Canadian star Joel’s Essex roots

JOEL Plaskett has fond childhood memories of sitting down with his Essex-raised dad Bill, learning the basics of guitar. Now, he’s one of Canada’s biggest indie folk-rock singer songwriters.

JOEL Plaskett has fond childhood memories of sitting down with his Essex-raised dad Bill, learning the basics of guitar. Now, he’s one of Canada’s biggest indie folk-rock singer songwriters.

He’ll be bringing a touch of Nova Scotia to Ipswich’s Christchurch Park when he supports Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

“My father is from Dagenham, but immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s. His father taught him the tenor banjo so he grew up playing banjo, guitar and bass and played in a Cliff Richards and the Shadows cover band in1962 called Section 62,” remembers Joel, who won the 2010 Indie Award for Solo Artist of the Year in his home country.

“They played the Hammersmith Palais where he plugged his bass directly into the PA system through a jack on the floor. They had a Kangol sponsorship and all wore matching outfits and berets. He taught me the basics of guitar when I was 13 and my mother was a dancer. Both my folks were very supportive of my musical pursuits and my sister is a music therapist in Halifax. We’re a musical bunch.”


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Joel grew up listening to Bill playing music in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, soaking it all up and trying his hand at a few instruments like saxophone and drums. It all started to click when he picked up the guitar.

“My initial desire to play guitar was for social reasons,” he says. “I met some new friends when we moved to Halifax in 1987 and I thought it would be a way for us to hang out. We started a band and learned Zeppelin and other classic rock covers.”

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Having started touring when he was 18 and spending a lot of the past 17 years on the road, he’s steadily become a legend in Canada.

“Some days it [his career] feels pretty epic. It’s built slowly but this past year or two have had a few big highlights. Playing our first show at Massey Hall, Toronto; Winston Churchill spoke in that room and every great band under the sun has played there. There were 2,500 people and a really magical energy.

“I also supported Paul McCartney at his Halifax show last summer. We played on Halifax Common to between 40,000 and 50,000 people – one of the biggest gigs Halifax has ever seen. Another high was winning the Juno award. It’s all really encouraging. I love what I do. Aside from my life at home with my wife, Becky, music is it.”

Living in Nova Scotia has had a big influence on him and his music; supportive enough to help him get by with what he does but, he adds, casual enough to keep even the most successful musicians getting too big for their britches.

“I’ve always liked music that evokes the place where it was created. New Orleans, Memphis, New York, Detroit - they all have a distinct sound and they all reference their region. I’d like to evoke that feeling about Nova Scotia. Folk music has a long tradition here and so does rock and roll. I’m trying to stir it up and pressure-cook it until it feels like a new recipe.”

Joel says the tradition of music in the pubs is still very alive in Nova Scotia. A lot of the music is late night – 10pm to 2am – and almost any bar you go into you can typically expect to see a musician in the corner playing guitar.

“I think it’s really shaped the way I perform. The audience can be a mix of college kids, art school students, navy officers, tourists and locals and you need to find a way to rock the room and please them all. I like the challenge. Lyrics are important, the show is important and no one takes themselves too seriously because it’s a small town.

“It isn’t just the pubs you hear music in. There’re places like the beach, with a barbeque, camp fire and a guitar – I travel a lot and don’t often get time for this, but, yes, I love it.”

He’s enjoying touring with Holland.

“I’m really looking forward to playing in Ipswich. I’ve never been to Christchurch Park but it sounds like an incredible place for an outdoor concert; a wide open space in the middle of the town. Warming up the stage for Jools Holland is an incredible honour and I’m excited to bring a little touch of Nova Scotia to Ipswich.

“I do a lot of travelling, that’s my job and I love it. But I hope my wife, Becky, will come over for at least a week of my time over here – she hasn’t been to Europe before, except for a trip we did to Poland a few years ago. I’d also love to get my dad over here, he gets a real kick out of me being in England because of his background and he’s played on tours before – he did our last tour in Canada.”

Since spending his teenage years recording and touring with Halifax indie upstarts Thrush Hermit, Joel independently released two critically acclaimed albums – In Need of Medical Attention in 1999 and Down at the Khyber in 2001 – and signed to Maple Music Recordings for the release of 2003’s Truthfully Truthfully, a rock tour-de-force with his band The Emergency.

That record was a hit with critics and fans alike, putting him on the national radar and getting him nominated for a Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year and winning an East Coast Music Award for Rock Recording of the Year. During a summer break from touring in 2004 Joel recorded a solo album called La De Da which attracted national media attention. The hit single Happen Now topped the Canadian campus music chart for months.

He followed that with the full on rock and roll concept record Ashtray Rock, which again boosted his profile with critics and fans alike and garnered him a record number of awards.

Three, a three-disc collection featuring everything from rock and roll and stripped-down acoustic folk to a deep country vibe and rollicking pop won him a Juno, two Canadian Folk Music Awards, an Indie Award and six East Coast Music Awards.

Joel has toured extensively as a solo artist and with The Emergency, selling-out clubs, theatres and headlining festivals throughout Canada, America and Australia.

Jools is glad to have the award-winner opening the show for him around 6.30pm, adding: “Nova Scotia has a long musical heritage; this is a great opportunity to bring it to a wider UK audience. I am sure that Joel will receive a warm and enthusiastic welcome.”

The whole evening promises to be a night of pure boogie-woogie magic as the piano maestro takes the stage with his 17-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and special guests Alison Moyet, Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall.

The orchestra has evolved from the initial seeds in 1985, when Jools and his drummer Gilson Lavis began touring as a duo, into a disciplined 17-piece capable of selling out all year all over Britain and Europe – from Canterbury Cathedral and Kew Gardens to the Glastonbury Festival and filling the Albert Hall each Christmas in what has become an annual ritual.

Alison’s pop career began in 1981 when she formed the electropop duo Yazoo with ex-Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke. They had several hits including Only You and Don’t Go, recorded the two albums Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both.

In 1984, she released her debut solo album Alf – titled after her punk-era nickname – which was produced by the noted UK producing and songwriting team of Swain and Jolley.

Co-written by them and Alison, with the exception of Invisible, which was written specifically for her by Motown legend Lamont Dozier, it was a huge hit in Britain – reaching number one in the album charts and spawning the three international hit singles Love Resurrection, Invisible and All Cried Out.

She made her critically-acclaimed stage debut in the West End production of the musical Chicago in 2001, playing the part of Matron “Mama” Morton.

Jamaica-born Ruby moved to England when she was nine. She was part of Culture Club at the height of their stardom and has released 14 albums as well as appearing on several other artists’ releases – including Jools’.

Chris Bailey, event manager from IML Concerts, said: “It’s a real pleasure to bring Jools to Christchurch Park for a night in a delightful setting in this picturesque park and I am certain the audience will experience a tremendous show. It will be a picnic-style concert and we encourage the audience to bring their own chairs, rugs, cushions and picnics.”

Ipswich Borough councilor Judy Terry added: “We work hard to offer an exciting programme of events in Ipswich and these concerts will add a new dimension this year. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful park so close to the town centre and with big names coming here we are sure local people will support us.”

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