Idle No More: Canadian Aboriginal arts and culture dominates 2014

// December 29th, 2014 // 2 Comments » // Filed under Blog

Was it the rising tide of the Idle No More movement? Was it was ‘reconciliation‘ finally becoming accepted vernacular for open-minded Canadians? Was it simply great art being recognized by mainstream Canada? Whatever the case, 2014 was a dominant, award-winning year for exceptional Canadian Aboriginal culture, and hopefully, a sea change of acceptance, mutual understanding, and enjoyment for the future.

Here’s some highlights:

The Orenda wins Canada Reads.

Joseph Boyden (who is of Anishinaabe and Scottish heritage) won big on the CBC with his epic and bloody third novel in his Bird family trilogy*. To simply call this bestseller ‘historical fiction’ is to completely undersell its breakneck pace, drama, and excitement, let alone its reminder that this land’s rich human history stretches far before 1867. A must-read for all Canadians, defended deftly to victory by journalist Wab Kinew. (Kinew will host Canada Reads in 2015). *…which actually isn’t a trilogy… at the 2014 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Boyden announced that he has TWO more books coming that follow the further adventures of the Bird family).

A Tribe Called Red wins the Juno Award for Breakout Group.

Winning a Juno is often about strategy, because an artist can pick which category they hope to be nominated for. Many apply for what feels to be the sure thing; the easiest route. In A Tribe Called Red‘s case, that category would be Aboriginal Record of the Year. The Ottawa powwow-step trio of First Nations DJs refused to be pigeon-holed to that category, instead going for Breakout Artist of the Year, which almost always goes to a white rock or pop act. Not in 2014.

Tanya Tagaq wins the Polaris Music Prize.

Tanya Tagaq stepped out of Canada’s most remote territory, spent years plying her unique musical style, and in 2014, stepped into the limelight of Toronto to win the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize, arguably the country’s most prestigious juried music award. Not only did her album Animism win, the Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, dedicated her career-changing performance to Canada’s missing Aboriginal women, whose names streamed seemingly endlessly behind her as she raged and contorted on stage.

This is Tanya Tagaq's mom and me at the 2014 Polaris Prize Gala. It was only her second time ever being in Toronto, and she was there to witness her daughter win big.

Thomas King wins two major literary awards for nonfiction and fiction.

Author Thomas King, who is of Cherokee and German-American descent, had a huge literary year. In February, the 71-year-old won the Charles Taylor Prize for his hit international bestseller The Inconvenient Indian, and in November, he won the GG Award for The Back of the Turtle, his first novel in 15 years.

First Inuk NHL player Jordin Tootoo publishes bestselling memoir.

All The Way: My Life on Ice may not have won any awards in 2014, but it was an instant national bestseller. Jordin Tootoo‘s brutal, extremely raw, honest memoir of his struggle to get to and stay in the NHL is an infectious read. The highly likeable but damaged Tootoo comes from a far-north background of substance abuse and tragedy, yet he still managed to become an elite athlete, and be the first-ever Inuk / first-ever player from Nunavut in the NHL. The ridiculous racism he endured at the minor league level alone is sickening. And Joseph Boyden wrote the introduction. Full circle.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section! Thanks for reading.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: holiday shipping deadlines for personally signed books

// December 1st, 2014 // No Comments » // Filed under Blog

It’s that time of year again of looming postal deadlines that are creeping in like a Desolation Sound fog so you have to act fast.

If you’d like to give for the holidays a copy of either The Lonely End of the Rink (BC Book of the Year 2014) or Adventures in Solitude (BC Book of the Year 2011), please note the following deadlines for which to place your order:

Canada: Dec 15

USA: Dec 10

Overseas: Dec 5

…but… the sooner the better.

When making your order, please use the comments section in PayPal for instructions on exactly who the book should be signed to, and any special message you’d like included, or email your inscription directly:

Scroll to the bottom of this link to place your order. Thanks!

Wishing you lots of cold beer, fast ice, and warm cabins this holiday season… where are you spending them this year? Comment below!

Grant Lawrence

The Kootenays! This week! Book tour!

