Sunday, December 07, 2008

Yes! Thanks Rick Mercer

Its been a while since I've seen Mercer so riled up about something. A great, succinct and passionate rant about the Gag order Harper served on parliament last week.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How We Can Act

This was forwarded to me by the group - Department of Culture.

I think it expresses the possibilities for protest and action fairly well. After listening to Harper twist the truths so barefacedly in his national address, and after his attempt to ram a series of terribly Partisan measures through on the panic of a budgetary crisis I'm now convinced that he's an ideologue and a man governing in a profoundly un-canadian way. The thought that he believes he has the right to shut down Parliament for two months to avoid a non-confidence vote, which the constitution of Canada demands he be exposed to, is deeply shocking.

I'll be at the rally in Toronto on Dec 6th at Nathan Phillips Square - Hope I see you there...

As you are undoubtedly aware, this past week has brought unprecedented change to federal politics.

We believe the proposed NDP/Liberal Coalition government is a welcome change to the ideologically driven ultra-right wing policies that Harper represents. With a formal agreement from the Bloc Quebecois and the support of the Green Party, this government now represents 63% of Canadian voters. Meanwhile Harper is trying to use his millions in fundraising advantage and ignorance of parliamentary procedure to keep power.

He can be stopped and there are several things that we encourage you to do:

1. Email the Governor General
We need to flood the Governor General’s e-mail box with support for the coalition government. Copy and paste this letter or write one of your own. Send it along with your name and address to Michaëlle Jean. DO THIS NOW. It is essential that we show the governor general that there is massive support for this plan.

Send your message to:

Your Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,

I am writing to encourage you to accept the proposal by M. Dion and Mr. Layton to form a coalition government in cooperation with M. Duceppe. The actions of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are motivated by a lust for power, not the best interests of the people of our country. I believe that the coalition — which duly represents the voices of 63% of Canadians — should be given the opportunity to form a government. I also do not think that an election is a prudent choice at this juncture. We need leadership and a cooperative process. I look forward to the days ahead with
hope; please act in the name of democracy and good government.

Best Regards,

Insert your full name and address.

2. Go to a rally in support of the coalition government.

On Saturday December 6th there are rallies right across the country. The Toronto rally will take place at the same time as a Conservative Rally at Queen’s Park. Don’t be confused by the Conservative rally at Queen’s Park. Pro Coalition people are gathering at NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE. Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion will be speaking at NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE. Musical guests will follow.

The Conservatives are using their own considerable resources and sympathetic media in an attempt to escape a confidence vote and maintain power. We must demonstrate that the majority of Canada’s citizens support the coalition by showing our numbers at rallies right across the country.

CLICK HERE for the time and location of pro -coalition rallies across the country:


3. Sign these petitions:

Canadians for a Progressive Coalition

4. Join these Facebook groups:

Canadians for a Progressive Coalition

Canadians United Against Stephen Harper

5. Copy/Paste this message and send it to everyone you know via Facebook and email:

This situation is unprecedented. It is imperative that you act. The massive cash advantage that the Conservatives have means there are people BEING PAID to write emails and messages supporting Harper’s cling to power across the country. At this moment, each action reverberates and makes a big difference.

In Solidarity,


Friday, November 28, 2008

Ain't I handsome

New Headshots from the fab photographer Chris Frampton .

Under advice from my agent I went for a series of character shots. Her remark was something like 'Casting agents aren't the most imaginative people in the world' (OK, actually her words were a little stronger than that, but I don't think she'd appreciate the quote) So we went for a series of looks and a series of shots... I'm not sure which I like best - I'll have to live with them a little...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Demon Drink

Well, sad but true - I've been wondering for the last few months, or maybe even been a year now, why I've had a weird ongoing cold - sinuses are all screwed up and I've lost my sense of smell and taste... sort of like having the aftermath of a bad cold, only all the time. And I've finally put two and two together, and it seems the culprit is booze, with Red wine being the meanest. Some kind of allergy to alcohol...Ack!. I had a couple of glasses of red wine last night, and was up half the night with the feeling I'd been practicing that trick where people drive nails up their nose - excruciating pain! Perhaps this is payback for all the amazing wines I overconsumed in France for several years.

So I guess this means that I'll be the designated driver from now on! If its permanent then it'll be hard to give up, but as a singer its pretty freaky to constantly be stuffed up, and I'd like to have my sense of smell back please. Especially in Fall.. its such a great, smelly season..

Thursday, November 06, 2008

out there

Back to work in Toronto... found a great quote by David Byrne that cheers me up when I'm bummed over the current state of the music industry...

"In the past, music was something you heard and experienced — it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs, ceremonial music, military music, dance music — it was pretty much all tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often utilitarian.

We'll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to congregate at concerts and in bars, even if the sound sucks; to pass music from hand to hand (or via the Internet) as a form of social currency; to build temples where only "our kind of people" can hear music (opera houses and symphony halls); to want to know more about our favorite bards — their love lives, their clothes, their political beliefs. This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a piece of plastic." - David Byrne

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rogue Mixing

Spent the last five days in the Rogue Studios finally mixing the album I recorded last year. Its been sitting in the can for so long that I've forgotten what some of the tracks sound like... and, to be honest, the mix it had on it was so bad that when I'd listen to it I could hardly remember why I had been so excited about the sound during the recording sessions.

But the last five days hve literally wiped the grime off of the music and let me remember how it sounded live. There are about 12 drum tracks, 5 piano tracks, 5 bass tracks etc etc etc (the last engineer overmiked things a wee bit) and they sounded like sludge. Now each track has something to offer to the song. James loads the songs on the big screens and starts mixing on the huge console and they begin to take shape line by line. Its extraordinary to hear.

and the studio itself is an amazing creative space - the piano comes from the venerable jazz club The Montreal Bistro, and is the instrument that Oscar Petersen played his last live concert on.

