All in good Time

Fresh from her UK tour, Canadian singer-songwriter Jill Barber is eager to return to The Grad Club's stage

Jill Barber graduated from Queen's with a philosophy degree. Her first live show was at The Grad Club.
Jill Barber graduated from Queen's with a philosophy degree. Her first live show was at The Grad Club.
Supplied photo by Rose Cousins

Interview: Jill Barber @ The Grad Club, Nov. 23

I’ve reached Jill Barber on her cell phone. The folk songstress and Queen’s graduate is in downtown Halifax, picking up a friend from the airport. I can hear honking in the background and at one point, she asks me to hold while she gives directions. If she sounds distracted, she warns me, it’s because she is. On a brief break between tours, Barber is doing five dates in a row across the Maritimes this week before she embarks on a cross-Canada tour with Ron Sexsmith.

All this comes on the heels of her return from a tour of the UK with British folk superstars Tunng and California’s Brightblack Morning Light. Though it was her first time playing in Britain, Barber said she can’t wait to return.

“It was an incredible experience. It was kind of the most fun I’ve had on tour,” Barber said. “Tunng is really popular over there. It was really wild—I played my first London appearance to a sold-out crowd with 800 people.”

Barber said that she encountered a different attitude towards music while in the UK.

“People really value live music and musicians over there in a big way, and I was really well taken care of. People were really generous and really wanted to give me their attention.”

All of this touring comes in the afterglow of releasing her latest record, For All Time. Though it’s been more than two years since her last album, Oh Heart, was released, Barber says she was in no hurry to complete the new album. Recording took place over the first half of this year in three different locations: Toronto, Halifax and Bath, just west of Kingston.

“I dug pretty deep with this one,” she said. “I really spent a lot of time with the songs and I invested a lot more of myself and my energy into this project. There’s a more natural kind of growth in my songwriting. I like to think so, anyway.”

The album includes the song “Two Brown Eyes,” which also appeared on her first EP, 2002’s A Note to Follow So. Barber said the song was included because it has become so popular in her live shows.

“It was a song I wrote a long time ago and it’s had a really long life span with me … a lot of people request it,” she said. “I only pressed a limited number of copies of [A Note to Follow So] and I also felt like it fit in really nicely with the songs on my new record, so I just kind of wanted to revisit it and I’m glad that I did.”

Though her brother—and fellow Queen’s grad—Matthew has already made waves on the Canadian music scene, and Barber herself is poised to do the same, she says their parents aren’t especially musical.

“There must have been some genetic mishap or something. Both my brother and I obviously are very musical and my parents are supportive of it, but they are kind of the opposite, they are very non-musical-type people,” Barber said.

“They’re music fans as much as the next person. We listened to a lot of classical and jazz music growing up, we didn’t really listen to the kind of music that we’re now making.”

Still, the influences of her childhood musical experiences shine through in Barber’s jazz-infused flavour of folk.

Barber played her first live show at The Grad Club and said she’s especially looking forward to performing there next week.

“I logged in many hours at The Grad Club as a student there. It was a kind of home away from home for me,” said Barber, who credits much of the success of The Grad Club to manager Virginia Clark, who gave Barber her first shows.

“She’s one of my long-time supporters and of course, she’s still making music happen for the Kingston community at The Grad Club,” Barber said.

“It’s kind of an institution to me. It’s just a great space, and it’s an unlikely space too. It’s not really your ideal concert venue but I think that’s what Virginia brings to it. She’s created this wonderfully vibrant music scene out of this unlikely space.”

Next week’s show will serve as a sort of belated For All Time album release party. Barber’s original plan for a three-date album release tour in Toronto, Halifax and Kingston didn’t work out.

“Those are the three cities that mean the most to me and that are kind of, in one sense or another, home to me.” Barber now lives in Halifax, where she said she enjoys the city’s thriving art scene and the support that musicians get from the community.

“I was really drawn to all the great music that has come out of it. Music is so much a part of the culture here,” she said. “I think in large part it has to do with the fact that bands from Ontario rarely make it out past Montreal.

“We’re pretty far out of the typical touring circuit, so my theory is that we’ve just kind of been forced to entertain ourselves and we’re happy to do it.”

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