// October 19th, 2014 // No Comments » // Filed under Blog

There’s just something about the Kootenay region of southeast BC in the fall… maybe it’s the spectacular autumn colours, the comforting smell of marijuana (and woodsmoke) in the air, the crisp nights and still-warm days, or the winding roads that lead to amazing towns big and small, the inhabitants of which all seem so incredibly supportive of independent musicians, authors, the CBC, and the arts in general. Suffice to stay I love the place and it’s why I keep coming back.

I first discovered the magic of the Kootenays in the 90′s when my band would play Nelson and the surrounding small towns, always to spectacularly friendly crowds. When I was invited back to tour the area for my first book, I jumped at the chance. This is now my third time back as an author.

This time, my wife Jill Barber and our son Joshua will be along for the ride. I’ll read a couple of stories from both my books and show some slides, do a Q+A and signing, and if Joshua behaves, Jill will also sing a couple of songs and chat about her new children’s book Music Is For Everyone. All events are free.

If you’re in the West Kootenays, hope to see you this week. If you know someone in the West Koots, send them our way!

Wanna Smash Sensation? BUM IS BACK!

// September 19th, 2014 // 1 Comment » // Filed under Blog

I have no idea why, but 2014 seems to be the year of the Canadian indie rock reunion. Check it out: The Constantines, Death from Above 1979, the Unicorns, the Smalls, Young and Sexy, and Roots Roundup have all reformed and/or released new material.

That’s all great, but for me, the most thrilling reunion of the year is… BUM.

BUM is a hugely underrated, very brilliant power pop band from Victoria BC. In 1993, they released -seriously- one of the greatest albums not enough people heard called Wanna Smash Sensation (produced by Kurt Bloch, released by Popllama). I played that record to death and know every song and note. The band also released a string of absolutely killer singles and EPs.

The amazing thing about BUM is that they were basically the perfect four-piece band.

They had NO weak links, which is extremely rare in rock ‘n’ roll. They boasted a songwriting tandem that had a yin-yang equality of greatness: guitarist Andrew Molloy provided the chorus-heavy, Instant Kool-Ayd pop and power ballads, while Rob Nesbitt served up the buzzsaw blasts of emotionally charged melodic punk. It meshed incredibly. The harmonies were outstanding.

BUM also boasted powerhouse precision drumming from Graham Watson (also the drummer in my own band the Smugglers for many years post-BUM). BUM were even perfectly West Coast-multicultural with their underrated anchor: the ultra-cool bassist Kevin Lee, with his stoic expression, Ramones-style bowl cut, and low-slung, star-speckled Fender bass. For awhile, Kev co-owned one of the best record stores in Canada called Funhouse, on Yates in downtown Victoria, which seemed to give BUM the inside edge on the best labels and bands going in the early 90s, and there were a lot.

BUM’s Buzzcocks-like steady stream of singles in the early 90s provided the anticipation, but when I first heard Wanna Smash Sensation I could hardly breathe. I’ve always maintained the eternal idea that Wanna Smash should have been as big as Dookie or at the very least any of the better Redd Kross or Sloan records. Not to be. It turns out the only “territory” that really “got” BUM, (besides a small drunk army of adoring fans in the Pacific Northwest) was Spain.

BUM were HUGE in Spain.

Like folklore huge. Like billboards and wall murals and sold out shows and massive audience sing-a-longs huge. Full rock star status. Yet in Toronto they’d draw 35 people. In Eugene, Oregon… don’t ask. (But I shoulder part of the blame for that one because the Smugglers were also on that bill. Animal House it was not.)

The Smugglers instantly hit it off with BUM because we shared the same underdog sense of humour. The Smugglers’ “music” was a lot more lowest-common demoninator garage-pop, based in gimmicky showmanship, sleight-of-foot trickery and bombast, to distract the audience from our lack of actual songwriting talent. We were always in awe of BUM’s writing skills. We also had some incredible parties with BUM. Lots and lots of laughs, all night long.

