-- Career: Touring/Live performances --
This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on touring and live performances.
Fall/Autumn 1985 - What was the response like during the recent U.S. tour?
JV: What sort of response did you receive during your recent U.S. tour?
BC: Actually, the response we got was pretty interesting because I didn't really know what to expect. A lot of the songs have what could be considered an anti-American stream running through them. It is "anti" certain policies of the American government and "anti" the absense of attitude on the part of the American public-- those who allow these conditions to continue. But the intention is not to be anti-American.
When we arrived in the States, we found that there was a very intense and emotional quality to a lot of the shows. The first part of the tour was around election time and many people felt that their.best intentions had been over-ridden by the Reagan machine. They felt powerless, depressed, and very frustrated. They would bring these feelings to the shows. Hearing songs that expressed their feelings really hit home with them. At the same time it was very nice for us because it made for a kind of sharing with the audience.
But in terms of what that means -- it's difficult to judge how many of those people will leave the shows and actually act on things. Certainly a lot of people said they were going to become more involved. I've gotten many letters from people indicating that they were moved to become more interested and more involved in the Central American issue.
-- from "Interview: Bruce Cockburn" by John Vernile. Written by Mary Anne Devine. From the WUSB 90.1 FM Program Guide, Fall 1985.
Circa 1990 - Commenting on giving interviews while on tour
[Interviewer is Johnny Walker]
Johnny Walker: Difficult to do? Do you enjoy this side of the business? It
must be kind of weird.
BC: It's a bit weird to spend as much time as this talking about
JW: Sort of egotistical, isn't it?
BC: Well, it is a bit, yeah.
JW: Do you get bored in the end?
BC: I mean, I'm the most boring subject in the world to me.
JW: So that's the end of the Bruce Cockburn interview!
[....he continues later in the interview...]
Commenting on touring live and trying to be a productive writer
JW: Nineteen albums, Bruce, in twenty years. That's kind of productive, isn't
BC: I guess so, yeah. I mean, some people seem to crank them out faster, but
that's certainly as much as I could do.
JW: Do the songs come easily? Do they come quickly?
BC: Less so than they used to. In the beginning, a song either came or didn't
and, you know, if it came and I didn't like it, I'd throw it away. But nowÖ
JW: You hang on to it?
BC: Well, yeah. I baby it along a bit more than I used to. Plus, part of the
reason for that is that I'm a lot busier now than I used to be. I used to
tour in Canada. A Canadian tour for me in the early days would consist of
maybe a dozen gigs, and we'd cover that in a month and then the rest of the
year would be free.
JW: Now, last year, I can't tell how many gigs there are on this list for
your 1989 tour.
JW: Ninety dates?
JW: How do you cope with that and remain sane?
BC: You don't, actually. I mean, you get through it is what you do, and then
this year I'm taking a sabbatical in order to recover my sanity, and so far
it's marginally working.
JW: And get a few songs.
BC: That's the hope.
[...later in the interview he continues on...]
Discussing touring solo
JW: Do you like stripping it down like this? Do you like coming down to the
BC: Actually, yes I do. I mean, I really like playing with the band, but
there's something nice about just the bare essentials of the song, as it were.
JW: There's something about being front stage with just the guitar that
somehow makes the song all the more direct, doesn't it?
BC: Yeah. The song becomes everything and the performance either enhances it
or detracts from it. But sometimes what happens when you get a bunch of
people playing a song, is that there's a tendency for the song to just become
an excuse for a musical performance, and you lose sight of what the essence
of the song is.
-- from Radio Interview, BBC Radio 1, 1990, Interviewer is Johnny Walker. Transcribed and submitted by David Newton.
3 April 1992 - Commenting on touring outside of Canada
One reason that this recognition didn't spread south was Cockburn's
reluctance to tour outside Canada. "You might wonder why," Cockburn said,
"but it was traditional at the time I started out for Canadian artists to
come down to the United States, get a reputation and then be accepted back
into Canada as somebody significant. It really was almost impossible, or had
been up to that point, for somebody to start off in Canada and acquire an
audience in Canada. There was a lot of nationalist feeling that grew through
the 60's and early 70's, and a lot of us felt that this was kind of an
ass-backwards way of doing things and we should try and do what we could do
in Canada and then worry about other countries and see if we couldn't make
that go. That's what governed my thinking for a long time."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn: A Burning Light and All the Rest," by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, April 3, 1992, Krause Publications.
3 April 1992 - On Island Records' release of In The Falling Dark, which opened up a market for touring in the US
At the end of 1976, Island Records became the second U.S. label to take up the cause of Bruce Cockburn, releasing his seventh album,In The Falling Dark.A typically evocative effort, the LP included Lord Of The Starfields, still perhaps Cockburn's most moving expression of faith. The association with Island led Cockburn to travel south for the first time in years (he had
played at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1974).
