In the past three decades, local resident and Trent alum Tom Eastland has established himself as a mainstay in Peterborough’s folk music scene, with a career that has spanned ups and downs and everything in between.
In fact, his first paying gig was in the Soviet Union. His father had set up a cultural exchange program called ‘the Peace Train’ through the Canadian Embassy and after arriving was greeted by then Canadian Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Peter Roberts. After meeting with the ambassador he was invited to perform at a local club populated with other diplomats, their friends and guests in what was an appreciative and truly multicultural audience. Says Eastland, “I got paid in American dollars and Russian vodka”.
Before that, however, he had arrived in Peterborough and Trent in 1983 as an aspiring poet, still struggling to learn the guitar, a skill he learned through the best way possible– by just getting on stage and doing it.
Says Eastland, “At the time it didn’t matter if you were good or not– if you were up there spilling your heart out there was an audience at Trent, at the Ceilie and The (Jolly) Hangman (the student pub formerly located at Peter Robinson College), that would get into it.”
Until 1987 he was very active in the Trent scene, working at The Hangman and meeting musicians, artists and activists and contributing poetry to Arthur.
He remembers The Hangman and its audiences fondly, as a lively and exciting scene to be a part of, recalling those times Eastland remarks, “It wasn’t like today, with the kind of stellar home entertainment options that people have now. As students most of us didn’t have cable, just one small TV with a fuzzy Chex station so you just went out and caught a band, whoever was good or known or just sometimes whoever was playing.”
On the character of the scene at The Hangman and Peter Robinson itself Eastland adds, “All the creative and politically active people at Trent were there, it was multicultural and multisexual, a place where you could just be yourself and not be judged– it was very empowering and encouraging, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been at.”
Before recording his first CD in 1996, he spent years cutting his teeth on the production end thanks to his involvement with Trent Radio, where he hosted his own local and independent music show “There Are Jams In The Kitchen”.
At the time Trent Radio had a 4-track recoding system that he was allowed to borrow, which he used to record local bands and shows and later himself, recording in his kitchen. “I dreamed of having access to the kind of recording tools that professional studios had, and it’s amazing that we can have those now.” he adds. In fact his latest album was recorded at home.
His first album, “Thanksgiving Day”, was produced by Canadian folk and blues hero, William P. Bennett, who Eastland calls “One of the most underrated Canadian musicians and a great guy.”
As Eastland tells the story, “It was 1995 and I had just moved into a new apartment. I was trying to adjust the lighting and saw a ladder in the window across the street, so I went over to see if I could borrow it, not knowing if anyone was home.”
It was then that he made a discovery. “As I approached I saw all these guitars and mandolins and other instruments in the window, and as I looked at the mailbox it had the initials ‘WPB’ on it. So when the guy answered, I sort of sheepishly asked “Are you William P Bennet?” and when he said “Yes” I gushed at him. We sort of hit it off and I played some of my recordings for him, and he really liked it. He invited me over to play with him and jam and took me under his wing for about a year, teaching me about music and musicianship and then offered to produce my CD.”
It was that kind of fortuitous collaboration that is sprinkled throughout his most recent release, 2012’s Saving Graces an album which has no less than 14 of his friends on it including the Weber brothers, Bridget Foley, Washboard Hank, Fiddlin’ Jay Edmunds and many more. The album grew over a number of years as he did all the recording, mixing, and mastering himself.
The album was written in what Eastland calls a “trying and angsty time” as he was struggling to take care of his mother who was suffering from dementia, while he would wile away his time in the basement writing songs.
Drawing from that experience and living up to its title, Saving Graces comes with what Eastland calls his main message in both music and life– “I wanted to stress that there was more to life than money. When you have money and you spend it, pass it on, it’s gone– you don’t have it anymore. But music, love, knowledge when you share those things, two people have it and it multiplies. We should know how rich we are and share that wealth.”
While he plays many shows locally and in Toronto, he hasn’t had the opportunity to tour as much as he would like, something he hopes to change.
He is also already planning a future recording but is looking to embrace the current trends in the music industry “There will be another one for sure but… I’m not sure if I will record it into a CD or if I’ll try a digital platform. There are so many ways and options for reaching people now that it’s amazing what you can do.”
He has also been playing a lot at local café Carpe Diem on Armour, where he hopes to diversify Peterborough’s already nascent and robust cultural offerings. “I really want to develop the culture around the 6-9pm timeslots, when you look at the scene almost everything goes until 2am. It’s sometimes hard to get people out when you tell them that you go on at midnight.”
Yet despite the arrival of the digital age, Eastland still refers back to what got him into music in the first place as his main source of inspiration and opportunity, “To me, it’s the live performance. There’s always that excitement about manifesting the music in the moment, as its happening, the live show, the live entertainment element– that feeling of a bunch of people in a room together experiencing something that will never happen in quite the same way again.”
You can catch Eastland again on Jan. 24 at Carpe Diem from 6pm-9pm.