At the height of BUM’s fame in Spain 1994 (and with rapidly growing interest in Japan), Nesbitt abruptly left the band within a year of the release of the classic Wanna Smash Sensation. I remember being stunned. Watson followed soon after, making the questionable career move of joining the Smugglers for the next decade.

That perfect foursome, that once-in-a-lifetime alchemy that was BUM in its prime, was over, just like that.

All four members do lots of other great things musically to this day (Budokan, Suite Sixteen), though it seems it’s when the four of them come together that they’re truly at the well of rock ‘n’ roll greatness.

That’s why it felt like my wedding day when I heard of their unlikely reunion. Thank the gods for that cliche of ‘time heals all wounds’ because, twenty years later, based on the Youtube footage alone, I had no idea BUM would sound so HOT HOT HOT.

Sure, they may be bent on being bent on rivalling fellow Victoria punkers NoMeansNo for “Most Grey Hair On Stage”, but SO WHAT? The collective Clooney look just adds to the vibe; the boys still sound fantastic. That’s what counts. Here’s hoping that reunion show at the Rifflandia Festival in Victoria on September 13, 2014 was just the beginning. Your disciples want more. I’m not one for endless nostalgia, but reunions can be done gracefully and done well.

So cheers to all those other bands for getting back together and making it a trend, but for me, my fist is raised in the devil horn salute for return of the mighty BUM. I dearly hope for the promise of more BUM shows in Vancouver, Seattle, Nanaimo, Japan… and of course the entire country of Spain.

Because… a promise is a promise.

Follow BUM on Twitter.

Like BUM on Facebook.

Listen to BUM on CBC Music.

Halifax, Vancouver, Nelson, Whistler and more: fall touring schedule

// September 10th, 2014 // No Comments » // Filed under Blog

It’s hard for me to believe it, but it’s almost been a year since my last book The Lonely End of the Rink came out in October 2013. I didn’t get to do too many fall literary festivals last year since the book came out right in the middle of the season, so I’m trying to make up for it this autumn with some bi-coastal action.

I’ll be reading stories from both books as well as some new material here and there. I’d love to see you at any of these mostly free events, including a book tour of the BC Kootenay region.

Sun Sep 21, Word on the Street, Halifax (2:30PM)
Sun Sep 28, Word on the Street, Vancouver (1PM)
Sun Oct 5, Western Canadian Music Awards, Winnipeg MB
Fri Oct 17 – Sun Oct 19, Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler BC

Kootenay Region BC Book Tour

Mon Oct 20, Public Libary, Kaslo BC (7pm)
Tue Oct 21, Public Library, Nelson BC (7pm)
Wed Oct 22, Public Library, Creson BC (7pm)
Thu Oct 23, Public Library, Fruitvale BC (7pm)
Fri Oct 24, Rosewood Village, Trail BC (2pm)
Fri Oct 24, Firehall Theatre, Rossland BC (7pm)
Sat Oct 25, Public Library, Grand Forks BC (2pm)

All Kootenay dates will feature musical accompaniment by my wife Jill Barber, who released her second children’s book this year, Music Is For Everyone, which will also be on sale at all events.

Casey and Finnegan, CBC Beetle Roadtrip, and even Bryan Adams: the top six moments of the greatest summer ever!

// August 27th, 2014 // 1 Comment » // Filed under Blog

The glorious foothills of the Rocky Mountains, one of the best views in Canada.

Well that was one heck  of a summer; the greatest of my life so far, hands down. It was so good that I thought I had better make a Top 5 List, but couldn’t fit it into 5 so here’s 6.  Thanks to everyone I crossed paths with to make it so memorable.

Swimming in 400 feet deep warm water in the middle of Desolation Sound in July.

6. Desolation Sound, BC. It was a challenge to actually get to the ol’ family cabin this summer, but the times we did were glorious. Our boat Big Buck$ roared us around the Sound. In each place the swimming was incredible. We also had fun this year at the Lund Shellfish Festival, the Summer Muse in Powell River, and the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt.

The Murphy-Mendozas and the Lawrence-Barbers on a summer day in Charlottetown harbour.

