Interview with The Lumberjacks

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The Lumberjacks will be performing at De La Warr Pavilion on 11 October. Click here to purchase tickets

When you hear that The Lumberjacks will be touring together all the way through to the spring of 2014 (with some short breaks for good behaviour), you can picture headlines about punch-ups and trashed hotel rooms already. Except that kind of rock’n’roll behaviour has more chance of happening as Canada has of invading its larger neighbour. Craig Campbell, Glenn Wool and Stewart Francis, the three comics in question, all originally hail from the land of the Maple Leaf and the moose, and have been round too many blocks together to let anything untoward occur on or off the tour bus. Plus, they just really enjoy each other’s company.

“There’s just no stress in it,” says Campbell. “I know them intimately, they know me intimately, I’ll go pick up sandwiches and I know what they’ll want on them. You don’t sit in a green room and clip each other’s wings before they go on. You know their emotional state the second you look at them. There’s no social stress regarding it and it’s quite warming to know that this far in advance you’ll have a nice time no matter what.”

Francis concurs: “We’ve known each other for the better part of 20 years and we’re at the age where we’ve been through all that crap. Hanging out with a couple of chums and telling some gags: nothing bad can come out of it. That’s my story anyway.”

The Lumberjacks story begins way back in the 20th century. With Campbell and Francis enjoying some success in Canada, they thought they would have a stab at the Edinburgh Fringe of 1997. They’d heard nothing but good things about it, other than the fact most people seem to complete the month of August with an awful lot less cash than they had at the beginning.

Campbell remembers it like this: “Me and Stewart thought, well, we can’t do an hour each here, so why don’t we combine our forces? We weren’t exactly slouches, we could both make people laugh, but with our combined forces we could get 15 people in. Glenn piled up out of the blue and we were pretty laissez-faire about it so we were happy to let him do a set. Obviously a two-header is so much easier if you have someone else there to be a compere sticking it all together.”

Wool’s arrival onto the Lumberjacks crew actually occurred after one of his typical wanderings across foreign soils (his most recent full show was entitled No Lands Man), this time in search of his roots. “I wasn’t so much visiting as scaring family in Estonia. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I was just backpacking through Europe on the way to the family farm. I knocked on the door and this guy came out, so I said: ‘I am Vool. Vool from Canada’ but this guy just gave me an icy stare, coldly shakes my hand and goes back in. When I got back to Canada I told my dad about it and he said: ‘yeah I shoulda told you, he thought you were coming to take the farm back’.”

A rather warmer welcome awaited Wool from his old cronies Campbell and Francis and the trio that has become The Lumberjacks was cemented. The beauty of their shows back then as well as now is that you have three very different comics on stage each night. Francis is king of the one-liners, Campbell tells long shaggy stories with masses of observation, and while Wool also goes for the longer narratives it’s usually with a more surreal, leftfield bent. “From the audience’s perspective it’s nice to have that change of pace,” admits Francis. “So this particular show really has a something-for-everyone approach, and has worked out nicely.”

They returned to Edinburgh in 1998 with larger reputations and performing in bigger rooms (that first year they played various spaces, one of which was a classic Edinburgh broom cupboard with the approximate capacity of 25). Wool recalls that when the curtain came down on the 1998 Fringe, a solemn promise was made to each other about the future. “After the second year ended, we said wouldn’t it be great if we all made a name for ourselves in the UK and came back to do this in a huge room and reap the benefits of our hard work. Sometimes verbalising a wish like that is the best way to make it happen. A few emails were fired off back and forth and everybody was totally ready. It was a lot easier that we had said at the time, ‘let’s dream a dream, kids!’”

And that dream was realised last summer when we witnessed The Return Of The Lumberjacks (‘Back By Poplar Demand!’). No broom cupboards for these boys this time, instead they played the Assembly Rooms. None of the trio quite remembers who initially suggested that they get back together. But they were all delighted to gather up the old team and have more or less committed to Edinburgh runs and national tours that will take them into 2014. There’s even talk of taking the show to Canada:  “it will be easy to get a seat as we’re unheard of over there,” muses Francis.

As Campbell remembers the reunion: “I do recall being shocked that they were interested from the point of view that any guys I had worked with in 1997 would want to stand in a room with me and finish a cup of coffee never mind commit to going on the road for so long. Probably, my emotional mind overrode where it came about as I was honestly shocked.”

“We’ve all hinted that it would be nice as all our profiles have shot up here,” says Francis. “It’s not so much of a thank-you note to the UK as that would be patronising, but it seems that if it wasn’t for the UK, boy, where would we be? So, the love affair continues and by putting a good show together, there’s more bang for your buck with three shows for the price of one.”

For Wool, he was intrigued by the response from fellow comedians to the three of them getting back together. “It’s funny to see how other comics reacted to it: ‘you’re doing what? You’re bringing your old show back: is there money in it?’ And when they knew there was some money in it, you could see them clicking over: ‘do you need a fourth guy?’”

Campbell also wants to acknowledge the fact that there is one member of the trio who is perhaps getting involved in something that his higher profile doesn’t necessarily need. “In my world, I’m doing great,” notes Campbell. “But from my perception of things, Stewart’s doing really good. So, as I see it, he’s giving Glenn and I a leg-up by going into bigger venues than we would be playing in individually. It’s a great move of grace on his part. Stewart probably wouldn’t look on it that way, but that’s an insight into him. He likes to share and enjoy time with his buddies and we have a lot of memories and history together.”

Wool notes one major difference from their early Edinburgh shows to their experience of August 2012. “Most nights we were being wined and dined by various touring promoters and television people who liked our chemistry. I’ve been in Edinburgh when you couldn’t get the sound guy to come to the show and now we’re looking at sold-out crowds. It felt almost too easy which is usually a bad sign, but here it was a sign that we had actually realised how things actually work.”

As for the structure of their first national tour, Wool admits that it is pretty well fixed in their minds, while admitting that once out on the road, the best laid plans can sometime go out the window (there’s talk of them possibly doing sketch material once they’ve bedded in to the tour). “Campbell likes MCing so probably he’ll do 15, then me for 30, then him again for 15 and Stewart for 30. But I’m sure we could witter on for longer if we want to or if the crowd has earned it! I don’t think time will be an issue, we all have a pretty big canon of material to go back to, but I think it will spur us all on to write new stuff. This tour will essentially be the greatest hits package with some new stuff mixed in.”

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