Introducing… Canadian folk musician and humanitarian Bruce Cockburn’s first British tour since 2007.

SONGWRITER and guitarist Bruce Cockburn has travelled to the corners of the earth in aid of humanitarian concerns, often to trouble spots to experience events that inform his songs, but he has never visited Selby . Until now.

“Somebody made us on offer to go there. That’s usually how it works,” says Bruce. “My agency made the booking. I don’t organise these things myself, but if it fits in, then great.”

On Thursday, he will play Selby Town Hall, bearing songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery from his 31st, yes 31st, album, 2011’s Small Source Of Comfort.

CHARLES HUTCHINSON fires questions at the Ontario folk roots senior statesman, who has been spending time in San Francisco, Brooklyn and the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to observe the human experience.


Thirty one albums, Bruce. Wow! How has your songwriting changed since album number one?

“This is my 31st album over an even longer time. The first one was in 1970 and now my writing is a lot more thought out, much more conscious, but not deliberate in that I won’t decide a theme in advance.

“I still have to wait for a flash of inspiration for a theme to hang it on, though I now know more about what will work and what won’t.

“In 1970, the writing was much quicker and like a reflex, and it could just be a stupid song in the sense that it just didn’t work or was based on the notion of something that should have worked but didn’t.”


Bob Dylan releases his 35th studio album, Tempest, on September 10, and you are not far behind on 31. Do you ever run the risk of repetition after 42 years?

“I’ve said a lot already and sometimes I’ll be thinking, ‘That’s a great idea’ and then realise I had the same idea 20 years ago.

“Even though a lot gets added on in terms of experience, I don’t think a lot changes about you. A lot of the essentials are still there and so it’s more difficult to come up with original thoughts.”


Can you become set in your ways or are you on a quest for new knowledge all the time?

“I tend not so much to think about beliefs but questions arise over my ongoing relationship with God and the universe and what that asks of me. The understanding of what that is changes and continues to change and I don’t think I have the answers or ever will, but it’s important to pursue a relationship with God and that can happen in different ways and manifest itself in different forms.

“There was a time when I was happy to identify myself as a Christian, around the age of 30, and then thought of myself that way and did my best to understand myself and the world in those terms for a couple of decades, but gradually those terms were inadequate and didn’t fit a place in my consciousness.

“Plus in North America, Christianity has become associated with redneck attitudes and I didn’t want to be associated with that. There are lots of ways I disagree with mainstream Christianity.”


Such as?

“I’m pro-choice.”


How open is the debate on such matters, be it abortion or homosexuality?

“It depends on who you talk to. There are people who are comfortable with having a healthy debate, but among the media in the less well-educated parts of the community, it’s less well debated and accepted and people are even dying over it.”


You are drawn to observing human experiences, going up against chaos, no matter what the potential risk, to be closer to the truth. At 67, this zeal shows no sign of fading…

“My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places’. I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.”


How do you transfer your observations into songs? Do you carry a notebook at all times like the playwright Alan Bennett?

“I don’t keep a journal, but I do have notebooks and what goes into them is the songs, though sometimes it takes a few pages of writing to make a song.

“It’s not like keeping a blog, either.

“For instance, the song about Afghanistan, Comets Of Kandahar, was written in a couple of hours after getting from there, when the feeling was very strong, the imagination was very vivid, and it was pretty easy to put it down on the page.

“In fact I found myself choking up the first few times I sang it as the memories were still so intense. These darker feelings are the ones that haunt you.”


You will never rest on your laurels, Bruce, while there is work still to be done.

“I’d rather think about what I’m going to do next. My models for graceful ageing are guys like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who never stopped working till they dropped, as I fully expect to be doing, and just getting better as musicians and as human beings.”

• Bruce Cockburn plays solo at Selby Town Hall on Thursday at 8pm; sold out. Doors open at 7.30pm; box office for returns only, 01757 708449.