by Lynn Stevenson
Who else could make socks seem so salacious? Cedric Smith is larger than life and over the top – with his arm in a cast and high on medical morphine – he added his amazing voice and huge personality to the unique musical conversation that is David Woodhead’s Coffee House Confabulation. “Spirits of Rasputin! Spirits of Raaaassputin!!!” bellowed Smith. In frigid Ottawa – home of “Winterlewd“… “Women shall be raaaavished. There will be VODKA!”
Anyone unfamiliar with the singular blend that is the Confabulation became quickly aware this would be a very different evening – a night indeed to remember. For there was not only Cedric Smith – actor, performer, poet extraordinaire and the multi-talented David Woodhead on fretless bass and various other instruments, but stylish Doug Wilde on keyboards and the simply wonderful Anne Lindsay on violin.
As Spirit of Rasputin’s Host Tony Turner pointed out – these are all “musicians’ musicians” working at the interplay of an incredible range of musical styles and genres. With layers of sound rich and poignant, mixing and blending a potent brew – the experience was at times exhilarating, at others moving, and at others still – very funny. I won’t quickly forget the conjured image of “The Codpiece of Gerussi” swaggering unencumbered through the dark streets of Stratford.
Best known for his highly creative instrumental work, Woodhead amused the audience by morphing into folk singer mode, capo judiciously applied, to sing his “railway song” before moving deftly back into what can only be described as Beat inspired “folk jazz”.
“Where were YOU in the sixties?” says Smith as his intro to Coffee House Days – Confabulation’s tribute to the glorious sixties coffeehouse – places such as the Black Swan in Toronto or our own Rasputin’s Cafe. Real or imagined – the memories are sweet.
Sweeter still are the poems this group gave song to – poems of Neruda and Lorca, of Milton Acorn and Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Woodhead’s own grandfather writing of a brother lost to the machines and carnage of the Great War. Noise and violence. Air and atmosphere. Shards of glass bright and dangerous. “Buildings bumping into clouds.” A nameless worker falls to his death. Dark streets… “Sniffing wind so fine it was like ether.” And dandelions.. “Dandelions I love because they grow in all the places no one wants them, except children, and poets, and themselves.” from Acorn’ s Bright Moon. With Smith swaying to the intricate sound, gripping his newly broken arm, speaking strong images: “I have lost myself in the sea many times… my tongue full of love and agony” from Lorca’s Gacela de la Huida. It was impressive stuff.
Quiet by nature, a perfect foil to Smith – Woodhead was the architect of the evening and deserves much praise not only for his own remarkable talents but for bringing such wonderful voices together. A favourite of which had to be Anne Lindsay.
With dark hair and fingers flying – she was a delight to watch; delighted as she was with her own music and that of her fine companions. With so much joy, she whirled through traditional airs and klezmer tunes and even Don Messer tributes. And the woman can sing too! Backed up beautifully by Doug Wilde, Lindsay offered a heartfelt rendition of Gershwin’s The Man I Love.
This might have been a perfectly fine conclusion to an extraordinary evening – but the group offered one more. Smith sang Carrickfergus – blending Irish and Appalachian melancholy to find the perfect poignant note upon which to end.