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Thomas Ratcliffe Interview

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Afresh: What is your name, and name your group/band/act?

  • Thomas Radcliffe

Afresh: Where are the artists from?  What is their talent in the group?

  • I was born in Saint Louis, grew up in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. I’ve spent all my adult life in Canada, most recently Victoria, British Columbia. I’m currently spending time in the Southwest.
  • I am a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and solo performer. Much of my music is original finger-style guitar works in a variety of tunings. I also play the Spanish 12 string ‘laud’ on which I play original and traditional music ranging from African-flavored Appalachian folk, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy to Christmas songs and traditional folk songs.

Afresh: How did the band get the name?

  • (Lol) It’s on my birth certificate. I use the ‘formal’ Thomas rather than the ‘familiar’ Tom as I take the artistry of writing and performing quite seriously.

Afresh: What instrument do you play now? (If applicable)

  • Well, I am predominantly a guitarist. My laud playing is unique. To some degree I use the instrument like a banjo to get what is quite an African sound on some pieces. I’ve just purchased a digital piano to take on the road with me. My piano playing is limited and basic but I have songs that are too good to leave at home that I wrote with piano accompaniment. I am about to put a couple of Appalachian dulcimer songs back into my repertoire and possibly some mandolin tunes as well. Whether the banjo will re-surface in my performances is up in the air.

Afresh: What (who) does your act/art consist of?

  • I am a solo performer. Much of my performance is instrumentals, mostly original, balanced with songs that include vocals. I ‘present’ all of my pieces with a story about them or a few words on the topic of the lyrics. I sit, I stand and at times I walk around the audience and play and sing and get them to sing along.
  • Currently my shows are billed as “I Believe In Love!” (the title song of my upcoming cd and my theme song)… “An Evening of Peace, Love and Music.”

Afresh: How would you describe your music/art/entertainment for the public audience if they have never seen you before?

  • First and foremost, my ‘act’ is meant to bring beauty and positive energy to people of all ages. All of my music if full of energy, whether the song is a ballad or more up tempo. It is always my intent to be ‘present’ and to ‘connect with the audience. To pick up an instrument, to open my mouth to either speak or sing, is to share m heart, my dreams, my hopes and my journey. I am an ‘advocate for peace and social justice’ on every level and in every aspect of my music, lyrics, song interpretation and stage banter. For me, there are reasons for our presence on this planet and the substance of art is the purpose behind the art. Being an accomplished musician allows me to share my being with people outside the spheres of friends and family, for which I am hugely grateful. From the reaction that I get from people who hear me play live I would say that there is universal positive surprise at something that I do throughout the course of an afternoon or evening. Musicians appreciate my techniques and what I am able to produce with them and anyone who comes to sit and listen and enjoy themselves is almost never disappointed as my music crosses the boundaries of age and category. I do consider myself to be a ‘folk’ musician in the traditional sense of the word in the sense that my music, lyrics and presentation is about something, not just music for the sake of music. It is my goal to reach people on many levels and in the course of a performance bring smiles to their faces, cause their feet to tap, hopefully get them to sing along, entertain them and to give them cause to enjoy themselves and life and send them home awake and alert and above all, tap into their sentient being and join with them in celebration and appreciation of life, themselves and who we are.

Afresh: How long have you been performing live or making art?

  • I started performing in second grade, playing Joseph in a Christmas pageant. I always did the reading to the class from that point on in every grade and every school that I attended, including doing so in Spanish, Latin, French and Italian classes. My first musical performance was playing the violin for my 4th grade class and taking it with me on Halloween and playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as my ‘trick’, one that garnered me a bounty of treats. I really want to emphasize class room activity as a huge aspect of my development. When we sang in school I often had the solos or at least the loudest and most committed voice. I’ve sung in choirs, rock bands, played in orchestras, concert bands, conducted choirs and even a symphony as part of conducting class in college.
  • The instruments that I’ve played in performance range from violin, electric guitar and bass, classical guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, autoharp, dulcimer, autoharp, flute, piano and a myriad of percussion instruments.

