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While it looks and feels like music-making just magically happens, there are many costs associated with putting a performance together…and recording a live album…and producing a documentary about the process.  For me it was important to pay the singers an honorarium (bucking the tradition of always asking musicians to donate their time) and for the rehearsals everyone was fed a delicious home-prepared vegan buffet and refreshed with a beverage from the bar; the venue was also paid (another source that is often asked to donate); and the support team were compensated for their expertise.  I’m likely preaching to the converted here but the truth is that most musos work several different jobs and still live very close to the poverty line.  It has nothing to do with talent or success.  It has everything to do with having our contribution being overlooked. Anyway…

As an independently produced project, the scale of reaching into the community and bringing so many people together means reaching out for some assistance.  I started by signing up for a micro-funding platform called Patreon and was lucky to secure the support of some generous souls for the earliest rehearsals.  The deal was that I’d create a video showing every step of the process and my patrons would automatically donate an amount per video produced.   I got great feedback from my patrons and I’m grateful for their blind support.

As the project rolled along, a greater number of singers came forward than expected, the scope of things became more obvious and some tasks needed to be taken care of by someone other than me.  (It would seem that I couldn’t be in three places at once doing four different jobs, even though I wanted to be in complete control of everything and everyone.  Ha! ) Well, I was just freaked out and tired enough to boldly ask for some corporate sponsors to come forward and holy moley thank the stars they did.  Thank you for the support of these adventurous supporters of my project.

Many thanks to:
Judy Bishop, Tom Haivarlis, Sarah Chauncey, Tania Fernandez, Shane Gallant, Kepka-Haivarlis Family, Kevin Wrycraft, Colin Buchanan, Katy Killmore, Amin Bhatia, Lianne Doucet, Anil Khera, Synthian Sharp, RP Ruzan, Sue Molyneaux, Ilana Wilner, Paul Myers and Liza Algar, Chris Blake, Joanne Riven, Angela Vink, Rebecca Roth, Terry White, Paul Evans, Nicole Colbeck, Lynn Harrison, Wende Wood, David Aaron, Shawn Edmondson, Mary Krause, Mel Ferrimond, Rogr Lee, Catherine Thompson, Jennifer Schaffer, David Kanter, David John Shaw, Ron Proulx.

These performances are possible through the generous sponsorship of these good people:
Thank you, for bringing out the best in everyone, The WYSIWYG Co.
Thank you, Bhatia Music for your tireless technical and administrative support.
Thank you to Lianne Doucett at Authenticity 101 who practices everything with integrity.
Thank you, Royce G. Charles-Dunne, for your support of independent music makers.
Thank you, Gold Entertainment Accountants for your unabiding passion for music.
Thank you, Yawd Sylvester for contributing in countless ways.

Technical Credits to-date

The planning for performances and recordings start months and years before anyone sees or hears the results, and often the people who are at the beginning stand at the back of the room (metaphorically and/or really) making sure everything supports itself.  The behind the scenes crew makes it happen.  This is who has been involved so far:


Live Album Recording by James Paul and Dave Joseph, The Rogue Music Lab
Creative Whisperer, Scott Dibble
Photography and Video by Scott Murdoch, Five by Five Photography fivebyfivephotography.com
Performances produced by Arlene Bishop/The Twelve Steves, with Lauren Atmore, project coordinator
Arrangement recordings produced by Elana Harte
featuring Arlene Bishop, Elana Harte, Kim Jarrett, and Tory Cassis
Videos produced by Arlene Bishop/The Twelve Steves
Additional videography by Owen Packham
Graphics by The Twelve Steves with additional illustrations by David John Shaw
Props by RinkyDink Display
Hummery arrangement by John Copping
The Social Capital venue coordinated by Carmine Lucarelli

Arlene Bishop and Her Spirit of Adventure

Arlene Bishop and Her Spirit of Adventure

by Colin Buchanan

Arlene Bishop, 2017.

