I’m not certain of how we met, but I think it happened this way.
“Are you Tom Harrison?” he asked.
As I had retired from The Province in February 2017 and was thinking I was all but invisible, I wasn’t expecting to be recognized. I told him he had the right person and invited him over. Once he was seated beside me and a few formalities exchanged, he introduced himself as Graeme Emmott and asked if I had ever found the fourth chord. This was a reference to Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion, for which I sang and which had released one album for Warner’s Music of Canada called In Search Of The Fourth Chord.
I won’t explain the joke, except to say the album title was an example of our irreverence. As much as I can remember, we never did a song in B, so maybe that was the elusive fourth chord. Anyhow, I instantly recognized that Graeme was an aware music fan.
I’d never seen him here before despite the fact that my wife and I had been coming to the Fraser Park Restaurant most Saturdays for 20 years. Yet he wasn’t a stranger to the restaurant. It can be manic and often is packed , which might explain why our paths hadn’t crossed before.
Anyhow, I sensed I was talking to a musician.
It turns out, Graeme Emmott has recorded and released 13 solo albums.
This was sobering because, as a music reporter, I thought I knew everything about local indie record releases. Nope. The music industry has changed so much since I first entered it 40 years ago. It might as well not exist and ,some would say, it doesn’t. At least it isn’t as powerful, as omniscient, as it once was.
So the indie act is left to find its own way, and there is freedom in that, although there might not be much money.
The indie now has options that weren’t available before but that depends how they’re used. This doesn’t apply only to new acts. Mr. Blake isn’t young but he has developed a network that has resulted in radio play and modest sales for what mostly is dance floor-directed pop.
A band called Renegade plays 70s/80s styled rock and could be regarded as passe, yet the group sells. There are people who still crave this music and will investigate. What both acts, different as they are, show is that you can find your own audience if you go looking for it.
Where Graeme Emmott fits into this, I presume, is that he also is part of this new underground. After releasing his first records, people came to know and like his music, and will buy subsequent releases. So, if he generally is unknown, he has developed a means, and a fan base, that allows him to keep making records.
What are they like? He sent me a couple of records, Galleria Sensorium and Sound And Word. Both are strikingly and attractively packaged, well-produced and played. It’s obvious that Emmott knows what he is doing and is thoughtful. Yet the two are different.
Galleria rambles and exposes Emmott’s limitations as a singer. Although he acquits himself well, his voice is thin, which means occasionally that he can’t put over a song with the command it demands. Taken in bites about five songs at a time, this isn’t a problem, but listened to in its entirety in one sitting, it can be. What this might really show is that at 15 songs, Galleria Sensorium might be too long. There is a lot to absorb. Emmott is a thoughtful writer. His songs are teeming with ideas, thoughts, impressions.
He isn’t strong on melody but there are some cool riffs to make up for that as well as an attention to structure in the arranging. A second guitarist, Doug Fury, probably provides the versatile and occasionally gripping solos while Scotty McCarger ‘s drumming is dynamic with some some great, dramatic fills.
By comparison, Sound And Word is more unified. It’s still too long but seems more purposeful. Filled with reflections on the cultural and musical impact of different cities such as New Orleans, the album is dominated by guitars with a strong blues influence.  That focus provides the direction that makes Galleria Sensorium more random by comparison. There is an awareness of history here and it’s fun to hear Emmott try out different voices such as that of Johnny Cash or some southern good ol’ boy – in fact, one song is called Honky Tonkin Good Time Boys. So there is a bit of twang without being remotely country though country seems to affect the album’s atmosphere. Similarly, the guitar is more to the fore and is blues informed but this isn’t a blues record either.
Both are worthy records deserving of admiration and respect for Graeme Emmott. The next time we meet at Fraser Park, I’ll know him.