What music is supposed to be

Tara Bradbury
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Ian Foster's new album 'The Evening Light' takes performing to a whole new level

St. John's singer/songwriter Ian Foster will open for Skydiggers at two shows in St. John's Nov. 16 and 17.

In his song, "An Open Letter From the Island," Ian Foster wants to correct a few misconceptions about Newfoundlanders.

"I'm gonna tell you a few things

You may find hard to believe

I grew up with running water

And access to TV

And I've never fished from a fishing boat

Although I love the sea

Just a couple of things that you should know about me"

He doesn't play the fiddle, he goes on to sing. He has his original teeth, pays his own way and won't play you an Irish tune. They're all overplayed, anyway.

The song isn't a new one, but it's one that has taken on a life of its own over the past couple of months, particularly with the release of a video.

Made by Alona Power and Andrew Winter and filmed around St. John's about a year ago, the clip features local residents and a few of Foster's musical colleagues - Sherman Downey, Sean Panting, Jerry Stamp and Matt Hornell included - holding handmade signs bearing quick facts about the province.

"When I play that song on the road, it does get a reaction," Foster said of "An Open Letter from the Island.

"A lot of people can relate to the sentiment of the song. It's cool that it's taken on another life since the video came out, and there have been some really lovely comments. It's definitely been opened up to a new audience."

Touching listeners to the soul with music is what Foster does best.

A multiple MusicNL and East Coast Music Award nominee, he's as much a storyteller as a musician, and often spending as much time on stage telling the story behind the songs as singing the songs themselves.

Touring for a good portion of the year, Foster gains inspiration from the road, not in the sense of writing songs about travelling, but new environments and new people mean, to Foster, a collection of new stories.

"Story begets story, I find," he explained. "I feel like (performing) is supposed to be a dialogue - it's not support to be 'We're going to go there and have this pushed at us and then we're going to leave;' there's supposed to be an interaction. Sometimes I'm lucky to have it as a literal dialogue, and sometimes it's an invisible dialogue, but it continues within that other person who saw that show for a long time. I say that as a fan."

Promoting his newest record, "The Evening Light" - which earned him four MusicNL award nominations this year - Foster toured Italy and the Netherlands this past spring, his second trip there in two years, thanks to a European booker. Over there, he learned the musical connection he craves can transcend barriers of culture and even language.

Foster took to the stage with his backup singer (his girlfriend, Nancy Hynes) and an Italian guitarist who helped him translate his stories. Italians, many of whom didn't understand the lyrics he was singing, told him afterwards he sang with so much heart.

"It's a very different comment than you would get here," Foster says.

"It's definitely not just about the lyrics. They can feel it, and that's the value of the music. It's equal to the lyrics.

"I think if you're honest in what you're presenting, there are still people who aren't going to get it, and that's totally fine, but the people who get it will really get it. You're not doing anyone a favour by being dishonest or trying to remain aloof. It's all about laying it on the line, really."

A particularly powerful moment for Foster happened during a show at Palazzo Ducale, a castle in Revere, Italy, as he performed his song, "Red Skies," written from the point of view of his grandfather while stationed in Italy in the Second World War.

As Italian history goes, Foster says, the town was almost completely destroyed by bombs during the war, except for a church and the palazzo, where residents lived for about 10 years, until the community was rebuilt. Nowadays, the palazzo serves as a museum and art gallery as well as a venue for shows.

When Foster told his father where he was scheduled to perform, his dad told him his grandfather had been involved in battles in that area.

"So three years after I wrote 'Red Skies,' through no connections you could have ever imagined, I'm playing this song about my grandfather in the exact place where he would have been," Foster says, incredulously.

"It was a pretty amazing, powerful moment. I told this long story to people who are not English speakers, but I had to tell it. People felt it - they didn't get all the words, I'm sure, but you could just feel a certain kind of reaction."

Foster's in town at the moment, and performed "Deep Dark Night," the song from "The Evening Light" which earned him a nomination for SOCAN Songwriter of the Year, at last Sunday's MusicNL awards.

Next week, he'll hit the road for Maine with Country Artist of the Year Terry Penney for a few shows, before coming home to open for Skydiggers at two shows at the Rocket Room in St. John's Nov. 16 and 17.

Skydiggers are touring in support of "Northern Shore," their eighth studio album and first new music in three years.

Tickets for the Skydiggers shows are $20 and are available at Rocket Bakery or by calling 738-2011.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Geographic location: St. John's, Italy, Netherlands Revere Maine Northern Shore

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Recent comments

  • Beverley Rowe
    October 21, 2012 - 12:22

    Great article, Tara on a "special" performer. Ian has the passion so lacking in some of today's musicians.