5. Prince Edward Island. I had the good fortune to be on this summer paradise of an island three times this season! What an amazing city and province that knows how to do summer right. Everywhere we turned we ran into friendly musicians, and we had a fine time staying up in Stanhope in Prince Edward Island National Park. Best eating: Receiver Coffee, Terra Rouge, Richard’s Fresh Seafood. Best drinking: PEI Brewing Company. Thanks to the Kelly-Roberts family!

Swimming at North Beach in Prince Edward County, Ontario, on Canada Day.

4. Prince Edward County. Not to be confused with PEI, PEC is also on an island, but located on the shores on Lake Ontario. It’s where my in-laws have a lovely county home in Wellington (aka “Wellsies”) which is where my wife and son and I spent a beautiful, sunny Canada Day during a short break in the CBC Beetle Roadtrip. We did some perfect family swimming at North Beach, drank Beau’s beer and enjoyed the great little cafes and restaurants that dot the county, like the Tall Poppy, the PEC Food Truck, and East and Main.

Retired CBC puppeteering legend Judith Lawrence introduces us to THEE Casey and Finnegan!!!

3. Meeting Casey and Finnegan on Josh’s first birthday. Somehow, neither my wife or I had ever been to Hornby Island, BC. Thanks to the Hornby Island Festival, we made it this summer and had a fantastic time. I did readings from both of my books and Jill sang some songs. After the event, we were approached by a woman named Judith Lawrence, who told us she used to work for the CBC. When Jill enquired further, she then dropped the nostalgic bombshell that she was THEE Judith Lawrence (no relation), the legendary puppeteer who created, animated, and voiced Casey and Finnegan from Mr. Dressup! And that she still has the original puppets in her possession… there on Hornby Island! The next day just happened to be our son Joshua’s first birthday, so Judith actually brought Casey and Finnegan over to where we were staying and let us meet them. For a kid who grew up watching Mr. Dressup religiously every morning, Monday to Friday, it was a WAY bigger deal for me than Josh. Thanks to Judith, Deb and Drew McVittie, and the Pratts for a GREAT time. What an island!

Johnnie Lawrence Drive, named after my grandfather, in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.

2. Johnnie Lawrence Drive. For over 40 years, my grandfather Johnnie Lawrence was an exceptional pro-golfer at the Clear Lake Golf Course in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. Over the course of those many decades, he created an incredible legacy, teaching thousands of people from multiple generations how to golf. He left a lasting impression on his students, as I still run into them all over the world who want to tell me all about my grandfather and his perfect swing. This summer, Parks Canada and the Clear Lake Golf Course honoured the memory of my grandfather and the Lawrence family by officially naming the road that leads up to the golf course “Johnnie Lawrence Drive” with a ceremony and parade in August. My family is deeply humbled to have a road named for our grandfather in a Canadian national park.

I drove this little car through all ten provinces this summer. It was the trip of a lifetime.

1. The CBC Beetle Roadtrip. I consider myself fortunate to have visited all ten Canadian provinces, but I’ve done it slowly, ticking off the visits to each one over the course of my life. Never have I had the opportunity to drive straight through all of them, coast to coast, until this past summer. We started in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, and drove the CBC Beetle all the way to Mile Zero in Victoria. Along the way we met up with some of the finest musicians in Canada to film them performing their songs in iconic Canadian locations. It was truly an epic voyage through the most stunning country in the world and one of the greatest experiences of my life, which I implore you to do as well. Thanks to Bryan Ward, Chris Kelly, Josh Huculiak, Emma Godmere, CBC Music, and VW Canada for making it happen. You can see all the videos and photos here, or watch this finale recap of the entire trip in a couple of minutes:

{Honourable Mention… Baby Joshua meets Bryan Adams!}

Summer of '69 meets Summer of '14: Baby Joshua and Bryan Adams!

I wasn’t even present for this so I can’t really include it in my favourite moments, but the story is pretty surreal. My wife Jill Barber was on her way to play a festival in Quebec City and ended up sitting next to Bryan Adams on the flight, who actually requested to sit next to her! He was a great guy, shared some new songs with Jill, held Joshua, and came to Jill’s show in Quebec City that night. And to think he used to wash the dishes at the Tomahawk in North Vancouver!

