There are three challenges that face every musician. The first is writing new music that’s worth listening to. The second is creating a new live show that’s worth attending. Both of those have their shares of inspiration and perspiration. They both have their joys and their struggles. Both are largely in the hands of luck and fortune. But there is a third thing that is so difficult most musicians don’t even attempt it: coming up with a new genre of performance.
And yet, that’s what Canadian singer/songwriter Gregory Hoskins seems to have done.
Often described with epithets like “best kept secret”, “unsung”, and “an artist that has flown under the radar”, Gregory Hoskins’ career spans 11 recordings over 27 years and record deals on three continents.
So what is this new genre exactly? And is it “new” or is it an older kind of thing that is just unrecognizable to our part of the world?
Whatever it is, He and his band (drummer Adam Hay, and keyboard/vocalist Lisa Hodgson), are combining forces with Canadian author, teacher, storyteller, and cultural activist Stephen Jenkinson to create it.
And finding words for it isn’t easy.
It’s not a book reading - though books might be read from. It’s not spoken word though much of Stephen’s speaking is poetic in nature. It’s not scripted theatre. It’s not a lecture.
As their write up has it, “It is a storyteller. A singer. A band. An evening of mongrel sorrow, dappled by magic and wonder, fringed with regard for the gift of the tongue, harkening and hortatory and bardic and greying, steeped in mortal mystery. These nights have the mark of our time upon them, and they’ve become timely, urgent, alert, steeped in mortal mystery, quixotic, with some swagger. They are nights devoted to the ragged mysteries of being human, and so grief and endings of all kinds appear. What would you call such a thing? We called it Nights of Grief & Mystery.”
As one of more than 30+ stops on a nearly three-month North American venture across Canada and the United States, the new Nights of Grief & Mystery concert will be held at ArtSpring on Salt Spring Island on October 16th.
With new music from Gregory and readings from Jenkinson’s new book Come of Age, this event is similar in spirit, but with different material, to their previous Nights of Grief & Mystery Over/Under Tour— that tour resulted in an arresting album of story and song drawn from hi-def live recordings of events in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK between 2015 and 2017, synthesized with audio "B-Roll" segments captured on the road, and woven into something unique at Hoskins’ studio outside of Toronto, Canada. Nights of Grief & Mystery is in many ways a companion piece to Jenkinson's award-winning book, Die Wise. Most of the material chosen for the disc is not found in Die Wise, but drawn from that time of his working in the world of palliative care. The next tour will draw from material inspired by his new book Come of Age as well.
The songs of Gregory Hoskins were not written specifically to be joined with Stephen's work, but chosen from his catalogue for whatever connective tissue they might contain to help glue a concert together. Hoskins’ lyrics and voice tend to break and bind at the same time. His songs are steeped in the drama of living with one foot in the sorrow of it all and the other in the beauty of it all, without preaching, and without whining…and he does it over propulsive grooves, brooding electric guitar work, and rich sonics. He and the band use those sonic textures to underpin Jenkinson’s readings, too, using swirls of drums, guitar textures, and synth throbs along with three-part vocal harmonies, trumpet, and live looping.
When asked to elaborate further on what Nights of Grief & Mystery brings to the stage, Hoskins offered this: "I think audiences are jaded. And rightly so, having been fed a steady diet of mediocrity for so long. I also think they’re over-trained—they are often at a loss as to how to behave when it becomes apparent what we do is not a “perform-clap-perform” kind of thing. Our job, I think,in the first 15 or 20 minutes is to disarm the audiences of the stale notions of what is to transpire over the course of the Night and what is being asked of them. With that done, the thing can do what it’s supposed to do, to whoever it is supposed to do it to.
"Sometimes you just have to hang yourself on the cross of what you don't know,” adds Hoskins. “You will always get down and back to the everything you do know but, for a couple hours, it’s good to not know everything. A night like this can do that--that's what it does for me."