Out on a school night with Andy Brown

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Photo: Sarah Barclay

New Brunswick musician Andy Brown poses with Ed Sweeney of Quebec High School.

Some 20 individuals bask in the light glowing softly around New Brunswick folk singer Andy Brown and his acoustic guitar in the basement of Le Cercle. The audience includes a handful of Quebec High School (QHS) staff and former students, many of whom are long-time followers and fellow musicians themselves. 

 The soft-spoken Andy Brown speaks to the audience as if sharing a coffee with them, explaining the thought process behind each piece, then cracking jokes about how fun it is to listen to songs about heartbreak. 

On Seasons, his latest album, Brown’s folk-rock approaches pop territory at times, but also ventures to the edge of country. The tragic beauty in songs such as “Paris Sky” and the title track, “Seasons,” is reminiscent of Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans or Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Glen Hansard. Brown himself has had his music featured in television shows such as Rookie Blue and Heartland. 

Andy Brown thanks the crowd for “coming out on a school night,” smiling wryly before explaining how his statement rings particularly true, given the audience contingent from QHS. A voice from the back of the room reminds Brown that it is a school night for him as well; for Andy Brown, we learn, has a date with the students of the music concentration program in the morning. Brown expresses his concern for the future of music in schools, and commends QHS for fostering a deeper appreciation of what goes into making music. “It shows that somebody is still taking it seriously,” Brown explains later, as he mingles with his audience; “they’re doing an incredible job.” 

 QHS principal Warren Thomson and community coordinator Ed Sweeney have been enjoying the show. This will be Brown’s second visit to QHS, and his third collaboration with the English community of Quebec City. Sweeney explains that Andy Brown was one of several recording artists in the Maritimes who answered the call to meet with students and explain various aspects of the process of writing and recording an album. “If you reach out [to these musicians], they’ll often take the time; they’re pretty generous,” claims Sweeney.

Thomson and Sweeney eagerly attest to the benefits of giving teenagers a cultural education. “The students learn to appreciate a wide variety of talent … it’s all about exploration,” explains Thomson, before citing cases of socially awkward students gaining confidence through the songwriting and creation aspects of the program. “You end up creating a voice,” he says, beaming.

 Two young musicians greet Andy Brown. It is no coincidence that they first met him in the course of their music concentration program at QHS. “He was one of the first [artists] we had in the studio,” recalls Simone Mackay, who bought Brown’s album that first day at her school.

“I like his message,” claims Camille Morin, “He’s not trying to be [something he’s not]. You can tell that it’s him, that it’s true.”

 “It’s him and one guitar. That’s all he has. That’s all he needs,” agrees Mackay.

 Indeed, Andy Brown’s humble performance appeared to have a profound effect on his audience, who laughed, empathized, and above all connected with this honest and affable talent.