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Gordon Lightfoot Tribute - A review - Rosemary style

Aengus Finnan, Valdy and Lynn Miles pay tribute to Canada's Icon

An article and photos by Rosemary Phillips, March 2004
(See the end of the article for 2020 updated contact information.)

Gordon Lightfoot Tribute Poster
Gordon Lightfoot - poet, songwriter, painter of pictures through music – and truly Canadian. To hear his name evokes memories of songs like the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” and “If you could read my mind.” He was discovered in 1964 on the Toronto folk scene by Ian and Sylvia who then recorded “Early Mornin’ Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me”. Peter, Paul and Mary also recorded them. What followed were countless albums for United Artists and Warner Brothers. “A Painter Passing Through” was released in 1998. In 1999 Rhino Records released a four CD boxed set of Lightfoot recordings, and in 2000 his concert in Reno, NV, was recorded on a video – his first. In 2004 his recording "Harmony", his 20th album, was released. Gordon still records and tours.
His legacy continues, and many artists, in recognising his influence on the North American music scene, are now honouring him with special musical tributes. One such tribute was this tour by three acclaimed Canadian songwriters - Aengus Finnan, Valdy and Lynn Miles.

It was a sold-out concert in the surrounds of the latest exhibit at the Grand Forks Art Gallery. Valdy, shoeless and wearing bright red socks (a gift from Aengus Finnan), was making last minute technical adjustments. Things weren’t quite right. The pot lights used to display artwork were just a bit too harsh. A few minutes later Valdy reappeared, this time wearing his trademark red sneakers and carrying a roll of plastic filter to be cut and applied to the lights with duct tape. Lynn Miles wandered in to pick up her guitar and take it to the improvised dressing room to tune-up. Meanwhile audience members mingled, looked at art, watched Valdy, or relaxed with a glass of wine.

“We’re late getting started ‘cause the lighting tech was slow,” explained Valdy once the show got rolling. He introduced Aengus, Lynn and the Gordon Lightfoot Tribute, the third on their mini-tour of nine performances through BC and into Alberta. “So we’re just starting to get used to each other.”

Aengus Finnan gets the show going with "Early Morning Rain"     Valdy gets right into the music

Aengus (pronounced Angus) was up first. I had never heard him before and when he began Early Mornin’ Rain I was hooked. His gentleness, ease with the audience, sparkling eyes, melodic voice and heartfelt feelings came shining through. It wasn’t hard to understand why he was doing a Lightfoot tribute – he loves and honours the man and his music.

Lynn Miles gets a little help
while performing
"For Lovin' Me"

Juno Award winner Lynn Miles followed with For Lovin’ Me in her own bluesy way. Next up was Canada’s troubadour Valdy who in explaining Lightfoot’s influence in his own music, gave as an example his own composition about seeing a pod of whales off Pender Island.

What continued was a whole-hearted evening of music and stories, jokes and great songs, with casual bantering between performers and members of the audience. The three performers not only honoured Gordon Lightfoot they honoured each other, supporting, teasing, and providing back-up and harmonies as each took the spotlight. The audience was able to just sit back and relax and enjoy the journey.

Aengus Finnan

Aengus Finnan
at intermission

Aengus, who represents a new generation of Canadian songwriters, relayed touching experiences and their relationships to his music. He shared life stories about growing up on a farm, getting married on the school bus in Grade 3, and of his first meeting with Gordon Lightfoot in 1991. “I couldn’t get through security. I saw him in the distance signing autographs for all the special guests,” he explained, and added with awe, “then he stepped out. He had seen me and came over. We chatted. At that time I only played a few songs and they were his. He told me, ‘You must write your own songs.’”

The result? Aengus has now written many of his own story-songs that paint dramatic pictures of real people and familiar places, and the stage has become his home. Among his new compositions is a very moving piece called Lightfoot, which has now been included as the closing song on the CD “Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot”. This evening Aengus gave stirring performances of Pussywillows, Cattails and Miguel along with Lightfoot and another of his own creations about a trucker titled Rollin’ Home.

Lynn Miles

Lynn Miles was
having a
great time

Lynn approached the evening from her blues perspective and focussed on Gord’s “bitter” songs like I’m not sayin’ and If you could read my mind, along with her own songs Black Flowers, The People You Love, When My Ship Comes In and one about having a nervous breakdown. But Lynn was having fun! She smiled, opened up and really enjoying being a part of this show, throwing out quips like, “I learned chording from Gord. I played his songs in my bedroom. It was the only peaceful place in the house.” And later as Valdy was really getting into his guitar work, “Aengus, don’t let Valdy intimidate you.”


Valdy meets up with visiting fan from Ottawa, Marilyn Hart

Meanwhile, Valdy brought in the lighter side with Rainy Day People, and the singalong specials, Bitter Green, Steel Rail Blues, and Alberta Bound. “I liked how Gordon captured events in a song,” said Valdy and with this he introduced his own composition Hard Rain about the ice storms in Eastern Canada a few years ago.

Bringing these three talents together was perfect. Actually, what we got was four songwriters – when you include Lightfoot. Each performer has their unique style not only in their own music and presentation but in their approach to Gordon Lightfoot. There we were in small-town Canada, in an art gallery, listening to some of the greatest talent this country has to offer. It couldn’t get any better!

Only nine scheduled performances? Hopefully there will be many more. The rest of Canada needs to experience this music. And as for Gordon Lightfoot – maybe we don’t appreciate him enough and what he has truly given to this country and to folk music? The same could also be said for each of the performers in this show.

Aengus doing his job selling CD's Lynn gets into
"If You Could Read My Mind"

Visit Valdy's awesome web site (where you will see a great photo of the three together in the Canadian Rockies), and check in with Lynn Miles.
Aengus Finnen is presently (2019) executive director of Folk Alliance International.
More biographical information about Gordon Lightfoot, and list of recordings can easily be found on the internet.

NOTE: There are many more articles on this site about great musicians and artists - see Index of Articles.

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