Respected songwriter and performer Arlene Bishop has been working on a new music project in secret.   Posting video updates to a small group of observers, Bishop has been building an ensemble of 24 backup singers, arranged as a vocal orchestra.
Calling them ‘a vorchestra,’ the ensemble is comprised of a diverse group of Canadian award-winning songwriters and singers. “Yes, there are some famous faces and voices and names — Grammy, Juno and Indie award winners in the vorchestra — but there are also some who never step in the spotlight.”  And there are more than 36 people who stepped forward to sing.
Another bold venture for the innovative songwriter and performer, she started taking on challenging projects like this as Living in The Spirit of Adventure.
No fan of the cult of celebrity, Bishop identifies with walking away from the spotlight, which she did for nearly ten years. She returned with her latest album Twenty Four, reaching out virtually with twelve producers remixing acoustic songs. The result was an innovative presentation of a dozen acoustic, then embellished and remixed tracks. Working in the spirit of kinship, a commonality of purpose, which she realized was what she really wanted to do.
After deciding to return to music following several years, Bishop wanted to thank the diversity of the music fraternity at large. “It’s been a good life for me, creatively,” and it’s the people behind the scenes that Bishop noticed are often former musicians who gave up their dreams of writing or performing and instead worked towards supporting others.
Canada’s 150th birthday struck Bishop as a significant time to bring her Spirit Of Adventure to life. “We all have roots in Canada in different ways, mostly immigrants, some native, all with different cultures, languages and faiths under us and we’re all part of the music community.”
The vorchestra has been built to record her newest album live in concert.   Always looking for ways to not let the dark edges of depression and isolation creep in, Bishop is opening the rehearsal to the public for four afternoons as she prepares for the recording concerts. Another important aspect of the Spirit Of Adventure was the notion to break down the walls between audience and performers. “Without an audience there is no performance,” says Bishop.
“There’s so much hard work that comes with living a creative life, there’s financial sacrifice, long and lonely hours, doubt, confusion, fear…it’s better to share that than carry it all alone,” realizing again that she’s talking about community.
The modestly priced All Access Pass makes the whole process accessible for people who want a peek behind the process, and who want to contribute to a music project, and who want to enjoy the creative community.
The rehearsal and live concert recording venue is The Social Capital on the 2nd floor of The Black Swan on Danforth Avenue.   “There are only 88 seats so the concerts are happening over three shows: a matinée to launch and then two evenings.”
Music fans and singers of all descriptions are invited to see behind the scenes April 15, 30, May 13, 27, and Bishop hopes the whole room will feel inspired to sing along for the live recording concerts on May 28, 29 and 30, so much so that she’s offering downloads of all the concerts so “you can hear yourself on a record, and brag to your friends that you’re famous now,” she says smiling mischievously, “as if anyone would ever want to be a celebrity.”

Song Lyrics

I feel like I should have something to say about these lyrics, which is weird because I already thought and wrote what I have to say about them and those thoughts about those things became these lyrics.

But I will say something about writing songs while thinking about other people singing them:  it was an interesting experience of allowing various parts of myself come forward while writing.  I allowed myself to contradict or support my core ideas, so the words I chose to be highlighted often act as myself, my conscience, or my expectations.  Usually these roles are played out by the parts of the songs (verse, chorus, and bridge) but I expanded some of those sections so that there are A, B, and C verses and double choruses, and maybe a brief bridge.  Just having fun, I guess, while I was writing, entertaining or punishing myself, believing or calling myself a liar, understanding or askingmore questions along the way.  That’s all really too analytical and likely wrongly described anyway.  They’re just words.  I should have stayed with my initial idea to not say anything.

You can download or simply view the lyrics here and follow along with the demo tracks:

Together Tonight Vorchestra Song Book REV 5/7/17

Hear the Songs

Learning the parts of the songs is easy. Just listen to these rough demos, follow along in the lyrics, and sing along with the parts that feel right. 

These recordings are rough demos, meaning they aren’t broadcast quality.

I recorded the songs live and the core vorchestra (Tory Cassis, Kim Jarrett, and Elana Harte) recorded their back up parts afterward. The mix was fast, there are some knocks* and noises, and they aren’t mastered. Really, they are snapshots into the songs.

*Ah, the knocks. We recorded the songs during the hottest part of the summer at Elana’s home studio and her young dog Harvey was a wiggly studio assistant who insisted on sitting next to me during the recording. Harvey passed away from a congenital kidney issue some months later. Hearing his bumps and thumbs remind me of him. Like I said: snapshots.


VORCHESTRA: totally made up word describing a lovable collection of kick-ass people singing together to blow off our common existential angst.

It took me ages to get the nerve to start asking other musicians. In the end the list of people who sang is a kind of ‘Who’s Who’ of ‘Who’s That?’ in the Canadian music scene.

Some are legendary on paper, others are just giants to me.  Some people I know well, some too well, some I’ve lost touch with because celebrity scooped them up, some I’ve lost touch with because life took them somewhere else, some are friends of friends, some are strangers but seem kind of interesting, some are rich and paid for their spot — okay, that last one isn’t true but I wonder if anyone’s reading this — some are just starting out with new bands, some are tired, some just want to hang out and sing with their chums.  All are creative adventurers.

This crazy thing happened when I was thinking about my music community and who to invite to sing: my music community got bigger, so big it fell off the stage and flowed into the audience of regular concert goers, past the sound booth, the bar, the kitchen, the merch table, the door, the sign posts, the newspapers, the blogs, the desks…of people who – as my friend Richard Flohil says  (as its probably a quote from some legendary figure) – “if you can’t make music, then make music happen.”

Hm.  I think I may have mislead you a bit:  “Who’s singing in the vorchestra?  Who’s in the band?” is what you want to know and I may not be directly addressing that question.  Mostly they’re people I’ve shared the stage with, or seen on stage, or sang on albums with, or written with, or written for, or with whom I wished I’d done one of those things.  Some are coming in from out of town, and some are just in town for a short time.  All are coming for the community.  One of them doesn’t know I’ve turned him into a singer.

Here’s a breif bio of everyone who performed in the recorded concerts.  What a pleasure it was to be with them.


John Alcorn is one of Canada’s premiere jazz vocalists, delivering his distinctive renditions of jazz standards on the most prestigious bandstands and concert stages across Canada. His list of citations and acknowledgements in music and theatre includes both Jazz Report (Male Vocalist of the Year) and Dora (Outstanding Music) awards. johnalcorn.com

Rosanne Baker Thornley (RBT) is an international award winning singer, songwriter who is a true advocator for songwriting. Founder of ‘The Collaborators’ a Canadian songwriting initiative, she is also Toronto curator for a very cool, global songwriting intuitive “The Acoustic Guitar Project”. As she gets ready to launch her own new album, she continues to stand behind many emerging and established artists in the songs she co-writes with them for their own projects rbtsong.com

Meryn Cadell is a writer and erstwhile performer. As a woman, he produced several albums of music, and was a well- known presence on radio and television. After spending a decade as a creative writing professor at UBC, he recently returned to his beloved Toronto and is working on a book.

Tory Cassis is a local boy. Hailing from the Beaches (not the Beach) this eternal east-ender is a musical philanderer with jazz, folk and classic soul leanings. A great admiration for songwriting craft draws him like a moth to the flame that is Arlene’s vision.

John Copping (conductrix) is a synthesist, singer, composer and arranger and the executive director of Blackball, a non- profit electronic music education program for at-risk youth and federal prison inmates. In 2016, in conjunction with Chris Brown’s Pros And Cons program, John Copping began leading bi-monthly songwriting workshops for convicts at a federal medium-maximum security institution near Toronto. The imminent release of his third album, Famous Door, is anxiously awaited by John Copping’s eleven devoted fans. John Copping is the proud parent of fraternal twins now in their 20th year. And if you come across either of them, please tell them to call their father.

Michelle Gold’s need to write songs has been a passion and a love all her life. Taken songwriting courses at Berklee, Nashville, and Toronto, she’s written musicals, radio commercials and placed songs in the top 10% of Unisong International Song Contest. Michelle is currently an Associate Partner of G & G Partnership LLP managing the Gold Entertainment Accounting Division.

