Next week, the bluesy singer-songwriter-pianist Declan O’Donovan plays a secretive loft concert, but it’s hardly the strangest gig he’s ever had. We spoke to the Yukon-bred artist (who in 2012 released his lived-in, charismatic, self-titled debut) about shows in woodshops, private homes and places with pews.
As a young, independent musician in Canada, how selective can you afford to be when you’re offered a show? Do you worry about the details?
I think some mystery is always kind of cool. For this gig next week, the Loft Airshow Concert, I still don’t know any of the details beyond the time and the lineup. But I kind of like that idea.
You know the people who are putting on that concert, so you’re not worried. But have there been strange gigs that gave you cause for concern?
I did a gig a year-and-half ago at the Frostbite Music Festival, which is in Whitehorse, in the middle of winter. It’s my hometown, but I’d never played the festival before. Turns out my show took place in a woodshop. The stage had been built that day, the room was littered with sawdust and woodchips, and the soundboard was on a table saw. But we filled the room and handed out safety glasses and ear buds. It was a blast.
Did they even have a proper piano for you to play?
No. In fact, the night before the show there was a huge snowstorm. I couldn’t drive all the way into the cabin where they had put me up. So I had to hike out with my keyboard, which was wrapped up in a blanket in its case and strapped to a toboggan. I hiked through the woods for about two kilometres to get to my car.
What about house concerts? Musicians touring Canada often use them to fill up the tour schedule, in between club dates or festivals.
This past month I did a string of dates with another artist who booked us into a house concert. We showed up in this small, southern Alberta town, and when we got to the house, the hosts had been drinking. They had also finished the dinner that was intended for us, and had forgotten to invite anyone. But once we got playing, a few of their friends showed up. We ended up having a blast, despite the fact that we played during one of the most frightening thunder and lightning storms I’d ever experienced.
So, I’m wondering. When your parents were paying for your piano lessons, they might have had visions of you playing at Massey Hall or Carnegie Hall. Are they worried about your fingers, what with you playing frostbitten places with buzz-saws around?
I’ve been doing well, playing shows in support of my latest CD. My parents and anyone who has supported me seem to be digging it. There was a gig I did earlier this month at the Artswells festival in British Columbia. The show was in a small church, and my very Irish Catholic family, who had travelled to the festival, was sitting in the front pews.
And how did it go?
My dad had named me after a saint. He had the idea that I would grow up to be a priest. So I found it very surreal and appropriate to be performing at a church on a Sunday with my parents in the front row. I pulled out all my songs about saints, which I have a few. It was a great show. As for Carnegie Hall and Massey Hall, I feel they’re just around the corner.
Declan O’Donovan (and Peter Elkas and Animals Parts), plays the Airshow-Loft Concert, Aug. 28, 8 p.m. PWYC (suggested donation $15), at a secret location near Trinity-Bellwoods Park, tickets at roaringgirlrecords.com.