During a 2005 Planks practice in Grandview park, a passer-by observed Squeezebeard’s accordion and stopped by to inquire as to whether we were a klezmer band. Blackbox began clarifying that we had in fact been playing Turkish music when Lord Eel, a founding Plank, cut across and established that yessir, ma’am, we here are the Creaking Planks, Vancouver’s best pirate klezmer zombie shanty band, and that we play weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs and brises. He must have more of a killer business instinct to close the deal, for that exchange ended up getting us engaged for a week-long run as a klezmer back-up band in Melinda Gidaly Mayor’s Fringe Festival production of “Jew! A Musical”. We weren’t, at that time, actually a klezmer band, but we had an appetite for learning and an instinct for show business, and eventually got up to speed though sweat and tears. When the run concluded, Lord Eel suggested that for our next engagement we re-invent ourselves as a flamenco band for the hat-shop proprietor’s costume party! After all our hard work jumping into a new musical idiom for which we were largely unprepared, at the prospect of taking on another… well, suffice it to say that if our tall ship hadn’t been in drydock, there might well have been a mutiny.
Fast-forward a few years. Coming out of musical semiretirement, Lord Eel again calls us together with a strangely familiar pitch: to become a klezmer band in a play about a Jewish wedding! Where have I heard this before? With oodles more experience gigging under our collective belts atop our earlier immersive experience into the klezmer idiom, a crack squad of Planks decided to take on the UBC Theatre production — Squeezebeard on accordion, Dr. Steelhand on the very traditional klezmer ukulele and steel guitar, percussionist Pawel Piechocki (on Daisy Jones-Locher’s lent santur!) and introducing Kat-’o-Nine-Tails on the clarinet. (Really having us play is a natural fit, since as was noted — Squeezebeard is already the subject of the poster!)
The Fringe Festival gig was a zany, upbeat madcap comedy about wedding planning and reconciling matters of faith with life in the modern world. This play, Pulitzer-winner Tony Kushner’s adaptation of A Dybbuk, is considerably more somber and austere in tone, dealing with a harrowing ghost story of love from beyond the grave among an extinguished people. All the same, there is a wedding, and we are a klezmer wedding band; we do get to stretch our roles a bit (not just for the actors anymore!) and also produce all manner of eerie soundscapes one might expect at free jazz night at the Western Front to underscore the workings of supernatural forces man was not meant to know. The intersection of avant-garde and traditional Jewish music: it’s not just John Zorn’s turf anymore!
Opening night is tonight; the curtains raise at the Freddie Wood at 7:30 pm every night through April 5th, barring Sunday March 30th (giving us a chance to rest up from our two-gig night with the County Fair Saturday night following our Dybbuk performance!) Typically the Creaking Planks will be trying to make audiences laugh or dance, but here you have a chance to catch us in an unprecedented third motivation.
Called out in a Courier review (Apr 2, ‘08)!
Composer Patrick Pennefather’s music–drawn, as he writes in his notes, “from existing Yiddish, Klezmer and Hebrew music, prayers and chants”–is beautifully integrated into the story and performed live on a shadowed balcony by The Creaking Planks, a four-piece band featuring accordion, santur, steel guitar, ukulele and clarinet.
In a look back at the project the director David Savoy seemed quite pleased with our work:
November 12, 2007: May have a lead on a band – The Creaking Planks. My posting at Hillel House may have paid off!
Saturday, March 29, 2008: The Creaking Planks are great. I am so glad I stuck to my guns and pushed for live music. The fact that they stay in place is actually working out to be a visual blessing. They are like silent watchers of all the action. If only some of the cast could mirror their discipline!
Chapter 4 – Reflection. I am glad I stuck to my guns and pushed for a live band. The Creaking Planks were amazing, sitting like a ghostly presence above the action, and more than willing to jump in and provide various effects and noises as required.