Victoria musician spearheads Buried Heart project

Adrian Chamberlain
Victoria Times Colonist

Saturday  April 27  2002

Will Nelly Furtado sing a memorial song for women who vanished from Vancouver's downtown east side? And will Joni Mitchell and the Barenaked Ladies join her?

Certainly -- if Victoria-born Wyckham Porteous has his way.

Whyckham Porteous is recording a memorial song for
missing women from Vancouver's east side and is
 hoping to enlist the help of Nelly Furtado and the
Barenaked Ladies.

It started when the 45-year-old musician (now based in Vancouver) became angry over media coverage of the Port Coquitlam pig farmer charged with serial slayings. Robert "Willie" Pickton is so far accused of the murder of six prostitutes from the east side. Since 1983, about 50 women have gone missing from the seamy district. The remains of an Esquimalt woman's daughter were among those found on the farm.

"The final twig in my mind came when they started to refer to the place as a 'pig farm.' And for me, I just suddenly got angry," said Porteous, a hip-looking dude with a soul patch and a husky voice.

"I thought, 'Not only do these people have no dignity in their life, they disappear without a trace.' Nobody looks for them. ... And then for their final resting place, people have to refer to it as a pig farm. To me, that was the final insult."

Rather than merely hurling his coffee cup at the TV, Porteous decided to take action. Chatting with fellow musician Gary Durban at this year's West Coast Music Award, he hatched a bold plan. How about recording a memorial song for the missing women, and using the proceeds to have a memorial or sculpture built?

"We both have hyper Leo personalities, " said Porteous, "and we just both went for it."

The project is a rare glimmer of brightness in a terribly dismal picture. Naturally, the media jumped all over it -- Porteous has so far chatted with CBC Newsworld, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and MuchMusic. Now, in a move reminiscent of such do-gooder fundraisers such as Tears Are Not Enough and We Are the World, he's negotiating for musical contributions from such Canadian stars as Nelly Furtado, Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, the Barenaked Ladies and Joni Mitchell.

"No one's agreed and no one's not agreed," said Porteous, adding: "To be honest, if I was Bruce Allen (Bryan Adams' long-time manager) and I had all these numbers in my Rolodex it would be different. But I don't."

Nonetheless, the endeavor is much more than a pipe dream. Colin James has definitely agreed to sing a line, as has the Be Good Tanyas and Marcy Playground lead singer John Wozniak. Two weeks ago, bed-tracks for the song, titled A Buried Heart, were recorded at Vancouver's Mushroom Studios with musicians Pat Stewart and Doug Elliot (formerly of The Odds), Vince Jones (from Sarah McLachlan's band) and Simon Kendall (Sharkskin, Doug and the Slugs). A week ago Porteous did another session with 40 singers to record the chorus -- a choir that included John Mann from Spirit of the West, Doucette, Jordy Birch and Bobby "Nearly Neil" Bruce.

Earlier this week, Gabrielle Rose and other actors gathered to read the names of some 50 Vancouver east side women who've gone missing. This segment will used to introduce the song, to be released as an enhanced DVD with a video and behind-the-scenes documentary footage.

Porteous says Rose had to read off the names four times for the cameras.

"Halfway through the second run-through literally the bottom half of her face was covered in tears," he said.

Wozniak is not only singing on the project, but is donating the use of Mushroom Studios, which he happens to own. He also suggested that the stars -- if they do sign on -- each sing their own version of the tune, something that would definitely make A Buried Heart a collectible full-length CD and a must-have for fans of each performer.

The money will go toward establishing a four-bed transitional/detox centre for women on Vancouver's East Side. It will be overseen by the Via Nova Transition Society. Porteous figures the centre, to start as a rented facility, will cost $158,000 to run. He believes proceeds from A Buried Heart will more than cover that.

Porteous is an interesting guy. He grew up in Victoria, attending Sir James Douglas Elementary School. His family moved to White Rock when Porteous was in his late teens, but he returned to Victoria as an adult, at one time working for a group home. He eventually became a full-time musician. Last year he released an album, sexanddrinking, on Victoria-based Cordova Bay Records. It's a gritty roots-rock effort influenced by Tom Waits and the Beat poet aesthetic.

There is, of course, an irony here. Like Waits, Porteous's music often examines -- and perhaps romanticizes in an unblinkered Brechtian sort of way -- the seamy side of urban life. His song sexanddrinking contains the refrain: "Sex and drinking, sex and drinking, that's all I been thinking."

The disc "does have an odd sort of parallel" with the Buried Heart endeavor, admits Porteous. But the musician, who lives off Commercial Drive in Vancouver, has witnessed his share of the metropolitan underworld and harbours few illusions.

Meanwhile, A Buried Heart is consuming his life. Porteous says it's all very "empowering" but it takes a toll as the project heats up.

"We're working 14 hours a day," he said, "and we could work 20."

 Copyright  2002 Victoria Times Colonist

Courtesy of Victoria Times Colonist 



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