JP is a comic fan and the studio is filled with characters and toys and fun and bizarre objects. We had a couple of afternoons where I wasn't sure that the files were going to make it off of the old mixes (which were done on a PC via a program called Cubase, and onto JP's Mac and his amazing mixing program called Logic) They kept arriving in pieces or so blurred that they weren't usable. So it was 'calming' to be able to turn around and be faced with this cheerful population of superheroes that fill every corner of the room.

and he worked miracles on a couple of tracks which I had given up on. The guitar recordings from the original work were crap. They were lifeless and characterless. Enter the 1964 Fender Vintage Amp. JP took the original tracks, plugged them through the amp and then rerecorded them with all the character that 44 years of music making can give to a piece of machinery... And now they sound pretty damn good.

There's two days left. Then I'll be able to see what I have and decide if any of them deserve another vocal retake. If so I hope I'll be able to sing it some time soon under the watchful eye of Marilyn peeking out from the shadows at the back of the studio.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The sleazier side: looking for a rehearsal studio in Toronto

Well that was weird... a day spent wandering through Toronto's sketchier side to see if I could find a studio space. In Vancouver and Montreal I managed to find loft/studio/rehearsal spaces where I worked and taught.

And in France I used the mezzanine of our huge barn.

But in Toronto Lisa and I are sharing a small one bedroom studio... so the larger physical work gets a little tricky...and those props, lights and gear can just make living a wee bit hard.... So, I've been wandering through the darker areas of Toronto looking for possible buildings... Through the Junction (maybe...), King St. East(yuck... too many junkies even for an artist looking for cheap studio space), Roncesvalles (already filled with fake lofts... where the various yuppie loft-dwellers are comfortable in the knowledge they have an 'artist lifestyle' without any actual smelly, messy, noisy artists)...

at least I'm getting a vast insight into the sketchier parts of Toronto's downtown... I guess if nothing comes up here then I'll be heading north and away from the central area...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strategic Voting? How to find out your riding results and decide how to cast your vote

Strategic Voting? I'm supporting the NDP, but I'm voting against the Conservatives. This CBC site will give you the 2006 results for your riding (just put your postal code into the box at the right and it will bring up your riding) and should give you an idea of whether you can vote from your heart, or vote strategically to make sure the left's vote doesn't split between the Greens, NDP and Liberals and hand Harper a majority goverment.

I'm searching the web for a site that will give current polls on a riding by riding level but so far can only come up with nationally and provincially averaged results. If anyone has a link to more detailed results then let me know!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Scratch Nights


I’ve been performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest for a chunk of the summer, (which was an extraordinary experience… read about it at ) and after my show I’ve been doing ‘scratch’ nights… an informal session where performers get to workshop new material. They’ve been incredibly useful in getting new work on its feet, and I want to continue the same thing when I get back to Toronto.

So, in October and November I’ll be setting up a space for a few evenings; the sessions will be open to writers/actors/musical theatre or classical singers. I’m looking for performers who want to try out new work or workshop material for auditions. They’re also for writers who want to read their own theatre work, or present it with other actors.

To get it going quickly we’ll start off in a studio space and sharing the cost and, if we have singers, the fee for a pianist. Later we might move into a bar or café. While its in the studio it’ll 5 bucks for 15 minutes on stage and a chance to present a piece – monologue, or scene, or song. For singers who need an accompanist then there will an extra shared fee. You can choose to get comments and criticism or not, and you can use the whole 15 minutes or just 5.

This is not an open mic; it’ll be a private studio and we won’t be doing poetry, or singer-songwriter material, or traditional standup, or impro or sketch comedy, and I’m going to restrict it to performers only, though you can be at any level of your work and career. I’ll be setting up the first one in the week of the 6th. Let me know if it might interest you…

For anyone who’s getting this as a forward and doesn’t know me, you can check out my work at , and you can reach me at

And here’s some articles about this kind of work in the british press


Friday, September 05, 2008



Not me this time. But after surviving the wettest August ever I seem to be carrying the rainy curse with me. I’m sitting in the Barn with the lights on low and the shadows gathering in the corners around and listening to Thunderstorms rage overhead and rain pour onto the slate tile roof overhead. Amazing sound. Furious, but incredibly calming. I’m here working on the next show and normally I have one of Brian Eno’s ambient tracks as my background noise… no such need now. Couldn’t imagine more beautiful sound to work against.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Catatonic in Burgundy

I could have slept all day…and night…and day…. Post festival fatigue…erch! We made it down to Paris and thence to Burgundy and the farmhouse. Managed to crawl to the nearest little town and buy piles of still warm baguettes, a huge square of fresh butter and jars of dark, syrupy honey from hives on the local mountains… intend to live on this for the next several days and spend that time on the couch staring at the roof far overhead. I have good books (Bulgakoff’s The Dog, Complete works of William S., a Scottish Murder mystery) and tea. that’s all that’s necessary for existence till the weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wrapping it up

It rained in Edinburgh. A lot. In fact, this was the rainiest year in over 100 years. And since Scotland is renowned for its normally soggy climate, you can imagine just how wet it was. It rained on the castle, it rained on the cobblestone streets and it rained on the umbrellas of folk waiting in line to buy tickets for my show Whiskey Bars.

But the record rainfall didn’t stop another record being set – and that's on the number of tickets sold on the opening weekend of this gargantuan Edinburgh theatre festival. Over 2000 different theatre shows were performing in town, 19 000 (that's right - nineteen thousand!) performers were wandering the streets trying to get audiences to come to their shows, and over the course of the three week festival around 1.7 million tickets were sold.

And now I'm watching the rain fall on the afternoon after the last night of a glorious run over here. On the last week we sold-out several nights – and since the average size for an audience in Edinburgh is 8 people, a full house was a dream come true.

