MORRISBURG – He was booked for the St. Lawrence Acoustic stage nearly two years ago – and then COVID struck and that show, like all the others, had to be cancelled. But at last the long wait is over.
Hawksley Workman is finally coming to Upper Canada Play- house on Saturday, October 15, at 7 pm for that much anticipated concert. Opening for him will be exciting new musician, Mikhail Laxton.
Workman has spent most of his life on the stage, in the studio, writing and recording. However, as he said, in an interview with The Leader, “Yes, a musician’s life can sometimes be difficult and challenging, but I had no other choices. I had to make music. I always say that I didn’t necessarily choose this life; this is the life that chose me. And I had to get on with it.”
And get on with a musical life he has. He released his first album in 1999, and by 2002, he was a breakthrough artist in both Canada and Europe, winning the JUNO for Best New Solo Artist and for Best Video. He has per- formed in Massey Hall and the Olympia in Paris, with numerous chart-topping singles, often tinged with his unique sense of humour. His single, ‘Just a Dream,’ hit number one on the indie label Isadora Records in 2020. His music has won him legions of fans, and his releases are hugely popular. His music has been featured on a number of television shows. Yet he is also a performer who refuses to be pigeon-holed into any one musical genre. His songs have crossed the boundaries of pop rock, folk, country and glam rock: he has even released two Christmas albums.
He got into music at age 10, drumming along to some of his dad’s records. “From high school on, I think I was just waiting for my musical life to start. By the time I was 18, I’d put in 10,000 hours of practice. I continue to love that passionate energy that comes from music.” Workman admits that in the course of his career, he “got a little too much into the rock n’ roll life style,” and about three years ago “I put the hood up on myself and found new ways to approach life. But the creativity never went away.” With the abrupt stop to concerts and tours during COVID (“I wondered, is my job even a job any more?”), he eventually chose to regard the months of staying home as a time for re ection. He and his wife built a TV variety show, Hawksley Night in Canada, which aired monthly. “And I asked myself, how do I keep creating? How do I keep my soul in line? I refused to sit and stare at a wall.”
The ideas for music and songs just kept coming. He laughed that he is “a keen watcher of the absurdity of human life. Canadians especially seem very equipped to handle absurdity. After all, we live in a beautiful country – and it can kill you.” When Workman seeks themes and ideas for his songs, “I watch life unfold. People are always running toward or away from God, love, even ourselves. I no longer make ‘dark cynicism’ my way of life. I try to be the best version of myself and focus on what is good inside, because I be- lieve the creative spark comes internally. I’ve given up my boozy, bluesy old self for a new, clean, sober Hawksley.”
He is thrilled to be returning to the live stage. “I’m so glad that our old social instincts are re-emerging, and that people want to join again in that oneness with the performer. Human connection is the key to performance, and the stage is a uniquely safe place for me. What is truly good about this job has nothing to do with paycheques. An audience creates a thoughtful, loving, wonderful environment.”
For his Morrisburg concert, Workman is bringing his piano side man, Mr. Lonely, and planning an evening of great music. “My set is going to be a mixture of new stuff, old stuff, songs from my new album, and the music that people look to hear. I plan to make room for everybody on this musical train.”
Incidentally, Workman leaves the day after his Morrisburg performance for a short tour in France and the United Kingdom. And when he gets back, he is flying out to Edmonton, where a Christmas album he released years ago has been turned into a brand new musical, ‘Almost a Full Moon,’ opening this November.
Opening for Hawksley Workman will be another exciting musical performer, Mikhail Laxton, a transplanted Aussie who now calls Canada home. He too, refuses to stay in just one musical genre, although, when I asked him to describe his style, he immediately called it “outlaw soul.”
“Back in the 70s, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, they all decided to do country a little differently. No traditional sweetness and light, but songs about real life, about the hardships and the trials that one can face,” Mikhail explained. “Their style was called outlaw country. I was always a bit rebellious, growing up, always trying to go my own way, and that style of music appealed to me. My mom introduced me to black music, and I think that over the years, determined to prove myself, I’ve developed a bit of an outlaw soul.”
His album collection ‘Too Easy’ proves that he is well on his way to becoming one of Canada’s great singer-songwriters. In 2015, he appeared on Australia’s version of the The Voice and soon had fans and critics talking. He writes his own music, creates his own songs, and along the way, has decided to hold nothing back.
“I like being very honest and open as a person,” he said, and music is his way of expressing himself. “When I had problems, music was my way of letting my feelings out. My themes, when I write, are often focussed on love, falling in love, losing people I love and sharing love with people. I write about my experiences, but I also get inspired by other people’s stories. What I do is, I tell the truth.”
During COVID, like many artists, cut off from live performances, and all showcase venues shut down just as he was ready to release a new single, he suddenly had to take on other jobs, “but I kept writing and recording. I almost felt that I owed people my music, that I was letting them down, and I needed to get back out there, doing what I was supposed to be doing – singing.”
Mikhail is looking forward to coming to the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. “Nothing, nothing can beat a live audience. Getting back to the stage is still, actually, a little emotional for me.”
He will be performing a handful of songs from his new album which is coming out in 2023, songs that will come right from his heart. Mikhail Laxton is ready to connect again with people, to sing, to play, to be with them. And, as he laughed, “my soul has always been a little outlaw-ish.”
Tickets for Hawksley Workman, Saturday, October 15, with Mikhail Laxton opening, are only available on line at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage.