Phil Vernon

Phil Vernon

BandFolkSinger/Songwriter

Phil Vernon is an uncommon blend of singer, songwriter and social activist. Rooted in a narrative folk tradition, from Woody Guthrie to Steve Earle, his songs connect at a personal level to local and global issues of our times -- with humour, insight and a passion for justice.

Biography

Phil Vernon has just released his new CD entitled Kitale Road, his first full-length album in over twenty years. Together with his friend Jay Johnson he set up some mic’s at home and in four intense days captured all the tracks for the CD.

Several songs are from a recent trip to Kenya where he volunteered on an HIV-AIDS education project and met garment workers in the Export Processing Zone outside Nairobi. He’s been supporting a project there since, raising funds by performing multimedia presentations with his partner Maggie, combining songs, stories and images.

Other songs on the album reflect local themes, recognizing Canada’s troubled history in regards to Japanese Canadians (Ganbaru), First Nations’ cultural rights (The Reefnet) as well as the global issues of food sovereignty (Red Fife Wheat) and climate change (Climate Blues).

Phil’s previous release - a fundraiser for the campaign to make his home province of British Columbia a GE free zone – features his “seed songs” supporting the fight against genetically-modified seeds: GE Free, The Ballad of Percy Schmeiser (featured in the film, Genetic Matrix) and Something’s In The Garden, a song about Terminator seeds that he's published online at banterminator.org.

In 2003 Phil created ÆTHM MUSIC to self-publish The Ballad of Percy Schmeiser, and continues to produce his music on the label. In 2007 he also published a CD album of songs written and performed by young women and men living in Kibera, a sprawling slum outside Nairobi, Kenya. From sales of the CD in Canada he’s been able to manufacture additional copies of the CD and deliver them to the Kibera Music and Media Project on his last trip to Kenya.

Writing songs and performing for over two decades, Phil started out singing on picket lines and in union halls around Vancouver, BC. A founding member of the cultural festival Mayworks, Phil recorded his debut album Fellow Worker at Mushroom Studios in 1987 and contributed to numerous benefit recordings.

Tracing his roots back through Woody to the diverse mix of North American folk culture, Phil finds himself at home in a contemporary songwriting tradition – one that looks out at the world and, in sharing songs and stories, helps brings people together.

Lyrics

Be Welcome

Written By: Phil Vernon

When you’re traveling out on your own
Grateful for each kindness shown
People ask you to their home, saying
Be welcome, welcome in

Along the road the market stalls
Empty out as darkness falls
Through a doorway friendship calls
Be welcome, welcome in

It’s a long road
Though a troubled land
Can it be so hard to understand?
Black and white walking hand in hand
Be welcome, welcome in

Here’s to hope, forever strong
Children’s voices raised in song
Here’s to where we all belong
Be welcome, welcome in

Be welcome - when you’re struggling on your own
Be welcome - you’re not alone
All you travelers far from home
Be welcome, welcome in

Kitale Road

Written By: Phil Vernon

Going down Kitale Road from Kiminini town
Images and thoughts arising as the sun goes down:
And like this beat-up four-by-four I’m busted at the seams
Living here in Africa has scattered all my dreams

Across the old white highlands on a ribbon two lanes wide
Streams of humanity pour down on either side
People walking, outnumbering the cars by ten to one
Women fetching water with their yellow plastic drums
Through the fields of sugar cane, the strung-out market stalls
A warm vein in a burdened land, this road will see it all

Past the ragged children perched on a patch of grass
Catch the look of expectation fading as we pass
Two men with a bicycle piled high with sacks of maize
Pushing up that hill into the sun just like the End of Days

In every soul upon this road there shines a simple glory
Proud and unbowed, and each one has a story
Silhouetted by the sun in the dusty golden light
Ah, glory be to everyone upon this road tonight

Going down Kitale Road from Kiminini town
Memories and thoughts arising as the sun goes down
The mud walls of the clinic, the old people standing there
The little girl beside me with ringworm in her hair…

In every soul upon this road there shines a simple glory
Proud and unbowed and each one has a story
Silhouetted by the sun in the dusty golden light
Ah, glory be to everyone in Africa tonight
Yes, glory be to everyone in Africa tonight

The Reefnet

Written By: Phil Vernon

From time beyond all memory we’ve lived upon this shore
And taken from these waters what we’ve needed – nothing more
We are Saltwater People, at home upon the sea
To catch the silver salmon in the SXOLE, our reefnet fishery

In great canoes of cedar, into the summer dawn
We paddle to the SWÁLET, the family fishing ground
First return the sockeye and ready we would be
With nets strung wide across the tide in the SXOLE, our reefnet fishery

So slacken off the breast line
The tide is running fast
Prepare to haul! the watchmen call
ŦEKI has come at last!
As ŁKENATEN the anchor stone
Holds strong beneath the sea
We’ll always hold the knowledge
Of our reefnet fishery

Out between the islands when the days are growing long
We go to set the anchor stone where the current’s deep and strong
We lash the stones together, line the points and drop them free
To set at sixty fathoms for the SXOLE, our reefnet fishery

So slacken off the breast line
The tide is running fast
Prepare to haul! the watchmen call
ŦEKI has come at last!
As ŁKENATEN the anchor stone
Holds strong beneath the sea
We’ll always hold the knowledge
Of our reefnet fishery

“When the tide is out, the table’s set,” my father’d always say
But the sea is strangely silent as I look out across the bay
We’ll forever guard our treaty right to fish as formerly
We will sustain and someday regain the SXOLE, our reefnet fishery

Red Fife Wheat

Written By: Phil Vernon

Well they say it was just a handful
Seed sent from Glasgow in eighteen forty-two
It was tough times for David Fife the farmer
Who thought he’d see what hard spring wheat could do

They say the grain he planted ripened early
Proved more immune to rust, and to the frost and snow
And every year, multiplied his harvest
And bore his name across Ontario

Red Fife wheat, treasure of the land
A golden promise in his hand
Red Fife wheat, when summer breezes blow
It was so good to see the Red Fife grow!

It was Red Fife broke the northern prairie
Queen of the harvest for fifty years or more
With new strains to build a farming nation
And feed a hungry world at its door

Red Fife wheat, treasure of the land
A golden promise in his hand
Red Fife wheat, when summer breezes blow
It’s so good to see the Red Fife grow!

As constant as the prairie wind
From the time-shrouded steppes of Ukraine
This ancient landrace sustained the farms of Canada
Our living heritage will rise again!

From Nova Scotia out to Vancouver Island
Red Fife is being sown and harvested again
Food Inspection Agency don’t like it
But farmers say, We’ll sow it just the same

Red Fife wheat, treasure of the land
A golden promise in our hand
Red Fife wheat, when summer breezes blow
It’s so good to see the Red Fife grow!

Climate Blues

Written By: Phil Vernon

Woke up this morning
Before the break of day
Shaking from a nightmare
Of the price we’re gonna pay
I seen a black sea rising
Beneath the blood-red moon
I seen the biosphere collapsing
It was coming much too soon

Mama Gaia’s getting angry
We’re breaking all her rules
It’s time we get the message
Before she lose her global cool

You think you’re something better
Than that junkie on the street
You got a fine roof overhead
And plenty food to eat
But I say it’s we who are the junkies
Yeah, we’re hooked on fossil fuel
Blind to the consequence
And stubborn as a mule

Your mama’s getting angry
We’re breaking all her rules
It’s time we get some action here
Before she lose her global cool

Now with the corporate system
We’re headed for the ditch
Messing with the atmosphere
While some fat cats get rich, but you gotta
Get talking to your neighbours now
Get everyone on board because you know
Business as usual
The Earth cannot afford

Your mama’s getting angry
We’re breaking all her rules
It’s time we took some action now
Before she lose her global cool

Rocking Chair

Written By: Phil Vernon

Well I don’t aim to live like no pawn or no king
They say one man’s always crying, and the other one can’t sing
If I had wings you know I’d fly far away
But seeing that I don’t then I guess I’ll have to stay
and I’ll…
Take a ride in my squeaky rocking chair
It don’t travel very fast, but it always gets me there
You can ride it, too, if there’s something on your mind
This old rocking chair will leave all your cares behind

I am just a simple man, you know my needs are few
All I need’s a place to live, and something I can do
I’d like to spend all my days singing ‘bout the love that never ends
And evenings find myself in the company of friends
and I’ll…

They say out in the country, the living’s nice and slow
They say the rising of the sun’s the only time clock that you’ll know
Me, I think I’ll pay a visit to that city soon
‘Cause I ain’t been off my rocker since last Tuesday afternoon
and I’ll…

Ruaraka EPZ

Written By: Phil Vernon

Outside the barbed wire in the mud of Ruaraka Export Zone
Poverty runs in the blood, it’s driven deep within the bone
Tell me friend how can it be, tell me what your life is worth
Trying to raise a family in a one-room shack in this muddy earth?

Ruaraka! Ruaraka! Ruaraka Export Zone!
Ruaraka! Ruaraka! Ruaraka is my home

Inside the steel-barred factory gates we scramble, keeping up the pace
Just outside the others wait, hungry to take our place
Tell me friend can it be right to labour till our soul is killed
Double shifts day and night, until the Wal-Mart order’s filled

Ruaraka!…

A slender girl worked on my line until she fainted yesterday
She tried to tell them she was fine, but they laid her off and docked her pay
The manager abuses power, taking girls behind his door
There’ll be a walkout an hour cuz we won’t take it anymore

Otieno’s got a union, Ruaraka, we belong!
Raise your voices, Ruaraka, in the union we’ll be strong!

Ten thousand workers on the street marching to Uhuru Park
The labour minister we’ll meet, History this day will mark
Across the country in other Zones, workers see us on TV
They walk out; the strike has grown: we will be free!

Otieno’s got a union, Ruaraka, we belong!
Raise your voices, Ruaraka, in the union we are strong!

