Canadian folk legend Valdy still has a fire in his belly, and he’s booked at the Barking Parrot to share his latest critique of the world.
Valdy will be playing as part of the Contenders, along with country musician Gary Fjellgaard.
“It’s our responsibility as folk singers to hold peoples’ feet to the fire,” Valdy said.
The federal election earlier this month prompted Valdy to write meaningful new music, and he teamed up with Chilliwack’s frontman Bill Henderson.
“We were all active trying to get rid of Harper … I like pop songs and they pay a lot of bills, but as a folk singer, I think there are issues that it’s not a bad idea to discuss or sing about. I’m not up there just to say, ‘Oh I’m blue, so are you, let’s do.’”
The Contenders will be in Penticton and Summerland as part of their 14th annual tour of the Okanagan, which started to commemorate novelist George Ryga from Summerland.
“He passed away in the early 1980s but he left a legacy for writers of social conscience,” he said. “He’s about people standing up for other peoples’ rights. It’s never a popular position to take and it’s always embarrassing for everyone even a little. But he did it. And as a result, a lot of disenfranchised people got recognized.”
Fjellgaard, the other member of the Contenders, has been a professional musician for nearly as long as Valdy. Their partnership, Valdy said, came together because they both feel like they’re living in contention, and performing as the Contenders is their remedy.
“We’re good friends and I think that is conveyed,” he said. “He makes fun of me, my lifestyle and my shoes and I make fun of his lifestyle and his boots. We both have basically lived the same kind of life, just getting by with our lives and our pets and our kids and our grandkids, living life as best you can and doing as much good for the carnival as we can on the way through.”
Together they recorded a new album over the past two months, Contenders Three, and released it on Oct. 30.
“It’s absolutely straight ahead two voices and two guitars, that’s all you get for the whole record,” Valdy said. “It was done live; there’s not many errors on it but it sure is a nice record. We go for performance; a recording of something that has some character to it.”
One of Valdy’s signature songs, Play Me a Rock and Roll Song, was written as his reaction to an audience of 5,000 that wouldn’t tolerant the sound of folk.
“It was kind of a ‘Oh poor me’ in the song. The song itself has a certain amount of jest in it, it’s taken lightly,” he said. “I was certainly not hurt by that and I wrote a song about it and by golly I built a career on that one song. It’s not a very pleasant experience getting rejected by an audience, but I lived with it and here we go.”
Before his commercial breakthrough, Valdy was a member of The Prodigal Sons, but his other two bandmates lacked his ambition.
“We didn’t have exposure and we didn’t have an agent, so we were just hanging in Montreal and I thought, ‘nope, I can do better than this.’ So off I went. I was playing bass with that group, and picked my guitar up and started working in the Maritimes as a solo folk singer.”
After more than 45 years in the business, Valdy said his favourite decade so far has been the 70s.
“I just turned 70 in September and it’s going to be the most exciting decade,” he explained.
Valdy missed a flight to Texas after missing a ferry, and the airline was supposed to charge $380 to get him on the next flight, which exceeded the modest compensation he was receiving for the show he was travelling to perform.
“They gave me my upgrade for free, and that was the first day I was 70, so I said this is going to be a blessed decade.”
“Even though he gets older, he never seems to grow any older, he’s still like a big kid,” said Ken Smedley, who arranged concerts for the Contenders. “In terms of seeing him perform, the amazing thing about him is his energy. Valdy has an unfathomable degree of life and energy about him that just lifts, there’s a spirit to him that is like few other human beings I’ve ever met.”
Smedley remembers seeing Valdy perform at the Peach Bowl in the 1970s.
“The show was a little late in starting, and some character came out, started fiddling around with microphones and equipment,” Smedley said, thinking it was a roadie. “Then lights came up and Valdy started singing and the band came on. It was a very relaxed and informal kind of atmosphere; very personal. He’s pretty much the same today.”
During their 2015 tour, the Contenders will be performing at the Centre Stage Theatre in Summerland on Nov. 1 (tickets available at Martin’s Flowers), and the Barking Parrot in Penticton on Nov. 3 (tickets at Dragon’s Den). Admission cost is $20 for either show.
“Folk music’s mandate is to just deal with the issues of the day,” Valdy said. “It’s the role of a court jester who used to go from court to court and discuss things and write clever songs about it so he could inform and not be killed for doing it.”