They may have begun their music careers an ocean apart from each other but there is still much common ground to be found between Hunter River, P.E.I., musician Meaghan Blanchard and Stafford, England’s Dan Walsh.
The two singer-songwriters are taking part in an Artist Exchange Program championed by Music PEI, along with their overseas partner the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The program brings together artists from P.E.I. and England for brief tours of their respective countries. The program also facilitates and encourages musical collaboration between the artists.
Meaghan’s roots in country music run deep. Her grandmother Glenda, a country music singer, routinely spent her weekends performing in the many rural halls that dot Prince Edward Island. Not surprisingly, the admittedly shy Meaghan turned to her grandmother for advice once she had decided that she too wanted to be a singer.
In the earliest days of her career, had you told Meaghan that she would one day be making a record with a producer whose credits included REM, Nanci Griffith and Cowboy Junkies, she probably wouldn’t have believed you. A chance meeting in Memphis would prove to be fateful for the young Islander.
“In February 2012, I travelled down to Memphis as a birthday trip to myself. Ultimately, I was hoping to meet other musicians who were doing what I was doing,” Meaghan says. “I ended up meeting John (Keane) through another person who had seen me perform, but had no idea that he was such a renowned producer until we began talking about music. In fact, he just kind of casually mentioned he produced records.”
Once John revealed his true identity and whom he had worked with, Meaghan says she became a little more anxious. Ultimately however, she says it was John’s quiet and sweet demeanour that helped put her at ease.
“I played a private showcase for John and he seemed really keen on working with me. I spoke with my manager about the opportunity that was being presented and realized I just couldn’t pass it up. I had to be open to the opportunity. If someone had told me that a big-name producer would want to work with me at any point in my career, I probably would have had a heart attack,” Meaghan laughs.
“John was just so easy to talk to. He and his wife put me up at their house while we made the record. Their demeanour and kindness to someone who was virtually a complete stranger reminded me a lot of the people in the Maritimes. It was definitely refreshing to see people like that still exist in the music business today.”
After sending John up to 45 songs that she had written in the time since her sophomore record (2011’s East Coast Music Award-winning Chasin’ Lonely Again), Meaghan says that John narrowed down the list of songs to the 10 tracks that he felt would make the most cohesive record.
The Keane-produced She’s Gonna Fly was released this past July.
“I completely put my faith in John and his abilities and talent,” she says. “With my second album, I took on the role of producer, figuring I didn’t need anyone’s help and ultimately, I learned the hard way. Rather than completely overhauling my songs, John’s ability to keep the original intent behind the songs intact was amazing.”
Meghan’s tour-mate, Dan Walsh, has not only been touted as a superb singer-songwriter but also as one of the finest banjo players in the United Kingdom. His unique and eclectic style extends far beyond the expected borders of folk music, also encompassing funk, jazz, rock and Arabic music.
Dan admits that while the banjo might not be an instrument that many musicians would choose as their primary instrument, it was a natural choice for him.
“I began playing guitar around the age of nine or ten and was completely obsessed with it,” he says. “Growing up, I was exposed to the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon but also listened to a significant amount of Irish folk music. That certainly made taking up the banjo a little more logical of a choice. Thanks to the success of bands like Mumford and Sons, it is a little more common these days.”
This might be Dan’s first time performing in Canada, but he boasts an impressive knowledge of the regional scene, mentioning how much he enjoys the music of Moncton’s BackYard Devils and P.E.I.’s Gordie MacKeeman and the Rhythm Boys.
When comparing the music scene of Prince Edward Island to that of his English home, Dan says one of the first things that jumped out at him was the collaborative spirit that seems to dominate the Maritimes.
“In Britain, the folk music scene is small; it is very much a niche kind of thing. One thing that I immediately noticed about the music scene in Prince Edward Island was how supportive musicians are of one another. There is just so much music to be found here amidst such a varied scene as well. It’s wonderful.”
Dan’s latest record, The Same But Different, was released at the start of the month. Like Meaghan, Dan admits that his first solo record suffered from a case of over ambition some of the songs running upwards of seven minutes in length. While he still has an affinity for the album, he feels as though his latest effort offers a more concise snapshot of what he is capable of.
“Looking back, my first solo record suffered for that over ambition but with my latest record, I really don’t have any such qualms. I feel really confident in these songs and the album itself. I’m looking forward to performing these songs for Canadian audiences.”