Three great Canadian singer-songwriters that have grown into a powerful if only occasional trio are bringing their 10-year history to Island audiences, along with some new arrangements of just released and upcoming solo work.
BTU, made up of Barney Bentall, Tom Taylor and Shari Ulrich, will be performing at Errington War Memorial Hall on Friday, Jan. 26 and the Heriot Bay Inn on Quadra Island the following night.
The trio, which began out of a mutual love and respect for each-other’s music, turned a one-time performance in 2007 on Bowen Island into an occasional trio that has produced two albums so far, the latest in 2016 called Tightrope Walk.
Though they each have their own solo and group-work going (the Shari Ulrich Trio, for instance, is playing in Fanny Bay April 14), BTU continues to enjoy what all three can do with each-other’s songs, and continues to grow together, said Ulrich.
“They are such brothers to me,” she said. “I just adore them, and I did right off the bat.”
Ulrich perhaps can be credited with sowing the seed for the trio. The producer of long-running songwriter series in Vancouver called SongBird North (previously Bluebird North), Bentall took part in one of these showcases during the start of his return to music, having taken a break since his Legendary Hearts days.
“He was writing these amazing songs,” said Ulrich. “So I took him aside afterwards and I said ‘I would love to play with you if there was every an opportunity.’”
Not long later, Taylor, a friend of Bentall’s, was looking for opportunities to play music from his new solo album, so Bentall pitched it as an opportunity for all three to play together.
That’s how that first Bluebird North performance ended up happening on Bowen Island.
“We didn’t intend to do more than one concert,” said Ulrich. “(But) we loved it so much and the audience loved it so much that we’ve been doing it ever since.”
With Bentall and Taylor on guitar, Ulrich bringing her multi-instrumentalist variety including violin and mandolin, and all three singing at various points, the group creates rich folk music with strong writing and crisp vocal performances.
Each one of them songwriters in their own right, their process is to share their new work with the rest of the group, and then create the arrangements together, often not long before an upcoming performance, said Ulrich.
“We do like to keep the repertoire moving because it keeps it interesting for us,” she said. While some of the group’s songs are new arrangements of songs the individual members had already been playing for a while, they are also quite free with their newly-written work.
Asked how the trio’s music has changed over the years, Ulrich said their vocal blend has evolved to include more three-part harmonies. “And I’m a sucker for three-part harmonies,” she said with a chuckle.
Beyond that, she said their music has also benefited from their growing familiarity with each-other.
“The closeness you get with people when you’ve worked with them for that long finds its way into the music in ways it’s hard to define,” said Ulrich. “There’s a settling and a connection, and a communication that happens that just makes playing such a pleasure.”
For the upcoming Errington concert, Ulrich said audiences can expect selected work from the trio’s 10-year career, as well as three new tunes from Bentall’s latest album, two songs from Taylor that he’s yet to record and a song from an album Ulrich is just finishing the writing for.
Asked what the band hopes its audience comes away with, Ulrich said, for her, music is intrinsically positive and important in people’s lives, and that live music especially is an important experience.
“I want them to feel a little bit changed, just a little bit, and to feel hopeful and uplifted and entertained, even if it’s just a reprieve from the world for a couple of hours.”