Come Into My Parlour
Profile by Jane Ledwell
The carpet on the wall is a dead giveaway: I’m in a recording studio. True to its name, Gordon Belsher’s Guernsey Cove Parlour Productions studio is in a parlour room in beautiful, Guernsey Cove, PEI. Gordon first started recording there in 1991, beginning with his own group, Jar O’Comfort, which also included his wife Charlene. Since then, it would be hard to name an Island musician who hasn’t made the drive to Guernsey Cove. “It has been quite a journey,” Gordon says.
In addition to work as a touring musician, especially as accompanist to Richard Wood, Gordon has now completed more than one-hundred recording projects for varied artists, with a special touch for vocal and acoustic music, and a love for twists on the traditional. “The studio was set up to complement the live performance, and in years the studio is busy, the live performance is less so, and vice versa,” Gordon says.
“I love to hear good music. Someone has said there are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music—and I believe that. The philosophy we have here is that whatever level of talent you have, whatever level of ambition, we won’t let a recording out of here until it is as good as it can be.”
That respect for artists has led to many highlights over more than 20 years, including the family project “Saxafras” with daughter Savannah on vocals and son-in-law Todd MacLean on saxophone, to fiddler Cynthia MacLeod’s astonishing debut recording at 16 (“She was fearless,” Gordon remembers), to recording the late Doug Riley at his place in Little Pond (“He was a consummate, astoundingly good musician. All I had to do was capture it”).
Though performing music predates producing, Gordon’s Music PEI nomination for Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year for “Passed Presence, Past & Present” is a first as a solo artist. “The first band I was in was in 1964,” he says, gesturing to Beatles memorabilia on the piano, to put the date in context.
“I don’t think the scene has gotten easier or harder,” he says. He toured as a 22-year-old bass player with Buddy Knox in the days of six-night stands in small towns. He remembers one Monday or Tuesday night in Richibuctou, playing for an audience of six. “Well, Gord, how do you like the big time?” Buddy asked him. “But,” says Gordon admiringly, “Buddy would give those six people the best show they’d ever seen.”
Gordon brings that same ethic to work as long-time accompanist to world-touring fiddler Richard Wood. He has known Wood since Wood was nine and performed with Wood and Darla Chaisson in the Olde Dublin Pub when the two performers were so young “they had to have special permits and sit in they kitchen when they weren’t playing.” A friend commented “he calculated the total age of the band—and, he said, ‘Gord, you’re way more than half.’” Gordon says, of Richard Wood, “He’s had ups and downs, and is now playing better than ever.”
As a touring musician, he says, “If you can convince a hundred people a night to pay ten bucks each to see you, you can make a living that way.” But money’s not the motivator.
“Family is the most important thing,” Gordon concludes. “I’m a lucky man. The money has always found a way to work itself out.
“You have to trust the cape—and jump,” he says with a grin, after more than twenty years in flight, never freefall.