It was a very fun and almost sold out night at Hugh’s Room Live last Saturday night when RPR hit the stage to entertain and showcase their new CD, titled Longview.

The show marked five years since this band’s debut on the Canadian folk music scene, and Longview is their second recording, following five years after Trans Atlantic. The band members’ trademark sense of humour and stage presence was very much in evidence on Saturday night, and the crowd showed its appreciation.

RPR is comprised of musicians Steve Ritchie, Al Parrish, Rob Ritchie and Beaker Granger. Ritchie, Parrish and Ritchie are alumni of the Canadian folk band Tanglefoot, which called it a day in 2009, after some 25 years on the road and having created some of the best folk music in the Canadiana genre. The band was recognized as Best Vocal Group at the 2007 Canadian Folk Music Awards, and for years played to sold-out houses all over North America and Great Britain. “Footheads” were devastated when the group cashed in its chips.

But in 2013, out of that void in the Canadian folk universe rose a new band. Rob, Al and Steve re-grouped to form RPR, and look back to the Tanglefoot days now with fondness and gratitude for being a part of something that meant so much to so many people. The new band allows each of them to stretch their musical chops and songwriting talents. Steve plays bass and drums as well as rhythm guitar. Al is equally at home on the guitar as the bass, and Beaker, the drummer, also plays guitar. The instrument swapping that goes on in RPR gives you a glimpse into the multi-instrumental nature of the guys’ talents, and of course, they are all gifted singers and songwriters.

The vocal prowess that helped to make Tanglefoot such a success has naturally carried over into RPR. Gorgeous harmonies that go back to the Ritchie boys’ childhood experiences with church choirs on the Bruce Peninsula make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

But this is no choirboys’ gig. Boisterous sound, electric instruments and a much more rock music-oriented flavor make RPR a completely new incarnation for these guys. Experimentation with unusual time signatures is happening, and you can hear the heavy metal musical influences from the drum kit to the electric instruments. You can just tell they’re having a blast playing this new music.

Said Steve: “All these songs are insanely fun to play!”

Don’t get me wrong though… the rock influence may be there, but it doesn’t disguise the heartfelt lyrics these guys write. Empathy is in their DNA, from Al’s “Tear Down this Wall… and Build a Better World…” to Steve’s “At the Checkout,” which explores the question of “what do you say to someone who has experienced a huge personal loss?” On “Temporary Song” about the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, Rob writes: “hold back water, hold back tears, hold back chaos, hold back fear…” These are songs that inevitably leave you speechless.

They tap into nostalgia, too, especially in the song “Crop Dusting,” where Al talks about going nowhere at all, letting his Pontiac roll down the road. He’s painting a portrait of the past, tapping into memories many of us share of a simpler time where we were more connected with the community in which we lived. There are universal truths there.

The band has definitely diverged big time from the constraints of writing historical story-songs. Steve, Al, Rob and Beaker are painting themselves with a much broader, multi-hued musical brush, and it looks good on them. They’re taking the, shall we say, long view.

 


 

 

“So much of this is about the storytelling” Al Parrish says as he explains to me the history of his band, their 2013 album Trans Atlantic, and the new music they’re preparing to unveil at the sold-out show at Heartwood Hall.

Parrish is the ‘P’ in RPR, a band named after its members Steve Ritchie, Al Parrish, and Rob Ritchie, all from the band Tanglefoot. And then there’s the addition of Beaker Granger, percussionist, songwriter and sometimes lead vocalist who seems to fit right into the dynamic like he’s been playing with those three for the last thirty years too. The band credits Beaker with the formation of RPR after they met at a Dylan tribute night where Granger was playing with the house band and Steve delivered a killer version of One More Cup of Coffee.

 

There are a few things I took away from last night’s show: these guys are definitely storytellers like Al posited, but these guys are also really funny, and lastly, these guys are not just “Tanglefoot Light.” Sure they realize some people are coming to the shows to hear a few tunes from that iconic, award winning band, and sure they always play a few, but the night consisted largely of RPR tunes from Trans Atlantic and the upcoming album.

They used to play 150 shows a year, so to do only a handful, Steve says, adds a little more gravity. “The less you play, the more important each show becomes” he says. “Now doing just one show on home turf is a lot of pressure.” They wanted to make sure the audience went away telling their friends they missed one hell of a show – so, I’m here to tell you, if you weren’t there last night, you missed one hell of a show.

Here’s the story:

They kicked the night off with a new one called Great Big Love, a funky song with a strong bass line and an important message: there’s too much fear right now and not enough love. A timely tune. Another new one called Shopkeeper was unveiled later in the set. It was written by Rob and Beaker in the rolling hills of Yorkshire Dales in England and details the relationship between a home-body shopkeeper and a traveler with “eyes always on the next bend” and the “vagabond love” that develops between them. I found out last night that Rob is also a novelist, and his attention to detail in his songs is indicative of the craft.

