Running down a dream
Local musician Ron Hickling says the songs come easily once the chords and melody are in place. CHRISTIANNE WILLIAMS/PHOTO
Music, art and farming are inextricably linked for Roy Hickling and all the elements come together for his latest album, One Thing.
A CD release concert was held last fall at The Loft in Barrie and the album is now available through his website, MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie and Double Door Studios and Gallery in Anten Mills.
It’s been six years since his debut CD A little Time was released in 2010. Three songs - Lay Your Fences Down, Voices In the Well, and Jenny’s Dream were shortlisted for the 2011 Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award. He beat his previous record with the new CD when the title song One Thing made it into the top eight.
Inspiration for songwriting can emerge from a variety of sources.
“It’s more fun when they pop up in a dream or take you by surprise,” said Hickling, citing the song Cordelia as an example. “It doesn’t happen very often.
“Generally, they start with a chord progression then melody and lyrics last. Once they start, it comes fairly quickly.”
More often than not Hickling is well into a song before he knows what it’s going to be about. Zelda is a fun one about a circus that emerged from fortune cookie, a songwriting exercise that was part of a BaDAS/S DIY weekend in 2008.
Hickling started out with 14 songs, guitar tracks already recorded when he went into a Wyebridge studio to work on the album. He had some help narrowing it down to the final seven from percussionist Ray Dillard and guitarist Don Bray. Both were among several musicians who played on the record as well as at the CD release concert.
“I was thinking what ties all these songs together and the next day wrote One Thing,” he said, adding that it was inspired by Pando where thousands of trees share identical ancient DNA.
Trees, although not the ancient kind, figure into Hickling’s new environmental art project at his property, Sand Forest Farm, in rural Oro Medonte. The image of it, called ‘Triple Square Meadow’, is pictured on the album cover. It occupies a 176-foot diameter circle of 93 spruce trees that surrounds mown grass in the shape of a triple square, which is reputed to be an ancient symbol.
“My first idea was to plant a circle, a nice spot for a picnic or concert but one year later, I found a small medallion, with a triple square, at a ‘finds’ table in a London, Ont., street bazaar,” said Hickling, who is thinking of packing down the snow on the property version, Triple Square Meadow and the bringing the colour of leaves to it for a winter look.
He considers it an ongoing art project and it is being documented with drone photography by Jim Stacey.
Hickley’s interest in art was sparked by MacLaren Against the Grain: Fafard Field Project in 1997. He curated the project which combined various grains into the image of a gigantic horse, grown in 50-acre field, south of Barrie. It garnered national attention as Canada’s largest environmental art project. Created for the 1997 International Plowing Match, all of the grains were ultimately harvested and donated to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for developing countries in need of food aid.
“It opened my eyes - I realized there was this other thing I could do (beyond traditional farming),” said Hickling, adding that environmental art hasn’t been on his mind until recently. “This place calls out for it.”
While he continues do some farming, his attention has been, for the past couple of years, on the 65 acre property that he and his wife, Sue, purchased in 2015. It was the barn that attracted him. As there are no barns left in his family and he said he wanted to save this one. A considerable amount of work later, they’ve fixed it up and it now serves as a spot for Hickling to weld his metal sculptures. He has shown and exhibited his paintings over the years and he continues to keep his hand in, sculptures have moved to the forefront. Their daughter Lydia has inherited the artistic gene and her paintings illustrate some of the songs in the CD booklet.
Hickling’s interest in music began as a child, but he didn’t take it up until his first year of university. He was working on a Bachelor of Science and Agriculture degree in Guelph when he purchased his first guitar. Writing his own songs followed within a year. Since then he’s performed at open stages, at art openings including his own, songwriter series and local concerts. He was also included in a Roots Festival showcase of local songwriters.