Adam Faux is a Composer, Singer and Songwriter, Producer and Sound Engineer based in Toronto, and is represented by CCS Rights Management. Presently, Adam is also an MA student (music composition) at York University in Toronto, and leader of the band, The Luck Factory.

Katharine (Nabby) Gray – born in Toronto, B.Sc. from University of Birmingham, England, worked as a medical writer, and now works in the film business. Comes from a family of singers, actors, directors, but has never sung in public or in a choir. So pleased and proud to have been asked to join this amazing group and sing on a stage with the incredible Arlene Bishop.

Fergus Hambleton is a versatile singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist in folk, pop and in the reggae band The Sattalites. Widely known for his captivating baritone, Fergus now brings his voice and insights in arranging and songwriting to his many teaching and producing projects. In 2015 Fergus released an album of original songs, “Written On The Wind” and is currently working on a new album with Circle 5 and an acoustic vocal project, Wood And Water. Upcoming live performances include Byrds Byrds Byrds…a tribute to the songs of The Byrds, regular appearances with the Sattalites, The Tuesday Night Club, and a number of other groups including his own jazz ensemble The Jazz Lovers Society. fergushambleton.com

Jane Harbury has been committed to the Canadian music industry for over 50 years, from managing the Riverboat, assistant to producer Brian Ahern, and booking Eastern Sound, and as the founder of Jane Harbury Publicity (JHP). Handling publicity for numerous prestigious venues, festivals, and productions, JHP has also handled publicity for a range of top recording artists including Ben Heppner, James Galway, The Chieftains, A.J. Croce, Kermit the Frog, Jack Grunsky, Marianne Faithfull, Marcus Roberts, Evgeny Kissin, John Pizzarelli, Andy McKim, David Wilcox, KellyLee Evans, and the late platinum-selling JUNO-Award winner Lhasa deSela. Harbury has received many awards for her work, and in 2011 was honoured to be named the inaugural Unsung Hero by the Canadian Folk Music Awards. JaneHarburyPublicity.com

Terra Hazelton is a true Renaissance woman. Jazz Vocalist, 2 time Canadian Screen Award Nominated Actress, Theatre Improvisor, singer songwriter, former National Radio Host, & painter. She is one artsy fartsy lady. Also of note, she’s a left handed pisces whose birthday is pi. terrahazelton.com

Hotcha! is award-winning, high-energy hillbilly swing duo Beverly Kreller and Howard Druckman, blends old-time Western, bluegrass, early swing and country gospel delivered with the energy of a runaway train. Winner of two TIMAs (Toronto Independent Music Awards) 2012 Best Folk/Roots & HNSS Live Acoustic Category.

Nanci Jandrisits has been a vocalist on and off for 50 years. She got her start at the age of 9 at the Concord Tavern on Bloor Street West, now known as Long & McQuade Music Store. Over the years Nancy has fronted several cover bands and has been a back-up vocalist for many of those in the Toronto music industry.

Joanne Ingrassia was born into a musical family who loved all kinds of music, from Italian opera and Sicilian peasant songs, to classical, jazz, hymnal, folk and rock. She enjoyed choir and piano lessons growing up, learning the fundamentals, which helped her move into writing her own songs. She enjoys playing and singing all kinds of music, and most enjoys performing in groups.

Kim Jarrett’s award-winning soft rock is a warm and welcoming blend of blues, pop, folk and country. The Toronto based singer/songwriter has showcased at music festivals at home and in the US, received worldwide distribution on Philips Electronics mp3 players (“How Long”), and been featured on various compilation records and podcasts.www.kimjarrett.com

Caroly Larson {aka Lill}… (actor, director, songwriter, teacher, parent, blah,blah,blah) is extremely grateful to Arlene for helping her get of the house, where she’s bored herself limp editing 8 hours of song ideas she recently uploaded from her iphone.

