Lunch at Allen’s ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Ian Thomas

IN CONCERT

What: Lunch at Allen’s, featuring Murray McLauchlan, Cindy Church, Ian Thomas and Marc Jordan
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: McPherson Playhouse
Tickets: $47.50 at the Royal McPherson box office, online at rmts.bc.ca, or by phone at 250-386-6121
Note: Lunch at Allen’s also performs Thursday at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo and on June 22 at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan

 

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After almost five decades in the Canadian music scene, Ian Thomas has discovered one key aspect about the line separating pop and folk music — it’s blurred.

“It all depends on what sort of suit you put the song in,” Thomas, 66, said. “Pop music is really folk music in a shinier suit.”

When he started out, the definition of pop and folk was hardly a discussion.

Folk music in Canada dominated radio airwaves in the 1970s, when artists such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Anne Murray were the genre’s standard bearers in their native country. Thomas had folk hits (Painted Ladies being the biggest) that were being played regularly on pop radio, which didn’t strike him as odd at the time. The subject only became a talking point when pop music went electronic in the 1980s, putting many folk acts on the backburner.

Unlike others, Thomas flourished into the 1990s, thanks to a new rock direction with his band, the Boomers. In 2002, when his friendship with singer-songwriters Marc Jordan, Cindy Church and Murray McLauchlan was moulded into Lunch at Allen’s, Thomas entered another new musical chapter.

“I had never really sung other people’s songs before,” Thomas said of the project, which started casually with a string of dates in Ontario. “It’s been a wonderful breath of fresh air for all of us. We all understand our roles. We get to be back-up singers and back-up musicians for the first time in our lives, and that’s what is so much fun about it.”

The band started when a hospitalized McLauchlan was visited by Thomas and Jordan, who sang him Christmas carols. After he was discharged, McLauchlan wanted to keep the songs flowing and arranged a lunch — at Allen’s, a Toronto restaurant — to discuss a new project. Following the addition of Church, Lunch at Allen’s was born.

Though its members, with 30 Juno Award nominations among them, live in different places — Church in Halifax, Jordan and McLauchlan in Toronto, and Thomas in Dundas, Ont. — their connection runs deep. “I have such implicit trust in these guys,” Thomas said. “Murray and Marc and I have been friends for so long, and Cindy is like the sister I never had. You know they’ve got your back.”

The band’s tour to support its new album, If It Feels Right, kicked off Monday in Campbell River and brings the group to Victoria for a performance at the McPherson Playhouse on Friday. The show will feature songs from each member’s solo career, in addition to material from the five Lunch at Allen’s recordings.

At this point, fans know what to expect, Thomas said. “We’re pretty much what we are. This is us, with our new toupées and our skin pulls.”

Theirs is a unique working relationship. They don’t write together, but share ideas that result in Lunch at Allen’s albums. And when one of the members has a solo project on the go, it’s customary to use fellow Lunch at Allen’s members when possible, Thomas said. “We don’t write together, per se. But anything that goes through the Lunch at Allen’s lens sounds like Lunch at Allen’s.”

The band members have become extremely close, Thomas said. “It’s a wonderful collection of friends, who have become family in many ways.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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