Tony Latimer
Salt over my shoulder


On May 18 at the Coast Harbourside Hotel, one of Victoria's posh oceanside palaces, Tony Latimer launched his debut disc, which I predict will make a very big splash! (Pardon the pun.) Salt Over My Shoulder (Ringtail Records) is a work that has been long in the making for Tony, who has been writing and playing his music since 1967.

Born in Australia, Tony sang in church choirs and school operettas as a boy, then discovered the ocean, sailing and the music that accompanies such a life -- sea shanties and "forebitters." He is a professional sailor and boat builder, as well as a top-notch musician and composer. As a result, Tony's songwriting has been influenced by the places he has visited, including the island music he heard while delivering ships between Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Some of these island flavours and rhythms are really distinctive in his songs.

The throng awaiting him at the Coast Harbourside that night -- between 100 and 150 people packed into a conference room -- was already kindly disposed and happy for Tony's new success. Tony has made Vancouver Island his home base since 1977, and I hope that he will continue to do so for a number of reasons. He has been instrumental in reviving a number of folk music clubs around the Pacific Northwest, including one on the island here.

Joining him for this performance were Dave Klassen (bass), Rick Van Krugel (mandolin), Pat Thompson (concertina, backing vocals), Sue Klassen (shaker, backing vocals) and Alan Law (dobro). The ladies were referred to as "The Reality Chicks," and their performance was great! They even had a few dance steps figured out for Tony, which added to the whole effect. Sue's vocals had their usual effect on me -- I got goosebumps all over. This woman has a voice that is heaven personified!

Tony performed the tracks from his disc, in a very different order and with a wee bit of a tale about each one, to the delight of the amassed friends, family, and of course, media. His anthem song, "We are Kings of the Western Ocean," was one of the last he performed; it is a well-written piece and had the audience singing and clapping along. It's a delightful shanty, filled with power which explodes out with Tony's resonant vocals. This piece borrows a traditional Australian melody but uses original lyrics: "We are Kings of the Western Ocean / It's plain to see we are / We've left our mark on many a bark / We stink of pitch and tar / All hands cries the mate / And up aloft we fly / The devil take the laggard, Jack / It's do your best or die...." This song encompasses so much of who and what Tony is, it is only fitting it be his anthem number.

"Wish and Watch the Steamers Sail By" is a study in oddness. Although featuring a very Hawaiian melody and lyrics, it was written by a Canadian and an Australian. However, you'd never know that it wasn't a traditional song unless someone told you! Rick had a lot of fun with his mandolin on this piece, taking off for a spotlight solo. This was followed by Alan, the song's co-writer, embellishing on his dobro. And the Reality Chicks were giving a good show and providing absolutely divine backup vocals as Tony sang about "the scent of frangipanis in the air." It was a warm trade wind blowing through the room after that number, with all thoughts turned to the exotic and not so distant Hawaiian islands.

It was a great performance, very warm and inviting. Tony's stage presence is that of someone who is comfortable with himself and his music, and he obviously enjoys sharing it with those around him. It makes for a pleasant evening! There were a few familiar faces in the crowd as well, including Colleen from the Ecclestons and Ian from Rig-a-Jig, as well as a number of members of the Folk Society. Of course, many of Tony's songs are well-known to those of us in the area, so the audience participation was quite strong and added to the feelings of tranquility and inevitability. This disc had to come along sooner or later -- it is music that demands to be heard and shared.

My companion for the evening found Tony to be a bit of a cross between Jimmy Buffet and Roy Rogers, while his black garb reminded me more of Johnny Cash. I certainly agree with artistic director Mitch Podolak, who said that despite Tony's Australian roots, his music embodies the Canadian experience. Tony Latimer is one of the best things to come out of Canada in a great long time, and I hope there will be a great many more discs to capture his wonderful songwriting talents.

As I made my departure into the cold night air of the Victoria waterfront, the strains of the music were still haunting my senses. And Tony's new CD, with all of its original gems, will make the experience last even longer.

by Naomi de Bruyn