 

When they launched into When the Spirit Moves, the crowd was warmed up and ready for what was easily both a crowd and a band favourite. This upbeat rocker has a clear message, and one that ties into their description of themselves. They say their music is ‘light and shade’ and this one supports the ‘light’ element. It asks its listeners to “dance right through this storm” and claims “when the spirit calls, there is this dancing light”. Not only does it offer an uplifting message to look beyond the darkness, it also allows the band to really let loose on stage in what they refer to as the ‘rampantly energetic’ element to their music.

The theme of the storm reappears later in their fifth tune, Temporary Song, about Hurricane Katrina, for which Rob gives a great detailed introduction to. This band does not just tell stories in their songs, they tell stories about the stories in their songs, which for attentive fans is a great payoff. Parrish says that “The people who come to our shows tend to be good listeners…they’re interested in the stories.” So when the bar crowd was getting a little too noisy in the back of the room, Rob gave them a seasoned ‘Hey!’ into the microphone and reminded them why the majority of fans were there: to hear the stories, both within the songs and before them. And then he continued to explain the story of Temporary Song, which ends with him in a Tim Hortons bathroom, as he finished writing the song hours before he was to perform it.

 

This is where Rob is at his finest as a songwriter with clear command of imagery in lines like “There’s a man in a stolen car/ he’s picking up the dead/ there’s a child out on the overpass/ she’s crying to be fed” and strong currency of language in the chorus “hold back water/hold back tears/hold back chaos/hold back fear”. The band keeps the pace of the tune as it builds and falls – Al rocks a sweet bass line and Steve riffs behind him as Beaker emphasizes the build that leads to the final chorus as climax.

They blend the serious subject matter of their songs with lighthearted stage banter, joking that Al is really the counsellor of the band, Rob is the third of two sons, and that Al wrote a whole song as a dare that he couldn’t fit ‘calcium chloride’ into the lyrics. Crop duster is an ode to small town life, and one of the lighter songs in their repertoire. As is another of Al’s songs, Mister I Am, which came to him at the request of his wife, who told him while he was sleeping that he should write a country song. He woke up and wrote one about the gender roles in courtship with a fun twist at the end using clever wordplay.

This was my first RPR show, and I marvelled at the talent and versatility on stage. Steve and Al exchanged their instruments like golfers exchange golf clubs, and so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see Beaker step out from the drum set, pick up a guitar and take to the mic. Steve jumped behind the drums in his place and supported Beaker’s powerful I’ll Be Home, a song he dedicates to the local musicians we’ve lost in the past year, musicians like Jake Chegahno.

 

The second half of the night brought more well-crafted tales set to music, and more witty introductions that demonstrated how much these guys love being on stage. It’s part of the reason they formed RPR – Parrish said they were getting requests to do small shows after Tanglefoot retired in 2009 and they noticed how much they missed entertaining people. They each contribute to the songwriting and also to the entertainment. Rob’s introduction to One Fine Day got the crowd laughing – I’ve never heard of the term ‘wood-shock’ but I encourage you to look it up.

Near to the end, Steve declared that he is the ‘body-count’ writer of the group. He seems to always kill people in his songs, but when he played A Long Conversation, he explained the true story of the poet and painter, who became soul-mates and the heartbreak that resulted in death. There was only one death, though, that actually happens in the song, he said, and by the time it was over, everyone in the crowd was in the palm of his hand. He revealed himself as a master storyteller here.

 

They returned to the metaphor of the storm with Fall Down as the Rain and Parrish sings “If I get to heaven/ I will not stay/ I’ll turn myself around again/ And fall down as the rain” in a hand-clapping a cappella ditty.

When the band got called back out to a standing ovation, Parrish analogized it to someone working a minimum-wage job and being told that they did such great work, that now they’ve got to work a little more. The crowd laughed and settled in to hear them do just that. But we all knew Parrish was joking because it’s clear how much fun these guys were having. It’s definitely work, but work they seem to love. They closed out with Hard Road and McCurdy’s Boy.

 

And that’s where the story of RPR at the Heartwood Hall ends. Everyone packed up and went home, CD in hand, with stories of their own to tell their friends over Saturday morning coffee.

And since every good story has a message, what I took away from this one was that when you are passionate about what you do, people are going to respond. RPR has a passion for telling stories – pay attention and you’ll get some great ones in their songs. But to get the stories about the songs; to get the jokes, the energy, the wit, you have to go see them live. So the moral of the story, I guess, is to go see more live music. Go see RPR the next chance you get.

 

 


 

My brother had a favourite expression which went something like, “There’s nothing like a nice, quiet, relaxing evening…and that was nothing like a nice quiet relaxing evening!” Totally appropriate, in a good way, for last Saturday night at the London Music Club. Tanglefoot’s RPR, Ritchie – Parrish – Ritchie, The Untangled Tour, was loud, vibrant and exciting.

When Tanglefoot did their farewell tour four years ago at Aeolian Hall, I asked them why. Apparently, they were all pulling in different directions having other things to explore: writing, broadcasting and solo performing. I understand that, having been in various groups over the years. You can reach a point where you feel you’ve done it all and there’s no more to say, musically that is, but it was still sad to think we wouldn’t hear them live again. When Al Parrish played the Cuckoo’s Nest on his own last year, excellent though he was, I felt an air of loneliness, of loss, especially when he told stories of Tanglefoot. On Saturday he said that being part of the group was the best gig he’d ever had.

