NAC Presents: It’s a tale of fathers and sons for Joel and Bill Plaskett

When Joel Plaskett visits Southam Hall this Saturday evening, he’s bringing along a special guest … his dad Bill.

The elder Plaskett is a musician in his own right who played in bands in the 1960s and again in the ’80s and ’90s. And father and son have been playing together for many, many years. In fact Joel’s first time on stage was at one of his dad’s shows when Joel was a precocious 14 year old.

Now they’ve recorded an album together and have hit the road. The NAC show is their third stop after gigs in Nova Scotia and Montreal. The new disc is called Solidarity and it’s a nod to the folk roots of dad and lad.

For Joel, the tour and the album are a natural extension of the family relationship.

“Dad and I have been doing shows together. He played on my record Three and I thought it would be nice to have some of his material on record. My dad has a ton of knowledge about traditional songs.

“About a year ago, I got the idea that we should make something together.”

Initially, Joel says, he thought it would be a record of his father’s work but it “turned into a mix of his songs, some of mine and some traditional songs.”

“I had a number of songs that I had been holding onto that I thought would fit on this record. These were influenced by English and Irish folk traditions that I learned about from my dad.”

As a teenager, Plaskett had latched onto a cassette tape that his father had recorded, and he pulled that out when preparing the recording.

“We decided a few of these (songs) would work. I loved his version of the song Jim Jones so we recorded that. And we added a song called We Have Fed You All For 1000 Years with music by Mat Callahan who was in a band called Prairie Fire.”

“I knew I wanted some of (Bill’s) originals on the album. I did have to push him to edit them a little. That was my role as a producer.

“I listened to them a lot when I was younger and they had an influence on me. One song, On Down The River, ends the record. It is one I am really fond of. Another is Help Me Somebody Depression Blues. I could never write this kind of song.”

As for a follow up project, Joel still thinks it would be cool to help his father record an album under his own name. But that’s for another day.

“We’ll see where this takes us.”

When musicians hit the road one question is who parties harder? Joel says it’s his dad. But the tour is just under way so a definitive answer will have to wait. But working together on this project has deepened Joel’s appreciation for his dad’s ability.

“I found working on this record together was cool. I have gained a deeper appreciation for dad’s ability as a guitar player as well as his gut instinct about a song. He’s a pretty enthusiastic person but it worked both ways.”

Joel says Bill is a bit nervous about the tour but “by and large when he’s on stage he’s fairly comfortable. I know he has some nerves about this. But after a few shows in, I expect he will hit his stride.

Joel says his dad was more of a talented “social player” but in the 1980s and ’90s Bill was in a band called Starboard Side based in the hometown of Lunenburg, N.S. And in the early ’60s before he came to North America from his native England, Bill was in a band called Section 62 that specialized in Cliff Richard songs.

The Plaskett family home was full of music as a result. Joel’s mother was a dancer and she loved to move to her collection of world music records. And his sister is a musician who plays guitar.

Both parents were very supportive of Joel’s musical ambition.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without their support. They didn’t pressure me to do something I didn’t want to do. I didn’t go to university. And I lived at home while I toured with Thrush Hermit (his first band). It means a lot to me that I had the support of my folks.

“My dad has always been musician, perhaps he was living a little vicariously through me. I know he enjoyed watching me tour Canada and the U.S.”

Joel remembers well that very first appearance on stage with his dad. It was at a folk night at Dalhousie University. Joel says he played a version of Angie by the late and legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Bert Jansch, who founded the folk-jazz band Pentangle.

“I was a rudimentary guitar player and dad was kind enough to share the stage with me. It was fun. I was probably terrible but it is a good memory.”

Is there another generation coming along to join Joel and Bill?

“My son likes to get on stage and dance,” Joel says. “He doesn’t play yet, but he likes the spotlight. I’d encourage it, if he wants to play music.”

As for his other musical career, Joel Plaskett is considering his options. He expects to produce an album with his band the Emergency and he has in mind an album of covers. And there are some new songs that need a home. But it’s all very early days.

“Give me a year and I’ll have a better answer for you.”

Joel and Bill Plaskett bring their Solidarity Tour to the National Arts Centre on Saturday March 18 at 8 p.m. Peterborough’s Mayhemingways open. Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.