Fashionably on her own
Adrian Chamberlain, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, December 08, 2006
Who: Allison Crowe
Where: Metro Studio,
1411 Quadra St. (at Johnson)
When: Tonight at 8
Tickets: $20, $15 advance (Lyle's Place, Ivy's Bookshop), $24, $18 door
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Among Allison Crowe's more interesting flights: playing for John Lennon's half-sister, and scoring free duds from a Montreal fashion designer.
The Nanaimo singer-songwriter, now living in Corner Brook, Nfld., is in Victoria tonight to play at the Metro Studio. Crowe, 25, will be joined by bassist Dave Baird and percussionist Laurent Boucher. The Christmas concert is a fundraiser for Artemis Place, an alternative education program for girls.
In May and June, Crowe undertook a cross-Canada "Rock 'n' Rail" tour. It was supported by Via Rail, with the railway covering her travel and food costs. Stopping in Halifax, she played a benefit show for an elementary school. The organizer was also overseeing a Beatles convention, with Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, in attendance. She asked if Crowe would perform a few Beatles tunes at the convention.
"I thought, 'That's pretty insane,' " said Crowe, laughing. But she was intrigued. As she didn't have time to get her stage costume, Crowe quickly bought a new blouse, cheap jewelry and "a pair of green crocs." She played Imagine, In My Life and Let It Be. Baird, who introduced herself afterward, was thrilled.
"John Lennon's sister gave me a standing ovation. It was noticeable because she was the only one!"
Around the same time, she was able to update her wardrobe thanks to a chance meeting with a communications consultant in Ottawa. The woman, attending a concert, put Crowe in touch with Montreal fashion designer Marie Saint Pierre. She gave Crowe a couple of custom dresses. This gives Saint Pierre exposure, and in return, the designer will play Crowe's music at her fashion shows.
The singer-pianist says she loves the arrangement. Ordinarily, she has a tough time deciding what to wear in performance. Now she has two classy outfits: a gown and a funky black number.
"For concerts and stuff I love it. I love fashion and makeup and all that stuff."
Crowe has yet to achieve the mainstream success often predicted for her. Three years ago, a New York City record deal (with distribution to have been handled by a Sony-owned company) fell apart. She continues to put out albums on her own label, the latest being This Little Bird.
As well as her own Sarah McLachlan-influenced compositions, the collection includes a heartfelt interpretation of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You and Crowe's signature cover tune: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). The latter -- brave, passionate, raw -- is a show-stopper Crowe once used to subdue a raucous crowd in Amsterdam into awed attentiveness.
This Little Bird has sold modestly -- about 1,500 copies to date. Her manager, Adrian du Plessis, said the days of independent artists such as Loreena McKennitt and the Barenaked Ladies selling tens of thousands of CDs though retail stores are gone. Crowe, as a small indie artist competing with million-sellers, has difficulty getting her music carried by chains such as A & B Sound and Music World.
Still, du Plessis noted Crowe's online sales are steady. And her other four albums continue to sell as new fans discover her music.
Although bubbly in conversation, Crowe presents herself as a tough-minded musician determined to follow a fiercely independent artistic and commercial path. For the past three years she has performed all over the world as a solo act. When du Plessis had to leave a U.K. tour because of a family emergency, Crowe took over as road manager.
She engineered and produced This Little Bird all on her own -- a career first. Crowe recorded the disc in bits and pieces in living rooms, Gulf Island cabins and even a restaurant (run by her boyfriend's mother) all over Canada.
In an entertainment world that increasingly genuflects at the altar of instant fame, Crowe seems an anomaly, building her career slowly and carefully. Others have touted her -- and continue to tout her -- as the Next Big Thing. While pleased at this, the Nanaimo songbird seems uninterested in celebrity and its trappings.
"It's kind of not that important in the grand scheme of things," she said. "It's not the ultimate goal."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006
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Nanaimo singer-songwriter Allison Crowe swaps music for clothing from a
Photograph by : John McKay, Times Colonist