Nostalgia took centre stage at Showplace on February 4 as Ian Tyson, of the 1960s duo “Ian and Sylvia,” performed to a crowd of his fans.
Forty years ago, Tyson and his wife produced some of Canada’s most famous folk songs, including “You Were On My Mind” and the unofficial Albertan anthem, “Four Strong Winds.” However, anyone coming to hear hits from this era might have been a bit disappointed, for all of his songs were country–not folky at all.
“I never stopped doing folk music,” Tyson assured me. And when he was asked why he did not sing “Four Strong Winds,” he replied, “Oh, I must have forgotten. One of you should have yelled it out.”
This was not Tyson’s first show in Peterborough. Decades ago, Ian and Sylvia performed at Trent, leaving an unidentified writer from the Excalibur unimpressed.
“O give me a home… twang… where the buffalo roam… twang… The Ian and Sylvia concert was received with very mixed feelings ranging from disgust and disappointment to enthusiasm. Their new sound of ‘western-rock’ is a radical change; an unfortunate one from many viewpoints.”
Perhaps time has thawed the hearts of some Ian and Sylvia detractors. The lobby of Showplace was filled to capacity with well-behaved Tyson fans who were mostly middle aged and elderly. They patiently waited in line in a manner that was more suitable to a church bazaar than a concert–no screaming hysterical groupies here! Many wanted their Ian Tyson CDs autographed.
“You know,” said a concerned Tyson, “it’s not good for the CD if I write on the disc.”
One woman procured an old throw rug that looked like it was carefully pulled out of a bin marked “The Sixties.” Tyson dutifully signed it.
The fans lined up, met Tyson, and then sauntered off into the night.
There was one lady, however, who stood about six feet away from Tyson the whole time he was signing autographs. She was not waiting to meet him–just looking at him with reverence and quiet awe.
“Look at that face–it’s amazing” she said quietly with awe. “I grew up with his music.”
There was little spontaneity to the show. As the lights went down, two guitar players took their places on stools and asked the audience to give a warm welcome to Tyson all the way from Longview, Alberta. Tyson nimbly stepped onto the stage, taking his place at the centre stool, wearing a white cowboy hat, a mauve dress shirt and a white vest. He regaled the audience with tales of the weather driving in from Ottawa: “There was so much black ice but I made it!”
The house lights went down and were replaced by a spotlight on Tyson as he sang “Navajo Rug.”
He sang with a deep, soothing voice that was melodious and consistent. Tyson is a lot like K.D. Lang in her album Shadowland–except he’s a lot older and a lot straighter.
His song “Smugglers Cove” was really touching. Before he sang it, Tyson talked about his relationship with his father and how it seems that we never fully appreciate our parents until after they are gone. The song depicts the walks Tyson took as a child with his father along the beaches of Smuggler’s Cove on the Southern part of Vancouver Island on the Juan de Fuca Strait. This song had quite an effect on me, reminding me of the walks I used to take along that same beach.
To my ears, Tyson speaks with a prim and proper Vancouver Island accent but sings with an unmistakable country-western twang, indistinguishable from an American voice. The sound of his cowboy songs conjured up images of a West that only exists in movies, theme parks, and country music videos; an untamed West of cowboys, Indians, and ‘yee-haws.’ Perhaps this is what attracts some people to his music.
Most of the songs made reference to Western places. I took note of all the places he mentioned in his songs and they went as far east as South Dakota, as far west as Vancouver Island, as far north as northern Alberta, and as far south as Mexico.
Most of the places, however, were in the United States. A writer for the LA Times has written that “[America’s] disappearing West has no better spokesman than Ian Tyson.” I think that it’s depressing that one of Canada’s greatest folk singers (who once wrote a song with Peter Gzowski about Canadian unity) should become a cherished American spokesman–that’s Celine Dion’s job!