Tag Archives: bob wiseman and mary margaret o’hara

Yet Courier

I didn’t know Mary Margaret O’Hara very well when I asked her to sing on my first record  in 1988 but I loved the way Greg Keelor described her to me, it sounded like she was some sort of amazing force and he was right, she was also very kind and selfless. I dropped off a cassette in advance for her to learn the songs. She lived upstairs on the west side of Spadina then near Dundas.

When she showed up for the session at the Music Gallery Members studio (which cost $5 an hour for the 8 track) she came with her boyfriend but she made him leave when we were about to start recording. She arranged it for him to come back in an hour or two. I thought it was amusing that she needed him to leave in order to sing. Then for me to record her she needed to stand around the corner so I couldn’t see her. Okay. Then she needed the lights off. Okay. And then she sang and it was more than I could have hoped for.

Each take she did I would hear aspects I liked and some I didn’t. But each time I played it back I didn’t hear it in the same way.  I couldn’t find what I thought were wrong parts plus I heard new things I didn’t notice the first time that gave me pause and made me feel regret about expressing criticism. She tried to accommodate me and went back out to re-record each time with my jumble of directions only to do something else equally brilliant and confounding. I started to grasp it made no sense to try and direct her. I learned a lesson, certain artists are so exceptional you shouldn’t interfere, just trust their talent. It might take many hours of listening later to properly process and it’ll be worth it.

Sometimes people who have heard of her but never have met her ask me what she’s like. She is a legend, that’s what I tell them. She’s a living legend – right here right now. She may also be a saint. Whatever one does in the presence of saints, that’s what you should do if you meet her, offer to wash her feet or get her a piece of cake.

In this song called Travel Agent, from that first session, her voice echoes the inner strife of the singer. It’s about someone losing their mind. Someone who hypothetically bears a striking resemblance to me.

I do wish I could transfer all this from the 1/4 inch 8 track and clean up some stuff, fix some stuff that I didn’t hear when I was 25 but I’m ok if I die tomorrow and this is the way it stands in highly sought after spaces in random delete bins everywhere.

Travel agent give me the news

Which way is the farthest away from these blues

Where can I hear the sun out loud?

Where is the car unallowed?

Travel agent, travel agent, help me quick

There’s a vicious circle and I’m almost stuck in it 

I’m such a talented mule because I see the string

Tied to the carrot that’s dangling.

Did you hear about the man who didn’t use a fork?

When he ordered wine with his teeth he pulled the cork

They took him to hospital against his will

Now they fry his brain if he doesn’t take their pills

Travel agent, travel agent, you gotta help me out

I’m watching this movie and you know what it’s about

The hero’s just make believe but the crooks are real

Took me so long to think didn’t take me long at all to feel

Travel agent, travel agent, book me a tour

As long as I’m moving that’s half the cure

Bird in a cage doesn’t sing

What good’s a bird if it doesn’t have it’s wings?

Travel agent, travel agent, I got to know

I feel like I’m naked and my mind’s the snow

I noticed one day that she never says anything mean about anyone. What’s her problem?



Top 10 Toronto: Tidy Up Tidy Up Put It Away



In the Autumn of 2012 Now Magazine music editor Benjamin Boles wrote several Toronto music people and asked for our top 10 Toronto records ever recorded. This was for Now Magazine’s year end special feature. An awkward predicament because shit I’ve made more than 10 records.

It was surprising when the issue came out – they didn’t publish the list I gave them nor did they publish the lists other people gave them. Instead they published one list  – a synthesis of all the responses. Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday why not publish it myself.  Here is the list I sent Benjamin Boles along with a paragraph about the Barcelona Pavilion.

Barcelona Pavillion It’s The Barcelona Pavillion

Kyp Harness God’s Footstool
The Quintet Jazz at Massey Hall
Cathy Young A Spoonful of Cathy Young
Ron Sexsmith Grand Opera Lane
Lillian Allen Revolutionary Tea Party
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet Dim The Lights Chill The Ham
Mendelson Joe Fragile Man
Neil Young at Massey Hall
Mary Margaret O’Hara Miss America

It was life changing when I encountered the Barcelona Pavillion in 2000 (or 2001)  – this would be the future of everything.  During the next decade Barcelona Pavillion leader Steve Kado seemed to have magical powers, in one way or another I would find him connected to Toronoto’s most memorable new works be it Final Fantasy, Kate Stelmanis, Brian Joseph Davis, Fucked Up or everyone else in the catalogue of the musician owned cooperative he started – the  Blocks Recording Club. Even the Hidden Cameras were once radical but diluted into just an imitation of themselves after Joel removed the key ingredients which, for me,  was largely Steve Kado.


Would you give us your personal top 10 list, with a short paragraph about your number one album? We may quote your blurb as part of the package, to help ensure a good range of voices. And if you have anything you’re hoping to plug (gigs/albums/books/charities/ect), let us know so that we can mention that in the package.

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? If so, I’ll need your answers back by the end of this week.

Cheers, Benjamin Boles

Benjamin Boles
Music Editor
NOW Magazine | nowtoronto.com
189 Church St, Toronto M5B 1Y7

Mary Margaret O’Hara in the Hammer pt1

Returning to the Pearl Company Theatre at the end of this month with nuclear weapons Mary Margaret O’Hara and Aidan Closs. Should be swell no?

click here to hear

I expect nobody to show up. If anyone does – Bonus!

Hamilton always a tough city, not that I don’t love parts of it. I used to live near Hagersville and spent a few years going to Hamilton for roti, art, groceries and a bit of romantic drama. Tough in a sort of grade 8 going to the mall sorta way and having a strange kid punch you, call you something villainous or steal your bag.

Everything I’ve ever done with Mary Margaret has been stained with magic. We have never done a show before just studio recordings. She is the secret weapon in whatever perfect moments might exist in parts of the records I’ve released.

I learned an important lesson the first time I worked with her which has served me well with many other gifted people. Each time she sung she came into the studio and we reviewed what she did and I gave her feedback about what I liked and what I wanted different. Then she would go back to the microphone and we would record and she would do new things which left me with the same impression. Again I would express what I liked and what I wanted different. The new things she did each time were also unexpected and better than the last thing so much so I soon grasped I should shut up and leave her alone. If I needed to edit it afterward I could. Directing her only slowed things down because her instincts were more interesting than anything I would describe or direct.

Maybe I sound too bleak about Hamilton. It isn’t bleak but maybe because I have had wonderful up close and personal experiences with performance settings avec drunks or simultaneous blaring television sets adjacent to the stage or audiences of nobody or hmmm…. what other disasters are in my personal archive? – But having Mary Margaret and Aidan makes the likelihood of magic quite high. It might just be incredible; never know. Plan for disaster, savour perfection if you happen to be lucky. The mysterious This Mad Desire will also open the show. He better not blow us off the stage or I’ll have to never again allow a third party to join the bill even if it is for only 10 minutes.