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Musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland returns to the stage with Prairies tour

Beverly Glenn-Copeland sings in concert. Image: Penney Kome

Watching the band set up and test their instruments, we were a little worried that the sound might be too loud, as each band member fluttered a hand upward to ask for more volume. We were only one table back from the stage in the renovated King Eddy pub, now incorporated into Calgary's National Music Centre.

Back in the day, we actually heard a blues band in the old King Edward Hotel, a notorious blues joint not far from city hall, where Ralph Klein was reputed to hang out when he was mayor. The bar area was much bigger then, as I recall, stretching all the way back into where CKUA now has an office and studio, broadcasting alternative music on a provincial, publicly funded radio channel, 93.7 FM or ckua.org.

And way back in the day, I saw and heard Beverly Glenn-Copeland at Toronto folk music events, performing as a woman even though (as he told me in an email a couple of years ago) he always knew he was a man. Generations of Canadian parents and children knew him from regular appearances on Mr. Dressup for 25 years, both as a slapstick clown and singing his own songs. He also starred on Sesame Street and contributed music for Shining Time Station.

I looked up Glenn-Copeland on my tablet while we waited for food.

His earlier music is catalogued on YouTube as "Canadian Folk Psychedelic Jazz." This is a huge creative distance from his original training in classical music. "My father played piano," he said during the show, "and he basically played classical music four or five hours a day."         

Classical music training was what brought Glenn-Copeland to Toronto from Philadelphia in the 1960s. He changed course after being exposed to all kinds of local music, and became part of the late 1960s music scene, producing two albums and jamming with musicians like Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell. He also converted to Buddhism, a faith still central to his daily life, as he said during the show.

Good thing we enjoyed our food, because we still had a long time to wait. "Doors open at 7:30," said the advance advertisement. "Show at 8:00." At 8:30, Nick Dourado and Jeremy Costello, two members of his back-up band Indigo Rising, took the stage for 45 minutes of original jazz melodies featuring keyboards and alto saxophone. Though some of the tunes were lively, they were on the cool jazz side. The sound system didn't blow us out of our seats. Then the musicians took a break.

Meanwhile, behind us, the long tall shared tables lining the back half of the King Eddy had filled up with chic 20- and 30-somethings, drinking and talking and laughing. They were proof that the digital age revived Glenn-Copeland's music career when his 1986 Keyboard Fantasies cassette tape, featuring piano and moog synthesizer, caught the ear of an influential Japanese audiophile. This one audiophile's enthusiasm sparked so much interest among other avid listeners, that suddenly record companies were contacting Glenn-Copeland about re-releasing the album -- which Canadian imprint Invisible City Editions did in 2017.

At our table, Paul Christensen reminisced about seeing Glenn-Copeland on the Ontario folk festival circuit, back in the day. A former used-record store owner, he said he still has 15,000 records at home. "And I've never heard another voice like Beverly's," he said. "I would go a long way to hear him. And in my Sarnia days, I did!"

Finally, Beverly Glenn-Copeland took the stage, along with Bianca Palmer and Kurt Inder, who joined Dourado and Costello to form his Indigo Rising back-up band. Breathed gently into wide-open mics, Glenn-Copeland's mostly instrumental music washed over us like water, full of bells and plunked steel drum sounds, often with a single instrument voice picking out the tune against a busy musical background.

Vibrato lent power to his velvety alto/tenor voice on tunes like "The Colour of Anyhow," with its shifting scales up and down his three-octave vocal range. On "Ever New," the melody runs on tiny feet against a rainfall of dancing notes, evoking the up and down of life, and the haunting refrain, "We are ever new."  

For an hour and a half, we floated on the delicate, intricate, music that meandered like a stream, propelling Glenn-Copeland's gentle nuanced vocals towards tonal resolutions. Then the show was over -- no encores -- and the tables behind us emptied out as fans rushed forward for a word or a touch. 

Glenn-Copeland nodded, smiled, and occasionally bowed with a Namaste. He seemed very happy and touched, at 74, to be discovered by a whole new generation of listeners, who still, 40 years later, find his work innovative. 

Image: Penney Kome      

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Beverly Glenn-Copeland performs "The Colour of Anyhow"

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