We arrived here on August 1st as an unknown Canadian one-man show. When we walked into our tiny venue we didn't expect much – it's seedy, to put it mildly. I was performing at the end of a dank alleyway across from a gloomy ancient cemetery; the theatre space is tucked into the 500-year-old vaulted church basement. The address is 11 Merchant Street; number 9 is one of Edinburgh's least glamorous massage parlours, and number 10 is where the armoured cars bring in criminals for their day in court. Reviewers have said complimentary things like "the seedy, dank atmosphere of the Vault creeps into every sinew of this performance".

I can't argue...but the locale was perfect for a one-man exploration of the music of Kurt Weill--composer of Mack the Knife. Weill basically invented a whole new style of music theatre in the 1920's, working with Bertold Brecht. I've been obsessed with Weill's music for years - I first heard his songs in a cabaret in East Berlin in the 1980's while I was living in a squat in West Berlin. We squeaked through Checkpoint Charlie and sat in a dank bar watching a cabaret show and drinking harsh Eastern Bloc vodka. Maybe I had heard his music before, but this was the first time I said to myself that this was music that I wanted to sing.

Fifty years after his death, Weill's music is constantly performed. Shortly after he died Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin set "Mack the Knife" as a jazz standard; The Doors, Judy Collins, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Dagmar Krause, PJ Harvey, Teresa Stratas, Ute Lemper, Anne Sofie von Otter, the Dresden Dolls, The Young Gods and Marianne Faithfull have all recorded his music.

We had already toured the show across Canada and the US, from Hamilton to Vancouver to Florida at different Fringes. We spent months on the road, reworking the show between festivals--tweaking the script, changing the songs, playing with lights and staging. It paid off: we sold out houses in Winnipeg and other festivals in Canada. But in Edinburgh - no one cared! For the first week we played to audiences of three and four enthusiastic friends. We begged the folk who work in the theatres to come and check out the show, hoping to start some buzz. And amazingly, it worked. Britain's prestigious theatre mag, The Stage, dropped by & gave us a double thumbs-up: "Like Hedwig with far better melodies" they said. And, luckily we also fell in with a great scottish theatre tech who ran our show flawlessly and maintained our sense of humour when the audiences were sparse at the beginning of the run.

And in that first week, we got Five Stars from The Edinburgh Fringe Review, and Five Stars from Edinburgh's Broadway Baby Review, and then later had great write ups in the Scotsman, Three Weeks Magazine, MTM – the music theatre organization, and a great nod from a writer from the Sunday Times. The reviews are a real help to lure audience – it's tough trying to get the word out about a one-man show when we're competing for publicity with gangs of cheerful samurai, tap-dancing girls in top hats, sexy stilt walkers in low cut corsets and the whole cast of a broadway musical dressed entirely in tight bright green jump suits and platform heels.

And, we avoided the terrible fallout from the biggest scandal of the festival season. The whole Fringe ticketing system collapsed the week before the festival started. A badly planned IT contract was awarded late, creating web chaos at the central office, and meaning that those 1.7 million tickets were being processed by hand. There is a lot of name calling going on in the Edinburgh Fringe community right now! But if anything it helped our show, since the frustration of trying to get into some of the more well-publicized events has led some ticket buyers to search for smaller shows.

And we hung in for the whole run. Many shows drop in for a week or two, but staying for that extra week meant that for the last week almost every night we had a different producer or promoter come by who’d heard about the show. We had interest from theatres across Britain, questions about translating the show into German and Portuguese, and one booker, who runs a show slew of shows at this festival, hang around after to tell me show she wanted to book the show into an international tour.

So, amazingly, for a little show that wandered into town on a wing and a prayer, our whole gamble has paid off... Now of course, our only question has to be – can we handle any more British weather?

and for the's what they said...

"This really is Fringe theatre at its very best. Duthie’s classical training and background as a many-year veteran in musicals and jazz bands is evident from the outset. By the time we arrived at the chillingly Speak Low - calm on the surface, yet bubbling with undercurrents of febrile yearning - we were left with no doubt whatsoever that we were in the presence of a true master of his craft.
This show is, like the best of Weill's own works for the stage, a seamless blend of gripping entertainment and genuinely moving art."
The Edinburgh Fringe Review

"This one-man show was dark, glitzy, dingy and sparkled with the life of a performer down on his luck. Written and performed by Bremner Duthie, it betrays the author's passion for Kurt Weill, whose music inspired the piece and permeates the show's central character. Innocent and at the same time far too world-weary, Bremner's voice was strong and beautiful. Darlings, life is a cabaret."
Three Weeks Magazine

"brave and inventive...a compelling and boldly-delivered one man show full of energy and impassioned acting."
Music Theatre Matters

"Kurt Weill grew up," states actor Bremner Duthie's character impassionedly near the end of this show, "between a synagogue and a music hall theatre." Thus, Duthie asserts, the composer's life and music reached a perfect balance between the sacred and the profane early on, and there's a real sense of both in his show. The music is sung with all the passion the character brings to bear when introducing it. Duthie's voice and performance give songs like I'm a Stranger Here Myself the perfect level of sexuality and tenderness, while his version of Je ne t'aime pas demonstrates what he means when he says "Weill can break your heart in any language"."
-The Scotsman

"Bremner Duthie, brings his one man “Kabarett” to Edinburgh, featuring the music of Kurt Weill - and it wonderfully showcases his multitude of talents as a writer and performer.
The character pays homage to the life of Kurt Weill, punctuating the interview with captivating performances of his songs. These are beautifully delivered with power and emotion, set to a hauntingly sparse piano accompaniment."
Edinburgh Broadway Baby Review

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Good Time of Year

Its our anniversary today, and we celebrated with a long walk up Arthur's Seat to the Sheep's Head pub - the oldest pub in Scotland...where we ate a great dinner of Haggis and Turnips and locally brewed beer... A gorgeous day - for Scotland that is... intermittent rain, clouds and sun. On the way home we discussed what time of year we would guess it to be if plopped down here unaware of the season - Lisa settled for early May, I settled for early October. Neither of us would have guessed August! Still, its pretty spectacular, even in the drizzle - we walked back past a 14th century Kirk and then down into Edinburgh past Holyrood Park (the royal park of Mary Queen of Scots)

Since this is my evening off we went to see a show and picked Camille at the Queen's Hall. She's an Irish Cabaret singer and the show was fascinating - I'm looking for a new direction for these songs that isn't so structured around the theatrical devices of Whiskey Bars, and it gave me a lot to think about...

