Interview: Liona Boyd

(November 2018) Talking with Liona Boyd is like talking with royalty. Five time Juno award winner, she has performed, solo and orchestral concerts, around the world, had her own television specials, and recorded twenty-eight albums, many of which have gone Gold and Platinum. She has played for dozens of world leaders including the British Royal Family and a US president. She has recorded with Sir Andrew Davis, Yo Yo Ma and toured with Gordon Lightfoot and Tracy Chapman as well as recorded songs with Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Olivia Newton-John and Roger Whittaker. Liona has received five Honorary Doctorates, The Order of Canada, The Order of Ontario and the Diamond Jubilee Medal, written two autobiographies, danced with Rod Stewart and was even Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s girlfriend. The list of accomplishments and acquaintances reads like a who’s who of the world’s most interesting people. Of late, she’s released a new record, landed a PBS special, released her latest memoirs and even began singing on record. There was so much to talk about, including her fight for the environment and being an ethical vegetarian, but I only had so much room on the page. We caught up moments after the CBC aired her radio special “This Is My Music”….

Mb: Hello Liona.
Liona: Hello Mike!
Mb: How did you enjoy your CBC show?
Liona: I did. I didn’t even mention my book in it. They game me two hours to showcase all my favourite music. I’ve done it before, and also recorded that same day, a two hour Christmas program for them. It was a marathon session.
Mb: I guess when you’re asked to promote yourself, how can you remember everything you’ve done?
Liona: This one was about choosing music and about all the composers I’ve met, and different examples. But they did mention Peterborough in the end. They said “The tour ends up in Peterborough”, so I was pleased about that.
Mb: It’s exciting to talk you. I’ve been a fan since the late 70’s when I discovered my first Liona Boyd record. At a time when all the guitar heroes were men!
Liona: Tell me about it! The whole business. It wasn’t just the guitar. They were all men and all my teachers were men. All the people at the record label were pretty much men and all the managers and agents… I was certainly in a male dominated world. In my first biography I mention a few casting-couch situations that I had to extricate myself from.
Mb: And now with the me-too movement exposing so much…
Liona: Well, I was never sexually assaulted, thank god. Almost in Paris, but I escaped. But all the different men, they were all fantastic to me. My teachers, they were generous and gave me extra time. I don’t mean to sound negative. I was one of the lucky ones that escaped. When I lived in LA, that’s where I had most of the casting-couch situations and the record labels too. Hopefully it’s changing. I’ve had a roller coaster career which has given me lots to talk about. Amazing experiences. Twice touring with a band, playing with symphony orchestras. Did you hear the program? I was talking about working with Murray Shaw and John Williams, the conductor, Sir Andrew Davis… I look back and think, what a variety I’ve had in my career. Playing tiny little communities to playing the major cities of Europe, and South America and Hong Kong and Beijing, really, all over the world. Most of the travel was done alone. This time I’m accompanied by Andrew Dalson, my 27 year old prodigy. I decide, since 2011, when I came back to Canada, and even a little bit before when I did the first album Liona Boyd Sings Songs of Love, when I first sang, it’s really nice to have someone to tour with. Two reasons I came back to Canada. One, my father was getting sick, and two, I wanted to work again with Peter Bond, who’s a genius of a producer. We’re musical soul-mates. We’ve done 5 albums together now. He plays so many instruments, and sings, and he’s an expert on sound-scapes, electronic sounds as well as live instruments.
Mb: You mentioned Vangelis on the CBC and about electronic sound-scapes…
Liona: The Seven Journeys album, that’s one where I wrote all the themes and he did the orchestrations. It’s very exotic and cinematic. He’s captured that again with the A Winter Fantasy album. I start writing some original themes and blend it in with well known Christmas themes. We didn’t know if we could pull that off again for the second record, but we realized we loved working together so much. The latest album, No Remedy For Love, which is a quote by Henry David Thoreau… I decide to call the album by that name because there’s a song on the album that I dedicated to Leonard Cohen because it seemed to suit him and he liked it. I wrote it before Leonard passed. He was a good friend of mine. I knew him from the days in LA. We’d always have tea together. What a loss to have lost him. He was a genius with words.
Mb: And you decided to call your latest book No Remedy for Love as well.
Liona: Ya, I decided to call it that. It’s nothing to do with a remedy for love, I can assure you! (laughs) I thought it was a profound statement. There’s no remedy for love, but to love more. It’s doing really well and we’ll bring some copies. The other book I wrote, which came out in ’98 In My Own Key; My Life in Love and Music, that chronicles all the craziness of touring… my childhood too, living with my family and living in Mexico and me living as a penniless student in Paris and then there’s a whole chapter on Pierre Elliot Trudeau who was my boyfriend for eight years.
Mb: What do you think of Justin as PM?
Liona: It’s amazing! I used to play in the woods with him. I’d be there while Pierre was reading poetry to him and at the dinner table while he was teaching them manners. I showed Pierre where to buy them guitars, but Justin switched over to country (laughs) He quit classical guitar, where the other two boys played when they were young. Pierre and I were friends until the end. He came to visit when I lived in Beverly Hills. I drove him all around LA , kind of role-reversal. It was fun. No RCMP to be looking over our shoulders all the time. It was fun for me, deceiving the RCMP. I have a sense of adventure. (laughs) I love that older generation. I’m good friends with Prince Philip, not a romantic thing of course. He’s my pen-pal. I heard from him a couple of weeks ago when he was leaving Balmoral. Last year I flew back to play for him at Windsor castle and we spent the afternoon together. I’d written a song about horses called The Love of the Horse, which is on the new album, and I asked if I could dedicate it to him. It wasn’t written specifically for him, but he said “Oh yes. You know some of my best friends are horses!” (laughs) He’s very funny always. Music has led to me to so many friendships, not just with the high and mighty. With poets and writers and people all over the world.
Mb: And what a list of acquaintances. I mean, what’s it like to take guitar lessons from Andrés Segovia!? The pressure’s on…
Liona: Ya, I tell the story in my first book about how he yelled at my guitar teacher because I was playing too fast (laughs)
Mb: And now you’re a singer!
Liona: Ya, can you believe? I mean, I learned to sing in my 50’s. I don’t have a trained voice, but I have a folky voice.
Mb: I was going to ask, you toured with Gordon Lightfoot in the day. Was there pressure to be folky?
Liona: No, he loved that I played purely classical guitar. I didn’t even play anything like La Malaguena. That’s on Youtube and up to 4 millions hits! He liked that it was purely classical pieces. I don’t think kids would sit through it now. On the program I’m going to be singing a tribute I wrote to him called Lightfoot. When Gordon heard it he said “No one has ever written me such a beautiful song” and he was really moved. And then he said “Who’s singing the chorus? Do I know him?” And I said “It’s Ronnie Hawkins!” And he said “Oh, of course!” They’re good buddies.
Mb: You’ve worked with everyone from Chet Atkins to Al Di Meola to David Gilmour to Eric Clapton to Ronnie….
Liona: My producer tells me I’ve lived ten lives, and I think I really have.

Liona Boyd performs Mon November 19 Showplace Performance Centre.