Afresh: Where did you meet your group and how long have you been together now?

  • As a soloist, from birth.

Afresh: What has been the biggest challenge for you or the group?

  • Without a doubt, getting cd’s finished and keeping my web pages up-to-date is a constant challenge. Booking small shows is easy but graduating to performing in larger venues is a huge challenge at the moment. And, there is always the issue of maintaining a balance in daily living to be able to keep the experience of life turning into songs.

Afresh: You’ve heard of the term “starving artists” before, how do you cope with major obstacles?

  • Perhaps whoever it was that pointed out ‘patience as the greatest of virtues’ was more right than even they imagined. The gift of time is sadly subject to the realities of economics and that puts a major crimp in one’s ability to perform often enough. While performing is not about the money it needs to be self-sustainable at the very least. As my performance fees are 100% donated to charity this issue is magnified greatly for me. The release of my up-coming cds and merchandise sales on the net and on the road will afford me the opportunity to spread the joy of my music to wider audiences this summer.

Afresh: Everyone loves a celebrity so what advice do you have for the youth of today?

  • It has been said many times by many people in many ways that ‘music is love.’ If you are in it for the money, the perks, the adulation and the fame, does everyone a favor and stay home or go into some other ego oriented venture. Shallow commercial music is not art. It may be crafted but it is a hindrance to true art. It sucks up money and energy and over-all has little to no positive effect on life in any meaningful way. If you have something to communicate, work hard and develop your skills as a musician, writer and performer and do it. Sometimes it is too easy to forget the ‘why’ in what we do and to become discouraged. If you believe in your ‘message’ you can overcome that. Give yourself to the world as much and as often as you can.

Afresh: What does your family think of your performance and do they support you?

  • My family is beyond supportive, they are fans and aficionados. I do think though that there is some lack of belief in the career choice from a practical stand point but total commitment and support of me sharing my life through art as a positive contribution to society.

Afresh: Thinking back, did your family carry on the same musical/artistic interests?

  • Some of my exposure to music with a message came from the family stereo but other than that music has been my choice and at times a struggle to pursue. My mother made great sacrifices to pay for my violin lessons for years when it was beyond our practical means. My younger brother has followed in my foot- steps and in many ways is light years beyond me in his playing.

Afresh: Do you have your own favorite type of music and is it any different from what you play now?

  • My favorite music to listen to is orchestral, symphonic and operatic. I also love great singer-songwriters and guitarists as well as guitar driven rock. For me to listen to a ‘song’ the lyrics have to mean something first and foremost. Beyond that melody is a must for me. A great song is a great song;  be it an aria from ‘La Boheme’ or a Bob Dylan classic to the latest musings of the person on the stool at the open mics around the country. I don’t listen to the radio and am thus immune to trends or fashions in music, thankfully.

Afresh: Do you have other interests or talents you would like to share with us?

  • I am an ‘aspiring’ author and plan to publish a book of essays by the end of the year and have a desire to write a biography as well as a semi-autobiographical historical fictional novel.
  • I also am a composer and hope to take my choral compositions with me and have them performed by amateur choirs as part of touring.
  • I am a public speaker and do so always to speak out against the inanity and barbaric atrocity that we call war.
  • As a humanitarian I have great opportunity to share my passion for giving and helping others on many, many levels. Speaking about those works is a great privilege and always a welcome one.

Afresh: What has been your strong influence to continue performing?

  • Music is my love and joy and my connection to the world. There is also a great need to speak and sing about social issues and peace and that drives me as well. Combined with being able to raise funds and awareness for charities I don’t need much encouragement. It is a true gift to be able to share my music with people of all ages under any circumstance.

Afresh: Does anyone in particular influence your artistic/musical talent?

  • I have a myriad of influences ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and many of the great singer-songwriters. Guitar-wise I love the instrument and am a huge fan of Leo Kottke and Tommy Emmanuel, two of the world’s greatest acoustic players.

Afresh: Who does most of the song writing/art/literature?

  • I do.

