Folk Singer John Gogo, seen here portraying his great-grandfather, grandfather and father (from left) brings his Coal and Wood Show to Harbour City Theatre on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy Kenneth Fersht)

Nanaimo-raised folk singer recalls Island and family history in one-man show

John Gogo presents ‘Coal and Wood’ at Harbour City Theatre

Nanaimo-raised folk singer John Gogo is channelling the experiences of his forefathers and drawing from the history of Vancouver Island in his new one-man show, Coal and Wood.

The production, which comes to the Harbour City Theatre on Jan. 17 and returns to the venue in May, tells a tale spanning 120 years and four generations of John Gogos working in the Island’s resource industries.

“I’ve always just been interested in this history and growing up I always knew that, for example, I had two great-grandfathers who were coal miners and one of them got killed in a mine and the other broke his back,” Gogo said. “And I’ve always been interested in music and folk music in particular so I just put my two interests together and that led me down this road.”

The songs are drawn from Gogo’s 1990 album Coal and Wood and his 2015 follow-up Coal and Wood Revisited and he ties everything together with monologues as told from the perspectives of his ancestors.

“I put the songs in chronological order, and of course all the coal mining ones came first,” Gogo said. “And then I figured the best way to string them all together and who better to tell the story than … four generations from Nanaimo of John Gogos.”

Aside from songs inspired by family history, the show also includes compositions about historical characters from the region, like early 20th-century labour activist Ginger Goodwin and cult leader Brother XII. Gogo said those songs are heavily researched and he even interviewed some former followers of Brother XII, who were in their 90s at the time.

“In fact, even after I put something out I still end up researching because I want to make sure I get it right,” Gogo said.

So far Gogo’s taken his show up and down the Island and to some of the Gulf Islands. He said audiences have been enthusiastic, which has been “super gratifying because you sort of put yourself out there when you write something and you never know how it’s going to be received.” He said he plans to bring Coal and Wood to the mainland as well.

“This is the culmination of everything I’ve been doing as a folk singer for 30 years, this show is, and so I plan on running it wherever I can for as long as I can,” he said. “I’m just kind of getting started, really.”

WHAT’S ON … John Gogo presents Coal and Wood at the Harbour City Theatre, 25 Victoria Rd., on Friday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors, available at Fascinating Rhythm.

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