Debbie Lillico-Bill is a guitar player, the writer of 3 songs (so far), a taker of piano-lessons, a U2 freak, an animal-lover (especially her dog, Johnny), a nature-loving tree hugger, and a huge Arlene Bishop fan. She played in indie bands, knockout pill, Cool Trout Basement, Tres, The G-Spots, and Holy Microphone. She is working on her solo CD project, which she hopes to have completed by 2020. It will feature guest appearances by many fabulous Canadian musicians who are not yet aware of this fact. lillicoaching.ca

Jen Long’s life has always been filled with music and song. Jen is delighted to be a part of this wonderful project.

Marc Meriläinen was born in northern Manitoba and raised in the untamed beauty of Northwestern Ontario. He is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation and is of Finnish heritage. His first NADJIWAN CD titled “Brother”, was released in 1995 and over the years Marc has released 4 more albums with many singles which have charted on the National Aboriginal Top 40, the Top 10, and have received multiple award nominations including Best Male Artist (Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards), Best Rock Album (Native American Music Awards) and Best Radio Single (Indigenous Music Awards). Marc represented the music of Ontario at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and his scores for theatre and television include Agokwe (for which his music received a Dora Award Nomination).

Heather Morgan is the founder and president of the Gift of Garlic Foundation, a group that believe in the divinity of the tasty bulbs. Their secret signal is a subtle wave under one’s chin and the reciprocal action is to hand over a bulb of garlic. Heather is also a muso, a community-builder, a dog lover and an adventurer who opted to have Arlene Bishop write her a silly bio rather than submit one herself.

Allyson Morris is recognized as a truly astonishing talent wherever she performs, she has a rich and passionate voice that perfectly adapts to the rigorous demands of the Jazz idiom. At times employing a soulful and robust interpretation, other times a delicate and musically brilliant nuance, Allyson handles the old standards in a new way. She has recently recorded her first album with many of Canada’s jazz notables, and now is absolutely delighted to add her voice to Arlene Bishop’s Vorchestra Live!

Veteran singer/songwriter Blair Packham wears a lot of hats these days. He’s a producer, a songwriting teacher, a founder of the annual SongStudio summertime workshop with friend Rik Emmett, and he co-hosts “In the Studio,” a weekly music- based radio show on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010. Having first burst onto Canadian radio and music-video TV as the lead singer of 80s power pop band The Jitters, Blair later released two critically-acclaimed solo albums before shifting his focus to composing music for TV and films. Now, 13 years after his last release (2004’s “Could’ve Been King”), Blair has returned to the role of recording artist with a collection of clever, catchy, and at times, poignant songs, titled “Unpopular Pop,” released in mid-May 2017. Continuing to perform more than ever with his band, The Impossible Dream, Blair is already working on his next release, slated for early 2018. blairpackham.com

Born too late to be part of the 1960’s folk revival, Sue and Dwight embody the musical spirit of that time. Their unique Canadiana sound features passionate vocals and warm harmonies to convey stories about life on the prairies, in the big city, and in rural African villages. sueanddwight.com

Robert Priest is a poet, novelist, singer/songwriter, young adult author, playwright and journalist. Robert is the author of many books of poetry, several plays, a number of novels, various music CDs, 1 hit song, many columns for Toronto’s Now Magazine, and numerous pieces for CBC Radio’s hit spoken word show “Wordbeat” under the alias “Dr Poetry”. His passionate poetry for adults is wide-ranging and much praised, while his children’s poetry is more tender, underpinned with a utopian hopefulness. His recent series of novels for young adults is engaging a growing audience of adventurous readers. Priest’s plays, novels and songs, have earned him awards and recognition in Canada, as well as a growing legion of readers (and listeners) world wide. poempainter.com

Jen Schaffer is the lead singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist of her band, Jen Schaffer and The Shiners. The Shiners are purveyors of original soulful folk/roots music with lush harmonies and heavy bass. Jen came to music via a stint as a public defender in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, where she gained a love of alt-country songs and a heightened social conscience. jenschaffer.ca

david sereda is a singer, songwriter and composer for theatre. He is the dogfather of the Stray Dog Salons. david lives in Grey County and is one of Canada’s most distinctive voices.

