Weekly Photo Feature #5

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Gordon Quinton shot for 'Sea Winds' album

In a province that is flush with great guitarists, Gordon Quinton is in the top five. I won't say too much about him right here, since the following article goes into some detail. I wrote this piece for The Sunday Express in 1989, if memory serves, to mark the release of Quinton's latest album, Sea Winds'. It truly was an amazing piece of work, and every bit as evocative as suggested below.

When I first learned photography, I went all-out and learned dark room as well, shooting black and white so that I could develop and print it myself. I printed all of my own stuff at The Herald, but The Express had the luxury of staff photographer Ned Pratt, who would have developed the film for me.

The image below was captured at Quinton's home in downtown St. John's (click to see a larger version). The photo speaks for itself just a nice relaxed portrait but I do like the inclusion of the cat, who was clearly unimpressed by all the goings on.

I understand that Quinton's most recent release, titled The Yellow Sky', is also excellent. If you can find it, buy it (same goes for Sea Winds', which I think was only manufactured on vinyl).

Quinton's latest release is definitely his best

Gordon Quinton's music is being played in the strangest places. The musician, renowned for his remarkable dexterity on the acoustic guitar, has had his last record played on radio stations in the United States, Australia, Norway, Belgium, and several BBC stations in Great Britain.

He's had reviews of that album - titled 'Wildwood Flower' - in magazines out of Ottawa, Pennsylvania, The Netherlands, West Germany and England.

He's received nearly 100 pieces of what might be termed 'fan mail', from music lovers all over the globe who want to buy the album, or know more about the artist.

But the album's strangest company yet was on CFUV FM, an alternative-music university radio station in Victoria, B.C. The light, country-tinged 'Wildwood Flower' peaked at number 22 on their playlist, right in there with Rich Kids on LSD, the Meat Puppets and the Happy Hate Me Nots.

It's ironic then, that when Quinton applied to the Canada Council this year for funding to record his soon-to-be-released 'Sea Winds' album, the agency refused because his music was "too commercial".

"It was a demo tape, and what's funny is, there were songs on it like Cape St. Mary's' and 'Mussels in the Corner', plus two original solo acoustic guitar pieces which weren't commercial at all," Quinton said, in an interview with The Sunday Express. "So it's a good thing I didn't put bass and drums on it - they probably would have thought it was acid rock.

"I was a bit disappointed, but it just made me more determined to go ahead and do it myself. So I (produced) it out of my own savings, borrowing money, whatever."

What Quinton has produced is without doubt his best album ever, a collection of 12 original, highly complicated acoustic guitar songs - with finger picking only - and no backing musicians whatsoever. It's an artistic, musically articulate work that exhibits Quinton's strong sense of musical structure, coupled with a fine sense of decoration; Quinton knows not only how to compose a distinctive melody, but how to embellish it as well.

And these are not mere tunes that slide pleasantly by, like innocuous elevator music. No, these are carefully crafted aural sculptures, with a texture and mood that calls forth images in the mind compatible with the song titles. It would be pretentious to say that one could guess Quinton's intent by listening blindfolded to these songs; however, some clues can be gleaned through the titles.

"The song Sea Winds' was composed about one particular day last November," Quinton explained. "A friend of mine was visiting from Ottawa, and we took a hike on the trail around Signal Hill. It started off as a pretty nice day and all of a sudden it got really cold, windy and overcast - but we kept going anyway. We were sitting there on a rock and she said Why don't you try to capture today on your guitar?' and that idea kind of stuck in my mind. Over the next month or so the idea came together. You can almost hear the sound of the wind and the rain in there."

Another illustration of Quinton s musical imagery is Russian Ships', a song written about those frequent visitors to St John 's Harbour. "The whole idea of these Russian ships is, to me, like reading a mystery novel. On the outside, the ships are pretty dark and gloomy, so I tried to capture that mood, as well as the brightness of the way the sailors enjoyed themselves downtown..."

Return Home', the closing track on the album, is a moving blend of melancholy and optimistic note patterns that holds special significance for Quinton. "First of all, it ties in with the Russian Ships' (the previous song) going back home. But right in the middle (of recording the album), my girlfriend Patti's brother was killed in a logging accident in B.C. Then another friend of mine, David Pope, died a couple of weeks later. And then my good friend Neil Murray died. All three were very interested in the album, but they died before they got to hear any of it... So I was in the studio recording it this summer and thinking about the journey home for them, wherever it was they were going, and actually recording it for them."

Quinton is quick to point out that, while most pieces were composed with specific images and meanings in mind, the listener will probably hear it differently - which is why he didn't include detailed liner notes on song origins.

"People will not necessarily have the same visions spring to mind that I did," he said. "I want the music to be open to the imagination of the listener, so they can draw their own interpretations... I hope the music will move people.

"People have asked me if this is a new age' music album. I tell them that it is actually any age' music. I've drawn on all my musical background influences (on this album), as well as free form styles."

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  • FABIAN
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    DEAR GEOFF, GREAT PICTURE OF GORD QUINTON,LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER YOUNG GORD AS IN LIGHTFOOT. GEOFF, I ALSO I THE CAT IN THE SHOT ,EVERYTHING LOOKS OKAY IN YOUNG GORDS WORLD.[ AH,A WARM PLACE FROZEN IN TIME.WHEN I LEFT ST:JOHNS IN 1969 A BUDDY OF MINE NAMED DAVE NICOL, LEFT ABOUT A YEAR LATER FOR GOOD OLD T.O. AND DID OKAY ?: ...YAH, ME ED THORNE AND DAVE NICOL , USE TO DO KITCHENS PARTIES IN CHURCHILL SQUARE..ANYWAY GEOFF, SORRY ABOUT THAT HOWIE CRACK LAST TIME .HOWIE WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE LEAFS OF OLD, I MET WHEN I WAS A KID ON MOUNT SCIO,PEGANNE WOULD BE UP RIDING WITH CHARLETTE STORY.HOWIE WOULD BE VISITING COLIN.P.S. ASK BOB WAKEMAN IF HIS FATHER WAS JOE WAKEMAN HE MAY BE MY COUSIN.BY FOR NOW BY.....FABIAN MARK.