Afresh: If you had to change one thing about your music/group what do you feel would be the best change to benefit the group overall and why?

  • Were I to be free of other responsibilities both my playing and writing would greatly benefit. I am looking forward to touring this spring and summer and being able to be committed to both my music and humanitarian efforts 24-7.

Afresh: Have you ever had any strange or stalker type fans that you are aware of?

  • No. In fact I have only positive experiences with ‘fans’, all of which are very encouraging. There is a ‘fan’ who comes to hear me play locally without fail, just to hear my rendition of a song he loves (“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”).

Afresh: While getting ready to perform have you ever been interrupted by fans who snuck in to the dressing room/rehearsal?

  • No one has ‘snuck in’, yet. I do like to interact with the audience before I perform (after I’m warmed up and in tune) and go out of my way to greet a few people and thank them for coming out.

Afresh: What has been the worst nightmare for the group?  How did you get through it all?

  • I have had, as have so many musicians, my instruments stolen more than once. That is so disheartening and frustrating. Instruments have a personality that is partly developed and brought out by the way they are played. Using them is a major blow.
  • Breaking in and getting to know a new instrument is a joy at any time. There are always new sounds in an unfamiliar instrument that are such a pleasure to discover.

Afresh: What are your up-to-date performance plans?

  • Currently putting together county-wide community performances with other artists in a number of venues, libraries, schools and churches included, to benefit victims of the Haiti earthquake disaster.

New releases?

    • I am in the process of recording what will become two cd’s, one instrumental (“Conversations With Thea”) and one of original songs (“I Believe In Love”). All the recordings are ‘live’ in studio, meaning no overdubbing or edits involved.


    • I will be touring New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma over the next few months using Ruidoso, New Mexico as my home base. Squeezed in between jaunts will be a few shows in Arizona tied into a visit to the Grand Canyon, my first.


    • Stay tuned for details of the Haiti relief benefits, tour dates and cd releases.

Afresh: If you could perform with anyone in the world, either dead or alive who would it be? Why? (Name up to three)

  • Without a doubt, even to be a fly on the wall; Mozart or Beethoven, Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger and Leo Kottke or Tommy Emmanuel.

Afresh: What is the furthest show from your home that you have done?

  • Currently about 2,000 miles but that number will drastically increase by the end of the summer or fall to about 4,500 miles.

Afresh: Have you been involved in any benefit performances?  What was it and how did you become involved?

  • All of my performances dating back to October of 2007 have been benefits in one way or another. I’ve played to benefit women’s shelters, community housing projects and predominantly on my own for Habitat for Humanity for whom I am an advocate. Touring means raising funds and awareness for either local charities and Habitat or both. Last fall I was able to raise over $4,000 locally with a couple of concerts and a few small performances, the proceeds of which benefited
    Habitat for Humanity in Nepal where we were able to contribute to providing homes to at least 8 families. My next project is Haiti long-term and emergency relief and then out on the road for Habitat and local charities in stops along the way. It is very encouraging to experience the generosity of people from all walks of life and to connect with people in common cause.

Afresh: Do you currently have an agent, endorsement, record label, sponsor, etc.?

  • I am self-managed but envision that that must change in the near future.
  • I have no endorsements or sponsors and am currently soliciting a number of guitar builders as well as the maker of my favorite pick-ups for acoustic instruments. I am optimistic that I will succeed in guitar sponsorship and have been told by audience members that I would make a great ‘ambassador’ for the makers of the instruments that I play in public. On that note; I play a Canadian made Larrivee OM-03RE guitar (her name is Thea) equipped with a top-of-the-line L.R.Baggs i-mix i-beam pick-up. My ‘laud’ (named Destina) is an Alhambra 3C made in Spain.
  • I’m a member of a community based recording collective.

Afresh: Is this your first interview or do you have some other articles/stories about you posted somewhere for public viewing?

  • This is definitely not a first interview but the first for a ‘publication’ as opposed to radio/t.v..

Afresh: Do you have any video links where people can see you?

  • No video currently on-line.

Afresh: Do you have a website of any type?  (Name all options)

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