1st Edinburgh Fringe Week in the bag

and so we're dark on monday - and the first week at the Ed Fringe is over and it was indeed a tumultuous thrill fest rollercoaster adventure ride .... two five star reviews, a recommendation in Britain's 'The Stage', great and enthusiastic houses, a lovely and amazing place to stay in the historic West End of the city (right beside the New Town - New, that is, since it was built in 1760 after the 'Old Town'......) And now its a day off - a day to get away completely from this madness and see a bit of the city...and a day (if the insane rains hold off) to tromp up Arthur's Seat (the little mountain that overshadows Hollyrood Palace) and down to have dinner at the Sheep's Head inn - a little pub dating from 1500 that apparently serves a mean Haggis and Neaps....

and here's what they said...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Kurt Weill and Whiskey Bars on the Fringe, Edinburgh pitches in..

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony by Kurt Weill is opening the Edinburgh Festival and I’m thrilled and daunted to be doing a Cabaret of Weill’s material at the same time (literally the same time, so sadly I can’t even go to the show) Our resources are vastly different – they have the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and are in the Festival Hall, and I’m by myself down at the end of Merchant St, (just across the road from the ‘No 9.- Massage, Sauna and Escort Agency’). But I like to think that maybe I’m a little closer to the spirit of Kurt Weill and his music.

Kurt Weill was born in Dessau, Germany in 1900, the son of a synagogue cantor. and studied composition with Humperdink and Busoni, and by 22, the Berlin Philharmonic had premiered two of his compositions. He came of age at the end of World War I, in a Europe spiritually exhausted, ghastly, frightening, desperate -- and remarkably creative. Weill's musical legacy is enormous, and all of it broke new musical and theatrical ground. His most famous and enduring works were his Berlin cabaret and theater collaborations with the poet Bertolt Brecht, "The Threepenny Opera" and "The Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny."

I first heard Weill’s music in a cabaret in East Berlin in the early 80’s when I was living in a squat in West Berlin. We squeaked through Checkpoint Charlie and sat in a dank bar watching a cabaret show and drinking harsh Eastern Bloc vodka from bottles that arrived at the table with tinfoil peel-back bottle tops (once open it was assumed you wouldn’t be resealing them…). I’m sure I had heard his music before, but this was the first time I said to myself that this was music that I wanted to sing.

Perhaps if I’d known what kind of footprints I’d be walking in I would have been too daunted to begin – since fifty years after his death, Weill's music is constantly performed in pop and classical worlds. Shortly after he died Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin set "Mack the Knife" as a jazz standard, and since then performers as diverse as The Doors, Judy Collins, Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren, John Zorn, Dagmar Krause, PJ Harvey, Teresa Stratas, Ute Lemper, Anne Sofie von Otter, the Dresden Dolls, The Young Gods and Marianne Faithfull have recorded entire albums of his music.

Weill helped create a new kind of musical theatre in the bleak and gritty settings of his first music theatre works. London in Three Penny Opera is populated with Robber Kings and brutal women, and the imaginary American frontier city of Mahagony symbolized the ultimate city of Capitalism; Weill and Brecht decided that gangsters, gold-diggers, hurricanes, the FBI and lumberjacks might all meet up the fleshpots of this mythical Western city. And when Weill fled the Nazi’s in the 30’s he sought projects with serious political and human themes and linked up with the brightest and most politically engaged of Broadway’s lyricists – Maxwell Anderson, Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, Elmer Rice as well as Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein. Weill also adapted "Lost in the Stars" from the tragic novel of South African racial oppression, "Cry, the Beloved Country" by Alan Patton. Though Weill was in the avant-garde of 20th-century European composition, none of his music is detached, technical and cold; all of it is infused with constant, tumultuous, immediate passion. Every note of Weill's music expresses love and hope as much as it expresses rage and despair.

So even if I don’t have the resources of the Festival Hall behind me, I think Edinburgh is providing me with some even better assistance. Since, every night, just before my show, I leave the cheerful crowds in the Grassmarket, trot down a gloomy cobblestone dead end and walk under a dank and odorous tunnel below George IV Bridge, where I wait on the curbstone of the No. 9 Sauna at the end of Merchant St. And I stay there contemplating the walls around me while the show before mine finishes performing in the converted cellar that is the Vault venue. And though once they finish I only have 15 minutes to get ready to do the show, by that time I’ve had the best psychological preparation that you could want for singing Kurt Weill’s music and talking about his life. I can’t think of a corner of Edinburgh that could better serve as a set for his works. Perhaps next time the Festival does a Weill show they should look around their own atmosphere filled city and take advantage of the history and and resources. I know that I’m delighted to be getting that chance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Whiskey Bars by Bremner Duthie...suspicious behaviours

As the US border guard held the suspicious device he’d found in my car, I wondered why I had been pulled over. And why I was being treated like a terrorist. When I crossed the border from Canada to perform at the Minneapolis Fringe Festival I didn’t think I fit the usual profiling – I wasn’t trying to be anonymous – after all, I was driving my vintage cherry-red 1964 Buick Skylark. I’m part of that large, bland demographic – white, anglo-saxon, male, and I’m not even a suspicious foreigner – I was born in New York City and proudly carry a well traveled American passport. Perhaps I fell into some random selection process, or perhaps the guard had indigestion. Suffice to say I found myself in a small office while the red faced guard in mirrored sunglasses popped back and forth to show me items he’d pulled from the car. He seemed to be waiting for me to fall to my knees and admit that this flimsy ‘performing in musical theatre’ story was actually a front for the international white slave trade (well… OK, sometimes, at the going rates of pay in theatre, I think I might agree with him…). At one point he wandered in with my top hat from the show. ‘And just where will you be wearing this?’ I drew his attention to the flyer for the show that I’d already given him – ‘On stage, like in the picture’. He left unimpressed.

