Artist: The Queer Songbook Orchestra
Songs: Telstar [The Tornados cover] + Don't You Pay Them No Mind (feat. Georgie Gordon) [Nina Simone cover]
Recorded at Church of the Holy Trinity ("Songs of Resilience"), March 26, 2015.
Although it contains a number of fabulous musicians1, the Queer Songbook Orchestra is more than just a band — it's as much an archival project and a community resource, "taking a look back at the history of popular music with the queer lens intact, and revealing the backstories and personal narratives behind much of the last century's popular songs". The songs are often presented with stories — stories of composers and musicians who had to encode their true meanings and stories of listeners who found empowerment through music.
The two songs here (from a phenomenal night filled with them) hint at both of those: "Telstar" shifts the song from poppy ebullience to a lament for composer/producer Joe Meek, whose queerness intensified his isolation in postwar Britain, while Geordie Gordon (of Guelph disco-rockers The Magic) sang a Nina Simone song that gave him strength. These two songs also showcase the band's musical ambition, as they've commissioned forward-looking arrangements for the songs that eschew good-time karaoke-style covers.
There's a lot of praise due to Shaun Brodie (known for his work in The Hidden Camera, Evening Hymns, plus heaps of live + session work with many Can-indie luminaries), who shepherded this project, and mention has to be made of Sean Frey and Amy Siegel, whose live projections added even more emotional heft to the music. Keep an eye out for the QSO's next presentation (June 21st at Buddies in Bad Times), which will celebrate the life and work of Duke Ellington sideman and great composer Billy Strayhorn.
1 On this night the band was: Sienna Dahlen (vocals), Alex Samaras (vocals), Simone Schmidt (vocals), Gary Beals (vocals), Geordie Gordon (vocals), Jennifer Burford (violin), Evan Lamberton (cello), Lief Mosbaugh (oboe/english horn/vocals), Mara Pellerin (french horn), Shaun Brodie (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ghislain Aucoin (piano/vocals), Jordan Howard (guitar), Andrew Downing (double bass), Stefan Schneider (drums).