As Serena and walked into the Havana Theatre, it dawned on us that we were the youngest ones there (by a long shot). But I kind of like that, in a novelty-sort of way. It also made sense, given the show we were about to see. About to take the stage was a man of a generation lost, a guitar-wielding storyteller, the Canadian version of Pete Seeger. Yes, Bob Bossin is a rare breed: an “old folksinger” with a killer wit, great stories and a wonderful musical abilities to tell them. Plus, he knows my father. (Not that my dad is famous or anything :P)
Bob’s latest show was not simply himself folk tales and protest songs from the 60’s, though their was some of that. This particular piece was more of a musical-storytelling one man show that focused on a man Bob originally knew very little about: his father. Yes Davy The Punk, which also comes in book form, reveals the dark and interesting life of Davy Bossin. You see Davy was a verbrecher, or in English “an outlaw”, or gangster. Bob learned this startling fact from an old, methuselah-like counterman at a Jewish Deli in Toronto in the 1960s. That however, is just the beginning of the story. As Bob states, he wanted to find out everything he could about his father, “fortunately, the police felt the same way”.
Bob interweaves stories of his father, which include bookkeeping on horse racing (and running 56 phone lines out of his to do it!), getting dugout seats at Yankee stadium, and most shockingly, cavorting with Frank Costello, with musical interludes of interesting goings on in Toronto and southern Ontario in the 1920s and 30s (and early 40s).
As he is an old-school folk singer from the hippie generation, many of his interludes are political and/or subversive. Many are wickedly funny. He even gets out his acting chops to tell stories as different characters. Usually he put on a hat when speaking as different person (often one of his father’s gangster friends), but he also did renditions of his father’s lawyer, the policeman who wanted him put away, several small-time cronies. What impressed me most though was his Scottish accent. (The chief of police involved in Bossin’s court case was a big old Scotsman). Bossin’s linguistic pronunciation was spot-on; it felt like Shrek or Fat Bastard was mere metres from me!
Obviously, a man’s life, no matter how great or small, cannot be captured in a two-hour stage show. But Bob does a great job of bringing forth the highlights (or lowlights) of his father, encasing and bookending them in song. It even has somewhat of a narrative flow to it.
Even as young Generation Y/Millennial, I have always loved old-time folk music. I love a lot of things from the 60s and hippie era, just ask my friends. Many of the political elements of Bob’s songs are still relevant today, and the stories of Davy reveal a fascinating, dark, underground history of early 20th century Canada, which as a history and fact buff, I also enjoy. (And as a guy who was fascinated by the criminal justice system as a kid, though it was serial killers and not gangsters/bootleggers)
Bob, also has great presence. He acknowledges the audience, but often sings to no one in particular (which is what I often do on stage, you gotta play out to the audience, without necessarily looking at any one person). He saunters, which makes him all the more endearing. The story was really well-drawn out and I felt a connection to many of his characters, however brief or subconscious they may have been. I want to learn more about Canadian history, folk music history, and the history of verbrechers from seeing Bob perform.
Bob Bossin will start his set of shows in Toronto on June 11 and will play til June 15th at the Innis Deluxe Theatre. He will be at the Ottawa Fringe Festival June 19-29, Montreal on June 30 and at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg July 16-27. For full ticket information visit davythepunk.com
For more information on Bob Bossin (and the history of the Incredible Stringband, which he founded with Marie-Lynn Hammond in 1971) go to http://www.bossin.com There’s a bunch of other stuff there too.