Q&A with Kevin Harvey of Durham County Poets, a lively and soulful group who have written and performed an eclectic blend of blues, folk, and gospel

"The only thing I can say I miss from the music in the past, is the affordability of taking in a show without going broke. But other than that, I try not to dwell on the music of yesterday. I think there’s a lot of good music being made today, but you do have to look around to find it. Thanks for DJs who spin music from independent artists, they are integral to the future musicians like myself."

Kevin Harvey (Durham County Poets):

Eclectic, Genuine & Real

Canadian band of The Durham County Poets are a lively and soulful group who have written and performed an eclectic blend of blues, folk, and gospel. With three albums under their belt, they have released their 4th album, HAND ME DOWN BLUES (2019), nominated them for a Maple Blues Award in the New Artist of the Year category and for a Juno for Blues Album of the year. Their song 'Help me to Change' received a top five listing in the This dedicated blues album with both original compositions and covers of their favorite blues artists is sure to tickle the ears of blues lovers everywhere. And with producer Bill Garrett taking the helm, you know the Poets are in good hands!

These five musicians/songwriters work individually and collaboratively... Their obvious joie de vivre is reflected in the good times audiences have felt consistently since their 2011 début. Intrepid leader Kevin Harvey, confined to a wheelchair since 1981 is the lead vocalist, and indeed “gets by with a little help from his friends”. Kevin and his bandmates have been on countless tours throughout Canada and the US, at festivals, concerts, clubs, dives and even castles... So be sure to check them out for yourselves! Bandmembers are: Kevin Harvey, vocals; David Whyte, guitar; Neil Elsmore, guitar; Carl Rufh, Bass; and Rob Couture, drums. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? 

That is a very interesting question that I never thought about before. The one thing I can say as far as “Blues counter-culture” is… I like many people of my generation; he grew up in the 70s. We had our eyes open to a whole different kind of world, where we can question the established norms.  And within the “Blues community” there is definitely a spirit community and camaraderie that is not found in other let’s say Pop world.

How do you describe band's sound, music philosophy and songbook? What is the story behind of band's name?

I would describe our sound as familiar and fresh sounding at the same time. I think all of us in the band share one philosophy that music must be Genuine and Real. It needs to be able to reach people in the visceral way, and touch people’s emotions and hearts and funny bones. But at the same time, not take ourselves too seriously. After all, at the end of the day we are entertainers... I would not describe our sound as a purist or modern, many many styles of music can and to influence us when we are writing. We just want to make the best music we can. As far as the name of the group. Durham County Poets goes?

My wife grew up on a farm in Rockburn Qc, and her father, who was an older gentleman used to take all the kids and drive them in their old Dodge car into the nearest town now called Ormstown. But over 100 years ago it was called Durham. And her dad would say “come on kids we’re going into Durham” even though it hasn’t been called that in over a century. That gives you an idea where he was coming from… LOL. And David our guitar player wanted to call the group, Caveman Poets, so we decided to blend the two. And we also want to convey the fact that everyone in the band is a songwriter!  That too is part of our sound and Philosophy. No dictators!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I guess I can say meeting all the guys in the group for sure. They were meaningful friendships that started off with shared interest in music, getting together to perform and then eventually grew into a more meaningful pursuit of art, work and play. For myself meeting my wife was of course very important for many reasons. We share a faith, we share our life, it possible for me to pursue my goals. The best advice anybody ever gave me was from my mother. “Stop your whining and feeling sorry for yourself” she would say to me. Love her and miss her.

"I would describe our sound as familiar and fresh sounding at the same time. I think all of us in the band share one philosophy that music must be Genuine and Real. It needs to be able to reach people in the visceral way, and touch people’s emotions and hearts and funny bones. But at the same time, not take ourselves too seriously." (Photo: Durham County Poets)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

So many. From driving in snowstorms. Showing up just in the nick of time for a gig, meeting other great musicians at festivals and hanging out and swapping stories. I wouldn’t know where to begin or stop.

But one thing I can share is when I performed at the Ottawa folk festival in 2012 with a friend of mine Kenny Pauze, we were a duo and Kenny had a workshop on stage with all these “guitar gurus” from around the world. Just killer guitar players. And Kenny had never performed at a festival, never mind been part of a guitar workshop, we had pulled into the festival with five minutes to spare, and he was on stage like a deer in the headlights. He didn’t know what to say. But it all worked out great because once he started playing. It was music!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The only thing I can say I miss from the music in the past, is the affordability of taking in a show without going broke. But other than that, I try not to dwell on the music of yesterday. I think there’s a lot of good music being made today, but you do have to look around to find it. Thanks for DJs who spin music from independent artists, they are integral to the future musicians like myself.

What would you say characterizes Canadian (especial Quebec scene) in comparison to US and European circuits?

Canadian music is quite unique, the Quebec scene is very unique, and being an anglophone in Quebec is again unique. Many Canadian artists have often felt like they are second class, or lesser artists than our American counterparts. But I think it gives us a bit of an edge, not an advantage but a certain veracity or attitude that causes us to want to be the best we can be.  Each province has its own uniqueness, from the West Coast. To the East Coast of Canada where it seems everybody is an amazing musician. I guess, because so many grew up and entertained each other in the kitchens and porches, they are able to develop their art and present it to people at folk blues festivals around the world.  And we are very proud of that. It is a fully developed and every evolving thing Canadian music. And the Quebec blues scene is very diverse and special. But I would like to see more of Canada embrace Quebec artists, and more Quebec embrace Canadian artists. I wish I understood more about the European scene and even the US. Basically, we are all unique, and we all have a love of music as citizens of this world that transcends boundaries.                        (Durham County Poets, 2019 / Photo by Nate Dow)

"For me personally, I want my music to touch people.  I want the music I make to enrich people’s lives! I can’t change the culture; I can’t change people’s attitudes. But maybe we as musicians and entertainers can cause some to pause, reflect and rethink things. One heart and mind at a time."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Be serious about what it is you want, take the time to figure out who you are what your sound is. What do you want to put forward? Enjoy it. But don’t take yourself too seriously.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

That’s a hard question. For me personally, I want my music to touch people.  I want the music I make to enrich people’s lives! I can’t change the culture; I can’t change people’s attitudes. But maybe we as musicians and entertainers can cause some to pause, reflect and rethink things. One heart and mind at a time.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would definitely love to be able to go back to the time of the big bands. And the great jazz and blues artists that were performing in the time after the war.  Maybe it’s a romanticized picture I have. But it seems to be a time where the past and all that crap was behind you. And the future, with all its promise was ahead of you. The musicians were amazing. Especially the scene here in Montreal in the early 50s. Many great American artists came and cut their teeth at the clubs here before they went on to be superstars around the world. And musicians would gather together and jam till the wee hours of the morning in the clubs.  That sounds like it would be a lot of fun for 24 hours.

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(Photo: Durham County Poets)

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