"It wasn't really until the latter part of the 70's that I started to
seriously want to work outside of Canada," he said. "We did a little bit when
In The Falling Dark came out on Island here, which was the next sort of big
record. It was the first time we actually had a real release here, and it got
sort of a good little buzz happening around it, but we were never able to
parlay it into much more than that. But I did do some club work around the
northeast United States." (The album became Cockburn's first to chart in the
U.S., getting to #191, according to Cash Box magazine's listing.)
-- from "Bruce Cockburn: A Burning Light and All the Rest," by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, April 3, 1992, Krause Publications.
6 October 1995 - Commenting upon touring in the US
"I would say that the States is catching up fast, most of it. There are big
holes in the U.S. where I don't go," he says. "We do well in the sort of
northern Midwest -- in Chicago, Madison (Wis.), Minneapolis, all that -- but
once you get out into the flatlands, there's a lot of territory to cross
before you get to the next gig."
-- from "Singer Follows 'Morality' to Success, Cockburn's Convictions Bring Him to Verde Fest as Well", The Arizona Republic, by Salvatore Caputo, October 6, 1995.
[Interviewer is J. Eric Smith.]
J.Eric Smith: I asked Cockburn if U.S. audiences have had difficulty reconciling the deep
Christian spirituality of his material with his very left leaning social
views--since we usually hear such views espoused from opposite ends of the
BC: "Those views may be diametrically opposed in the media," Cockburn responded, "but I don't think they are diametrically opposed in real life. There is a
certain degree of polarization on [reproductive] issues to be sure, not just
in the Christian community, but in the world at large--and it's only an easy
issue for the most callous individuals, who are governed by their own
self-interests as far as I can see."
JES: Cockburn put reactions to this issue into a broader personal perspective,
BC: "My public pronouncements on any number of issues have caused some people
discomfort while other people have applauded them, so I just kind of do what
seems right to me. If people don't agree, hopefully they will at least be
-- from "Interview with Bruce Cockburn", by J. Eric Smith, 1996.
7 September 1996 - On requests and where they fit in
NY: Tell me a bit about playing concerts. I'm sure you must have the
experience of people shouting out a lot for their old favourites. Do you ever
think 'if I have to play that song once again I'm going to scream'?
BC: Yeah. Sometimes they shout for things like 'Free Bird' as well, which I don't feel any obligation to play at all, never having learned it. But yeah -
it's nice when people are interested and have particular songs they want to
hear. They don't always get performed because very often they're songs that
I've forgotten, or that just don't sort of fit the repertoire in a given year.
-- from "Definitely Not the Opera," with Nora Young, CBC Radio, September 7, 1996, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
25 August 1997 -Because of the devout fans surfing Cockburn sites on the Internet, the musician says, he's learned to vary his shows from night to night
"It's challenging because I do use some of the same lines" in between songs
during concerts, says Cockburn, who does not own a computer. "I get
self-conscious about using them on consecutive nights. You become very aware
that (some fans) are sharing this information (on the Internet). You try to
keep the show from being exactly the same. There's always a slight variation
in the songs we play for that reason."
-- from "Cockburn sticks to causes for The Charity of Night", by Jon Matsumoto, CNN Interactive, August 25, 1997.
Fall 1997 - Commenting on translating studio recordings into live performances with different musicians
[Interviewer is Bob Duran]
BD: You're heading out again in support of the The Charity of Night album.
How do you translate what's on the record to a live show when you're not
touring with the same people?
BC: "You hardly ever do. I don't think it's an issue, and I've heard very
few complaints that it's an issue with the audience. You make use of
people in a studio situation that obviously you can't tour with. They're
sort of two different things. It's a simple way to describe it saying
that you go out on tour in support of an album. In fact I'm going out to
play songs for people. That's my thing. The songs can be dealt with in
lots of different ways. When there's an album, we try to present
something that is compatible with the tone of the album. I think we've
done that with this band. But I don't feel any obligation to slavishly
duplicate what's on the record."
BD: When you go on tour, how do you decide what you will play? Is that a
day to day thing?
BC: "Well, we have a repertoire of songs that we know, that's the
starting point. Although we actually have enough songs to do two
completely different shows, we don't generally do it that way because
there's some songs that you kind of feel obliged to put in the show and
there's other songs that you want to have in every show, some from the
new album for instance, and the shows are kind of focused around that as
you've heard. But what else we do depends on the mood of the moment or
rather of the day, I make a plan before the show."
BD: What are the songs you feel obliged to do?
BC: "There's a certain body of songs that people really relate to: If A Tree Falls, Lovers In A Dangerous Time, If I Had A Rocket Launcher,
Wonder Where The Lions Are, for example. All The Diamonds In The World,
we weren't doing on the last leg, we'll probably do it at some shows on
this one. Those songs are sort of touchstones for people at various
points along the way."
BD: And for you?
BC: "Well, I'm not that sentimental. But I feel that people pay a lot of
money to come to these shows and they deserve to get some of the songs
they expect to hear. I always like to include the newest stuff and brand
new things. Once those two requirements are met, it's whatever else
-- from "Interview with Bruce Cockburn" by Bob Duran, Fall, 1997.