Julian Taylor is a muso and band leader who’s spicy, sultry, soulfoul songwriting has been recognized with a variety of awards and nominations. Known for his warm heart and beautiful smile, Julian’s busy schedule has allowed for one special performance with the vorchestra. juliantaylorband.com


Annelise Noronha (bass) is a producer, engineer, teacher, composer and musician. Has worked with a bunch of famous people AND a bunch of not-famous-at-all people. Has recorded and mixed in some world class studios across North America, but also has recorded a lot of stuff in people’s closets. Writes songs you may or may not know. Lives in Toronto and Prince Edward County. Slightly obsessed with her dog.

Cheryl Reid (percussion) is a Toronto based drummer and percussionist who originally hails from Halifax. She has toured all over Canada, the United States and Australia with Ember Swift. She has also performed and recorded with other well- loved and talented Canadian artists including Garnet Rogers, Jennifer LFO and Amy Campbell. Lately, Cheryl has returned to the instrument of her musical upbringing, the ukulele, teaching with Melanie Doane in several Toronto schools with her charitable organization USchool. Cheryl is very excited to finally work with Arlene in The Spirit of Adventure.

Yawd Sylvester (keyboards) is a Toronto performing songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and founding member of indie combos Wayne Omaha and The Très Bien Ensemble. He is also perhaps noteworthy as Arlene’s “other half” and as the owner of Beaster The Cat (of Toronto’s newest celebrity pet couple Beaster & Marley).

Arlene Bishop (your host) is a critically acclaimed songwriter loved for her performances combining dark songs and funny between-song observations. Easily identified by her powerful voice, memorable melodies, and unique songwriting sensibilities, fans around the world call Arlene Bishop their best kept secret. Together Tonight will be Arlene Bishop’s fifth album and her first live concert album recording. Previous independent releases are Pinky, Snarky Girlpop, Cut a Man’s Heart Out, and Twenty-Four.

To the many singers who stepped up but then had to step away, to those who stayed,
and those who wondered if they could do it and did it anyway in The Spirit of Adventure
Thank You


With every album I’ve recorded people have flat out said they wished I’d made a live album. I guess I just needed to feel really mortal to be brave enough.

Don’t get me wrong, my previous albums have been well received, but the live concert is a zillion times better than the records.  I can* be coy but I’m pretty sure it’s because the shows can be so emotionally satisfying (*I don’t want to jinx myself so by saying ‘can’ I hereby build in a disclaimer for any future lame shows).  The experience is the heaviness of the songs delivered with my big voice, mixed in with my funny interpretation of life, makes for a real roller coaster.  I think existential angst is hilarious, when it’s not killing me.

See that great picture of the people sitting and standing and milling around that stoop in Harlem? I’ve been inspired for years by that photograph taken by artist Art Kane in 1958 titled Great Day in Harlem, with so many great players of the day together.  Not only is the image beautiful, the sense of community is enduring, and the accomplishment of gathering so many people together is noteworthy.  In a way, this is a small attempt of gathering a bunch of musos together.

I’m a career independent performing songwriter: I’ve released four albums and one EP. When I’ve tried to give it up because it’s felt too costly to record and tour, I’ve been depressed. Singing gives me purpose and using my hands keeps me sane. So, I create stuff with my hands and I make music and to make ends meet I work at every opportunity that comes along. I manage. I’m not complaining. I’m lucky. I’m tired but I’m happy because music gives my life meaning, I guess. Mostly. It’s a hard life and many musicians give it up.

It’s a pity. And it’s bullshit. And it’s the subject of my new project: the biggest thing I’ve ever produced.

It’s kinda based on the fact that my audiences are filled with musicians. Musicians who play, musicians who quit, musicians who never got a chance to try, musicians at heart.  I see them in artist development, supervisors, managers, agents, producers, engineers, builders, and promoters. They are the makers, accountants, bartenders, beer reps, designers, stylists, publicists, actors, bookers, cooks, waiters, festival directors, tour managers, arts foundation and granting office administrators…the list is enormous. So I’m inviting the musicians to come back and to sing, to build and be a part of the experience. We’ll perform my show together as a community and I’ll record the experience as a live album.

