Originally published on Cortes Currents
Quadra Island’s folk roots quartet Willow has just released a new EP: “The Southend.” They chose that name because the EP was recorded at the United Church in Cape Mudge, and many of the associated photos were taken in a field near Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge. (Both sites are in the south end of Quadra Island. ) Asked what is special about this particular release, Noelle Maffin says that she usually finds performing so much easier than recording, but “there was a sense of magic in the room. This [EP] just fell into place and was recorded very easily in about five hours.”
Maureen Fox describes one of the most important ingredients of Willow’s style as a “weaving together of our voices and our hearts.”
“I have a long history of being involved with music, however unlike these lovely Campbell River ladies, Trinity and I were both born in New York state … [Starting when I was 3 ] … I was in church choirs and playing piano and later guitar. I was involved with music throughout my high school and college time, with different groups. I lived in North Carolina for awhile and did a little bit of music.”
Maureen’s work as a speech pathologist brought her to British Columbia. Then, “I fell in love with the beauty of the mountains, the rivers and BC in general.” She decided to raise her children here rather than go back to the United States.
By 2013, Maureen was living on Quadra. She “had been playing in a couple of bands with men, loved the music …” but “really missed the taste of women’s voices in harmony … I wanted some outlet for singing with women.”
She and a couple of friends ‘played some tunes for this event that was happening at our friend Sunday Dennis’ store in Courtenay … I knew we needed something more for it to work.’ So when they were asked to play for Woman’s day on Quadra, she called Andrea Blaseckie.
“That was the beginning of the quartet.”
Andrea originally hails from Campbell River and, like Maureen, her passion for music goes back to her infancy. She started playing piano at the age of 4. This led to a lot of choral music in high school and university. She joined an international travelling troop and later an acapella group in Victoria. Andrea stopped performing after she and her husband, Sam Whittingham settled down on Quadra about fifteen years ago.
” I have two ridiculously awesome kids (they are adults now) that have contributed so hugely to my life … It is because of them, and my husband Sam, that I got back into music in a more significant way … Both kids were incredibly music driven and inspired. So we formed a family band and that got things rolling again. By this time I was playing accompanying piano for the Farm House kids (homeschooled kids which my kids were 2 of) theatrical productions. Eventually my kids and myself along with another friend of my son’s were the pit band for a Theatre Quadra production. From then on I played in a few Theatre Quadra pit bands.”
“I also wanted to mention that I was privileged to play with Sunday Dennis for a few years as well as John Toele and Richard Christy. And I’ve had the great pleasure of playing with The Theiven Brothers. Particularly having the opportunity to sing as one of the Quadra Divas.”
(Sam sometimes joins Willow as a guest performer, and they give an appreciative cheer for him in the podcast.)
When one of the original quartet moved away, Trinity Gogolin was asked to take her place.
“All I knew was that she could play a drum and we wanted a little hand drum in there,” says Maureen.
“I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and started playing the violin when I was in Kindergarten. When I was in the seventh grade I switched to the stand-up base and was the only girl who played stand-up base. I had to ask my mom if it was okay. She said ‘yes.’”
“I played that until I graduated [from] High school, and then I travelled around a lot. I always lived in the Southeastern states. I lived in North Carolina for a lot of years and Louisiana and New Orleans. I actually played in a Mardi Gras street band in New Orleans. It was called the “Mystic Herd of Nutria and I was a percussionist.”
I moved to Quadra in 2012. I married my wonderful husband, Kai Gogolin and somehow these girls asked me if I wanted to play in a band. I said, ‘Okay, sure’ – not really knowing what I was getting into. Never thinking that I would play and sing on a stage – that was a little out of my comfort zone, but I did it and we are still having a lot of fun.”
“I joined Willow about a year and a half ago and so am the latest addition to the band. I, too, grew up in Campbell River and have a lot of similarities with Andrea, actually. We have become good friends and have quite a similar past. I started playing piano about the age of 4 as well, studied classically when I was growing up and then got more into voice when I was becoming a teen-ager. Then I decided I was falling in love with Jazz and Ella Fitzgerald … so I went to school for jazz vocals and piano.”
“I met the man of my dreams [Neil Maffin] when I was about 25 years old and he took me to New York City. We lived there for about four years and had a theatre company in Greenwich Village. I opened up for different shows and performed solo in the city. It is hard to get a gig in New York, but I did my own little thing for awhile.”
“We decided we wanted to have children and I didn’t want to have kids in New York City so I coaxed my husband to come back to Quadra Island … So I have eight year old twins that are very happy living a life on Quadra Island.”
“I’m actually a very active person. I love to dance and do yoga, hiking and the natural beauty of Quadra Island, all of these things make me a very happy person … Finding Willow was the last piece for me, so now I have a group of women that I get to harmonize and make music with.”
“Usually for the first half of our practising with one another, we lean on our instruments, tune them maybe and talk for maybe two hours of the four we are together. That’s very therapeutic and, eventually, we play,” says Andrea.
She added, “As far as performances, we often really connect with one another on stage. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I just so enjoy playing wth these women … As soon as the notes all match together, everybody has this fantastic harmony and everything is in sync … it is like magic happens.”
“It really feels like soul food for me. I really notice the difference from when I was a solo performer … [After] doing three hours of music … I would feel drained and often vocally drained. I would try to the crowd afterward and just feel my voice, feeling very tired. but when I perform with this group I feel very nourished, uplifted and joyous. People have commented that when they see us play together, they can really feel the joy. It doesn’t ever feel like a competition, just lifting one another up musically, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t get nervous performing with this group, just excited …,” says Noelle.
