Raw Talent at Cameron House: Catriona Sturton, Gabrielle Papillon & Ria Mae

Here is Gabrielle Papillon’s video for “Turn Left,” which was shot by Southern Souls (an amazing music/video project worth checking out!):


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Who: Catriona Sturton, Gabrielle Papillon & Ria Mae
Where: Cameron House, 408 Queen Street West
Price: $10
Bonus: Adorable buttons featuring polar bears and deer with harmonicas;
catching up with old friends

The Cameron House is always a great place to catch a low-key concert, and this was the first time I had the chance to see a concert in the back half of the venue. Things got a little cacophonous once both the front and back stages had shows going on, but overall it’s a comfortable place to hang out on a Thursday night and have a beer with some friends.

I saw Nick Teehan sing his praises of Coffee Time’s distinct offerings (and clientele) at the Cameron House a few months ago – and I still get that song stuck in my head when I see one of those ubiquitous damn coffee shops. On Thursday, I had the chance to see three women perform on the final stop of their current tour together: Catriona Sturton, Gabrielle Papillon, and Ria Mae.

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Catriona Sturton

Photo courtesy of www.catrionasturton.com
Photo courtesy of http://www.catrionasturton.com

First up was Catriona Sturton, whose awesome red pumps and flashy electric
guitars only added to her pleasingly quirky stage presence.

Sturton’s hand gestures to accompany her lyrics and self-deprecating asides to the audience were hilarious. She had me on board with her first song, which channeled her feelings for someone via a Wheel of Fortune analogy: “I’d like to buy a vowel, and I pick U.” I love a good pun, and her lyrics are stuffed with ’em. She also waxed poetic with some adapted Shakespeare, giving a shout out to English lit majors in the audience, and sang a song that compared a crush to poutine. Something about melting cheese/melting heart because he’s so hot. This was when I discovered that singing about puns + poutine may be one of the quickest ways to my heart.

Sturton also had an adorable (and apt) song about the tendency for one’s pants to pocket dial random phone contacts: the classic plight of a person who has that one – or several – people whom it’d be best not to call after having a few drinks. Naturally, your pants always have other plans for how that’s going to turn out. She is also a magician with a harmonica, and her instrumental blues piece was winding, languid, raucous brilliance.

Catriona doesn’t have an album out yet, but promised us that she will have one soon. Her site features recordings of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Blues” if you’d like to have a listen.

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Gabrielle Papillon

Image courtesy of www.musicpsychos.com
Image courtesy of http://www.musicpsychos.com

My friend Gabrielle Papillon has grown so much as a musician in the past few years, Now, she produces albums and tours across the country pretty much nonstop. She and fellow crooner Simon Honeyman played an intimate, stripped down set, and with them, less is always more. I used to go to The Yellow Door in Montreal to see Gabrielle and Simon play, several years ago. (Simon’s band is Honeyman & The Brothers Farr, and they’re still going strong, he informs me.)

Gabrielle and Simon have this strangely perfect way of producing harmonies, and even when they aren’t performing together regularly they still have the ability to make magic on stage with just their voices and acoustic guitars – and for some songs, purely their voices. I may have teared up when they played “No Common Ground,” an old favourite of mine. “Dust to Gold,” that classic Canadian tale about buying land, struggling to eke out a living, and then losing your farm, would have Canadian Modernists squirming with joy (and it’s also lyrically excellent). And Gabrielle’s story about family origins – and a lighthouse and a death in a storm – preceded “Go Into the Night,” a song that is at once sad and hopeful. It tears at your insides a little bit.

The audience listened in stunned silence, however, when Gabrielle played her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” It’s been covered a million times, because it’s wonderful, but she definitely did the song justice. The bartender from the front even rushed to the back so he could listen to the last half of it. Gabrielle showed how poignant lyrics like this should be sung – a lone voice catching a little on the guitar chords, words enriched by the pauses between them.

You can check out Gabrielle’s music, and buy her new album, Little Bug, on her site.

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Ria Mae

Image courtesy of www.myspace.com
Image courtesy of http://www.myspace.com

Despite her self-deprecating (and hilarious) banter, Ria Mae is an amazing performer – intimidatingly so. She has developed a following on the east coast that I’m sure is bound to flow to Toronto. In fact, the table of Ria Mae’s elated fans right in front of the stage is perhaps a sign that this has already happened. And there’s no question that she’s making waves in the Canadian music scene: her debut album, Under Your Skin, won the 2012 East Coast Music Award for Pop Recording of the Year. Her single, “Leaving Today,” was also nominated for a 2013 EMCA for Song of the Year, which is no small potatoes.

Although Ria had to contend with the rock band that had started their set in the front half of the Cameron House, she managed to stay focused and belt out her songs without missing a beat. Her story of playing “Take Your Clothes Off” at a jail in Truro, Nova Scotia and trying to get hit on – and ultimately being laughed at – was met with incredulity by the crowd. (What fool could resist her charms? But for those of you who have never ventured to Truro – and this is probably most people – they are not exactly on the cutting edge of what’s hip these days.)

Her banter about why she doesn’t date any more and winning over mutual friends after a breakup and experiencing small (and ever-shrinking) dating circles in small towns all hit close to home, and the audience just basked in her presence. There was a cry for her to “sing 10 more songs!” even as she balked at playing one as an encore. Ria Mae is one to see if you get the chance – for the stories about why she writes her songs as much as the music itself.

Here’s the video for Ria Mae’s evocative “Under Your Skin”:

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I may rave about many awesome hours of dancing to electronic music these days, but I can guarantee that that music will never tug on my insides the same way that seeing live, raw talent and such a passion for making something beautiful like these three women will. And isn’t that what music should do to us?

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