Friday, June 19, 2009

Allison Crowe Band: Triumphant in Europe, Unique in Canada

Allison Crowe and her traveling band – Billie Woods (guitar), Dave Baird (bass) and Laurent Boucher (percussion) – are back in Canada following a triumphant tour of continental Europe.

Playing to full-houses and multiple encores in Aachen, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague and Vienna was especially gratifying for the troupe – after a start in the UK that could have derailed less able and determined musicians.

Instead, an encounter with new anti-terrorist/illegal immigration rules has helped fuel the vibrant reform movement in the UK. With public and media support from stern to bow on the island of Great Britain, the news was featured by BBC Radio, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian/Observer, The Scotsman, The Northern Times, The Press & Journal, and many more outlets. The Times of London warned: “Immigration rules threaten to destroy Britain's arts reputation”.

Cultural events described as canceled or in jeopardy as a result of the new laws include: concerts by supreme Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov; African jazz band Les Amazones de Guinée; the English National Opera's production of Così Fan Tutte to be directed by Abbas Kiarostami, the great Iranian film-maker; and events involving a range of participants from Argentinian tango-dancers, to neuroscientists, university lecturers, Chinese artists and touring church choirs.

On June 3, the UK civil liberties group, Manifesto Club, hosted the first “Cabaret Without Borders” in London, England. Allison Crowe spoke to attendees of this packed event via telephone hook-up, minutes before her band's performance in Frankfurt. The Visiting Artists and Academics Petition was launched earlier this year by the Manifesto Club with the endorsement of dozens of the UK's most prominent artists and educators, including: sculptor Antony Gormley; director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne; and the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner.

Home in Canada, the bicoastal musician and her transnational band, next devote the Summer to writing, playing and recording before Fall '09 Canadian tour dates, Winter 2009 “Tidings” concerts, and, a return to Europe in Spring 2010.

Crowe's success has been built quite differently to a pattern followed for decades by Canadian rock musicians. Rather than rely on grants or corporate support, (or multinational record labels that may themselves receive grants/subsidies), the exciting singer-songwriter who lives on, both, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, has connected directly with her audience, building a passionate international fan base for her music via internet videos and songs and peerless live performances.

Allison's Crowe's next CD/album will be her seventh release since the 2003 launch of her label, Rubenesque Records Ltd. It will be the first to showcase her quartet.

l - r: Billie Woods (guitar, bgs); Axel Dollheiser (road manager/driver); Allison Crowe (voice, piano, guitar); Dave Baird (bass, bgs); Laurent Boucher (percussion) - the Allison Crowe Band

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Step right up, it's around the back

After reading Immigration rules threaten to destroy Britain's arts reputation in The Times (of London), seems it may be time for a rewrite of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" Group W bench scene:

"What were you arrested for, kid?"'

And I said, 'Tangoing.' And they all moved away from me on the bench

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Up-Beat not Beat-Up

Here's a wrap-up our discussion of the recent "international incident". Then it's only rock and roll... and I like it.
Should you be in the neighbourhood of London, England - tomorrow night, enjoy Cabaret Without Borders. It happens on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 6:00pm - 9:25pm at The Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, London E2 7ES This is a night of music and poetry organized by Manifesto Club, the folks who launched the Visiting Artists and Academics Petition
Copy of motion lodged with Scottish Parliament;

S3M-04279 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Overseas Performers Don't Deserve Terrorist Treatment — That the Parliament notes with grave concern the ramifications of the Home Office’s new immigration controls on non-EU artists who require a sponsor to allow them to enter the United Kingdom, as highlighted by the treatment of Canadian singer Allison Crowe and several band members who were held for 11 hours in Gatwick Airport before being barred from entering the UK to tour and visit friends in the north west Highlands; considers that Ms Crowe was treated as little better than a terrorist after enduring an 11-hour ordeal where she was locked up, questioned, had her fingerprints taken, her passport stamped “barred from entry” and was then deported; contends that this is no way to treat a legitimate and repeat visitor to the UK; urges the Home Office to rethink this draconian policy before it harms cultural links to Scotland and the wider UK; notes that Ms Crowe is allowed to perform in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic and will do so; furthermore notes the German authorities’ reported reaction to the situation that they were horrified at the British treatment and that Allison would be welcomed to perform in Germany, and asserts that visitors to Scotland during the Year of Homecoming deserve a civilised and warm welcome.

