Barney Bentall: Touring, Recording, and Staying Grounded
By Angela Altass
Juno award winning pop/rock singer-songwriter Barney Bentall is a Canadian success story who often mixes his love for music with helping charities and a passion for venturing into the great outdoors.
Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts, a Canadian rock band based out of Vancouver, was well known in the 1980s and 1990s with such hit songs as Something to Live For, House of Love, and Come Back to Me. Bentall’s first solo album, Gift Horse, was released in 2006.
“I’m always touring,” Bentall stated during a telephone interview while he was on a ferry to Victoria, British Columbia where he would be performing with The Cariboo Express, a fundraising variety show project he started 15 years ago. “The Cariboo Express has managed to raise over $4 million for primarily Western Canadian charities.”
As well as getting part of the proceeds from ticket sales, companies will pay to sponsor songs during the show and that money goes directly to the charities. Even the pandemic didn’t stop the Cariboo Express.
“We had a virtual one for Classroom Champions in Calgary during the pandemic,” said Bentall. “It’s hard to stop because for some organizations, we are their biggest fundraiser. Over the next three nights we will raise about $80,000 for the food bank and food banks are, sadly, in such demand these days. At a certain point, my son Dustin and the other people in the show, might take it over if I get to a point where I’m done. There’s certainly no shortage of need out there.”
However, The Cariboo Express is just one of many projects, performances and adventures that Bentall partakes in during the year. He recently released two new albums.
“I put out two albums over the course of the pandemic,” said Bentall. “One was RanchWriters, an instrumental record with Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West. Then, Cosmic Dreamer, which I started working on right about the same time that everything changed in March 2020. I was taking a course in Vancouver for driving Zodiac boats and I started working on the songs there. I went into my friend Adrian Dolan’s studio and he co-produced the record with me.”
Making an album is a mysterious process, said Bentall.
“I’m a songwriter; that’s the thing that I do,” he said. “It seems like you get to a certain point or a certain song will come out and then you say okay now I’m ready to make a record. I wrote the song Cosmic Dreamer over two nights and went in to the studio the next night and that was it. I felt that it could be an umbrella where other songs I’d written could find a place to co-exist and it all happened from there.”
It was unusual to record during COVID isolation protocols, said Bentall.
“I would go over to Adrian’s studio and he and I were the only ones who were ever in one room at the same time,” said Bentall. “We would do our parts and then send it out to musician friends and ask them to add to it. Not being together in the same room trying to create magic, a thing that I’ve loved and which has been part of the process over the years was interesting. Far from ending up being disjointed in any way, the music seemed so cohesive to me.”
Bentall sings the single You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go with long-time friend Valentino Trapani. The video for the single was recorded on iPhones, with Bentall in British Columbia and Trapani in Italy.
“It’s the best video deal I’ve ever done,” stated Bentall. “In days gone by, we would spend $60,000 on a video and for this, the total budget was $1,500. My friend Craig Northey from the band the Odds, his son Cole edited it and he also directed the Cosmic Dreamer video.”
In October 2020 Bentall started recording RanchWriters at his ranch in British Columbia.
“There wasn’t a vaccine yet at that time and we were all in one place,” recalled Bentall. “We were re-tested for COVID before we came up to the ranch and then we were pretty isolated.”
Touring and performing at live shows isn’t quite the same as it was during the Legendary Hearts days but Bentall still enjoys the experience.
“It’s not that there aren’t any hard times on the road,” he paused in reflection. “Sometimes I ask myself why I keep doing it but that happens with any job. There’s a resiliency and more stamina that comes with youth and it was kind of wilder back then. It was pretty cool to experience that, especially when all of a sudden you had hit songs on the radio. In the early days, it was mainly clubs and now it’s theatres, which are calmer and I’m glad about that. As long as it continues to be exciting and inspiring, I’ll keep doing it. I find that if you keep yourself in good shape and look after yourself then you can still do this. My voice still feels strong.”
When it comes to items that you might see Bentall purchasing when traveling, he laughs and says “well, I do have a softness for Cheezies.” He also likes to bring a portable martini maker with him.
“Some people bring a coffee machine,” he commented. “I don’t do that but when the situation allows, you can actually make a decent martini on the road.”
As well as farming at his ranch, Bentall enjoys visiting the Arctic and participates regularly in voyages of discovery with Adventure Canada.
“I was asked to come to Adventure Canada as a musician on one of their trips about 14 years ago,” he recalls. “I thought I’d just be doing a couple of shows but it was clear as soon as I got there that I was a staff member. I am a strong supporter of Adventure Canada. It fits my personality: look around and if there’s something that needs to be done, do it. I love being in the Arctic so I had to make sure my skill set was varied enough that they’d have me back because there are a lot of musicians who would probably do it. I am a bear monitor, a Zodiac driver, a musician and an audio-visual person who sets up people’s presentations. This September, I did the northwest passage with Adventure Canada. It’s a remarkable journey.”
Bentall said he loves the variety of his life and considers his work to be highly unusual. Next year he’ll be travelling to Vietnam, Spain and Italy with Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, another project he often participates in. He’ll also do more Cariboo Express shows and some solo performances, He’ll be looking for more Adventure Canada excursions to join and he’ll be sure to book a few weeks to “get his hands in the earth” at his ranch.
“That’s part of trying to be grounded,” said Bentall. “You play sold out shows and walk out to hear that applause. It’s a seductive thing and I think that over the course of a life I’ve learned how to put that into a place of reality and to understand what it actually is and not fall into a trap of your life not making sense if that isn’t happening. I love playing music. I love family. I love farming. If I couldn’t play music tomorrow for whatever reason, I could just peacefully farm.”
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