Sing Me The Songs

Where’s that Newsletter? I have been asking myself that very question, waiting for the Web Muses to pay me a visit. One complicating factor is that I am now the proud possessor of a Facebook page! (joeboydproducer – please visit and “Like” it if you are so inclined…) How do I reconcile the expansive vistas of my occasional newsletters with the compact and frequent communications preferred by Social Media? I confess I’m not sure, but I’m sending out a long, wordy Newsletter anyway and worry about Facebook later…

In June, Nonesuch released the 2-cd set of the Kate McGarrigle Celebration concerts I produced over the past few years in London, New York and Toronto. It’s called “Sing Me The Songs” and includes performances by Rufus, Martha and Anna, naturally, plus Norah Jones, Teddy Thompson, Antony Hegarty, Linda Thompson, Emmy Lou Harris, Jimmy Fallon and many more. There is also a film called “Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You”, which is built around footage of the Thursday evening show at Town Hall in New York in May, 2011. It has been shown at a few festivals, at BAM and had a run at Film Forum in New York in late June. It will soon be available on line for downloading – I’ll keep you posted.

Producing those shows – and the cd set – was very gratifying for me. Of course I like to be proved right and I thought the concerts convinced (and surprised) everyone in the audience about Kate’s greatness as a songwriter. I love the way her songs connected the precise with the eternal:

So I’ll just pin this note within your coat

And leave the garden gate unlocked.

from “I Cried For Us”. Always so practical! The tiniest gesture filled with emotion….

One line that became a favourite of mine (sung by Rufus at all four concerts), is the closing couplet of “Southern Boys”:

And don’t extend your hand

‘Cause I couldn’t move at all

Perhaps you need to have experienced first hand a visit to the southern gentry to appreciate it. In the rest of the civilized world, such a moment usually triggers a “please don’t get up” as you are introduced to a seated person who struggles to rise. But Kate’s line perfectly captures the off-hand arrogance of the southerner who trumps your ‘don’t get up’ with ‘wouldn’t dream of it, it’s far too hot and I’m too lazy’. Which chimes perfectly with the irresistible drawl of the heart-breaker boy whose ‘breath in your ear is as soft as the cotton’.

One line that took us all by surprise at the first concert was from a song I’d long forgotten and Kate never recorded. I came across it by accident while trawling among the demo cassettes for a song for Teddy Thompson. One of Kate’s most powerful images emerged from the requiem for a glorious vacation that is “Saratoga Summer Song”:

This crazy summer is over

No more bees, no more clover

And the rope at the swimming hole swings by the weight of the wind

Then, in the last stanza, after rhyming lox with equinox, she emits a cry to hold back the passage of time:

Bring back the laughs, bring back the tears

Bring back the beers

Bring back the dope and the rope

Which, you could say, is a theme running through Kate’s writing, from the

No more candlelight

No more romance

No more small talk

When the hunger stops

of “I Eat Dinner”, to the practical advice of “On My Way To Town”

I’m dropping pebbles in my path

I will not get lost when I come back

to “Go Leave”’s genius triplet

We could talk ‘til words were coming out our ears

Not just for days or weeks or months, but it’s been years

And here they come, here come my tears

and culminating in her final plea

So make the world slow down a bit

It’s going way too fast,

and I just want it to last.

Kate never let go of the past. These days, that can sound like a criticism, but therein lay her genius. Her father was born in the 19th century. She, Anna and Jane grew up in a household that sang around the piano in the evenings instead of watching tv. As she recounts in “Work Song” –

Sing me songs of days gone by

Make me laugh, make me cry

Kate connected us to our true selves, our culture, our history, our emotions both raw and repressed. There was no shame for her in looking back at her life, at her culture, her musical history, the friends and lovers with whom she had made music. But she brought it right into the moment, to life in front our eyes with a joyfulness and wit at which we could but marvel.

The moment in the concerts I found most moving was hearing Martha sing what I consider Kate’s life motto, from “Matapedia”:

But I could not slow down

No, I could not slow down

And I was not afraid

No, I was not afraid

True words; Kate was unafraid. Knowing her for 35 years was a great gift, a stimulating presence in my life. I produced the last concert she gave, the family’s Christmas show at Royal Albert Hall in London. Kate knew she was dying, but she worked tirelessly preparing the music. At rehearsals, she would curl up on a sofa and sleep until she was called up, then sing her part and go back to sleep. Of course, she stole the show with her performance of the last song she wrote, Proserpina.

Everyone (producer and label included) has waived their royalties so that the income is all for Kate’s Cancer Foundation. So go on, do yourself a favour and buy “Sing Me The Songs”.

My own wish, in this moment, would be to bring back those golden moments in my life when I was in the presence of Kate McGarrigle, singing.