Upcoming Events this Fall:

Sun Sep 21, Word on the Street, Halifax (2:30PM)
Sun Sep 28, Word on the Street, Vancouver (1PM)
Sun Oct 5, Western Canadian Music Awards, Winnipeg MB
Fri Oct 17 – Sun Oct 19, Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler BC
Mon Oct 20 – Sun Oct 26, BC Book Tour (details tba)

What was YOUR favourite moment of your summer? Comment below!

PUP video “Guilt Trip”: the weird story of how I was cast as the crooked cop

// May 22nd, 2014 // 7 Comments » // Filed under Blog

I'm wearing LOTS of make up, ok???

In case you haven’t heard of PUP, let me prepare you: they are a high voltage, high impact, highly spirited punk rock band from Toronto. They put out one of the most electrifying albums of last year, and one of the best debuts in many years. So, consider me a fan who plays this band regularly on CBC Radio 3.

Pup rocking out. Note: '94 era Canucks shirt!

This past January, my wife and son and I were headed to brunch on a gloomy, wintery  Sunday morning to a restaurant I NEVER want to go to but my wife loves. I was desperately hung over. We were trudging along an industrial stretch of dullness in East Vancouver. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a printed sign taped to a glass doorway. “AUDITIONS FOR PUP Music Video”.

Calling all pups... and one old guy.

I squinted and belched. “There’s no way it could be the same band…” but I snapped a photo and Instagrammed / tweeted it anyway. PUP confirmed seconds later it was indeed an audition for their next video, to which I jokingly replied “do you have a role for a semi-drunk, semi-hungover, hairy, smelly, new dad in his really early 40s?”

The band replied “can you play a convincing police officer?”

At the very moment we arrived at the restaurant that I didn’t want to go to, a burly cop was dragging in a woman who had just dined and dashed. I took it as a sign. I said YES.

Instagramly, PUP put me in touch with the director and producer (who coincidentally were also having brunch at the very same restaurant, also witnessing the police incident) and BOOM. I was cast as a not-so-burly but very evil cop in a video that fictitiously traces PUP’s origins back to their childhood in a dark and wet music video cross between Stand By Me and The River’s Edge.

On the set in the sleet between takes with actor Finn Wolfhard. Photo by John Lee.

The video was filmed mostly in a lumberyard in Brackendale BC just outside of Squamish on an shivering and soggy, classic West Coast winter weekend. For many of my “shots” I was thrown into puddles of mud and slush.

The spritely actors who play the youthful version of PUP are all excellent. I was the most “hands on” (literally) with the amazing Finn Wolfhard who plays the badass bully and (SPOILER ALERT) eventual lead singer.

The four actors who played young PUP keeping warm in the dressing room: the back of a truck with a wood burning pot bellied stove.

The video is co-directed by Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and produced by Dan Code. Thanks to everyone in the production crew for involving me and treating me so well, and to PUP for actually responding to that instagram photo. And thanks also to my wife, who dragged my sorry, hungover butt past that audition sign in the first place. Funny how things work out sometimes.

The aftermath: whose blood IS that?!?


Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Upcoming Events:

Sat June 14, CBC Music Festival, Deer Lake Park, Burnaby BC
Mon Jun 16 – Fri Jul 25, CBC Beetle Cross-Canada Roadtrip
Sat Aug 2, Hornby Island Arts Festival, Hornby Island BC
Sun Aug 17, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt BC
Sun Sep 21, Word on the Street, Halifax NS
Fri Oct 17 – Sun Oct 19, Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler BC

BC Book Prize win for “The Lonely End of the Rink”

// May 4th, 2014 // No Comments » // Filed under Blog

Well, it’s been an amazing and humbling 2014 so far, to say the least.

This past Saturday my second book The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie won the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award at the BC Book Prize Gala for Book of the Year. I wish to send out a huge THANK YOU to the independent bookstores for choosing my book for this honour. Thank you for existing and for doing what you do!

