By Lawrence Powell
You don’t just get a few songs and a wave goodbye from Murray McLauchlan. At least not at King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal. You get stories, sharp-pointed political humour – and yes, those songs that you’ve known and sung most of your life.
After a much-touted event at the Rebecca Cohn with the likes of Barney Bentall, Nathan Rogers, and Catherine MacLellan the night before in Halifax, McLauchlan walked onto the small King’s Theatre stage on October 21 like he was coming home from away and immediately captivated the sold-out house -- without singing a note.
The crowd was on the verge of a standing ovation just to see the iconic performer, but McLauchlan immediately extolled the virtues of the Annapolis Valley and apple cider as he eased into the story of how he came to write Down by the Henry Moore. He managed to poke fun at both former Toronto Mayor Nathan Philips and Prime Minister Stephen Harper before launching into the song itself to the immense delight of the crowd.
It was an appropriate opener for a crowd that expected to hear at least a handful of McLauchlan classics, and set the stage for the evening’s format of stories and song from a man who, despite almost 40 years of fame, has never lost that connection with the people he writes for and about.
And if there was one constant throughout the evening, it was McLauchlan’s concern for the wellbeing of individual spirit in the context of society as a whole. “Alone but never lonely/ That’s how I like to be” McLauchlan sang in Down by the Henry Moore.
On the Boulevard from 1976, perhaps one of the original ‘working man’ songs, paints a picture of toil and sweat, stifled hopes and dreams, yet a neon glimmer of light when the workday is done and the spirit is set free. “When the lights come on/ They can’t forget/ That they ever had to work so hard.”
McLauchlan, at 61, hasn’t lost a thing since those days of long, curly locks when he burned up the 1970s commanding radio airtime as the disco era was born, lived, and died. The locks are gone, but the voice remains, as do the simple but profound lyrics, perfect phrasing and timing, and a professionalism that comes from the experience of thousands of shows and a depth of knowledge about Canada and its people who are truly his muse.
McLauchlan stepped up the tempo with Red River Flood, sweeping up the audience in that wave of man-versus-nature that every good flood song has.
He put down his guitar and moved to the piano where he told how a trip up from California and along the Oregon coast moved him. Six hours sitting on a headland looking out over the Pacific Ocean inspired the deeply spiritual Whispering Rain which, despite the fact that McLauchlan is best known for Farmers Song, audience members had been hoping for.
He followed with Walk On taught to him by blues great Brownie McGee, a sad but humourous piece called Picking Up Mary Lou about a truck and a girl, Maybe Tonight, and finished off the first set with Sweeping the Spotlight Away, a reflection on mistakes, regrets, and the mixed emotions so well portrayed by a clown.
He came back with a broom and took a circuit around the stage pushing the dust. But he soon got into the story of his father’s disfavour when the young Murray wanted to go to art school and the subsequent night years later when he took his father to Massey Hall in a limo. The song, Child’s Song, he played was and ode to the father/son relationship and he performed it at King’s.
My Imagination Tree followed plus No Change in Me that he wrote with Ron Hynes, a new song called Ambitious Life, part of a musical McLauchlan penned recently, plus the famous Farmers Song.
He ended with the audience singing along to what McLauchlan called one of his ‘Gospel Songs for Secular People.’
The show was sold out two weeks before the Wednesday night concert – with a waiting list of 20 or 30 people if somebody cancelled their seats.
McLauchlan’s erudite and articulate stories and political wit were not lost on a sophisticated Annapolis Royal audience who laughed and cheered when he lampooned the likes of Harper and Brian Mulroney. In all, it was perhaps the highlight of the concert season and one of the best King’s Theatre performances in recent memory.
Alone but never lonely at King’s Theatre
Murray McLauchlan gives Annapolis Royal more than a few songs
By Lawrence Powell
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