It’s taken me a lifetime to recognize that I’m not alone, and I want to be with the people I know and admire, and I want to sing with them.

So this album is my live album but it’s also my life album.  Oh, jeeze, that’s cheesy.  Try again.  So this album is my live album but it’s also your chance to sing on an album.  And you get three chances – three nights of recording.  Theres’s also four afternoon rehearsals where you can observe musos (in their natural habitat) rehearse the show, so you can learn the songs and rehearse your singing part, too.  Or you can just enjoy seeing the process from behind the scenes.

I’ve written a seven song set that I think is sing-along-able.  Not like your kids’ records, no, like your existentially challenged records.  I’m hoping what is normal angst to me is the same for others.  I’m hoping this is BS we all share, or dammit, I’m alone again.  That can’t be…. right?  Even if I am alone, and you’re alone, let’s be alone together.  Right?

Besides, it doesn’t matter if you think you can sing.  I think you can sing.  So sing.

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and we’ll make it all happen!

Lauren, Jaimie, Joe, Colin and Arlene,
The Twelve Steves

Arlene Bishop

What happens when what you hoped for happens and it makes you miserable?

~ Written by Colin Buchanan

What if that thing is fame and fortune and maybe it’s pounding down the door? Is it worth walking away in order to save your sanity, your health, your soul? For Arlene Bishop this was the case. The accolades were pouring in: “How Arlene Bishop has managed not to become an international sensation is one of the great mysteries of the late 20th. In an era of angry- girl-with-appropriated-angst music, Bishop writes adult-woman-with-life-experience songs, rich with seasoned irony and despair, juxtaposed against elegantly upbeat and memorable melodies.” Bishop was garnering reviews for her cds that raved, “thank God … to lose this voice before it becomes recognized as one of the most unique in this country would be a sad thing indeed.” She was making videos, touring North America and Europe, having bands such as the Barenaked Ladies open for her, playing showcases for major label Polygram, who were about to create a new subsidiary with her as their “star.” She had created a persona of what she perceived as a pop star, crafted mostly on fabrications that she thought the world considered appropriate for a rock-star-chick’s story. She grew to hate it all; the gossip, the backstabbing, the “business” side of the music business. There were people, some of whom she barely knew, who were relying on her to further their interests. The only part of it she still felt comfortable with was the time she was actually on stage performing, everything else had become, in her view, “ego-feeding bullshit.” She was self-medicating. Bishop especially dreaded the interviews. “I didn’t want to speak anymore. I never want to speak again. I really wanted to stop lying about who I was.” Maybe she self-sabotaged before the Polygram showcase; she had very long hair and it was something of a stage gimmick for her to whip it around wildly. Shortly before the showcase in New York City, she cut it off. It was disillusion based in part on wanting to gain artistic control of her music as well as control of her life. “I had this feeling that I wanted to write, I wanted to have, a really dark record, ‘cause that’s how I felt inside. I was very comfortable with the darkness … I wanted to make a lonely, dark album, and I wasn’t allowed to make it.” When her marriage ended she dissolved the band and resolved to play solo. But by then she didn’t care about her career, didn’t care about being famous, didn’t want to be looked at. “The weird thing about fame, is there are lots of really nice people, people who say nice things … but there’s a lot of goofs, who say really, stupid things. Like, ‘Whatever happened to you?’ ‘Gained a lot of weight, eh?’ And I’m like, ‘Back off. I’m a person.’” She didn’t play live for several years, concentrating on raising her son, her recovery from substances, doing some low-profile production work for friends. Eventually, she was asked to play a benefit for a friend’s daycare. “I jumped at it, because when you’re in the middle of it and playing gigs, making records, you can’t play for free, ‘cause that lowers your value.” Now she plays occasional gigs when it feels right, on her terms. Often benefits for little or no pay. She spent the past two years writing new songs and something will come of it. In time, when it’s ready, when she’s ready, “when the universe knows what I should do with these songs, it’ll tell me.” There is no regret in her story of walking away, and she is a happy, generous, humble person without a trace of bitterness. She was made wiser by the experience. She got to the edge, looked over, decided she didn’t like what she saw, and turned around.

