A Torontonian Ceilidh in Nancy White’s Kitchen

A few weeks ago a received my first package in my mailbox at school and was delighted to find in there a lovely invitation from the incomparable Canadian songwriter Nancy White to attend a “Song Plugging Fiesta” at her home. She also included a copy of her CD Stickers on Fruit (1999), which is great fun. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked along to Nancy White’s house and my heart soared as I arrived at a sweet house with a purple porch and the happiest kitchen I have ever seen (pretty shades of blue, yellow and a touch of green- it’s just like spring all year ’round). There was a great medley of people at this Song Plugging Fiesta, some were musicians, some were singers, and some were theatre “appreciators.” Nancy hosts these types of Fiestas as a means of connecting singers with her songs in hopes that they will feel drawn to a few of them and will feel compelled to perform them at cabarets, open mics and as audition pieces. It was also a highly entertaining evening and I always feel so fortunate to meet singers and to watch them perform (especially in other people’s kitchens).
Stickers on Fruit is a mixture of folk and quirky novelty songs written by White, many of which provoke a sensation in me of sitting on a blanket in an open field strumming guitars wearing gigantic sunglasses, long straight hair under bandanas, flowery shirts and bellbottom jeans. But then again, it’s hard to pin White down into any one genre as she has written hundreds of songs, many of which were inspired by news and politics stories for CBC radio in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of the songs are reminiscent of Cole Porter especially the sing-along tune “My Life is Picking Up.” She also is the co-writer (with Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhauser) of Anne & Gilbert, which is one of my favourite Canadian musicals (which will be playing at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre in Summerside, Prince Edward Island June 23rd-September 19th, 2009 and Michael Hughes is playing Gilbert!! Expect a review and an interview, I am TOTALLY there!) You can listen to some of White’s music on her MySpace site, and I urge you to check the tracks out, especially if you’re a singer because truly, the possibilities for fun with these songs are endless and incredible!
I will give you some of the highlights from the Song Plugging Fiesta so you can get a more specific sense of White’s talents as a songwriter. The first song she sang was called “Un Peu Cochon” which she sings in French, while Bob Johnston (who played the piano for the evening) translates it line by line into English. It is bilingual hysterics! White has this charming tendency to give shout outs to her friends and colleagues in her songs, which gives me the sense that she can probably turn any situation or even the tiniest morsel of an idea into a song. She mentions singer Stella Walker in “Procrastination Rag,” and wrote an entire song about Johnston’s ability to make a sound like a John Deere tractor. My favourite shout out maybe ever was in the middle of “That Guy” where White said, “like a Canstage telemarketer who you can’t yell at cause you know he’s an actor… Ari Weinberg in fact!” Wow. Zing! Alternatively, “River Mend My Heart,” “Piping Them Home” and “Love in War Time” are gorgeous, heartfelt ballads that tell beautiful stories with poignant imagery.
Patti Loach and Marcia Whitehead (a beautiful opera star with fantastic comedic sensibility) performed White’s song “Darlings, I’m An Artist,” which I first heard at a soiree Patti Loach hosted a few weeks ago, and I absolutely fell in love with it. This duo nails this song, and it’s great to get to watch Loach (piano diva extraordinaire) show off her acting chops! It is this type of performance that I know White is looking for- singer/actors who breathe their own interpretation into these quirky, crisp, little tunes. I hope you all have a chance to see Whitehead and Loach perform this song for the public someday and Whitehead is so incredible. I am looking so forward to the opportunity to see her in an opera!
There are songs about squirrel stuffers, anxiety, dead Presidents of France, illegal meals, crushes on Leonard Cohen, crushes on leading actors, there are songs in French, in Spanish, about Judaism, and gorgeous bare bums, Jesus, Brigadoon and even marijuana. I guarantee if you are a singer, and you want a song that will make an audience laugh and ask you, “wherever did that song come from?”, Nancy White has got just the song for you!
I also guarantee that Jay-Z has got nothing on Bob Johnston. Watching him rap is so hilarious, it can even make Nancy White forget all her own lyrics. And that, my friends, takes talent!

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