Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

Love Pop Montreal for Starving its Staff

Ramblin' Jack Elliott plucks my soft spot

Day One: Registration.

I write this semi-conscious as the jetlag has crept up and I've been tucking into your Quebec spirits to keep things manageable. I've been up all night trying to locate my luggage, which apparently was last seen circling by itself on a caddy belt at Heathrow, and includes all of my medication.

This did not stop me from hanging around for a few stiff drinks yesterday afternoon at the Hotel Godin, keeping out of the rain and hoping to catch up with the more familiar of my species (in hierarchical order - artist managers, label owners, A&R, publishers, media, and at the bottom of the heap, booking agents, whom I will tell you nobody likes.) I watched the delegates collect their passes from the buxom and sullen P.M. staff, and very pleasantly passed the time in this view. I quickly concluded that I will be spending a good deal of my time here alone; everyone is under thirty-five and I seem to be the only A&R here. Lot of lawyers, though, which makes me nervous.

I tried to attend the Pho Dinner, having been a Pho-list lurker for years, but I was recognized at the door and was told it was a closed meeting. For those of you who don't know, Pho is a mailing list, a secret society and the equivalent of the Knights Templar of the independent music community. It comprises technologists, indie label types and libertarian lawyers who have it in their hearts to send majors to ruin. I am more Libertine than Libertarian; it is no wonder we have little use for each other.

Understandably, they are concerned with the kind of revenue we pull in and the market share for which we will fight to the death. Also, they seem to think the fact that we sue the teenagers who steal our Products (mp3's through bittorrents and other fileswapping devices) is diabolical. Pho numbers are way down from where they were six years ago, and my feeling is they're hiding elsewhere under another name.

I went back to the Godin and found a lovely and ravenous P.M. volunteer who said that she had been working since 8 a.m. and was not being paid any money. Her little tummy rumbled and cued me to treat her to a big taco dinner at La Chileneta on St-Laurent. Over dinner, I patted her on the arm and told her to stick it out, and that by next year she would be handling all the Media and Press Relations, she'd see. I know how these things work.

I strode off to The Ukranian Federation, a severely water-damaged venue on a quiet residential street. I must say it reminded me of going to church as a boy- the still inside was an orderly calm; the audience tightly lined along pews, listening intently. And there on stage, beating his awkward foot like a mantis of a preacher - my old man, Al Tuck.

Al came to me about twelve years ago with a lovely little dove of a record, and I've always been warm about him. The lyrics will get you every time, but the boy's problem is that he has this unfortunate dislike of singing. Not at all uncommon among songwriters, though last night he seemed subject to depression, and could not quite belt the stuff out. I went backstage later to see if he needed a drink, but he had disappeared, and traffic was getting difficult to control with the hoardes of depressed birds in their mid-twenties rushing the backstage.

I'll be a Texas horned lizard if the big news didn't come next, ladies and gentlemen, arriving by sweet and cruel effect during the second spectacle of this Pop Montreal Experience. I got my perineal chill!

Honest to goodness, Katie Moore, this ruby of yours. This big, bright, honey-voiced warbler. In gardening shoes and a crimson velvet jacket, no less. With her brownbox guitar held higher than Mary Ford ever managed, she led her band through her songs like it was her own birthday. The band blew a Tim Hardin cover for good measure, and then the saddest song we've ever heard. I watched her and thought, 'we need another redhead out there'. There was Bette. Cyndi. Tori. Loretta. It is a little known fact that redheads are a marketeers' dream come true, and don't get me started an Mick Hucknall, Rick Astley and Billy Bragg. Yes, Billy Bragg has marketeers too.

Unfortunately, we don't do Country. But were I a wiser man, I'd say now is a damn fine time to start. Keeping this girl local would be a crime against broken hearts everywhere.

I was about to follow a gang of birds in leather boots out the door when a camera-shy Ramblin' Jack Elliott took to his chair like a good ol' chap and delivered his goods - most of it was good, but the audience snapping pictures kept causing Ramblin' Jack to forget his lyrics. When you're from rural 1931, I guess you never get too comfortable with cameras.

Being a British Invader and not particularly excited about American folk traditions, I thought I wouldn't last. But the fellow had stories, mate. Beautiful stories. Road stories, true and not. Heartwarming tales about Caesar, his driving dog. About Dylan, man. And Guthrie. And the guy can play, arthritic albeit capable. The sound was sickly and his lone microphone tortured us all, Jack included, with an annoying whistle. For a moment I thought it was those Pho people protecting his copyrights (there were a few -ahem- recording sessions taking place), but the good man cut it out with a mighty quip to the soundman: "Gimme a little more Johnny Cash in there, Sir, and a little less Tiny Tim". Hadn't heard that one since I roadied for the Membranes, back in the day. It's what sold me, that undying love of entertainment and the way he can put together a look, even at 75.

*According to their answering machine, "A community of people who love noodle soup and the convergence of entertainment and technology."