You might know Ian Leith as the Friendly Tap’s trusty BoozeDay Tuesday host, but he’s on a mission to do more than just play good music. This Berwynite is passionate about the local music scene and hopes to bring attention to the incredible music offerings of the FoOakParkwny area.
How did you get started in music? I began playing seriously at 13, but there were always guitars in my home. My mother sang mariachi music, and she would play a little Spanish guitar that I still play to this day. As I got older I would sneak into my brother's room to play his electric guitar and amp. He stopped getting mad at me when he heard me playing songs he liked by Aerosmith and Zep. I played metal with some friends but always made time to practice my acoustic fingerpicking chops.
I play guitar, bass and can keep a couple beats on drums, but give me a minute with any instrument, and I’ll give you baa baa black sheep at least.
Who are your influences? Daily minutiae of life like dreams, movies, books, family history, loss, fortune, sacred geometry, the serenity of balance. Oh, MUSICAL influences. I try not to mimic, but I find myself admiring and trying not to steal from artists like Paul Simon, Jose Gonzales, Norah Jones, Mike Patton, Tool, Rush, Police, Nick Drake, Josh Kauffman, Patrick Kevil, David Byrne, Danny Elfman… I better stop; this could go on.
How do you describe your style? My style….hmm my style. I lived in LA for a few years attempting to be a composer for film and TV, so I was always trying to write completely different songs to fit any scenario. I range from classical to rockabilly to folky to instrumental melancholia. I would say that finger-style guitar is a dominant attribute to my playing style, but I’m on an endless quest of possibilities with that formula.
What is your favorite part of performing? When you play the exact right song for the exact right moment. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s magic.
What is something surprising about you? People might be surprised to learn that I am half-Scottish and half-Mexican. Or that I was almost an eagle scout.
A Fan's Two-Cents: I picked up Ian's CD a few days after Friendly Folk Fest 4, and on a rainy afternoon, I slid the disc into my car player. For this writer-at-heart, the driving & listening experience was nothing more than poetic, as the sounds of light hail echoed that finger-style guitar Leith refers to in his interview. His instrumental selection, "Au Contrair," seemed to be backed up by the windshield tings, creating a marriage of melodies that kept me riding with a smile. But it was "Brandice," that sweet and catchy "Brandice," that found the repeat button three times over; it's the kind of song for which you want to know the lyrics. So, when Leith posted his video for this tune, well, it got a lot of hits from this fan. And now I've got the words down pat, and they sing in my head throughout the day.
"Brandice, you're a brave little girl/someday you're gonna see the world/ and capture awesome things on cameras/ to fill a million picture frames."
I strongly encourage every Friendly supporter to come out to Boozeday Tuesday to see Ian in his element, he never disappoints! -GHM
Get your toes tappin’ and your sway on for a Green Mill experience at Berwyn’s own Friendly Tap. The Packastanleys offers a collaboration between six, unique musicians melding their sounds into a cohesive jazz ensemble.
Meet Tim Teclaw, the band’s talented saxophonist who has a personality that shines brighter than his brass. While listening to the Packastanley’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s “C-Jam,” Tim’s energy moves the song, and smiles abound when he and lead guitarist, Gil Wieczorek, move into a horn and string give-and-take, as playful as a game of tag. Though Gil claims shy moments when performing, there’s nothing timid about his solo with a series of picks and strums that vibrates off the walls. Add rhythm guitarist, Bob “Hoya” Anast, into the mix, and the audience feels blessed by a musical embrace.
Crossing paths at Friendly Tap years ago, Tim (a lifelong Oak Parker and veteran teacher at Morton West High School) and Hoya (another local resident and former drummer for “Dawn and the Knights”) found that their connection ran deeper than their locale—their music meshed. The two started practicing together and soon Gil (a Northlake resident who was invited to an open jam and ended up jammin' with Tim and Hoya) joined in.
“C-Jam” continues, and this time bass player Cliff Killion’s sound makes its way front and center; his heartbeatific thumps draw this listener’s eyes to a close to experience the pulse of each pluck and vibe. Again, the sax enters along with the picks and strums until a light cymbal brushes against the echo. Ben Tucker's “Comin’ Home” brings percussionist Sean Cassin into the limelight as he goes solo with a heavy beat and follows up with hushed tings, and Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” coos and warbles like the master Bird intended with classic keyboardist, Erin Spear, keeping perfect tempo and adding a touch of feminine complexity.
“I lived in the apartment upstairs and heard these guys. One day I just came down and asked if they’d mind if I played,” says Killion (who once performed at the Palmer House with the OPRF Stand Up Bass Symphony Orchestra, is currently in several bands, and also teaches bass and guitar at the Friendly School of Folk Music). When Sean, another regular, inquired about adding a drummer to the group (a self-taught musician who created Erfbeats, an ongoing electronic music project), the blend worked. Then, “Hoya got to talking to my mom at the Tap one night, and my name came up,” said the only female member. Minoring in music at Illinois Wesleyan, Erin Spear has her roots in Oak Park, and that seems to be the common thread that brought together these unlikely musicians. However, it’s their passion for recognizable jazz that brought harmony to the Packastanleys.
** Name origin: The Packastanleys was affectionately named by longtime patron, Dickie Jamison, when referring to the original group of predominantly Polish gentlemen.
The last tune I hear is the band’s version of a song from Sound of Music. It’s upbeat, whimsical, catchy— a selection that would work best with a glass of wine and dancing, candlelight shadows. As the players pack up their instruments, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to meet this crew and sit in on a rehearsal. I encourage you to come on out to hear the joy of Packastanleys, because they just might become one of your “favorite things.”