Finally, he came back in with a triumphant, grim smile. He was brandishing a piece of wood with a hole bored through the middle, and now behind him stood another border guard with his hand hovering close to his gun. ‘I found this in your trunk, what is the purpose of this device’. I paused. He was waving a section of a portable coat rack I’d borrowed from my Mom to use in the show. I had a vision of myself driving to Washington DC in my Skylark to thwack George W. Bush with the piece of wood. It was a very unlikely vision, but hey, I guess you can’t be too careful in the war against terror. He flourished my Mom’s old coat rack in the air, staring at me like I was his prize for the day. My Dad’s words came back to me – ‘never, ever, ever joke with a customs guards, they are not hired for their senses of humour’.

I explained the purpose of the ‘device’. There was a long pause. His armed friend coughed discreetly and drifted tactfully away. ‘Would you like me to show you how it works?’ I asked innocently. He glared. ‘No, I think I’ve seen enough! Please move your car.’ And I drove off thinking I’m glad my government is protecting me from all those coat rack wielding music theatre performers who might be trying to sneak into the US in a 40 year old classic car, yes, indeedy… it makes me feel so, so much safer….

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Whiskey Wars of Whiskey Bars ( a kabarett by Bremner Duthie with the songs of Kurt Weill)

Ouch…when I decided to take Whiskey Bars, a Kabarett by Bremner Duthie with songs by Kurt Weill, to the Edinburgh Fringe, I stumbled into this without any idea of how extremely tender Scottish feelings are on the subject of Whiskey... or is it Whisky. Please calm down, oh annoyed Scottish friends!

I'm bringing my show from Canada to Edinburgh and it's called 'Whiskey Bars'. Yes, with an "e" in the whisky.

The show's based around the songs of Kurt Weill—the guy who wrote Mack the Knife, among other songs. And before the Fringe has even started, I've had too many emails reminding me curtly that the correct spelling of Whiskey is Whisky, and that the Irish stole the word and added an 'E' to indicate their inferior product, and that the ignorant Americans began using the Irish spelling, (probably because there were way more Irish than Scots arriving State-side) and that adding an 'e' to the word is like adding Coca Cola to a single malt, (all right, all right, I've seen folks do that in the States and I agree it's disgusting) and that if I'm going to do a show in Scotland I should be aware of the correct spelling.

Well, normally on matters of cultural heritage I bow down and back off to the aggrieved cultures involved, but for once, I have history on my side. Because Kurt Weill wrote music theatre pieces with the brilliant Bertolt Brecht in the 1920's in Germany, and the 'Alabama Song' was one of his hits, and the title of my show comes from one of the lyrics.

You know the song—it was a huge hit for The Doors and David Bowie ("Oh, show me the way to the next Whiskey Bar…").

So this song comes from a show called the 'Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny'. It's a satire; Mahagonny symbolized the ultimate city of Capitalism, so Weill and Brecht imagined a city on the American frontier—although at that point they'd never been to America (and though the show was really a satire on 1920's Weimar Berlin).

Weill and Brecht decided that gangsters, gold-diggers, hurricanes, the FBI and lumberjacks might all meet up in this mythical Western city. And while the show is in German,Alabama Song is in English, and Weill and Brecht chosen American spelling simply because the song is set in the Wild (Weimar-tinted) West.

So…I know that Scottish Whisky is the best (though a fine single cask Kentucky Bourbon can go down pretty well), but for this one situation, my spelling of Whiskey is right.

To redeem myself, I promise to consume all the Whisky that I can once I get to Edinburgh…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Quiz - Bremner Duthie's Whiskey Bars with songs by Kurt Weill at the Edinburgh Fringe at 'The Vault'

Three Weeks Magazine in Britain asked me to fill out a quick quiz about my show Whiskey Bars, with the songs of Kurt Weill that will be going up at the Edinburgh Fringe at The Vault venue. I think this about sums it up...

1. What is your 2008 show all about?

"Whiskey Bars" is a tell-all, behind the scenes, no holds barred, backstage peek at the torrid and neurotic life of a fading cabaret singer teetering between a stunning future and a plunge into obscurity. It takes place as he prepares himself with innumerable shots of cheap vodka in the dressing room before a 'comeback' performance. Casting the audience as his critic, he lies, seduces, threatens, cajoles and bargains to secure a good review for the show he's about to do...all while performing a reverse striptease. He starts in a towel and ends in full tuxedo and whiteface. And best of all - he illustrates his story with the dark and daring songs of Kurt Weill.

2. Why should we come and see it?

Because folks say 'Wow' after hearing Weill's songs in this context--songs like Mack the Knife, September Song and soooooo many others, with lyrics by writers from Bertolt Brecht to Ira Gershwin. Because how often to you get to spend an evening with someone who believes they were captured by aliens? And because everyone can relate to the story of trying to get up and do what most scares them.

3. If your show was an olympic sport, what would it be and why?

Gossima. Whiff-Whaff. Flim-Flam. Ping-Pong – that's right – Table Tennis!!

