by Lynn Stevenson
“Sometimes the distance travelled is so great that only parts of you come home.”
It’s a cold wet morning in a West End Ottawa coffee shop. The weather as complex and changeable as the artist opposite me. Ian Tamblyn is a man of many faces – only a few of which grace his homepage: musician, adventurer, playwright. These words don’t come even close to summing up a person who has travelled as far and done as much as this man. Ian Tamblyn has written almost 2000 songs and recorded over 30 independent releases in a career than spans more than three decades.
His sailor’s heart has seen and sung about some of the most remote places in Canada and around the world. Ian’s face is weathered by countless days at sea and the freezing light of icebergs. His photographs are breathtaking. Interviewing him is more than a bit intimidating, but he quickly puts you at ease – revealing yet another face – an everyman – and a wise one – with no delusions about himself or world he moves in.
And move he does! At 62, Ian Tamblyn spends 5-6 months a year on the road – performing for audiences large and small in all corners of the country – more often now in his beloved North. Some of his time has been spent as a teacher in music camps with Inuit youth. Such experiences have resulted in gorgeous songs such as the “Ballad of Mark Jarareuse” which tells the story of Inuit boy in Hopewell, Labrador. Time may go ‘slow on Sundays’- but not, it would seem, for this incredibly prolific, multi-talented artist who never stops working. He has released 10 CDs since 2000! Tamblyn also spends considerable time in Antarctica and other far flung places as a teacher, tour guide and musician.
While he flirts with leaving behind – not the music – but perhaps the “struggle” to reach a wider audience, there is no sign of slowing down in his most recent work including: Willisville Mountain (2009) issued as part of a Northern Ontario multi-disciplinary artists project and his latest and possibly best release, Gyre (2009). This CD includes compelling songs such as “Fool’s Revelation”, “Hurricane Heart”(a tribute to the late Willie P. Bennett) and “Lost in Afganistan”- an unsettling commentary on what many may feel is Canada’s misguided mission there. Gyre reunites Tamblyn with Scott Merritt who co-produced The Middle Distance (1994/95). The CD is a break from his epic Four Coast Project which includes Raincoast (2008) and Superior: Spirit and Light (2007) – the latter nominated for best CD at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2007.
Much of his music speaks of life away, of distant places in remote corners of the world. “I decided if I was going to write about the miles and the places, I should walk them, I should go there,” explains Tamblyn. There is no doubt that Ian Tamblyn is in love with travel, on water especially. My favourite Tamblyn CD, The Body Needs to Travel, helps explain the allure. Yet the cost of distance and time away weighs heavy. Despite his love of the sea, he is aware of its dangers; the ‘mermaids’ that would drag you down or steal your soul. “It’s what happens to all sailors,” says Tamblyn. “The ocean is a huge force…. Sometimes the distance travelled is so great that only parts of you come home.”
Yet despite all this roaming, Ian Tamblyn always finds himself coming back to his home, his sons and his partner, Amanda Shaughnessy, in Chelsea, Quebec. In “The Low Coast Road” from Gyre, he laments,“I used to think I’d learn from lost. I see that’s not true. What I’ve found is but the cost. Of being far from you.” Tamblyn’s journeys are more inward these days. While his latest collection of songs on Gyre were written around the world – Prague, Norway, Ireland, or Antarctica, he notes “the map on this CD is less marked and more imaginary.”
Tamblyn’s internal travel is between what he describes as two “worlds” – the first shaded with a weariness from the struggle to attain the level of audience recognition his work clearly deserves. The second, coloured with a sense of incredible good fortune from having been able to do what he loves and make a living from it without compromise or having to leave. “I have gotten away with murder!” says Tamblyn smiling. In a country where success is measured by moving elsewhere (“if you are so good why are you still here…”), Ian Tamblyn stubbornly stays. It’s a choice he does not regret making – and fans here are fortunate for it.
Often described as a folk music “icon” and a “national treasure”, Juno Award winner Ian Tamblyn has deep roots in both Ottawa’s music and theatre scenes. He has written a dozen plays, many for the GCTC, founded the Acoustic Waves concert series in 1981 and co-founded Writer Bloc, which recently presented the 18th Song-Along together with the Spirit of Rasputin’s. He’s produced CDs of many Ottawa-area singer-songwriters including Tony Turner, Terry Tufts and Chris Maclean (not to mention local punk band Furnaceface!) A multi-instrumentalist, he accompanies his singing with guitar, piano, hammered dulcimer and synthesizer. In addition, his photographs were featured in February in an exhibit at Irene’s Pub titled “So Near & Far Away”.
But despite the strong connection, Tamblyn rarely plays in Ottawa these days. So don’t miss your chance to see Ian Tamblyn at his finest on April 18th at the Elmdale Tavern as part of the Spirit of Rasputin’s Sunday concert series. Tamblyn will be joined by singer-songwriter Andy Mason who shares Ian’s love of the North and respect for Aboriginal culture as well as the environment. Tickets are $15, available at the Elmdale and the Ottawa Folklore Centre. For more information about Ian Tamblyn go to www.tamblyn.com (http://www NULL.tamblyn NULL.com)