 
All this by way of saying their performance Saturday was a joyous occasion. The group had paired back to three core members – pirates, in my mind, who always brought such outlandish energy to the stage.
 
They play their instruments at times with roaring vigour at others with sparse intensity, creating many moods: Rob Ritchie on keys; Steve, his brother, guitars and bass including some great licks on electric guitar: “Dylan was nearly killed for doing this”; Al Parish guitar and electric bass guitar – we missed Al’s stand-on acoustic bass!! And new this time was the welcome addition of drummer Baeker Granger, who definitely looked the part adding more long hair to the stage (Yes, I’m jealous!). His driving rhythms and delicate percussion gave the band huge presence, adding greatly to the lack of  “…nice, quiet, relaxing evening”!
 
They sing raucously and passionately with big stirring harmonies. Rob told us that CBC described Al’s baritone as being somewhere between chocolate and sex.
 
Rob and Al seem to write mostly in a more humorous vein. Rob did a country achy–breaky-heart song about not being able to play his keys out in the woods miles from anywhere because the extension chords had come unplugged. Trust me it was funny –silly but funny!  Steve tended to add to the body count with ballads ranging from soldiers to suicides. His are songs with great depth of understanding of the human condition. Having got used to Rob’s sense of humour – sort of – he then devastated us with a story, sung by Al, which he was asked to write for a fund raiser for the victims of Katrina. This had been put in motion by a couple of waitresses in a small Ontario town who donated their tips to the cause.
 
And that was how the evening flew by, with them telling stories about how they came to write their story songs, full of humour, pathos and love. Al has been married for thirty two years...just not to the same woman! And it’s taken him all that time to realize that a woman falls in love with a man’s potential to become the man of her dreams!
 
It’s great to have you back guys. May RPR (and B!) keep having fun and making music for us all. The evening was somewhere between chocolate and....

RPR (Ritchie-Parrish-Ritchie) Release “Trans Atlantic” 

-AnnMarie Rowland-

In 2009, music lovers on two continents felt the tide go out when Tanglefoot, an award-winning Canadian folk band, called it a day. Four years later, Steve Ritchie, Al Parrish, and Rob Ritchie have come rushing back in a wave of big sound and familiar harmonies as RPR, with their first CD, Trans Atlantic, to release on November 1st.

Said Steve Ritchie, “Maybe it's inevitable that the old Tanglefoot rhythm section could neither stay off stage nor away from each other for long." Drawing upon years of performing together, RPR has quickly reestablished a reputation for thoughtful, intelligent lyrics, diversity of sound, contageous energy, and yes, lots of hair.

“Where RPR differs most from Tanglefoot,” said Al Parrish, “is that Tanglefoot was strictly an acoustic band that focused almost exclusively on Canadiana. We have allowed ourselves to stray from that a bit, and have added a percussionist, Beaker Granger. I’m playing electric bass, and Steve, although he’s playing acoustic guitar mostly, picks up an electric guitar for some songs.”

Trans Atlantic, largely comprised of skillfully crafted songs from the pens of Rob, Al, and Steve, was recorded during May and June of 2013 at Park Head Studio in Yorkshire, England when the band was on tour. “We had a lot of gigs,” explained Al, “and were fortunate enough to stay in the home of our UK tour agent whose husband, Brian Bedford, who happens to be a great recording engineer, was available. We laid down almost everything there, and sent the tracks back to Owen Sound, where Beaker added the percussion tracks at Trevor Mackenzie’s studio. Then it went back to Brian for mixing, and finally back to Ontario. That’s the origin of the title, Trans Atlantic.”

From spare arrangements of poignant ballads to high-powered anthems with screaming electric guitar solos, to a capella singing with big harmonies, Trans Atlantic rises and falls from one song to the next on a sea of delightful surprise. Tucked into the mix is a chilling rendition of a Kate Campbell song, and a feel-good arrangement of Joe Crookston’s “Fall Down As the Rain.” 

“It’s actually quite liberating,” said Parrish of the variety of sounds on the disc. “All of our musical backgrounds are broad; from church choirs, to country, folk, and rock. We’re really excited about this (record). These are songs we like, played on instruments we like, with a sound that we like.”

Seven years after the last Tanglefoot CD release, the tide is back in. “Water always finds its level,” said Steve. 

Trans Atlantic will be available directly from the RPR website, and at concert venues. Three CD Release concerts are scheduled for mid-month: Friday, November 15th in Wiarton at St. John United Church; Saturday, November 16th at Clinton United Church; and Sunday, November 17th at Kingston Road United church in Scarborough. All three shows start at 7:30. RPR will also be in Kitchener on November 30th for the Folk Night Concert Series at the Registry Theatre. 

Upcoming Gigs

  • Nov 30
    The Roxy Theatre,  Owen Sound
     
  • Mar 30
    Kingston Road United Church,  Scarborough
     
  • Apr 26
    The Minstrel Concert Series,  Morristown
     
  • Apr 27
    Sounding Board,  West Hartford
     
  • Jul 10
    Arts On The Bay,  Pointe au Baril