Thanks also to my amazing team at Douglas and McIntyre and Harbour Publishing (pictured above), as well as Naomi MacDougall (cover design), Christy Nyiri (sketches and website), Ken Beattie (publicity), Sam Haywood (agency), Christine McAvoy and Geoff “The Dandy” Kehrig (cover photos), my wife Jill and son Josh, my family, and my hockey team, the Vancouver Flying Vees.

Here’s the official word from the press peeps:


CBC personality and author Grant Lawrence was awarded the top honour at the 30th annual BC Book Prizes Gala for his latest book “The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie”. Lawrence’s hilarious and touching hockey memoir won the Bill Duthie Bookseller’s Choice Award for “the most outstanding work published in British Columbia this year”.

Lawrence was in attendance at the Gala on Saturday night in Vancouver with his parents, and accepted the award along side his publisher, Howard White of Douglas and McIntyre.

“Howard warned me that the hockey book arena was extremely competitive, but I didn’t believe him”, said Lawrence. “Sure enough, my book was repeatedly bodychecked off the the shelf by other big time hockey books by Bobby Orr and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so I consider this award a real surprise. Thank you to the independent booksellers and stores of BC for this great honour”.

“The Lonely End of the Rink” is Grant Lawrence’s second book, a national bestseller that chronicles his love/hate relationship with hockey and his role as a beer league goalie, backdropped by the story of his beloved Vancouver Canucks and their three failed attempts at the Stanley Cup. This is the second time Lawrence has won the BC Book Prize for Booksellers’ Choice. Lawrence also won it in 2011 for his debut book “Adventures in Solitude”.

Lawrence made history this year, becoming  the only sole author in the thirty year history of the BC Book Prize to win Booksellers’ Choice twice. The Booksellers’ Choice Award is voted upon by the bookstores of BC, for the best book of the year in terms of public appeal, initiative, design, production, and content.

Grant Lawrence is currently working on his third book, a sordid, action-packed rock ‘n’ roll memoir of his many years in the internationally touring band The Smugglers.”

Upcoming Events:

Sat June 14, CBC Music Festival, Deer Lake Park, Burnaby BC
Mon Jun 16 – Fri Jul 25, CBC Beetle Cross-Canada Roadtrip
Sat Aug 2, Hornby Island Arts Festival, Hornby Island BC
Sun Aug 17, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt BC
Sun Sep 21, Word on the Street, Halifax NS
Fri Oct 17 – Sun Oct 19, Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler BC

Nirvana, Nardwuar, cub, and the Canucks: my 25 years of art, inspiration, and employment on Hamilton Street

// April 1st, 2014 // 9 Comments » // Filed under Blog

What is the longest you’ve ever worked in one location?

In January, I received a CBC management email letting me know that I’ve been working at CBC for fifteen… years… straight. Contemplating that amount of time while riding my bike home along Hamilton Street, just outside the CBC, I realized that I had actually been working at various locations on that very street – and only that street – in Vancouver for even longer… for the past quarter-century, to be exact.

Recently, I was asked to give a presentation at Pecha Kucha Vancouver (20 slides in 6 minutes with commentary), and since my long connection with Hamilton Street was still kicking around in my head, that’s what my presentation became, which you can watch here, and I’ll share some of it with you now in print and photos.

Vancouver's first street corner: Hamilton and West Hastings.

First, the backstory: if you know me even a little bit, you’ll know that I have a great appreciation for the history of the City of Vancouver, so it delighted the dork in me to realize that this street that I have been employed on for so long is actually the first-ever Vancouver city street. It was in 1885, in the midst of a towering and dark rain forest, when the first stake was driven into the soft earth to map out the City of Vancouver by a surveyor named Hamilton… at exactly what is now the corner of Hamilton and West Hastings. When you visit I’ll show you the plaque.

The first place I ever worked on Hamilton Street was at Teamworks Productions, an office in a ramshackle, yet to be restored heritage house. I was fresh out of high school in 1989 and desperate to dive head first into the music business.

