Preview: Calgary Herald; Mike Bell

Posted by on 2 August 2007

Veteran, rookie follow same road to success

Serendipity. Synchronicity. Kismet. There are a whole host of 10-cent words you could use to explain how veteran songwriter John Wort Hannam and so-green newcomer Raphaelle Standell-Preston came to find themselves standing together in the Calgary Folk Music Festival's office May 5, at 5 p.m.-ish handing in their last-second entries to this year's songwriters competition.

But out of all of the polysyllabic offerings out there, perhaps the most appropriate would be procrastination.

Yes, two very different artists at very different points in their lives and careers found themselves in the exact same position because, well, because they're just flaky musicians.

High school student Raphaelle Standell-Preston won the first youth category of the Calgary folk festival's songwriting competition.

High school student Raphaelle Standell-Preston won the first youth category of the Calgary folk festival's songwriting competition.

Ted Jacob, Calgary Herald

Actually, to be fair, we'll cut Standell-Preston some slack and blame it instead on the laissez faire attitude of her youth and the fact she was facing grade 12 finals in the very near future. She had, she says, been planning on entering since she'd heard about the folk fest- and Ship & Anchor-sponsored competition earlier in the year.

"Then I woke up the morning of and said, 'OK, I've really got to write a song,' " Standell-Preston says, sitting in a local coffee shop with a copy of Kerouc beside her. "So I woke up at eight in the morning and then I wrote the song and I recorded it . . .

"It was 4:55 and I was like, 'Oh, no -- they had said five o'clock (deadline).' So I was freaking out and I was getting my mom to sign everything and then my mom's boyfriend drove me down and I was, like, 'Please take this.' I didn't really think I was going to get it in."

"You know what -- I remember seeing her," says Hannam later, during a phone interview from his Fort Macleod home.

And what was the qualifier to his procrastination?

What caused a seasoned pro to pull a rookie mistake and almost miss deadline?

Well, for a clue, you might want to look to the title of his entry -- When I Drink Too Much.

"The night before the deadline I decided I was going to hole myself up in my office and I was going to write a song. So I went and got a couple of bottles of wine. I drank the wine but I didn't write any songs," he says, laughing.

"When I woke up in the morning the day of the deadline I was kind of hungover . . . So I wrote the song, recorded it on my computer, got in my van, drove to Calgary and handed it in right before the deadline."

The upside is their late arrival at the office is not the only thing the two have in common -- Standell-Preston and Hannam wound up winning top spot in two of the four categories in this year's competition.

The former took first place in the four-year-old contest's first youth category (13-17 years) with the catchy pop composition Hide! she performed with her band The Neighbourhood Council (Austin Tufts, Vince Man, Taylor Smith and Katie Lee), while the latter and his bleary-eyed cut earned the title of best song.

It's actually the second time Hannam has earned that nod, repeating the feat from the inaugural event. For him, an accomplished songwriter with three albums to his credit, the wins have been notable signposts in a career with many (the latest being an invitation from his songwriting hero Guy Clark to head to Nashville in October for a co-writing session).

In fact, while Hannam's grateful for the recognition and -- like a true pro -- the generous cash prize that came with it, thus allowing him to tour Nova Scotia recently, Hannam admits the subjectiveness of the entire process is one that he still has a tough time taking too much pride in.

"On a personal level, things like that, I take songwriting contests in stride. So much depends on the judges and to say my song was better than someone else's it just meant the judges preferred the sound of it," he says.

"It does validate you a little. You kind of go, 'OK, I'm doing some things right,' and that's what I liked about winning is that it said, 'Yeah, OK, you're on the right track, so keep banging your head against the wall.' "

But while Hannam views his wins as nudging him forward rather than propelling him ahead, the same definitely could not be said for his partner in tardiness.

Standell-Preston's win jumpstarted her burgeoning musical career confirming to her -- and many, many others -- she was doing the right thing pursuing the craft full-time after high school.

The Neighbourhood Council's performance during the competition led to an invitation from Mark Hamilton, a member of local indie band Woodpigeon, to play at this year's Sled Island festival, which in turn led to an invitation for Standell-Preston to play with fellow indie act Jane Vain and the Dark Matter.

"Everything happened after that," Standell-Preston says of the fated performance. "It had been building up in the last year, but because of the competition it happened right away.

"I didn't have to wait and stay in my bedroom any longer."

Nope. Any longer and she might have missed it all.

Published: Sunday, July 29, 2007