Qualicum Beach residents got an unexpected treat last week. On the heels of several socially-distanced mid-August concerts at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney BC, Stephen Fearing performed at an outdoor house concert in QB on Friday night.
The weather cooperated for Fearing’s solo performance, two-hours of perfectly crafted music and stories from a master, set in a leafy green backyard oasis. The audience was limited to 50 fortunate souls, socially-distanced in our lawn chair bubbles.
Fearing’s latest recording released last fall, The Unconquerable Past, is a thing of beauty, available not only on Spotify and CD, but also as a limited-edition, coloured vinyl pressing sure to delight aficionados of vinyl.
An accomplished musician, producer and multiple Juno award winner, Fearing’s album Every Soul’s a Sailor won the 2017 Worldwide Album of the Year by Blues & Roots Radio, and he was named 2017 Contemporary Singer of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. As someone who enjoys collaborating with other musicians, Fearing is also well known as a co-founder of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
While Fearing has been uncommonly successful in his career, the gifted songwriter says he still struggles to write good material. Over the years, he says he’s learned that song lyrics don’t always have to be about one’s own personal experiences. Fearing laughingly recalls the day when, as a young songwriter, he “realized that Johnny Cash didn’t actually shoot a man just to watch him die.” He’s learned to incorporate lines he’s overheard somewhere, out in public or just talking with friends and family. “So,” he says with a grin, “if you have songwriter friends, and you’re listening to a song and you’re thinking, that sounds familiar… and you ask them about it, they’ll tell you it’s not about you. They’re lying.”
Shifting into a contemplative vein, Fearing says that these days he’s most interested in the sound of words and how they fit together. His latest recording’s title, The Unconquerable Past, is a phrase he came across in a book by one of his favourite writers, Patrick DeWitt. “It’s hard to say why one collection of words can hold a wealth of different ideas,” Fearing says, “but those are the things I look for.”
Fearing brought two guitars on stage with him, explaining that they were both made for him by legendary luthier, Canadian Linda Manzer. Fearing’s introduction to his latest custom guitar was featured in the Toronto Star.
Manzer has made guitars for Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Gordon Lightfoot and jazz great Pat Metheny, for whom Fearing tells the audience she invented a four-necked, 42-stringed Pikasso guitar. “It sits on a stand,” says Fearing, “and he has to stand behind it and lean over to play it!” Guitar enthusiasts will enjoy a concert and guitar workshop that Fearing and Manzer streamed live on May 3, 2020 and available on Youtube in which she discusses the two year process involved in creating Fearing’s newest acoustic guitar.
A January 27, 2020 review of The Unconquerable Past by U.K. music critic Andy Thorley gave the album a 9.5 out of 10. In the review, Thorley describes how Fearing once traveled to the U.K. to perform at a festival in Shropshire, England and then flew right back home without booking other shows. That level of dedication to the music, and not the business, demonstrated to Thorley “the love of the craft [that] is all over The Unconquerable Past.”
Fearing has led a peripatetic life, and not just because of his frequent touring. He was born in Vancouver, grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and lived for many years on the East Coast (ask him about the time he decided to paint the outside of his classic, two-storey Halifax house).
Now living in Oak Bay with his wife and their teenage daughter, Fearing says he has been writing a lot of material during these pandemic times.
As a waxing moon glistened behind misty clouds, the audience drifted out of the garden, wrapped in the music, the memories and the promise of more to come.
Stephen Fearing’s latest album, The Unconquerable Past and his other award winning records are available at http://stephenfearing.ca/