Frank Weipert gave me that chance, at a one-stop-shop of artist management (Bob’s Your Uncle, Hard Rock Miners, Roots Roundup), booking agency, and concert promotions. I eagerly dabbled in all of them, especially concert promotion. Frank dealt mainly with roots and art rock, but I begged him to allow me to put on concerts by some of the bands of the burgeoning grunge and punk scene of the late 1980′s and early 1990′s south of the border.


Frank agreed, and that led to me to stage on a string of concerts for Mudhoney (a show Nardwuar and I put on… 1,000 kids showed up, each paying $6), Tad, Bad Religion, Poison Idea, NOFX, Fugazi, the Young Fresh Fellows, the Fastbacks, and, most famously, Nirvana at the Commodore Ballroom just as Nevermind was catching fire.

But the concert promotions business was a harsh mistress for an amateur teenager, and even though many of the gigs were wildly successful, I found out the hard way that, as a promoter, you’re only as great as your last gig, and that not all Seattle grunge bands were created equally. I was coerced by some slick-nick American agent to put on a gig for Love Battery, the ugly duckling of the grunge scene. I guaranteed the band a king’s ransom. The ONLY people to show up for that gig were me and Nardwuar… and I was the promoter and Nardwuar was on the guest list! The show cost Teamworks a fortune, cost me my job, and that was pretty much it for me in the concert business.

The Smugglers circa 1995... not quite as cool as the bands above. Photo by Paul Clarke.

I figured my time would be better spent building up the career of my own band The Smugglers, who rehearsed and wrote many of our best songs at a dangerous dump of a practice space right on Hamilton Street.

By the early 1990′s I began working for Mint Records, located in the iconic Dominion Building at the foot of Hamilton Street. The dusty old dame of a structure was by then a bohemia of arts and culture. Various record labels, publishing companies, magazines, TV productions, and music festival head offices were housed in the circa-1910 building. My primary job was promotions and A&R, but again I dabbled in everything. It was in those offices that we shipped thousands upon thousands of CDs by cub, gob, Pluto, the Smugglers, Neko Case, the New Pornographers, and many other artists. It was a short window in the music industry when almost anything felt possible. There were some glorious times.

Four albums of the many albums we released while I worked at Mint Records

But (and there’s almost always a but) by the end of the 1990s, the bottom fell out of many major labels, having signed way too many bands for far too much money while trying to find the next Green Day and Nirvana. The economic collapse trickled down throughout the music business to the indies, and once again I found myself looking for a new job. (Mint Records is still going to this day, though!)

What CBC Vancouver looked like when I started there in the late 1990s.

I managed to find one just a few blocks up Hamilton, at, lo and behold, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, thanks to hosts Leora Kornfeld and David Wisdom, who had interviewed me countless times for the Smugglers. I landed a gig as an entry-level researcher for a new alternative music show called RadioSonic. By 2000, we started CBC Radio 3. By 2001, both Leora and David had moved on and I was hosting RadioSonic.

I spent a lot of time in the summer of 2005 walking up and down Hamilton Street wearing this sign.

In 2005, the employees of the CBC got locked out in a nasty and prolonged labour dispute. Suddenly, I was pounding the pavement up and down Hamilton Street instead of crossing it to go to work. That lockout led to a lot of time off. The Smugglers had wound down, so I ended up spending a lot of the sudden free time in the wilds of Desolation Sound, BC, at my family cabin. I wasn’t broadcasting, I wasn’t rocking out with the Smugglers, and felt the urge for an artistic outlet, so I began writing what would become my first book, Adventures in Solitude.

My first-ever book reading was... where else? Hamilton Street.

My first-ever public reading of the book? Why, on Hamilton Street of course, at the annual Word On The Street Festival. Hamilton Street would also play a fateful role in my second book, The Lonely End of the Rink, as it was the fiery and violent epicentre of the Stanley Cup Riot of 2011 when the Vancouver Canucks failed to win game seven against the Boston Bruins.

What is that guy doing to the CBC banner?!?