Why? Because it's a breathless, nonstop, frighteningly precise yet totally nerdy battle of wits and speed where every move counts. Because you need to keep your eyes glued to the show for every tense, thrilling and yet somehow hilarious moment. Because Ping Pong was invented in 1890 in England using cigar box lids for rackets and a carved champagne cork for a ball, and we feel any game that has its roots in nicotine and alcohol has a lot in common with our show.

4. What are you most looking forward to about this year's Festival?

We're looking forward to sharing our own art and work and struggles equally amidst a collective community of the best of international theatre dedicated to artistic, wait...that's the first line from the grant proposal…damn! …OK…we're looking forward to single malts, the fringe club, late night music jams, a distant shot at fame & glory, and a brief sleazy fling with some hot dancer with an amazing physique (we can dream, right?)

5. What are you least looking forward to about this year's Festival?

Now look - before heading for Canada I spent my youth in Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire...not that far from I know...I know ALL ABOUT the friggin' awful weather. None of those carefully selected photos where happy performers busk in warm sunlight fool me. In Canada, August means a chance to soak up some sun, but in the capital city of Scotland I remember those North Sea squalls sweeping through at any time of year! Normally I do the busking in white face, so hopefully drizzled, dripping and streaked makeup will give me that lovely dramatic touch...

6. What advice would you have for someone trying to navigate the Fringe?

Trust your instincts and pick the shows that really appeal to you on some dark and daring level…better to see an exciting flop then a dull success! Don't follow the reviews – ask the person waiting in line in front of you, or eavesdrop on the conversation going on behind you – they'll give you much more exciting advice. Performers LOVE audiences who've been drinking – so don't forget to take advantage of all the great pubs and fine drinking establishments!

7. What advice would you have for someone trying to survive the Fringe?

Just three words – Alcohol, Caffeine, Baked Tatties

8. Describe your show in three words

Terrifyingly pleasurable schmaltz


by Bremner Duthie

at The Vault, 11 Merchant Street

preview Aug 3, 9pm (1hr) £3.00

Aug 4-10, 12-17, 19-25, 8:40pm (1hr) £6.00(£5.00)


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lisa Pasold reading from her book Weave

Lisa Pasold reading from Weave in a June reading at the Art Bar reading series in Toronto at Clinton's on Bloor St.

Lisa did a great reading

Geist Magazine said

"Weave reads as a memoir of the twentieth century in a world bounded by Prague and Peru and the Russian Front and the shores of Lake Ontario. The narrator is a traveler and an exile, and she seems to be perpetually in transit. Her brother Wilhelm serves as mythical interlocutor, and we are led by their sibling love into and out of the darkness of Europe. Weave is quite simply a masterpiece: there is more in these eighty odd pages than in most novels." ~Stephen Osborne, Geist

and you can buy it now, today, immediately at

Thursday, July 03, 2008

when there's so much going on in the news sometimes the really great stories just get lost - I heard this guy on radio and he said that the only moment that scared him was when he thought that the bear might drown and he was scared for it... not for himself! ... extraordinary...

Monday, June 23, 2008

NXNE Conference Species

I went to the NXNE Music conference last week and observed the different species of music industry people.... yes..different species - highly specialized for specific niches in the environment... I sat in on 4 panel discussions - New Media, Music Festivals, Producers, Promoters - and the panelists were all wildly different from the others, and all so much alike in each group. The New Media/Marketing group were filled with energy and enthusiasm and optimism, the Music Festival directors were so bored to be facing another group of eager young musicians, the Producers were all about the music, and the promoters were sharp eyed capitalists.

The New Media folk were David Usher, a musician who has a very active blog, and Mitch Joel, an online marketer whiz, and Michael McCarty from Emi Music Publishing. They were really great, filled with energy and ideas and incredibly keen on sharing - in fact sharing might have been the key word of the panel - since most of their encouragement was about how to share yourself and your creative process with a fanbase. I'll scrape the info from David Usher who summed up the info on his blog I stumbled out of this panel filled with enthusiasm and excitement about the future of media marketing and connecting with musicians and people who love music - and crashed into the Festival Organizer's Panel, which was a crash course in 'People Who Don't Care and Don't Want to Know Your Name'... but perhaps I'll leave those notes for later... meanwhile this is what David Usher has to say..

At NXNE a lot of musicians were asking the question: What should I do?

Here’s my 20 cents:

1. There are no gatekeepers, don’t wait for that deal. They are few and far between these days. Try and get your music out to as many people as possible. That means building your community on the web. That’s were everyone goes to discover, listen and buy music. So that’s were you need to be.

2. Forget the traditional website. Think about the sites you visit everyday. Do any of them have content that’s 6 months old? No, so…

Move to a blog based platform where your blog is front and center. Use blogging and micro blogging (your Status) to keep your page fresh and always updated. No more old news, old photos, old videos, old tour dates. Make it about what your doing today. Open up your creative process to your audience. It’s a bit frightening at first but once you start it can become addictive. Trust me, this can lead you to being even more creative.

Note: you can get a simple blog page at or blogger, there are lots of free alternatives. You can use them with your own URL. Pay a designer by the hour to help customize the look and feel. I shouldn’t cost a fortune. Because blog platforms are built like social networks, they have a simple backend and you can easily do all the updating of your content yourself.

3.Hub out your blog page.
The idea is to blog and micro blog in one place, and then have that information feed to the rest your social networks automatically through RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Your goal is to have a simple system so you can upload once and get your art/process out to as many places as possible on the web.

Note: Start with Flickr, Youtube, Myspace, Facebook, Ilike, LastFM and Twitter.

