Pat Blythe – The Melodious Stories of Ember Swift

Well….September has arrived!! Sunny, cloudy, sunny and cloudy, rainy, cool, hot, muggy, humid, COLD!, sleep naked, nope…..need socks, air conditioner on, off, on again, dehumidifier in overdrive some days (that was all just June & July). Summer seems to have vanished in a heartbeat without ever having really “arrived”. Now it’s back to school and back to work.


For some reason (and I think I’ve mentioned this before), September always seems to be more of a new beginning than the start of a new year. Messing about, concerts, festivals, vacation days….that lasts for approximately two months. I don’t count June because we’re just getting started. We’re full tilt boogie by July. September is new schools, new grades, new jobs, new homes, new cities….you get my drift. A fresh start and a new determination and energy to dig in and really get things done. I love the fall, it is my favourite time of year. It’s when one of my sister’s was my birthday present, when my sons and my mom were born and of course Thanksgiving turkey is in there somewhere. Fall colours are warm and rich and all things cozy start to “heat” up. ….and of course there’s always the music to keep you warm…..

The Picture Taker Project….

 I’ve just spent the better part of the weekend sorting and sussing out Chris’s slides, about 2,000 of them. I have filled 11 carousels (one of them takes 140 slides, most take 80), rescued stickers off plastic slide sheets, counted and recounted, wondered why he used SG60 twice for two totally different batches of slides (I know, just to confuse the hell out of me), made some fantastic discoveries and now wait for at least 10 more carousels hopefully coming in from Montreal in a couple of weeks. The negatives are about 1/3 digitized and once they’re done, it’s the slides next. The whole process is slowing down a bit….it’s expensive! Grants are non-existent (so far) and I have other projects that demand my attention. Looking back 40+ years is quite the experience, especially that “holy shit” moment when you suddenly discover that single slide of your much, much, much, svelte, dare I say toned, “is that really me?” younger self. Nah!!! Really??? Those were the days my friend….although I’m quite content with me 40 years later. Great friends, great music and especially family….so happy to be ALIVE!!!!


Good Times – Tom Cochrane & Red Rider

Now….about that music…..

Ember Swift…..what an absolutely fabulous night at Hugh’s Room Live. Jane Harbury’s description of Swift and her music in a press release piqued my interest….and I quote, “ Living in Beijing and having taken the time to learn Mandarin Chinese, immerse in Chinese culture, as well as to develop a body of work featuring not just the language but also several musical elements indicative of Asia (such as the inclusive of erhu in her band, a traditional Chinese instrument, and the regular use of harmonies in fourths), Ember Swift is an artist who bridges two cultures and represents a future goal to see East and West linked, in harmony, and mutually understood.Typical of all Ember Swift material, her new body of work features several different styles ranging from pop to jazz, funk to klezmer, R&B to rock. Linking it all together is Ember’s unmistakable jazz-smooth vocals and sociopolitical wit”.

Ember Swift

Every word is true and then some. One of the most delightful shows I have had the pleasure of attending.

“Laowai”老外(Foreigner) O – Ember Swift 子玉

Writing since the age of nine, performing at the age of ten, Swift released her first self-titled album in 1996 followed by her second, Insectinside, in 1997. A resident of Beijing for almost 10 years, she fell in love with China from the moment she set foot in the country in 2007.  With a lovely clear, resonating voice, Swift is a teller of tales through her songs covering life in Beijing, her children, love and loss and everything in between. A bright wit, subtlety masking any political comments, it’s all in her music. She records in three languages (English, French and Mandarin). Although she speaks Mandarin fluently she told the story of one (I believe) elderly gentleman asking if she could. I suppose the blonde hair was a dead giveaway she was not from “around here”. Conversation ensued between the two of them and by the end of the story Swift told the audience the entire conversation had in fact, been in Mandarin…. without the gentleman being conscious of it.

Ember Swift at the piano

She talks (and sings) about the budding romance between her and the young musician who would become her husband, their only way to communicate was through music since neither could speak the other’s language. How romantic and utterly beautiful (and probably not the least bit frustrating at times). I was totally enthralled the entire evening and so was the rest of the audience. So much so we didn’t want it to end and were treated to an encore.

Some Fine Day – Ember Swift

Swift’s music is honest, at times haunting, playful, and a such a pleasure to listen to. She covers all genres, you will never tie her to just one. Because the lyrics are so important to each of her songs, one concentrates (almost straining) to hear them, so intent are we on understanding the narrative. Near the end of the night and noting there was no bass guitar, Swift sat down and proceed to play her black Gretsch guitar like a stand-up bass. Creativity at its finest.

Ember and her Gretsch

Ember Swift (solo acoustic with guitar on lap)

Her band in Beijing represents a number of countries. From Swift’s website, “the band, assembled in Beijing, includes America’s Anthony Vancore on the drums, the UK’s Jack Lecomber on bass, Israel’s Yoav Volansky on keys, and China’s Wang Ya Qi on the erhu. They are five people who come from four different parts of the world but who have chosen Beijing as their current homes proving, once again, that Beijing is truly a global magnet.”

I must also mention Swift’s percussionist, Cheryl Reid. AMAZING!!!! You would have thought an entire band was on stage so good and so spot on were all the sounds she created. I have a love for bass and all things percussion, particularly the drums (I am a student). Reid had my flabber gasted as she proceeded to “fill” Swift’s music with these fabulous sounds and beats. Reid, who hails from Halifax, decided early on she wanted to learn to play everything. Her musical life began with the ukulele (you gotta start somewhere) and she also plays piano, trumpet and violin. Drums and percussion didn’t enter her life until the last year of high school. A fabulous duo and brilliant artists. If you get the chance to catch Swift, Swift and Reid or Swift and her band, do so. It will be an evening you’ll remember for some time to come. To keep up with her here’s the link to her website


So much more to come and September is going to be such a busy month. Behind the eight-ball I am but that’s it for now. Check out my little calendar of events on my website. If you would like something added, please let me know.

Also please join us at Dora Keogh’s on Monday, September 25 for a celebration of friends and music (and conveniently it’s also my birthday). Time is 8:30pm to 11:45pm. Julian Taylor and Tyler Ellis host. Would love to see you there!!!

….and so I end with this….

No Regrets – Tom Cochrane


All photographs copyright A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker” unless otherwise noted.


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at:

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: