Pianist brings Stuart McLean show to Haliburton
By Angelica Ingram
Published Aug. 28, 2018
Stuart McLean used to ride his bike over to John Sheard’s house and the pair would talk about music and artists and enjoy a glass of wine together.
A professional musician for his entire working life, Sheard was not only McLean’s music director and pianist for the radio star’s The Vinyl Cafe show, he was also his good friend.
After McLean’s death in 2017, Sheard wanted to share his memories of his colleague and friend with the public. So he created a show aptly titled Remembering Stuart.
“This came out of people coming up to me on the street, really hundreds of people, over the last couple of years ... telling me that they were just lost, that they didn’t know what they were going to do,” Sheard said. “Watching people leave the theatre, from the shows we’ve done, people just leave with big smiles on their faces. They’re profoundly thankful. It’s like being with Stuart again.”
In just over a week Sheard will be performing Remembering Stuart at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion. The evening is an intimate look at behind the scenes stories from 20 years of Vinyl Cafe shows.
While the musician is hesitant to give away too much about what to expect, he guarantees it will be a heartwarming night of humour, music and an up-close look at the kind of person and friend McLean was.
The pair met many decades ago through The Vinyl Cafe’s producer, who put together a band so that they could take the show on the road. Sheard, along with other talent including Chris Whiteley, were members of that band.
“We just met at Chris’s house one day and Stuart and I hit it off,” Sheard said. “We had the same sense of humour.”
The three hit the road in 1997 and the friendship between Sheard and McLean developed over the next 20 years. The two had no idea how big the show and the subsequent tours would become.
“When you’re playing 125-seat school auditoriums in towns you’ve never heard of in Saskatchewan, you don’t sort of jump to the 3,000-seat Sony Centre shows. Your mind just doesn’t go there,” he said. “Stuart many times said ‘so this is what show biz is all about.’”
There are many highlights from the cross-country tours, some of which Sheard will share during the performance. One show in particular that had Ed Broadbent in the audience still to this day stands out in his mind.
“Every show was memorable in a way because Stuart never sat on his laurels. He was always looking for ways to surprise the audience, to surprise us, to keep things fresh,” Sheard said.
Every show would include inviting kids from the audience to participate, and some of these children really stood out. McLean had a way of touching the audience and feeling like he was a member of your family.
“He was as much a sentimentalist as he was a humourist,” Sheard said.
Those familiar with McLean will notice that Sheard includes impersonations of the performer, right down to the same voice intonation.
“I had 20 years of practice,” he laughs. “That voice, there’s just nobody like that.”
Sheard has been in touch with many fans of the show over the years and said that is one of the things he misses the most since The Vinyl Cafe came to an end.
“The nicest people, because his fans were the nicest people.”
In 2015 McLean became ill with cancer and stopped performing on the road. In 2017 he passed away. His death could be felt across the country.
“We had the same values, in the way we treated people,” said Sheard about McLean. “More than anything I lost a friend ... there’s no replacing a close friend. He was an exceptional man.”
Sheard has been a longtime cottager in the Haliburton Highlands and wanted to bring the show to a place that has meant so much to him.
“My family has been cottagers there since 1966,” he said. “Ours is the old fashion three season cottage.”
The show will be MCed by Haliburton radio personality and music lover Greg Roe.
Along with stories about McLean, Remembering Stuart will include music by The Brilliant Band and guest vocalists.
Remembering Stuart is performing at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased at Halco Electronics in Haliburton or Organic Times in Minden. They can also be purchased online at www.haliburtonfolk.com. Tickets are available at the door for $30.