Cockburn savours second chances in touring, life
Fatherhood 'exciting,' Atlantic Canada shows happy prospect for performer

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10 February 2012 - SOMETIMES life has a way of making its own plans for you.

Like any touring musician, Bruce Cockburn has learned to expect the unexpected over the years, but the last couple have brought more than their share, both pleasant and otherwise.

In the latter category, it was a case of pneumonia in 2010 that cropped up after a trip to Bolivia and forced him to cancel a string of East Coast dates.

This week the Canadian folk icon makes good on his promise to return to the Maritimes with a series of shows starting Monday in New Glasgow.

Besides the pneumonia, which took a month to recover from ("I lost weight, which I felt pretty good about, but I don’t recommend it as a way to get out of the rat race"), the 66-year-old musician also had to clear his schedule in November while he became a father for the second time.

"Ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be doing this; I’ve never been much of a planner, but let’s say that my vision for my waning years wasn’t that," chuckles Cockburn, who now has an infant daughter, Iona, with his girlfriend M.J. Hannett in San Francisco.

"It’s exciting. My girlfriend’s ... at the age where if she was going to have a kid, now would be the time, so we decided to get on with it," says Cockburn, from his house near Kingston, Ont.

"For me, it’s kind of a second chance in a way, not that I feel terrible about my first chance at it. My grown-up daughter has two kids of her own and a third is imminent, and I’m very proud of her, but I’ve missed a lot. When I was younger I was too wrapped up in the concerns of my art and this and that, all the stuff you think is so important.

"I still think my art is important; I take it very seriously, but at the same time I recognize other things and I’m more awake to the details of having a baby now and appreciating the day-by-day changes. It’s fun."

The birth of Iona also meant missing out on attending the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards in Toronto, where Cockburn won for contemporary album and solo artist recording of the year with his latest release, the earth-toned Small Source of Comfort, produced by longtime friend and colleague Colin Linden.

The record was also nominated for a Juno Award this week for solo roots and traditional album of the year, a category he shares with Pictou County’s own Dave Gunning.

The pair was also tied as top nominees at November’s CFMAs, and although he was previously unfamiliar with Gunning’s music before the awards, Cockburn says he was glad to see some attention going to his tribute to the legacy of Nova Scotia’s Celtic godfather, John Allan Cameron.

"I have some fond memories of hanging out with John Allan in the ’70s," says Cockburn, who was also a guest performer on Cameron’s CBC-TV show at the end of that decade.

"I regret that I didn’t keep up with him in later years, because he was such a good guy.

"My life has been sort of a whole ... it continually drifts, so I’ve ended up inadvertently saying goodbye to people over the years, and he’s one of them. He and his wife Angela, and me and my then-wife, used to hang out in Ottawa and elsewhere, but his work deserves to be recognized."

Cameron was also one of the first artists to cover a Cockburn song, singing his theme to the Don Shebib film Goin’ Down the Road on his 1972 album Get There By Dawn, the first of a number of East Coast acts to dip into his catalogue, along with the Rankin Family, the Barra MacNeils and even Halifax indie rock pioneers Jellyfishbabies.

It’s no wonder Cockburn can’t wait to express his affinity for Atlantic Canada with this week’s solo shows, and the new songs from Small Source of Comfort are perfectly suited to an intimate setting.

The record is mostly acoustic, with some notable assists from Linden, violinist and Bill Frisell collaborator Jenny Scheinman and former Wailin’ Jennys singer Annabelle Chvostek.

Cockburn says much of the album was composed while staying in his girlfriend’s old apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., working primarily with variations on the DADGAD tuning used by guitarists ranging from Richard Thompson and Jimmy Page to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Trey Anastasio from Phish.

Originally he was thinking about making a record that was "really noisy," more electric and improvisational, "but you can’t make that kind of noise in an apartment."

"You can put on your headphones and plug in your guitar, but that just doesn’t do it for me. What I had in mind was Sunn meets Albert Ayler, and you need to have a big space for that."

To see Cockburn in some bigger spaces, check out his Maritime tour starting on Monday at New Glasgow’s Glasgow Square Theatre, followed by a Valentine’s Day show on Tuesday at Halifax’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

Nova Scotia dates continue on Sun., Feb. 19, at Truro’s Marigold Cultural Centre; Tues., Feb. 21, at The Pearl Theatre in Lunenburg; Thurs., Feb. 23, at Sydney’s Membertou Trade and Convention Centre; Fri., Feb. 24, at Mermaid Imperial Centre in Windsor; wrapping up on Sat., Feb. 25, at Liverpool’s Astor Theatre.

~ from The Chronicle Herald - by STEPHEN COOKE, 10 February 2012. (

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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.