December 7, 2019

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Back where he started

Singer Greg MacPherson returns to the WECC stage, where he had his musical baptism

Twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, a fresh-faced Greg MacPherson stepped onto the stage at the West End Cultural Centre for his first musical performance.

Concert preview

Greg Macpherson
● Thursday, 8 p.m.
● West End Cultural Centre
● Tickets $17 in advance at the WECC or online at Eventbrite.com; $22 at the door.

 

WECC partnership with Capital K Distillery

Greg MacPherson's show is the first co-presentation by West End Cultural Centre and Capital K Distillery.

Greg Macpherson
● Thursday, 8 p.m.
● West End Cultural Centre
● Tickets $17 in advance at the WECC or online at Eventbrite.com; $22 at the door.

 

WECC partnership with Capital K Distillery

Greg MacPherson's show is the first co-presentation by West End Cultural Centre and Capital K Distillery.

The award-winning distillery, which is Manitoba's first family-owned and operated producer of handcrafted spirits, has recently entered a partnership with the venue and will be stationed in the lobby providing free samples of their new vodka.

"Here at the West End Cultural Centre, we are passionate about building relationships with local businesses and are absolutely thrilled that our newest partnership, which is kicking off this Thursday during the 25-year retrospective of Greg MacPherson, is with local distillery Capital K. We will be featuring their new 204 Vodka and they will be handing out samples during the show," the West End Cultural Centre told the Free Press in an email.

He didn’t know it then, of course, but that night in 1994 at the WECC with his band at the time, the Apartments, would be the start of an illustrious music career, which has gone on to include 10 albums (some solo, some with a band, including his current project, Figure Walking), three of which have been long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.

On Thursday, the Cape Breton-born, Winnipeg-based MacPherson will once again perform at the WECC, taking a trip down memory lane with a retrospective setlist pulling from all corners of his career. It’s a bit of a homecoming for MacPherson, who hasn’t played the venue in quite some time but continues to cherish it as not only a spot that helped kickstart his own career, but a vital piece to the entire city’s music scene.

"I feel an affinity with the West End Cultural Centre, I think it’s a really special place in our city... It means a lot to me to be sharing what I do with my music in that venue and I think, I hope that, people will come out and feel how special it is to be in that area of town. It has a different resonance there, sometimes people from outside the neighbourhood feel some sense of tension when they go there, and I think that they should, I think that’s a reality," says MacPherson.

"I love the West End Cultural Centre, it’s stood the test of time, it’s still there, it invited me in way, way back, many, many times when I was playing to nobody, and I’ll be glad to play a big show there to make it something that everyone will enjoy and remember."

 

MacPherson hopped on the phone with the Free Press last week to chat about retrospection, nostalgia and his next collection of new music.

Erin Lebar

Do you remember much about that first performance at the WECC in 1994?

Greg MacPherson

Oh yeah, lots! I was an idiot and I remember I had... I dressed up and was super, super into old ‘50s and ‘60s film back then, so I dressed up a bit like Marlon Brando from Guys and Dolls or Streetcar when he’s all dressed up with a cool tie on. But I had a tuque on as well.

Erin

Just to keep it casual.

Greg

Of course!

Erin

How old were you at that time?

Greg

Oh, jeez, maybe 20?

MacPherson in 1999, just five years into his musical career. (Jeff De Booy / Free Press files)

MacPherson in 1999, just five years into his musical career. (Jeff De Booy / Free Press files)

Erin

Are you a nostalgic kind of person normally?

Greg

You know, I’m from an island in the Atlantic, Cape Breton Island, so I have this kind of whimsical nostalgia built in, but I kind of don’t like nostalgia in some ways. I like when it’s personal and when it’s something that’s shared amongst people you love, but I find, like, nostalgia in pop culture is a bit frustrating, so I’m always careful with that one. But this is more just like… this is where I’ve been living, and I’m basically from here now. I have so many roots in Winnipeg and it’s been my home for so long. I have a lot of people who have come to my shows over the years that kind of come and go, you know? So I thought this would be fun. I’m always focused on playing my own current music, but I thought maybe I could just make everyone happy for once and play a bunch of old songs. (laughs)

Erin

Everyone wants to hear the hits.

Greg MacPherson

Yeah, something like that. They’re not actually hits, but still... (laughs)

Erin Lebar

How do you make a setlist for a show like this, when you have such a big back catalogue to pull from?

Greg

I’m still just playing the ones I really like. It’s funny to look back at all these songs and records and stuff; I sound like I’m old but I guess it is 25 years, and that’s a long time. But I look back and see all these albums and some of it, I cringe a little bit because that’s just how it is… but I did have some songs over the years that were closer to what I was striving for, I just didn’t have the chops or the artistic voice at that point to really nail it. So I look back at all these albums and pick the ones that really resonate with me, and I think that that’s always been my recipe for how I can perform well. If you mean it, it comes across better than if you just mime.

MacPherson takes the stage at The Forks for Interstellar Rodeo in August 2017.  (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

MacPherson takes the stage at The Forks for Interstellar Rodeo in August 2017. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Erin

When did you actually settle in Winnipeg? I know you moved around a lot when you were young.

Greg

The last time I moved back was in 2007, but my dad was in the military and my family got stationed here in 1986, so I was just a kid, maybe 12 or 13, and I hated here. Coming from the Maritimes, Cape Breton is so stunning and it has a special culture, and it took me a decade to really figure out a bit of Winnipeg’s culture, and now, since that time, probably around the time of that first show, it sunk in a little bit more where I was and how special it is here. It’s a very different place than anywhere else in Canada. And I’ve lived in seven provinces, so I have this sense of judgment that I trust, and the reasons I love Winnipeg and the reasons I hate Winnipeg... they’re reasoned out.

Erin

I hear a new Figure Walking album is in the works. Will you be releasing that soon?

Greg MacPherson

Yeah, we just got the master yesterday and we’re hoping to release it late-summer. I think it’s really good; I told myself a long time ago the first time I put out an album that sucks I would just quit. Like, what’s the point? But it keeps getting better... so I really am excited about it.

Erin Lebar

Does the new record have a similar vibe to your first Figure Walking record (2017’s The Big Other)?

Greg

Rob (Gardiner) and me, we’re both... Rob loves rock ‘n’ roll, hitting the drums hard; he’s such powerful drummer that the songs just end up going that way. But there’s a lot of stuff on there that’s like... I can’t help myself, I love ballads and I love playing really slow music, but people don’t really want to come see someone sing dirges and funeral procession music (laughs), so it’s more fun to perform live playing rock ‘n’ roll. Rob and I have been writing albums like that for the last five or six years, so the new one is a bit in the same esthetic as the first one I would say.

 

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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