Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Shuffle and Repeat: Random Play with Alan Neal


In collaboration with RBC Bluesfest, OIWF brought festivalgoers the third installment of “Random Play” last Thursday. The show is a quirky but wonderful brainchild of Alan Neal, the host of CBC’s All in a Day radio program.


The basic concept of “Random Play” is simple: the show is a shuffled iPod playlist brought to life. Alan Neal gleans random songs from his iPod library, then invites each performing artist to join the program for the event. Neal then engages the artists about their work for the stories behind their creations.


To start off, Alan brought out techno-artist Lydia Ainsworth and discussed her song “The Time,” which had been inspired by the Los Angeles wildfires last year. To Ainsworth’s surprise, Neal had tracked down a survivor of the disaster, and had played him the song in question. The gentleman noted Ainsworth had captured the “sense of when the pressure [of the disaster] is crushing you, but giving the opportunity for the human spirit to come forward with hope. . .”


Next was folk rock troubadour Tom Wilson. Neal’s surprise for Wilson was a fresh revelation from Wilson’s song-writing partner Josh Finlayson, who had explained to Neal how he Wilson had conceived the song “Blades of Grass.”  In Wilson’s brash style, he gave a hearty laugh and insisted Finlayson “was high when he did that interview!”


Drew Gonsalves, frontman of the band Kobo Town was next to be interviewed about his song “Tick Tock Goes the Clock,” a surreal representation of the apocalypse. Gonsalves confessed to being nervous about having his lyrics scrutinized by such a well-read crowd as the one in attendance that night. He and his band then played the song; a perfectly offsetting presentation to such a morbid theme.


Neal then brought out pure folk songbird Basia Bulat who was effervescent and enthusiastic. Bulat even brought out her own old iPod from 2005 to show Alan what she had been listening to back then. She then performed her song “If Only You,” and the smile on her face showed that she truly loves to sing.


The last performer of the first segment was Ottawa’s own Kathleen Edwards. Edwards was candid when describing her upbringing, as well as the process of falling in love with Ottawa when her family finally settled here. Neal then played a clip from poet David O’Meara, where he recited a poem dedicated to her, entitled “Autobiography.” Edwards then sang the song “Away” for the audience. Edwards’ voice has a gorgeous cadence when she holds a note, and the room’s ambience added an angelic dimension to her whole performance.


After a short break, Alan Neal challenged the participating artists to perform covers of other songs plucked from his playlist. Drew Gonsalves and Tom Wilson played a duet from a Muppet movie, with Gonsalves as Kermit and Wilson offering his trademark growl as Rowlf the Dog.  Backed by Kobo Town, Basia Bulat sang “Music Makes Me” by Ginger Rogers. Bulat then accompanied Lydia Ainsworth and Tom Wilson to recreate Buffy Saint-Marie’s “Moonshot.” Kathleen Edwards followed with Willie Nelson’s “Forgiving You Was Easy”; she was then urged by Alan Neal to debut her new song “Redfern.” Lastly, Lydia Ainsworth joined with Kobo Town and Basia Bulat to perform Bonnie Tyler’s “Faster Than The Speed of Night.”


The finale was the most absurdly wonderful segment of all, when the ensemble performed a classic Aquaman radio play. Kathleen Edwards played the villain, Tom Wilson played Aquaman, and Lydia Ainsworth provided the sound effects.  Alan Neal observed from the side, beside himself with laughter at the ultimate chaos he had designed. The crowd joined Neal in his evident pleasure. Indeed, the evening had been the product of Alan Neal’s mind, made only the better by the star quality of the performers he had invited to perform for the evening. It made for a truly unique and memorable event.