These days, I still walk and cycle up and down Hamilton Street to and from work at the CBC every weekday where I am a host at CBC Radio 3 and CBC Music. Now, if I’m lucky, my wife Jill and baby son Joshua will be waiting outside on Hamilton Street to greet me. And so those are my 25 years (and counting) of art, inspiration, and employment on Hamilton Street… and yes, Nardwuar still loves to remind me of that Love Battery gig. Ugh.

Upcoming Events:

Fri Apr 11, North Shore Writers Festival, North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver BC 7pm (stories from both books… free!)

Fri Apr 18 – Sun Apr 20, Hockey Summit of the Arts, Toronto ON (Grant plays goal for Sloan’s team)

Sat May 3, BC Book Prizes, Renaissance Harbourside Hotel, Vancouver BC

Sat Jun 14, CBC Music Festival, Deer Lake Park, Burnaby BC

Sat Aug 2, Hornby Island Arts Festival, Hornby Island BC

Thu Aug 14 – Sun Aug 17, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt BC


The saga of the CBC sweater

Canadian Screen Award win!

The White Stripes slept here: an ode to my old abode

Grant Lawrence wins Canadian Screen Award

// March 5th, 2014 // No Comments » // Filed under Blog

After 15 years of working on radio at the CBC, I never imagined that I would win something called a Canadian Screen Award. That’s right, Screen Award. It’s a golden statue, about a foot or so high, and surprisingly heavy. My team won in the category of Best Original Program or Series produced for Digital Media.

Here’s how in the hell it ever happened: Last year, I embarked on an outrageous opus that became known as CBC Music Presents: The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions, starring a plucky little Volkswagen Fender Edition that affectionately became known as the #CBCBeetle.

The goal of the trip was to film excellent Canadian musicians performing on their own home turf. It would be the reversal of the standard rock ‘n’ roll tour: instead of them coming to us, we’d go to them.

The results were a video series showcased on CBC Music and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, filmed in spectacular pockets of the country from Vancouver to Toronto. Some of the highlights included getting “banjo’d” into the Elk River in Fernie BC [WATCH] by stoke-folk band Shred Kelly stuffing a live goat into the Beetle [WATCH] courtesy of the Good Ol’ Goats in Cranbrook… jumping into Lake Louise [WATCH] naked… getting treated to a Saskatoon rooftop BBQ [WATCH] from Ewan Currie of the Sheepdogs… and smashing [WATCH] Sam Roberts’ guitar,  among many other good times.

Grant BBQing it up with Ewan from the Sheepdogs

The CBC Beetle Roadtrip was definitely one of the most rewarding and wild of my CBC experiences, made special by the team that made it possible – Bryan Ward, Kai Black, Brent Hodge, Talia Schlanger, Nicole Goodman, Jonas Woost, and Brian Cauley – and the incredible list of Canadian musicians who took part: Yukon Blonde, the Matinee, Shred Kelly, the Good Ol’ Goats, the Sheepdogs, Library Voices, Imaginary Cities, Hawksley Workman, PS I Love You, the Tragically Hip, the Arkells, Hollerado, Metric and the Darcys.

Oh, and what ARE the Canadian Screen Awards? Last year, in an effort to simplify years of confusion honouring the best in Canadian film and TV, the Genies (film) and the Geminis (TV) joined forces to create the Canadian Screen Awards to honour Canadian excellence on movie screens, TV screens, and computer screens. They are considered the Golden Globes/Academy Awards of Canada!!

Hearing our names announced as winners at the gala Tuesday night was a completely surprising, surreal, and exciting experience. Thanks to everyone who made it possible. This 15 year radio vet is definitely stunned and happy… and don’t worry, it hasn’t gone to my head, though I will be bringing that trophy with me to every single meeting at the CBC from now on: “talk to the statue!”

Grant and Shred Kelly on the Elk River in Fernie BC.

Upcoming events:

Fri Apr 11, North Shore Writers Festival, North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver BC 7pm

Wed – Sun July 9 – 13, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Winnipeg MB

Sat Aug 2, Hornby Island Arts Festival, Hornby Island BC

Thu Aug 14 – Sun Aug 17, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt BC