Once upon a time, in his younger days, Charlie Burton gave up a teaching job in Fort McMurray to move to Victoria with his wife and become musician.
It was the early-80s, and after a visit to the province’s capital, they packed their bags and took the plunge into a new life.
“I started playing music, banging on doors and playing where I could,” Burton told me on the phone from Victoria, which he still calls home.
Influenced by the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Paul Simon, he wrote his own songs, played covers and toured up and down Vancouver Island. As he puts it, this was before Victoria was discovered, when the cost of living was cheap and you could make a living as a musician.
“I didn’t make a lot of money but we made enough,” he said. “That was our chance to indulge in the lifestyle that we really wanted to live.”
In 1983, he recorded his debut album, Take My Picks, which consisted of five originals and seven covers. It was given three stars by the Victora Times-Colonist newspaper. (The album was re-released in 2009 as Something Old.)
I asked him the highlight of those years playing live. “The freedom to do what you want. How many people get a chance to do that? To do the job they want regardless of how little money you make?” he replied. “Give it a chance while you can instead of worrying about pension plans and keeping up with everybody else.”
Those worries did eventually take over. Burton and his wife had their first of three daughters and so he went back to work, taking a job as an administrator in the math department at the University of Victoria. For more than 20 years he set his guitar aside while he raised his children and earned a living.
Then, in 2007, he took part in a series of recording sessions with his co-worker Colin Newell. The result was an 11-track album of all-original material written by Burton called Island Standard Time.
The album got airplay on CBC and a few years later, Burton retired from the university and focused on music again full time.
“I really got the bug again. I can’t really remember a specific incident that said I have to do this again. It was sort of gradual,” he said. “I realized I didn’t want a conventional job for the rest of my life, I’d like to get out early if possible, and what could I do to supplement my income. It just kind of fell into place.”
He went through his old repertoire of songs and cut out all the ones he didn’t feel inspired by anymore. Then he went about learning new songs to fill out his sets — choosing songs that inspired him.
“They’re songs I’ve picked up in the last seven or eight years based on how I feel now,” he said. “You don’t know why a certain song appeals to you now and didn’t 20 years ago. In some ways it’s a direct expression of your emotions based on your new experience.”
One of the other things that changed was that he now has three daughters – Mariah, Jocelyn, and Amy (who lives in Revelstoke) to play with. He didn’t pressure them to take up music, but once they did in their teenage years, he was there to help them out.
“I gave them a start and then they learned on their own,” he said. “I guess I had as much influence as anybody but I didn’t want to restrict them. I just wanted to get them started.”
He plays regular shows with his daughters. He and Amy played the Revelstoke Street Festival and 2013. Jocelyn and Amy will be joining him for his upcoming Revelstoke dates on July 27–28. They’ll be playing solo, as duos and as a trio throughout the two nights.
He says there’s “nothing better” than being able to play with his girls.
“You forget about your age difference. You almost forget your conventional and formal relationship as father and daughter because you’re doing exactly the same activity and working together at it,” he said. “It’s a great common endeavour to get everybody on the same footing in every respect while you’re doing that activity. It’s so rewarding.”
Charlie, Amy & Jocelyn Burton play live in Grizzly Plaza as part of the Summer Street Festival on Monday & Tuesday, July 27–28, from 6:30–9:30 p.m. both nights.