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Canada waves flag in London Print-ready version

by Jamie Portman
Toronto Star
September 18, 1990
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LONDON - London's staid financial district is the last place one would expect to hear the robust theme music from CBC's Hockey Night In Canada.

But it was happening at noon in a handsome outdoor amphitheatre at London's new Broadgate Centre, courtesy of the Shuffle Demons from Toronto.

The five-member ensemble, which is equally at home with rap, funk, show tunes, rock or classic jazz, introduced its souped-up version of the hockey music as Canada's "national song".

It was a highlight of a 90-minute performance that afflicted an estimated 600 eagerly applauding people with a visible case of Shuffle mania.

While the Demons were whipping up a storm in the amphitheatre, a different Canadian experience was being offered directly underneath in the centre's Rotunda gallery.

There an exhibition of 25 paintings by singer-composer Joni Mitchell was attracting a steady flow of visitors.

In fact, the whole central area of the Broadgate complex has a Canadian flavor these days.

In one corner there's a Labatt's beer stand. Across the way a bookstore window is stocked with British editions of such top Canadian writers as Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Margaret Laurence and Mordecai Richler.

Then there are those high, wide and handsome banners announcing that this is the home of "Canada In The City", the first major Canadian arts festival to be held in the United Kingdom.

The 11-day event is highlighted by daytime and evening performances from leading Canadian pop and jazz musicians.

Among the visiting performers are the Shuffle Demons, Alberta's Foothills Brass, Cape Breton singer Rita McNeill, Saskatchewan jazz pianist Jon Ballantyne, and singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett.

Curtis Barlow, of the Canadian High Commission in Britain, says the promotion will help illustrate Canada's artistic achievements, particularly in popular culture.

"Our objective in mounting the promotion at Broadgate was to give us the opportunity to make an impact in the so-called City of London, which of course is a very important area of Greater London and the United Kingdom, where we'd never actually produced anything before.

"So this is the first cultural manifestation from Canada in the City of London ever."

The government organizers obtained the Broadgate site with the assistance of Toronto-based Olympia and York, which has a financial interest in the company responsible for this London building complex.

Centrepiece of the promotion is the Joni Mitchell exhibit.

The show generated so much advance interest in Britain that Mitchell ended up doing two full days of media interviews.

"She is a huge celebrity over here, with this huge following as a singer, songwriter and poet," says Barlow. "But she was actually first and foremost a painter and attended the Alberta College of Art before she ever went into music.

"I predict this exhibition will launch Joni as a serious painter in Europe and I'm very happy about that."

Titled Diary Of A Decade, the exhibit consists of Mitchell's work over the past 20 years.

Mitchell's mainly expressionist work received a 1988 show in Tokyo where one critic compared her with the best of David Hockney and David Salle. Her works have also been shown at the prestigious James Corcoran Gallery in Los Angeles.

Co-sponsoring the London exhibition with the Canadian High Commission is Hillsdown Holdings, the British company that now owns Canada Packers and Maple Leaf Mills. There was also assistance from the Alberta Art Foundation, British Airways and Canadian Airlines International.

Programming of live performers was deliberately pop-oriented.

Says Barlow: "We were looking at an outdoor venue, during the day, and we were looking at the audience, many of whom are young city executives. We wanted to make an impression on them."

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Added to Library on October 5, 2003. (2107)

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