“ ’Twas the week before Christmas, and in the Great Hall, three lovely singing ladies held an audience enthralled . . . ” Okay, so maybe it doesn’t quite go like that! But in the spirit of the season that turned “Jingle Bells” into “Jingle Bell Rock,” a few twists on tradition are bound to be permitted. Speaking of tweaking tradition, though, Toronto’s talented folk trio the Good Lovelies brought an early hint of Christmas cheer to the Great Hall on December 17, where they performed in support of their Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe.
Blending their distinctive, harmonious voices, the three ladies did slightly tweaked versions of traditional Christmas melodies, beginning with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” acknowledged as the song that brought them together five years ago. This and other Christmas favourites like “Santa Baby” and “Another Year to Wait” were mixed in with tunes from their latest studio album, Let The Rain Fall, as well as covers of songs from a wide range of musicians — from Gordon Lightfoot, to k-os, to Julie London.
The set showcased the multi-instrumental talents of the Good Lovelies — between songs the ladies would frequently exchange instruments. The list of instruments is not a short one: acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitars, a ukulele, an upright bass (played by backup musician Ben Whitely), a lap slide guitar (played by another backup band member, Christine Bougie), a mandolin, a banjo, and a keyboard on a stand, (played mainly by Kerri Ough), and a tambourine.
When introducing themselves and their back-up band (Ben Whitely of New Country Rehab, and Christine Bougie of The Tuxedo Project), they noted that Justin Bieber had also released a Christmas album called Under the Mistletoe. This, they pointed out was great news for their sales . . . not so much for the lovelorn teenage girls who might unwittingly buy their album and think, “Justin Bieber’s voice really is changing!”
It is doubtful that the Good Lovelies really have to worry about sales, though, going by their recent Canadian Folk Music Award for Folk Group of the Year. They could well be called Canada’s sweethearts because it seems their charm never seems to stop, and hopefully, their charmed lives won’t either.
Whether they’re playing for a sold-out crowd or for two people at a small show (an experience they laughingly relate to this crowd), the folk trio made up of Kerri Ough, Caroline Brooks, and Sue Passmore always seem to leave the crowd delighted. At the Great Hall performance, they kept the audience laughing between sets with genuinely hilarious accounts of life on the road.
Talking about their parents (who supported them when the three musicians quit their day jobs to focus on music full-time), the band jokes that their parents are a bit too supportive at times – their parents go as far as using an online flight-tracker tool to check in with them while the band is travelling on tour. The ladies joked that if it wasn’t their parents checking the band’s flights, it would be stalkerish; but because it’s them the ladies appreciate the love!
During another break in the singing — while the three women once again exchanged guitars, banjos, and myriad other instruments set on stands around the stage — the Toronto natives talked about what it was like performing in other parts of Canada.
“It’s good to be home for a day. . . . If we’ve found one thing while travelling around, it’s that people outside don’t like [Toronto]. So we wrote Toronto a love song.” Then, with a comically timed pause, “It was before the most recent election, so . . . a few more verses need to be added.”
When Sue Passmore talked about moving to Picton (a town near Kingston, Ontario), with her husband so that he could go to school at Queen’s University, she recalled how much she loved living in the town.
However, “Picton isn’t very romantic, so this song is called Kingston,” she said to the crowd, which responded in laughter. Right before launching into the song, she added, “I don’t tell them that in Kingston.”
Perhaps it was the Great Hall venue, the little round tables festooned with tea lights and red table cloths, the dimmed lighting, or the high ceiling arches, and raised stage like a pulpit, but it felt almost church-like because of the intimacy of the performance despite the large number of people in attendance.
And it was a mixed crowd — young, smartly-dressed twenty-somethings mixed with an older crowd which varied in age and included a group of white-haired ladies who greeted me pleasantly on the way out as they waited for their ride. It was very much a grown-ups show, complete with sly, grown-up humour, like the joke about the cultural difference between pants here and pants in England. The three ladies, all wearing stylishly simple dresses, said they have a “no-pants policy,” and when they toured Europe they realized why Kerri prefers to call it the “dresses only policy.”
“Why is the crowd so big? Oh, they think we’re not wearing any underwear!”
All in all, it was definitely a worthy night out, and a good way to get everyone who attended into the holly-and-mistletoe mood. The Good Lovelies sang and positively sparkled with effervescent charm. And judging from the way the applause would start even before the songs had ended, it would appear the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.
As for the Good Lovelies themselves, who would they want to meet Under the Mistletoe?
Kerri: “I chose David Bowie. Always David Bowie.”
Sue: “Walter Matthau, after watching Grumpy Old Men.”
Caroline: “Justin Bieber. Just kidding. Maybe.”