Now, my friend, four years have passed since we shut the factories down
Thousands fired, our union smashed - driven underground
Otieno and our friends, blacklisted for speaking out
But that’s not where the story ends, we rise again, have no doubt

Otieno’s got a union…

Hatuta hatu hamisha We shall not, we shall not be moved…
Hatuta hatu hamisha
Kama mti mpandwa karibu na mto
Hatu hamisha

Tuendelee mbele… we continue forward

Pamoja tunaweza… together we can do it

Murder

Written By: Phil Vernon

Thirty-six floors is one hell of a way
Looking down that winter’s day
Cars like toys on the street below
When I felt that fly-form start to go

That morning not too much was said
Except the voice inside my head
A glimpse, a shadow, that was all
To let me know that we might fall

Still you know it’s hard to say
You can get those feelings most any day
If you let it, can make you quit
So you might as well get used to it

When you’re working on the edge
Set a column, drive a wedge
You walk the line between your own safety
And the push

And then suddenly, you lose your breath
You’re staring at the face of death
You see above his hollow eyes
His hardhat bears the dollar sign

Now it’s time to call a spade a spade
Cuz when we work there’s fortunes made
Lives are lost and money gained
And money killed us just the same
It was murder

A man’s a heart, a man’s a mind
A body and a spirit, all entwined
God damn the thing that takes this man
And treats him like a pair of hands

These hands could reach to hold a child
This face could soften in a smile
This heart could let his feelings show
This mind could tell you what it knows
It was murder

Ganbaru

Written By: Phil Vernon

There’s a murmur in the forest, a whisper in the rain
Of a time in living memory of prejudice and pain
You may think that time is over as the sun shines on the hill
But in the evening it haunts this island still
I’m sure you know the story from the Second World War
How the Japanese Canadians were shipped off from this shore
There were once eleven families, I don’t know the other ten
But the Murakamis, they came home again

You’d think it was sufficient, all the hardship they endured
After twelve years they’d be welcome back but that’s not what I heard
They were treated with suspicion, they were shunned as if to say
What right have you got to come back here to stay?
Through the prison camp in winter with six children in a shack
Through the beet fields of Alberta they’d been to hell and back
Katsuyori said Kimiko, there’s just one thing we can do
We will persevere: Ganbaru

They couldn’t buy their farm back, the one place on this earth
It’d been auctioned to a stranger for a fraction of its worth
All the money gone to pay for their internment in the war
Leaving nothing from the life they lived before
And so they started over, bought and cleared a piece of land
The way I heard the story, they did it all by hand
Katsuyori told his family, we will build our life anew
In the spirit of Ganbaru

The centennial was coming
Sixty-seven was the year
They were calling for donations
Planting trees for pioneers
But her father’s name Okano
Was not welcome on the plaque
They told Kimiko, take your money back

She retreated to her garden, kept alive her memories
It took thirty years but she got her cherry trees
Katsuyori had since passed away; Kimiko carried through
In the spirit of Ganbaru

GE Free

Written By: Phil Vernon

Well it started in Ukiah
Just a little northern California town
With just a few determined people
And you know they brought the whole county ‘round

Going door to door with their petition
Holding meetings and talking on the phone
That’s how the County of Mendecino
Became the USA’s first GE-free zone! …and now they’re

Chorus:
GE-free – safe food and strong community
GE-free – that’s the way… that’s the way it should be!

Now those farmers ‘way Down Under
From what I hear, they’re clear on what to do
They know they’d lose international markets
If genetic seed technology goes through

Put to the test in West Australia
The biggest farm state in that southern land
They got their government to pass a law
And now commercial GE crops have been banned … and now they’re
Chorus

Peasant farmers in Venezuela
Fight the pressure from Monsanto
This is our land – they tell their presidente
Now Monsanto’s plan is terminado

From Powell River out to Brooklin, Maine
We’re gonna be GE-free from coast to coast!
From the farm field to the kitchen table
Let’s work together to protect what matters most

All the power behind technology
Cannot surpass what our grassroots can do!
And when we say “No!” to GMOs
Then our vision for the future’s that much closer to coming true! …and we’ll be

GE Free...
…that’s the way, Mendecino…
that’s the way, West Australia…
that’s the way, Venezuela…
that’s the way, Powell River… That’s the way it should be!

Discography

Kitale Road (2009)
GE Free EP (2008)
Phil Vernon Live EP (2007)
The Ballad of Percy Schmeiser, Single (2003)
Fellow Worker (1987)

Set List

Typically, two 40 minute sets of original material, with a few covers in the folk genre, from re-worked Woody Guthrie to Harry Stamper:

Asteroids
Murder
Climate Blues
Ballad of Percy Schmeiser
Be Welcome
Concrete Fever
Pretty Boy Floyd (Guthrie)
The Reefnet
Sacred Ground

Anymore (Stamper)
Red Fife Wheat
Ruaraka EPZ
Housing Blues
Mamaland (Mwakazi)
California Stars (Guthrie)
Kitale Road
GE Free
Be The Change