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Rising Stars

By Lindy Mechefske

The Gertrudes are good. Really, really good. And it’s not just their parents and the devout local following of this community-based band who think so. Their new song, All the Dollar Bills Sing Hallelujah!, recently debuted on CBC Radio 3 in the number one spot. With both local and national media attention, The Gertrudes’ star is rising fast.
The 10-member band evolved from a series of jam sessions at Ben’s Pub. Some of those who turned out had never played an instrument. They learned together, on the fly. Musicians came and went, but a core group hung in, eventually creating music that varies from restrained and beautiful to exuberant. The songs are enriched by a wide array of instruments and styles — including banjo, guitar, drums, horns, electronic infusion and orchestral arrangements — and have come to be known for thought-provoking lyrics and sweet harmonies.
Kingston Life spoke with Annie Clifford, a singer/banjo player/violinist in the band who’s also a new mother and Queen’s Law student, and Greg Tilson, her husband, a singer/guitarist and former teacher who’s a well-known local arts advocate. They’re two of The Gertrudes founding members and the band’s unofficial spokespersons.

What brought you to Kingston?

Greg: I came to town for the Blue Skies Music Festival and wound up with a job at the Sleepless Goat. Everything else just followed.
Annie: I am a Kingstonian but had been living in Halifax; when I came home to visit, I met Greg and moved back to Kingston for love.

Your new CD’s called Neighbourhood; what neighbourhood do you call home? Some people call our neighbourhood Boys’ Town because of all the boy names (John, Patrick, Charles) — but we like to think of it as the Greater Skeleton Park area.

How do you describe your music? Our music has been described as “experimental folkestra.” Essentially we’re an umpteen-member group of musicians who bring together a range of influences from folk to jazz,  alternative and electronic. Somehow it works.

How did the band name come about? Gertrude’s a name that features prominently in Greg’s family. There’s something solid about it.

What’s the one thing you could not do your job without?
Matt Rogalsky. He’s a guitarist with The Gertrudes and runs a company called Memory Device. He recorded and produced our new CD. After three days of recording, he finished up the album in the various kitchens and living rooms of the many band members. Besides us and Matt, they include Amanda Balsys, Pete Bowers, Paul Clifford, Jason Erb, Lucas Huang, Josh Lyon, and Chris Trimmer.

Which upcoming event do you most look forward to? The launch of Neighbourhood, our fourth album, on September 21 at the Wolfe Island Bar and Grill.

What other music are you listening to? At the moment, David Bowie and Paul Simon.

What other arts/artists inspire you?
Visual artist Cecily Taylor did wonderful artwork for one of our CDs, and we also admire Stev’nn Hall’s work, especially his photography of Eastern Ontario.

What’s your career aspiration?
Good relationships and longevity.

What do you love most about living in Kingston?
Our friends. And the fact that we can walk downtown in five minutes.