Walking into a nearly empty shop on a First Friday wasn’t the most promising thing but the music coming from the far end of the room carried a better message. With fewer bodies to absorb the volume the sounds of the instruments landed on the ear as either an invitation or a seductive caress — take your pick. Given that one of the instruments was an acoustic guitar being played with a touch that bordered on the sublime it could easily have been the latter. The intricate percussion work, rhythm guitar playing and singing that were coming across were tasty and what formed among the trio was something that became far more than the sum of its parts.
The sublime work on the guitar was coming from the hands and soul of Cameron Milne. In any field there’s people who learn and do well, and there’s the others who just have it. People with the aptitude often work the hardest to hone their abilities but “having it” means an hour, week, month, year and so on produces far more than the same efforts from someone with less of a natural feel. Cameron has it. In his hands guitars become living things singing joyously to the cosmos.
The percussion providing their anchor came from a Cajón that was played by John Lovatt. Those instruments (basically Irish Drums) don’t look like much but the fact that simply hitting different spots on their small space changes their tone makes their capabilities are immense. In John’s hands this small instrument held their time signatures in place while providing enough subtle ornamentation to make it seem like a small orchestra.
In between them Paul Knapp held down the rhythm guitar while delivering the vocals. His singing had a hollow dissonance to it that’s reminiscent of what Michael Stipe was like when REM was filling the airwaves. That was especially noticeable when they covered ‘This One Goes Out To The One I Love; the apocalyptic sense that piece has (even though it’s a ballad) was conveyed fully by their take. They also played a fair bit of the work by The Tragically Hip and paid solid tribute to the late Gord Downie.
What things kept coming back to though were the exchanges between the instruments. These three listen to each other very closely. Cameron was often quick to fill spaces Knapp left for him while Lovatt embellished them with bursts of percussive ornamentation. Periodically he added short melodic lines while his partners joined forces on the rhythm part while Cam served up short passages of ravishingly played speed picking. Their sound got raw at times as well, and that was nice too. Getting down and dirty is always good.
The group got very little in the way of an audience and that was sad. The brutally cold weather was a factor and there were higher profile events at other venues as well. They’re also not as well known as many who’ve played for the event but the fact is, people missed out. These are three excellent musicians who play a lot but (as far as I know) mainly in places that are off the beaten track.
There’s going to be more heard from them though, and that’s a good thing.
CLICK HERE for more photos of Strum N Drum taken by Brian Hay