If idle hands truly are the devil’s workshop, Michael Hurcomb has nothing to worry about. The Peterborough-based filmmaker and photographer, who seems to always have a new project on the go, is in perpetual motion. If you get close enough, you can faintly hear the gears turning in his head.
Cover2Cover — a series on Bell Fibe TV1 that Hurcomb co-produced, directed, and edited — is his latest project. Shining the spotlight on the songwriting and music talents of Peterborough musicians, the four-episode series was shot at Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in downtown Peterborough in December 2021 and February 2022.
The show concept is simple but brilliant: established musicians and up-and-coming artists perform a song written by the other, with host Kate Suhr (herself a singer/songwriter who also performs in an episode) facilitating an in-depth and revealing discussion that sees each performer talk about their song and share their thoughts on the rendition they just heard for the first time.
So it is that episode one sees Alyssa Bart perform Beau Dixon’s song “Your Love Will Carry Me,” before Dixon takes a stab at Bart’s song “Money Can’t Buy it All”.
Each subsequent episode features the same format, the pairings being Lauryn Macfarlane with Close Kicks (The Strumbellas’ Darryl James) and Louwop (hip-hop artist Luis Segura), Suhr with Mary-Kate Edwards, and Rick Fines with Nicholas Campbell.
Hurcomb says each episode captures a genuine emotional reaction on the part of each performer upon hearing different takes on their work.
“Each artist didn’t know what the other person was going to cover — that wasn’t given out ahead of time,” Hurcomb explains. “Until they sat down and performed the other’s song for the first time, we didn’t know how it was going to go. It was really magical that way.”
VIDEO: “Cover2Cover” Trailer
Suhr, whose song “Selkie Bride” is covered by Edwards in episode three before she performs her version of Edwards’ “Never Mine,” couldn’t agree more.
“To me, the greatest gift is to have someone take your words and interpret them,” she says, adding the appeal lies in “hearing somebody else take your words and interpret them the way they heard them — how the song connects to their life.”
“I’m not precious with anything I’ve written or anything that I own,” Suhr adds. “It was more ‘I hope Mary Kate thinks that I did a good job of interpreting her piece’. I wasn’t nervous about what she was going to do. That played zero part in it. We’re cheering one another on.”
Hurcomb notes Cover2Cover grew out of an earlier collaboration, with fellow Peterborough natives Chad Maker and Kirk Comrie of Key Art + Design, on the Bell Fibe TV1 series Questionable Taste. That series’ six episodes see actor Ray Galletti welcome celebrity guests to the kitchen where they attempt to recreate a favourite recipe using locally sourced ingredients.
With Bell TV executives impressed by Hurcomb’s Peterborough-inspired music documentary The Radius Project, the wheels were set in motion for Cover2Cover to go from pitch to reality.
“They (Bell TV) had seen The Radius Project and said ‘We’ll give you money. What would you want to do with it?’,” recalls Hurcomb. “I had a few different ideas that I wasn’t quite married to. I said ‘Hey, I’d rather do this show with two musicians covering each other’s songs … one’s a mentor and one’s an up-and-comer’ and they were like ‘OK, go for it.'”
“The reworking of something as an artistic project has always been interesting to me,” Hurcomb says. “To have people sit there and have someone perform their song and discuss it — the emotional reaction of having a song of yours performed back to you — I thought was really interesting.”
Hurcomb notes he was careful not to duplicate what The Radius Project had centred on, wanting “to do something that was a little more finer detailed.”
“The biggest thing for me from the get-go was the mentoring aspect and parity in the lineup. We had to have equal representation with males and females. I wanted musicians that are older and musicians that are younger … a slightly different lineup than we might normally see with a Peterborough project to give a different voice to people.”
In approaching Suhr to be the series’ host, Hurcomb found comfort in having worked with her before and their ability “to speak as friends and musicians.”
“I knew that she would understand what we were going for. I wanted someone who is easy to be around and people could be relaxed with and also could perform their own song too, so Kate was a triple threat.”
For her part, Suhr says Cover2Cover is “really about connection, intimacy and presence.”
“We never felt like there were clocks ticking or that we had to perform to a big audience. It really felt like this intimate setting in which we could connect as human beings, talk about what we’ve gone through, talk about how a song works and the process (of songwriting). That can be lost in that day-to-day bustle of just getting the job done. This felt like an unveiling — an un-cuffing. It was ‘Let’s be together and be intimate and talk about our process’.”
Admitting “It was fun to put people together who you thought might be interesting,” Hurcomb says the pairing of Macfarlane with Close Kicks and Louwop is a prime example of what he envisioned.
“She (Macfarlane) was covering a song that was rapped all the way through. To be able to take that and make it into an acoustic song … I didn’t think at the time how hard that would be, but she really pulled off something incredible.”
Hurcomb adds the Fines/Campbell episode is also a revelation.
“They have a similar background in musical tastes. There’s a large age difference but they like the same things, they play the same things, and they enjoy music the same way … there isn’t this gap between them. Music is an international language, which is beautiful.”
Suhr, who was provided the opportunity in episode three to have her song covered by Edwards and returned the favour, says she felt “almost weightless, like time had stopped” after hearing her song covered.
“What is special about this show is two artists come together who may not know one another and they take the time to learn the other person’s art — their words, their baby — and practice it and take it apart and interpret it in their own language in their own way. To sit and witness one another doing that and then have a conversation about it, that was where the magic happened in my mind.”
Suhr adds the timing of the series’ airing after the COVID years is worth noting.
“Artists really needed a little lift. Bringing this forward to our community and supporting our local musicians and giving them a place to come that felt really safe and controlled and cared for. It was a nurturing place for everybody to sort of take a breath and get our little toes back in.”
“There was a softness and a gentle little nudge of ‘OK, we’re going to do this and we can do this.’ Michael proved there is a place for us again and we would move forward.”
Meanwhile, Hurcomb points to Peterborough’s musical DNA as being key in the series’ success.
“People say there’s something in the water,” Hurcomb says, a theme he also explored in his The Radius Project documentary. “I think there definitely is. For generations, we’ve had a huge diversity in the types of music people play and the people that play it. There’s so much here being offered and so many different people offering it. We hold up our own. Any chance that I have to use my camera to shine a light on that, I’m more than happy to.”
With six new episodes of Questionable Taste scheduled to air this fall, Hurcomb has had talks with Bell about possibly shooting more episodes of Cover2Cover. In the meantime, September will see him again shooting photos for the Toronto International Film Festival.
For more information about Cover2Cover on Bell Fibe TV1, visit tv1.bell.ca/fibetv1/shows/cover2cover.