Storytelling trio finds formula

John Hough, Andrea Law and Fran Madigan are Willy Blizzard. The trio plays the Steveston Folk Guild on St. Patrick’s Day.  -
John Hough, Andrea Law and Fran Madigan are Willy Blizzard. The trio plays the Steveston Folk Guild on St. Patrick’s Day.
— image credit:

Willy Blizzard

•Thursday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m.

•Britannia Heritage Shipyard, 5180 Westwater Dr.

•Tickets, $8, at the door

•A presentation of the Steveston Folk Guild

Not every song has a story—unless it’s on In From the Cold, the debut album of a new Vancouver-based acoustic folk trio dedicated to the art of storytelling.

Willy Blizzard is the brainchild of longtime Vancouver musician John Hough, who formed the group with guitarist Fran Madigan and bassist Andrea Law last year. A few months later they had an album and 30-odd shows to play in Western Canada.

The tour gave Willy Blizzard a chance to share their stories and decide if the journey would satisfy musical cravings of three veteran artists. The formula worked, and Hough said he can’t wait until they hit the road again this spring after playing Richmond on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17).

“You look forward to getting out there and doing the playing. We’re kind of itching to do that again now, because it’s been awhile,” said Hough, the band’s singer-guitarist and a former member of Vancouver’s first Celtic band Under the Moss.

“We have a lot of fun on stage. The songs often tell a story. The way we write, we write about a lot of things that happen—not necessarily to us, but through our experiences.”

“Sante Fe Train” is the first track on the band’s album, a song written while picnicking on the banks of the Thompson River. A whistle blew and in front of them came a massive locomotive. It was literally a Sante Fe train, on the CN line (as per the song’s chorus).

The song “January” tells a story of Canadian weather—reminding us of how cold those long winter nights can be—especially sleeping in a camper. Other songs need little explanation, such as “The Next Little Town,” “Happy Man” and “Box Full of Empties.”

Collectively, the album speaks of Canada’s culture, geography, relationships, characters and history—or as the band describes it: “the echo of a canoe, a chainsaw, a fish boat and laundry flapping in the wind.”

Willy Blizzard’s first tour brought them to outdoor parks and folk clubs, including Calgary’s famed Ironwood Stage. That got their feet wet, and now the threesome are working to build a profile for their “alternative folk/roots with a bit of country flavour” music.

“Some people call it Americana. I’m not really quite sure what that means, but I think that’s what we are,” said Hough.

Between the three of them, Willy Blizzard has over a century of musical experience to draw on. Hough said their music is influenced by what he’s been doing all his life.

“It’s original material. In writing material, it sort of takes on components of all the stuff that’s influenced you over the years. You never know what’s going to come out.”

Hough said the band’s goal is to become a known part of the Canadian folk music scene, and travel across the country—including the East—to play at folk clubs and festivals.


What’s in a name?

Willy Blizzard frontman John Hough explains the band is named after a real person.

“She was a neighbour of our bass player, Andrea, when her family lived in Ottawa in the 1970s. We admired this person as a true Canadian prairie pioneer—a hard-working farm girl who grew up in the Depression, and embodied the thriftiness and self-reliance that built Canada.

“She was an environmentalist long before the term became popular. We “masculinized” her first name (her own birth name was Wilma, but she was always called “Willie” and she married a Mr. Blizzard, actual name) and now her name lives on in our Canadiana folk band.”


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