Remember. Go where the people are.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Weill Inspirations

When I first started working on my CD of the songs of Kurt Weill, I knew I wanted to do the gorgeous Speak Low, but the coaches I saw in New York all advised me to do it as this shlocky uptempo musical theatre thing. And it made me itch - probably because the words are so heartbreaking... I couldn't see myself believing in an interpretation of these words

Speak low when you speak, love
Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon
Speak low when you speak, love
Our moment is swift, like ships adrift,
we're swept apart, too soon

as some bouncy fingersnappin' uptempo thing. So I was delighted to stumble upon a strange recording of the amazing bassist, Charlie Haden, jamming on this song with a recording of Kurt Weill, the man himself, apparently taken from some rehearsal where he was coaching the song. And it's heartbreaking. (ok...the video itself is kind of kitsch...but it was the 80's.... however the song is gorgeous... hell, anything Haden ever did is gorgeous...)

so Stan (my amazing pianist) and I decided to do it as slow as possible and just let all those beautiful words and harmonies just flow out. This is live from the show...

and you can hear the version from the CD here... or here - on Amazon, or itunes..

Edfringe Launches

The Edinburgh Fringe is on-line at last (after a bunch of server problems) with their program for the summer. and Whiskey Bars is up and listed in The Vault venue... God! - one little 40 word listing on the web is going to be so much amazing work for the summer. Luckily we now have the amazing and indomitable Irish playwright Maureen Mcmanus on our side - she's an old friend from when I lived in London and will be in Edinburgh for the first week and giving us a hand doing publicity and keeping our spirits up in the competition with the 2000 or so (Ack!) other shows going on at the same time...

Monday, June 16, 2008

"I lock myself inside a pantry of despair....."

Worked for NXNE music fest at the Kathedral venue... taped a few seconds of all the bands on Saturday night, and a few in the upstairs venues... spot the Gold Lame funk band - what were they thinking!

Bands are

From Toronto
Run With Kitten's
Oh No Forest Fires
Dance Yourself to Death

then from Madrid - FRIDA

Philadelphia's - Adam and Dave's Bloodline

Spain again with - We are Balboa

from Toronto
The Hip Hop/Djembe group - Grand Analog
The fashion challenged - Foxfire
The trying very hard funk band - God Made me Funky

Winnipeg's - The Sons of York

and finally the fabulous toronto neo-punk band Tin Bangs

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lennie the Magnificent

honestly... he was... just amazing... 73 and brimming with charisma and charm and honesty.. it was a totally brave concert... he could have walked out and coasted on his hits and just walked through the evening, but he made it extraordinary...

Friday, June 06, 2008


Why does this kind of freak me out... just checked itunes and and the CD is up there as well... available in whole or by single song download... i guess that something about being a part of the apple empire and actually participating in this 'new economy' is very odd... I had enough trouble with the old economy, much less the new one...

anyway... for those who swing that way - its now searchable, viewable, buyable on

Apple iTunes
Inprodicon (whatever that is...)

Virtual CD Launch Party

At last the digital age. My first CD goes up on sale for downloads at CD Baby. You can just click on a button and the songs will arrive in your computer - no clumsy jewel case, no CD to get scratched - it is all virtual. I feel so light and modern and new... I'm thinking of following the example of Jane Siberry and changing my name, renouncing possessions and travelling the world with nothing but a macbook and a great set of clothes.... but then I'd also feel a bit too much like a character in a William Gibson novel...

anyway, I digress... the songs are available at or just click on

Buy the CD
BREMNER DUTHIE: Bremner Sings Weill
click to order

it features 14 songs from Weill's early works with Brecht to his last unfinished Broadway show: Huck Finn. The pianist is the wonderful Stan Cramer. This CD came out of a collaboration between Stan and Bremner on a show of Kurt Weill’s songs that has since toured across the world. Critics have said…

"Bremner Duthie has a voice of power and inner beauty that commands the whole space..... One feels seduced by the sheer power and beauty of this performance"
-- Musical Stages Magazine: London, England

“And my god, does he ever sing. Bremner's performance is jaw-dropping-my jaw literally dropped-as he not only sings beautifully but actually performs the songs beautifully as well. " --View Magazine, Hamilton , Ontario

"When he sings, his voice is like a big, dark, sultry room --full of emotive and expressive possibilities. Even when Duthie sings in languages other than English, the passion and subtext come startlingly alive." -- The Georgia Straight, Vancouver

“For many of us, our first exposure to Kurt Weill was on Bette Midler's early albums. Since then, such performers as Ute Lemper and Teresa Statas have become great interpreters of his music. Add Bremner Duthie, the star of 'Whiskey Bars' to that list. He delivers a stunning, stirring rendition of "What Keeps a Man Alive?" and his 'Mack the Knife' is done slowly and seductively, because it's a song for a bad boy. – Stephen Lavigne, Minneapolis Web Reviewer

“Bremner Sings Weill is a 15-song collection of some of the best work of German-born composer Kurt Weill, most famous for his collaborations with writer Bertolt Brecht but who also worked with such lyricists as Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein. Duthie - with fabulous accompaniment by pianist Stan Cramer - savours each word as a succulent morsel. With Duthie's comforting, soothing baritone voice, this is music to satiate the soul.