C Minor Tune
“I have a special feeling around one of the songs, which has a really fabulous title: C Minor tune … It is a song I wrote in collaboration with these lovely ladies and it is somewhat dedicated to my mother who passed away a few years ago. It is Eastern European focusing on the balalaika skills of Andrea and vocal Improvisational abilities of Noelle, “says Maureen.
“We all have an Eastern European history, in our heritage … and the song carries that Eastern European haunting feeling, with energy. Our voices and instruments just shine the light on our ancestral commonality.”
2019 Performances on Cortes Island
Two of Andrea’s favourite performances this past summer were at the Gorge fireside Patio, on Cortes.
“We just really felt connected with everybody up on stage. The sound was fantastic, Scotty Martin was doing the sound. The audience was magical, everything just fell into place.”
For Noelle, it was Cortes Island’s Lovefest:
“Unfortunately Trinity wasn’t there because she had gone over to Germany for a month. Then we got the offer to do Lovefest and had to consider whether to perform when there is a member missing. I really wanted to do it. So we talked about it and decided we would do the performance without Trinity.”
“We asked Dave Toelle, who is a fantastic drummer here on Quadra, [to play with us]. He hails from Toronto, has travelled the world and played with a lot of incredible performers.”
“We didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to Lovefest before, but I’ve heard heard really good reviews just from locals: that we had to go. There was something about that, it was a lovefest.
“I know that we live in a world of energy and, as a collective, that whole crowd had something going on. We could feel it when we were getting ready to perform, but when I stepped onto that stage – I really felt it. It was like being injected with something. It was a performance where a lot of surprises came through … There were so many people in front of us dancing and really grooving on our music. To have that coming back from the crowd was really special. You guys got something going on over there that we love.”
2019 in Campbell River & Quadra Island
“We have many places we like to play on Quadra and we play often on Quadra … One of my particular favourites is playing at the Southend Farm Winery. We’ve played there for the past three years now on Canada Day. It starts at 2 and goes until 5 and people have been getting into the wine by the time 3:00 hits. So as the day goes on, we get better and better and better,“ says Andrea.
“What flashes in my mind is we have been so lucky, this last summer in particular, that in Campbell River and also in Courtenay we’ve had the amazing support and skill of Reid King doing sound for us and then on Cortes, at the Gorge and in general, Scotty Martin … on our own island we have Barb Turner, who does the sound at our local events … We are just so happy that these people not only do their jobs well, but they actually really love us, adds Maureen.”
In the podcast, there are references to previous performances in Port McNeill, Gold River, Cumberland, Courtenay, Comox and Qualicum Bay.
“We have big plans for a European tour one day, but we are still working on Vancouver Island,” quips Maureen.
Noelle’s husband filmed a number of Willow’s gigs this summer.
“Really Neil Maffin: following us around, having this amazing camera, setting up lights sometimes. He made us feel like, and all the audiences must have been thinking, we must be some amazing professionals because we have our own videographer … Neil’s amazing anyway, but is was extra special to feel like we are being filmed everywhere we go,” says Maureen.
Songs From The Southend
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round (starts 1:35) is our acapella version of the African American spiritual song Don’t Let Nobody Turn Me Round which later became well known as the Civil Rights song Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.
L & N (starts 10:00) is our cover of Jean Ritchie’s song The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore, written back in 1965. Featuring Andrea Blaseckie on lead vocals and guitar, Trinity Gogolin on vocals and ukulele, Maureen Fox on vocals and bass, and Noelle Maffin on vocals.
C Minor (starts 20:01) is an original song written by band member Maureen Fox. It’s a celebration of life. So raise a glass and share a dance again with me. Featuring Maureen Fox on vocals and ukulele, Noelle Maffin on lead vocals, Andrea Blaseckie on balalaika and Trinity Gogolin on bass.
The Sky is Falling (32:29) is an original song written by band member Andrea Blaseckie. The song addresses Prince Charming’s questionable ways of picking up women. Featuring Andrea Blaseckie on lead vocals and guitar, Noelle Maffin on vocals, Maureen Fox on vocals and bass, and Trinity Gogolin on drum.
Carry On Regardless (closing) is a song written by our dear friend, Steve Moore, who passed away recently. This is our tribute to him and keeping his music alive. Featuring Noelle Maffin on lead vocals, Andrea Blaseckie on vocals and guitar, Maureen Fox on vocals and bass, and Trinity Gogolin on vocals and ukulele.
About Carry on Regardless
As regard’s this podcast’s closing song, Noelle says:
“Carry on Regardless is a special song because of the man that wrote it. Steve Moore was such an integral part of our community for years. In fact I’ve come and gone from Quadra at different points in my life and one time I came back because of Steve Moore. He was a Buddhist, a philosopher, poet, he wrote books and had this amazing heart.
“Steve started up all these free programs through our community center. There was a free money program and a free wood program which still exists today. So if there were families in need who were facing winter and couldn’t afford wood, you could just come and get wood. A lot of people donated their time to his projects.”
“He also once paid my rent for me. I was in trouble and couldn’t pay my rent. I was in a conversation with him and he just paid my rent.
“Steve didn’t want to see anyone suffer, he was really special.”
Year End: Willow Live at Heron’s
Tuesday, Dec. 31st 2019 5pm-10pm The glow of golden harmonies Willow creates is the warmth we need to welcome 2020! Willow is a quartet of talented island singer-songwriters mixing old world styles with island flavor, heaps of instruments, and blending harmonies. Willow entertains and the Heriot Bay Inn’s talented chef team creates beautiful three and five course dinner options for a truly lovely evening. Choose three courses for $70 or five courses for $100; a vegetarian three course is also available. There’s a $10 entertainment fee in Herons from 6pm – 9pm. Music is from 6:30 – 9:30; dinner served 5pm – 10pm. Reservations strongly recommended, call 250.285.3322.
Top photo credit: Favourite Willow picture by Neil Maffin