Fergus_Black Swan1I first met Fergus Hambleton in person while I was performing with my trio, Graye featuring Todd Miller and Lawrie Ingles, at a small club on Yonge Street in Toronto called Rocky Raccoons. It was a mid-week jam night and we were going to do a few songs when I looked up and Fergus was sitting in the front row taking in what can only be described as a “loose” performance of one of my original songs.

SattalitesHe had seen my announcement on Facebook and, living in the neighbourhood, decided to stop in. I was mortified. I had corresponded with him over many years via email as he supplied me with information about his solo career, his work with A Passing Fancy, The Basics and the Sattalites for the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia I was writing. He’d been fixture on the Toronto music scene for over 40 years and here he was watching me, the charlatan musical hack eking out a tune at a ramshackle jam session. He feigned enjoyment that night but I didn’t hold it against him. He came out to see me play. It’s like having Michelangelo show up to watch you paint. The honour was all mine.

In October 2011 I put together a pre-sale event with promoter Pete Otis for the Encyclopedias at the Black Swan Tavern in Toronto featuring several representative artists from the history of Canadian music – Terry Draper (Klaatu), Jeff Jones (Ocean, Red Rider), Bob Bryden (Reign Ghost, Christmas), and Fergus.


I expected him to do a solo performance and he surprised everyone by putting a small pop combo together with Cleave Anderson (Battered Wives, Blue Rodeo) on drums and Tim Bovaconti on bass (Ron Sexsmith, Carpet Frogs) . The crowd was small that night so I felt like the contingent there was performing just for me. It was a very memorable night.

Fergus_Black Swan2

Fergus Cleave and Tim

Some time later he offered to buy my Encyclopedias so I trekked downtown on foot with a satchel and the books and popped into his place of work – The Harris Institute – where he taught songwriting, music history and pitfalls of the music biz in general. We had a long chat in the foyer before his sessions started and it became clear that I really liked his energy and his willingness to help anyone with a passion for music like his.

Fergus_Hugh's Room1A week ago Fergus dropped by my work – coincidentally not far from that club where I met him for the first time – and he invited me to his CD release party, personally. I already had a copy of his new CD ‘Written On the Wind which had been sent via his manager Gerry Young and distributor True North/Linus Entertainment via David Macmillan. I was already digging the tracks. The live show, organized by the wonderfully supportive Jane Harbury, was going to be the icing on the cake.

And so it came to pass that Fergus took the stage at Hugh’s Room last week – the magnificently perky and unbelievably talented Ault Sisters opened the show

Fergus took the stage with a full complement of musicians – the aforementioned Tim Bovaconti on guitar, album producer George Koller on bass (stand-up and Hoffner), and Davide DiRenzo on drums. The event was planned as a song-by-song re-creation of the album. [all you young artists out there might take a lesson from this].

The album opens with the rolling acoustic gallop of “Never Givin’ Up On Love” (co-written with Rob Whalen) which starts innocuously enough and then, like a 1970s radio hit you’ve forgotten about, breaks wide open with a turn of groove in the chorus and a female harmony provided by the versatile Hermina George who recreated her performance from the CD. Fergus’s voice has a crisp huskiness not heard since Chris Rhea. It provides a base coat for the songs that follow.

“The Edge of The World” unfolds like an early ‘60s Mediterranean movie soundtrack with minor key elegance (think “Girl From Ipanema”) and Fergus playing off his own guitar parts with spry and sparse saxophone by tenor saxophonist John Deehan. PS – The album also closes with a remix that’s a psychedelic sitar-driven freak out.

“She’s Gone Away” puts Fergus in a comforting reggae mood which makes sense given his long association with the Sattalites. Here, the reading is more rootsy than all out reggae, but the groove is there and the melody danceable and infectious. It was recorded at home and mixed by legendary producer Terry Brown.

Traditionally the third or fourth song on a well assembled album is a ballad and Fergus holds fast to tradition with one of his own on “Gold” – a Renaissance styled lament featuring a sparse arrangement of finger picking and stand-up bass by George Koller.
Written On the Wind The title track “Written On the Wind” brings us back with light adult contemporary fare and reminds us that a great song doesn’t necessarily have to be full of drum loops and repetitive choruses. The song whisks the listener along on a breeze, er, wind and capped with a tasty saxophone solo as Fergus delivers a love song for adults.

Fergus shifts gears with a song he wrote for his daughter, “The Time of Your Life”, and it’s an upbeat musical look back at how fast life moves and to enjoy it while you can. His daughter likes the song because she thinks it’s about cake – as Fergus told us during the Hugh’s Room performance.

“Don’t Cry Now” gives us another reggae-styled hook filled track this time with more traditional pop elements and tremolo infused slide guitar – though I got the urge to sing A-Ha’s “Take On Me” in the chorus,  it takes its own twists and turns and is one of the catchier tracks on the album.

VintonOne thing I learned about Fergus is his disdain for pap music being passed off as brilliant artistry. As a 10 year old boy he, like all kids growing up in the Rock and Roll era, had to sit by the radio listening to drivel by the likes of all the crooning Bobbies:  Bobby Vee, Bobby Darin, Bobby Curtola and Bobby Vinton in order to catch songs by true stars like Roy Orbison or Elvis Presley. When producer George Koller presented the idea of doing Brian Hyland’s “Sealed With A Kiss” – a song that Vinton made famous – Fergus was reluctant. He wasn’t interested in putting a song he hated on a new album he loved. But Koller told him to trust in his new idea for an arrangement. And so Fergus recorded this track a cappella with stand-up bass accompaniment. It gives the tune gravitas and Fergus gets a new anecdote. The tune would also come to life at Hugh’s Room with the additional vocal weight of Hermina George and The Ault Sisters.

“Sunday Morning” follows. It was originally recorded on the Satallites’ debut album in 1984 and with its “Greensleeves” driven melody tells a story of young love. It’s a sentimental and melancholy look back at where a relationship ended up while viewing it through the rear view mirror of nostalgia; Finally, “Helpless In the Wind” was written in 1974 and finds its home here for the first time on CD.
Here we get Fergus in fine Gordon Lightfoot form – who he admits was the inspiration for this song. It is a straight-up folk song which we don’t hear enough of these days and is a refreshing change-up for this wildly varied album. Snapshotshttp://www.fergushambleton.com

At the CD release Fergus also threw in one of his early Capitol Records singles called “Ice On the Road” from 1972 (and later re-recorded for the ‘Snap Shots’ album) which guitarist Tim Bovaconti was very vocal about praising because he grew up on the East Coast listening to it as a boy in real time as it charted on radio. It was a great closer to the evening along with an encore (the title of which escapes me…sorry).




Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon


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