Bruce Iglauer. This was in 2003, that he said it needs to be contemporary, it needs to be updated, and it can’t be the same lyrics over and over again. Really it’s about that, in all fairness, I can’t rightly stand up there and sing about slavery. I’m a white guy, when have I ever had to endure that? I’m a fan of artists today who grew up on a regiment of blues but are taking it somewhere….

More realistic, almost?

Yeah, that’s one way to look at it because blues of the day, blues of thirty or forty years ago, was blues of that day. It talked about issues of that day and philosophies and heartbreak, it was a way of getting the news from town to town, through blues hymns. If we took the same approach of that today, with the updated production that we have in terms of how we can record that music and in the way we deliver that material, then blues is going to be just fine. Blues isn’t gonna die, because blues is fundamentally the DNA of pretty much every other genre of music because it’s the most direct. It’s the hotline to emotion, you’re not gonna get any closer to emotion than a good old blues tune. For that reason, blues will always live but, for blues to thrive, it needs to be contemporary.

Come On Over is out now. Follow Charlie on Facebook.


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.