Thanks to his background in opera, and talent for cabaret and broadway song styles, Duthie "pays close attention to text," as the expression goes. Indeed, he treats every song as a script and each is quite scenic - none more so than his unique and pleasing interpretation of Weill & Brecht's "Mack The Knife". His vocal presentations also range from celebratory ("Bilbao Song") to mischievous ("Apple Jack") to soft and gentle ("Speak Low"), and then immediately to passionate and with gusto for a trio of tunes ("The Song Of The Big Shot", "What Keeps Mankind Alive" and "Alabama Song"). If you're at all interested in the music of Weill, this is a CD to add to your collection. If you're not familiar with his work, this CD would make an excellent primer. Bremner Sings Weill ... he also sings well ... exceedingly well, as a matter of fact."
Robin Chase, Winnipeg Web Reviewer


Mack The Knife
(lyrics by Bertold Brecht, from Three Penny Opera)

(lyrics by Rodger Fernay)

Bilbao Song
(lyrics by Bertold Brecht, from Happy End)

You Gentlemen Who Think You have a Mission
(lyrics by Bertold Brecht, from Three Penny Opera)

Alabama Song
(lyrics by Bertold Brecht, from Mahagonny)

I'm a Stranger Here Myself
(lyrics by Odgen Nash, from One Touch of Venus)

Je ne t'aime pas
(lyrics by Maurice Magre)

Lost in the Stars
(lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and Alan Paton, from Lost in the Stars)

My Ship.
(lyrics by Ira Gershwin, from Lady in the Dark)

Speak Low
(lyrics by Ogden Nash, from One Touch of Venus)

The Song of the Big Shot
(lyrics by Bertold Brecht, from Happy End)

Nowhere to Go But Up
(lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, from Knickerbocker Holiday)

Apple Jack (backing vocals: Stan Cramer)
(lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, from Huck Finn)

Moon Faced Starry Eyed
(Lyrics by Langston Hughes, from Streetscene)

One Life to Live
(lyrics by Ira Gershwin, from Lady in the Dark)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gators and Chicks

One last post on Florida. Incredible that these two things can co-exist in the same cheezy theme park - unbelievable delicate nesting birds inches from the camera, and huge fat sleepy overfed gators teased into tearing up raw chicken carcasses...

Monday, May 26, 2008

on the way

and a final highway shot ... ah the glorious tackiness of my home country... I'm gonna miss it... 'cause you know, you just can't beat a big plastic lizard..

the South

so everywhere we go they tell us that Florida is not the south... even though it is south of the south, its still the north! OK....whatever.. but its not till we drive five hours north to visit a friend in Savannah Georgia, that I realize that they were right... north of florida is actually the south. The accents change, everything gets slower and older and suddenly you're in Savannah, where a series of garden squares defines the whole of the old town and moss drips off the Live Oak trees that loom over the ornate buildings. Its just gorgeous... and after the sprawling modern city of Orlando, where you can't get anywhere without a car, it was a pleasure to just walk and walk and walk. Our friend Christian took us out to great jazz bars and restaurants and sent us on our way the next morning filled with a fab breakfast of fried peanut butter and honey sandwiches... now that's the south...

Over and Out

So the Orlando Fringe is over. We rushed out of there and were on the road 30 minutes after the last performance, hightailing it for Sarasota to meet up with Lisa's Parents.... ok, ok... we stopped briefly to get some Krispy Kreme donuts... it only seemed right after weeks of dieting to be able to do this damn show in my underwear... It was great to be back on stage with this show. I miss this goofy and angst ridden character. Its interesting to do the show again and again over the course of several years and see how he and I are evolving. Its harder to get the mix of total confusion he had 7 years ago when I wrote this piece, but I think that he has more conviction on stage. I'll be doing a presentation of it as a fund raiser in Toronto at the end of June... and, for what it's worth, here is what one reviewer thought of it in Orlando... I think he captures the show pretty well..

Whiskey Bars, A Kabarette with the Songs of Kurt Weill
May 17th, 2008 by carl-gauze

Whiskey Bars, A Kabarette with the Songs of Kurt Weill
By Bremner Duthie
Big Empty Barn Productions
Yellow Venue
Orlando International Theater Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

The whole point of cabaret is that seedy decline into nothingness. But just as a drowning man rises 3 times before the end, the true cabaret singer occasional returns to his former glory and produces one heroic heart rendering performance. Bremner Duthie's "Performer" is on that journey, preparing for a self-financed comeback show that feels doomed from the start. We meet him back stage as an unseen theater critic attempts to fill a few column inches with a readable story, and the Performer makes an attempt to win a new and seducible friend for the evening.

Punctuation this bitter sweet story are the songs of Kurt Weill, sung to a recorded accompaniment from an impossibly large boom box. You know some of them, "Mack The Knife", perhaps "Bilboa Song", "You Gentlemen Who Think You Have A Mission" and a few more obscure ones, including two with lyrics by Ogden Nash, the king of 1950's doggerel verse. By the time he reaches "Speak Low", he has complete stolen your soul, and you wouldn't dream of asking for it back.

Duthie dresses as we watch, building his persona on a base of white face, black tuxedo, and a Soviet-sized glass of cheap vodka. His nearly flat but vaguely European accent gives the songs depth, and a happy set of available lighting makes the show incredibly theatrical. All that's missing is a haze of cigarette smoke and our own glassfuls of cheap liquor.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Cracker Bird Lover's Paradise

So the oldest theme park in Orlando is not Disney's Magic Kingdom - it's Gatorland! When we told our friends we were heading there they called it 'Crackerville' (Cracker of course being slang for poor white trash in Florida). And it lived up to its name - alligator wrestling, alligator jumping competitions (upcoming video on that), alligator tidbits at the greasy cafe... But weirdly enough, it also turned out to be a nesting paradise for all these super delicate beautiful Florida storks and wading birds. And it was breeding season so we got up close and personal with some very new birds.... but first we visited the Gators...

But round the edges of the swamp where they have the very very fat and very very sleepy alligators (spoiled things get fed tons of Turkey hot dogs by the tourists... ok, ok... I admit it... I fed them turkey hot dogs as well... ) there are the nesting places of marsh birds, which nest naturally over alligators and crocodiles: thus avoiding the possibility of being raided by Racoons or other rodents... smart little birds... They were amazing. Innumerable nests filled with tiny just hatched storks and ducks and herons... and some very protective mama birds.