“It seems unnatural not to help…to benefit others.It’s just the way I am.”
A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to sit down for an interview with singer-songwriter Liam Titcomb. Aside from his lyrical and vocal talents, Titcomb is one of a breed of artists and public personalities who use their celebrity to draw attention to more humanitarian causes. At the start of a new year, it seemed fitting to begin on such a good note.
It’s barely midday on an unseasonably warm Saturday in November, but the Starbucks on Bloor Street and Albany Avenue is already bustling with patrons looking for an early buzz to start the weekend right.
The folk rock playing audibly but unobtrusively lends the coffee shop a relaxed atmosphere accentuated by the sounds of laughter and amiable chatter coming from every table and corner armchair. It’s the kind of place that exudes a community charm that might be disrupted by the presence of a celebrity, but when Liam Titcomb walks in, his six-foot-plus frame unmissable, he fits right in.
“Hey, how are you?”
“When did you get back,man?”
In the short distance between the door and the serving counter, he stops at least three times to return greetings with a smile and a few words.
When his drink comes, he goes to add honey, and the improperly-covered bottle splashes its lid right into his cup. He laughs. Goes back to the counter with an almost-apologetic grin, and the barista hurries to make him another drink, on the house. It’s obvious that this rocker is no diva.
With his easy familiarity and down-to-earth attitude it’s hard to believe that this is someone whose musical career stretches back to early childhood performances with his father, the respected folk musician Brent Titcomb.
“I guess other kids have who have dads that are mechanics, or lawyers, or doctors, they kind of just, through osmosis learn a bunch of that stuff, and it becomes part of who they are…It was music, for me,” Titcomb says of his childhood.
He grew up surrounded by creativity; his mother and manager, Cheryl, was a potter, and one of his sisters is inclined towards visual arts. A 2004 issue of Enroute Magazine notes that he was playing gigs with his father, formerly of the ’60s folk band Three’s A Crowd, by the time he was five years old. According to Titcomb, his move into music was a natural choice, growing up in a household infused with it, and where summers were spent travelling to music festivals.
“I never took singing lessons,” he admits. “It’s just ’cause everyone sang.”
However, music is not the only thing his family life instilled in him. Titcomb also has a strong sense of responsibility to the less fortunate in the world.
“It’s just a certain set of ideals and a way of thinking that I was brought up in, and it just seems natural to me,” he says.
“It seems unnatural not to help. I realize some people don’t think naturally about trying to help, to benefit others.It’s just the way I am. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so generous!” he adds, with a laugh that belies his words.
His first album, released at age 15, included the song ‘Rose of Jericho’ about the plight of children sold into the sex trade. At the time of this interview, Titcomb was sporting a moustache for Movember, a yearly campaign to raise awareness for prostate cancer. He also collaborated with War Child on the album ‘Peace Songs’, and in 2008 worked on an album entitled, ‘Under Angels’ with volunteer organization DesignHope. Its aim was to raise funds and promote awareness of homelessness.
“(He) put the time into writing a song, coming and playing it, making it beautiful, you know, putting in the effort and the time and the heart into it,” said Rob Lamothe, executive producer of the DesignHope CD, in an in-studio video posted online.
“I think that’s incredible.”
In a time when celebrity causes can come to resemble elaborate publicity stunts, Titcomb puts his money where his mouth is. One of his most recent efforts was a coast-to-coast Canadian busking tour towards the end of 2010, another War Child collaboration rife with donated time and volunteer effort. It raised $50,000 to go entirely toward the charity.
“Too often we do nothing because we feel we can’t really make a difference,” he wrote on his blog at the beginning of the tour.
“I need to believe we can and I need to take a stab at it.”