Scottish MPs Condemn Treatment of Allison Crowe Band: European Tour Rocks On

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates, (guitarist Billie Woods and percussionist Laurent Boucher, reunited with their British-passport-carrying bassist Dave Baird), have now performed two sensational concerts in Germany - in the cities of Aachen and Munich. Following a national holiday weekend the tour carries on now to Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague and Vienna.

In the UK, where the Canadian musicians were barred from entry last month, national debate over new anti-terrorist/illegal immigration laws that target artists and academics visiting from non-EU countries continues to build. Concern is reflected in coverage from the northern tip of the British Isles, via such journals as The Northern Times and The Aberdeen Press & Journal, to the southern region, and such London-based newspapers as The Telegraph and The Observer/Guardian.

In a motion in Parliament that has gained cross-party support, Scottish National Party MSP Rob Gibson condemns the physical treatment of Crowe and her bandmates, and calls on the Home Office to rethink its approach “before it harms cultural links to Scotland and the wider UK”. Gibson's motion “asserts that visitors to Scotland during the Year of Homecoming deserve a civilised and warm welcome.”
The Scotsman reports that: "John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, added: 'The rule itself is an affront to the great British tradition of welcoming overseas artists and another example of this government's unyielding zeal for mindless regulation.” Thurso told Scotland's national newspaper: "Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."

On the English front, the issue was among the most discussed in this weekend's Observer/Guardian newspaper, in the wake of Henry Porter's column titled “Britain is not radical enough. That is why we're in trouble”, in which Porter says:

“We fondly think of ourselves as hospitable and open to new influences. But on the evidence of new laws that ban artists, musicians and academics from visiting Britain without certificates of sponsorship, we are not. When a Newfoundland-based singer Allison Crowe and two of her band members, Billie Woods and Laurent Boucher, arrived at Gatwick to tour Britain they were arrested, held in cells, photographed and fingerprinted and had their passports stamped 'Barred from Entry' before being returned to Canada. This shocking and disgraceful treatment - designed to exclude illegal immigrants and terrorists - seems fundamentally unBritish. The English National Opera and Southbank have both had problems bringing in foreign performers because of the stringent requirement for non-EU citizens to provide biometrics and photographs and submit to controls over their day-to-day activity while here.

Is this Britain? If so, the rational half of our brain has been overwhelmed by 'suspicion and parochialism', in the words of the staunchly sensible Manifesto Club, which has started a petition against the laws brought in by immigration minister Phil Woolas.”

The Visiting Artists and Academics Petition ~ was launched earlier this year by the UK civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club, with the endorsement of: renowned sculptor Antony Gormley; director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne; the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre Nicholas Hytner and dozens more concerned artists and educators.

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates are simply among the most recent visitors to learn about the new rules. Others include Russian pianist, Grigory Sokolov, the world's greatest living classical pianist in the view of many critics, whose concerts have been cancelled after 18 years of him performing in the UK. Canadian journalist Leah McLaren recounts a 30 hour detention and deportation ordeal in her Globe and Mail column of May 16, 2009: "CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us?"

Our approach to music is very much grassroots, community-oriented. We've learned that many people in this segment of the UK's cultural industries were neither consulted nor informed of the "Certificate of Sponsorship" laws. Of those that were, there's a range of opinion.

If there is any silver lining to our experience, it's the hope that we can, in some small measure, contribute to there being greater awareness, even reform, and, at least, some greater measure of reason and good judgement applied in the application of any rules.

Canada, it's clear, is not immune to today's culture of fear and aggression which envelopes “security” issues. Nor is our American neighbour. Allison Crowe and her fellow musicians are not terrorists nor are they illegal immigrants. They love people, and make music for them. From hereon, reports will be, once again, about rock and roll – circling back to the wisdom of George Harrison: “I don't like to be political. I like to be polite.”

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