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The fascinating Mister Bird shares gypsy life

CANMORE – While the broken leg of Mister Bird rests in the cool waters of Policeman’s Creek, his eyes stare somewhere far away, thinking of a story from another time and place.
Submitted photo.

CANMORE – While the broken leg of Mister Bird rests in the cool waters of Policeman’s Creek, his eyes stare somewhere far away, thinking of a story from another time and place.

It might be the story of how he broke his leg motorbiking in Colombia, or the time he travelled to Tasmania on the advice of an ice cream vendor. It could be about the time he allowed a Launceston tattoo artist named Whitey to tattoo his rear in exchange for another free tattoo. Whatever the story is, Mister Bird is sure to make it interesting. 

Mister Bird is the stage name given to Gareth Bruce. An Indian family awed by his freewheeling ways bestowed the Mister Bird name on him during one of his hitchhiking trips. 

Bruce is gregarious and affable, filled with tales of wandering gypsy minstrels and the romance of music. Raised in Canmore, it was on the road where he learned to fly, all the while searching for a place to call home.  

“I have a lot of big dreams, but you can’t accomplish those dreams when you’re constantly travelling. I love being a minimalist. I feel like I’m kind of conflicted with wanting a home and wanting to travel,” says Bruce. “I’m looking for home, and I’m hoping to find it.”

It’s that need to travel conflicting with his desire to find a home which spawned Bruce’s latest album, The Immeasurable Blue. The self-produced folk music album combines acoustic instruments with Bruce’s ability to weave lyrical stories that leave a listener feeling like they’ve lived in the song. 

He’s decided to launch a tour to promote the album, with the first show being at artsPlace in Canmore on Aug. 24 with tickets $19.05 each. 

According to Bruce, The Immeasurable Blue comes from a place of sadness. Despite his various adventures, life hasn’t always been kind and for him it’s taken a toll. 

“Everything is blue to me, man. I was born blue. Straight up, I feel like I was born broken hearted. Blue is sadness, but it’s a sadness we have to feel. To confront ourselves and to know the depths of our soul … there’s so much passion that is born from that pain.”

The Immeasurable Blue was produced during one of his many misadventures. He went to his father’s cabin on Savary Island B.C., hoping to use solar energy to power his recording equipment at the off-grid cabin. The weather wouldn’t co-operate, and a rusted chimney left Bruce freezing and forced him to switch to plan B.

“Plan B was to rent an Airbnb and, instead of recording in a month, get it done in a couple of days. That was what I ended up doing. I rented an Airbnb cabin just south of Powell River and it was meant to be. As soon as I opened the door, there’s all these pictures of birds … I just set up my gear and I dialed it out. Fifteen-hour days, six a.m. until the middle of the night, I did it all in three days.”

Despite producing The Immeasurable Blue, music hasn’t always been a large part of Bruce’s life. Growing up in Canmore he competed in track, rather than explore music. 

“I’ve always loved music. I can remember even when I was a kid, zippers rattling around in the dryer, and it was a beat. Brushing my teeth, I’d make a tune out of it … but I was an athlete, so it took a while for me to sort of branch out and become, I guess who I always thought I was, more creative.”

It was only once he left Canada and found the freedom of the road, that he was able to discover his passion for making music. On Waiheke Island in New Zealand, Bruce got his first guitar, a cobweb-covered Yamaha, by building a fence for a co-worker’s mother.  

“Right away I just started writing songs, I didn’t know what I was doing, but no hesitation. I was just learning G, learning C, learning D, learning A and then learning songs.”

Music became the gateway into other people’s homes for Bruce. He has enough material from his time hitchhiking to write a novel on the subject. 

“This one lady, her name is Aroha, which means love in Maori. I couldn’t believe it when she picked me up and said, ‘you’re not going to kill me are you?’ And I’m like, ‘whoa, no.’ She’s was a middle-aged woman driving a nice car; you don’t often get picked up by nice cars, and she right away cracks
this joke. 

“She’s like, ‘you know what I read the other day? That psychopaths and musicians dress the same. Which one are you?’ She invited me home, she had a spare room, and I can remember that night we were drinking wine together in the candlelight and I was singing her songs.

“A lot of people who wouldn’t maybe often pick up hitchhikers, pick me up. I don’t know, maybe I have an innocent look in my eyes,” he said, laughing. 

That helped develop a passion that has stayed with Bruce his entire adult life. Wherever he’s travelled, music has been a large part of it. It’s music that has paved the way for many of his adventures on the road, and music that keeps calling him back to that road.  

“I had this crazy vision of me in Nepal learning how to play the mandolin, so I went and did that,” says Bruce. “It was beautiful, I met so many people just because of the mandolin. It attracted people, it took me places, people welcomed me into their home just because they love the sound of music.” 

“Some of the best musicians I’ve seen in my life, and I’m including the people you see up on the stage, are just the gypsies you see on the side of the street … There’s this whole tribe of people traveling the world; they’re not trying to make money, they’re not trying to accomplish anything, they just love music. I think I found that tribe, I think I’ve stumbled into that international community.”