Life as a working musician has not been paved with riches for Maple Ridge’s Bruce Coughlan. After nearly four decades on the road and in the studio, Coughlan is faced with the same pressures most working families face. With mounting bills in an economy that can hardly be described as robust, the folk singer said he’s being paid the same wage today as he was when he was playing in the 1980s.
But despite the obstacles, Coughlan wouldn’t have it any other way. Music doesn’t just put bread on his table, the chords he plays also feed his soul.
He said in the last two years he has spent his time playing music for clients at Arcus Community Resources, who specialize in helping people who have intellectual challenges, high medical needs and severe physical challenges.
He said his time there has been an enlightening experience on the importance of music in a community.
“The sheer power that music has to heal, to bring joy to people whose lives are far from joyful, is quite moving,” said Coughlan.
“When you can see people come out of what is a real dark place and come alive to the sound of a familiar tune is a very powerful thing.”
He said the new perspective has helped him in his career, especially considering the state of today’s music industry. He said he feels music has been, at least in the younger generation, demystified.
“It’s not the same animal it used to be. It’s not the same community builder that it once was.”
He believes the role music plays in communities has been devalued because people are too distracted.
“I think culturally, for thousands of years, human beings have gathered around the storytellers and musicians, and that’s given us a sense of community.”
The proliferation of TVs on every wall and hand-held devices have eroded the act of being present in the moment, an essential component of live music. “When I was first going out to pubs, there was no TVs on the walls.
The band would play, people would dance, make requests, and when the show was over fans would walk away at the end of the night feeling like they were a part of something a little bigger than themselves. That’s a feeling of community, that’s a feeling of being a part of something bigger.”
He said everybody’s staring at a little screen in their hand and they’re missing a lot of what’s going on around them.
“People have lost the art of conversation. Young kids today, they text each other across the table. Before we had hand-held devices, guitars and drums were hand-held devices and forms of expression.”
Despite the lost art of communication, Coughlan said he still enjoys every day he can play, no matter the size of the crowd.
While Coughlan is busy playing solo gigs, he also keeps busy with his work with Tiller’s Folly, which just released its ninth CD, Stirring Up Ghosts. Joined by
bassist Laurence Knight and fiddler Nolan Murray, Tiller’s Folly latest work is a double CD featuring 24 original songs that Coughlan’s described as tribute to Canadian history, a “finger pointing to the past.”
The critics agree. The album was nominated by the Western Canadian Music Association for folk album of the year.
Coughlan’s busy summer continues as he tours Scotland over the next two weeks, playing festivals with fiddler Nolan Murray under the banner of the Whisky Minstrels as well as being joined by bassist Laurence Knight and performing as Tiller’s Folly.
For Coughlan, life as a musician may not be paved with gold, but it more than satisfies his soul.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”