Arlene Bishop photo by Ted Buck
Arlene Bishop photo by Ted Buck

Between Songs

Dark Songs, Funny Talk. Is that crazy?

Maybe. There are songs but when there’s a live show there’s some pretty funny twisted talk between those songs. What’s it like? Well, read this:

Richard Flohil, Promoter and publicist

Arlene Bishop writes some of the most intense, nerve-wracking and sometimes downright scary songs you could ever fail to imagine. And yet she is one of the funniest women on stage I have ever seen – she has a razor-sharp wit, a fine sense of the absurd, and she sees (and understands) a lot of stuff that the rest of us haven’t figured out yet. The darkness of her songs is banished by the fragmented sunlight of the talk that surrounds them. Now I’m told that she’s planning a Fringe Festival show that combines the music and the stuff she does between the songs (and which somehow make them easier to comprehend). If this is so, I can’t wait to see and hear it. Arlene is a one-off, a unique performer, a bracing writer, and a very, very funny woman. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel a little uncomfortable, and you’ll leave a lot wiser than you were before the lights went down.

…and this:

Chris Finn, TV Writer

Arlene Bishop has taken the art form of ‘troubador’ to a new level. She walks a fine line between deep introspection and subtle humour with an equipoise unequaled. Many would say she’s like (insert singer here) meets (insert other singer here) but to compare her to any other singer/songwriter seems trite… it’s other artists who should compare themselves to her.

…and this:

David Mackenzie, TV Writer and Producer

I saw Arlene Bishop jump 18 buses on her Harley Davidson once. Okay, maybe that was Evel Knievel, but I have on numerous occasions, watched her command a room with her stunning voice, artfully crafted songs and hilariously compelling stage banter.

…and this:

Erin Benjamin, Arts Administrator

Arlene is like a delicious nanaimo bar. On top, the goodness of chocolate – clean lyrics, simple and pure music. A songwriters’ writer. Music that flips you inside out with dark and then light, and then flops you face first – wham – into the yellow stuff…heart and soul of any truly perfect bar. And the wafer-crumb base is what brings it altogether – her stories, her repartee, herself – the sweetness that is her body of work. There are layers to Arlene that maybe you wouldn’t think of putting together anywhere else – but in the most magical way there is, they all work. She, like the nanaimo bar, is a gift this country gave to itself. The ‘Next Stage’ should indulge – mint, mocha or plain… she is the best kind of original.

…and this:

Dave Lang, Sound Technician

Having been a fan of Arlene Bishop for a number of years, I was genuinely excited to learn about her latest stage project. Her live concerts have always showcased her talent as not only an amazing singer-songwriter but as a true entertainer from the hilarious comments and stories that she strategically places between songs. The brilliant contrast between the funny interactive banter and some of what many may consider to be darker songs grabs the attention of the audience and creates a fun environment for everyone – always a great time! I look forward to seeing this new stage production and would recommend this to everyone, especially those who have seen her live concerts.

…and this:

Peter MacDonald, Executive Director Ontario Council of Folk Festivals

Arlene’s snarky girlpop can cut a man’s heart out in a flash. Was the story in her last bit of banter really her own, or does she practice voyeurism on the side? It sure sounded like my life she was describing. Can she really be watching everyone at the same time?

…and this:

Jane Harbury, Publicist and Promoter

Arlene bishop is one heck of a songwriter – achingly sad and beautiful songs, sung in her distinctive voice and just when you think you can’t stand the emotion being wrung out of you – she turns you into a giggling idiot with her quirky and off-the-wall sense of humour  –  talent and timing are everything and she has an abundance of both.

…and this:

Marc Merilainen Nadjiwan, Producer, Songwriter, Performer

Arlene Bishop is terrifically entertaining and engaging! I’m always hanging on to every word and anticipating what will come out next from her offbeat mind