Steve Lawson Was that [Christmas] a chance to re-indulge your love of folk music?
BC: "Well, in a way.. circumstantially I guess... The Christmas album was something
I'd wanted to do for 20 years because I'd loved that music and thought I
could do something with it, but it took that long to get somebody to pay for
it. We were doing these radio shows out of New York, we did 5 in the end,
which became the Columbia Records Radio Hour, which became a monthly show
that they did, I ended up doing all the Christmas ones."
SL: And you duetted with Lou Reed on Cry Of A Tiny Babe????
BC: "I know, it amazes me too - you should have been there when it happened. We'd
rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the
song, and it came time for his verse and that's what he did, and I just
started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus."
SL: And live? At Greenbelt the guitar playing was really front and centre
[editor's note: Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu]Ö
BC: "Thatís always been part of the live shows - Dialogue With The Devil,
although Iím playing a different thing in the solo part of it, itís basically
the same way I was doing it in 1974. To some extent those little lead things
have always been in the shows, more so than on any of the records, and with
the band shows thereís always been more electric guitar leads, until now
when it seems to be evening out a bit. Itís fun to play, you know? Itís
partly getting older and allowing myself more freedom. Iíve always had this
built in limitation of things supposed to be a certain way, Iíve a limited
concept of how things can be and how stretchy you can make things, and over
the years thatís gotten a lot looser."
-- from Bruce Cockburn Interview, Guitarist Magazine, November, 1999, by Steve Lawson.
December 1999 - Commenting on being appreciated in the US
KBCO: Do you ever feel under appreciated in the States?
BC: "Maybe in certain parts of the States. There's a certain patch of the
Midwest where I feel somewhat under appreciated. I define it basically in
terms of where I can tour and where I can't - Where there are gigs to be had
and people won't come out to shows. There are not many places in the US like
that anymore. In terms of radio play, the AAA format has been very good to
me over the last few years particularly, so no complaints there."
-- from KBCO Interview December, 1999.
January 2000 - Commenting on touring and the land mines issues
[Interviewer Joseph Roberts.]
Joseph Roberts: ....(tour dates) I hope our readers have a chance to hear your
new music. What's your intention with this tour [editor's note: Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu ]
BC: "On tours the songs are the prime concern. They are most
truly themselves when they're being performed. I just did a five week run in
Europe followed by a week of benefit shows in California around the land
mines issue. That's something that needs to be addressed."
JR: It's just horrific.
BC: "People are deliberately making devices that are designed to blow off
limbs of innocent people indiscriminately. I mean if somebody picks up a gun
and goes to war voluntarily at least they're consciously taking chances.
Land mines are just there like a disease."
-- from "Conversations with Bruce Cockburn", Common Ground, January, 2000, interviewed by Joseph Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.
10-17 February 2000 - Commenting on his reception by the American audiences/media
"I actually don't have any complaints about how I've been received by
mainstream America - I'm doing just fine."
Commenting on his music fitting into the Triple-A format
"I'm not among the great luminaries that have to worry about coverage in the
tabloids all the time, but I'm doing okay and the audience continues to
expand and be a very broad demographic. [That audience is made up of] people
who like to be entertained by somebody with substance, somebody who asks a
bit of them."
-- from "The Good Fight, Politics, religion and music are a fine mix for Bruce Cockburn", Vancouver Sun, February 10-17, 2000. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.
25 March 2000 - Commenting on being on The David Letterman Show
"It's a big deal in terms of putting yourself out in front of a large number of people for a minute," says Cockburn, who first sang A Dream Like Mine on Letterman's NBC show in 1991. "It was a scary thing, the first time I did it. I was panic stricken. I was like, 'Argh! The Letterman show! National U.S. TV! And all that.' But then when you get doing it, it's a gig."
--from "Breakfast In Toronto, Dinner In New York: Bruce Cockburn Booked On David Letterman," by Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun, 25 March 2000.
3 August 2000 - Commenting on performing on this tour (Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu) with a gig almost every night.
"I'm having a good time of it, that's for sure. And the band has just been
getting better and better and the gigs are just increasing in the fun factor
all the way along."
-- from "Canadian Singer/Songwriter Bruce Cockburn Inspired by 30-year Journey", by Pamela White, Colorado Daily, U. Colorado, August 3, 2000.
8 March 2002 - Commenting on touring solo during his 2002 Anything Anytime Anywhere tour
"It's a little less comfortable for me, because it's easier when there's the
drummer and bass player making noise that covers my mistakes, and it's fun to
have the camaraderie of a band playing onstage. The tradeoff is, the solo
context puts the song at the center of things - here it is, words and music,
this is what I wrote. And I get to relate with the audience directly. It's
very enjoyable. "
-- from "Cockburn's musical passion - live in new CD, Anonymity doesn't stop, "Greatest Hits" collection", Denver Post, 8 March 2002, by G.Brown.
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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.