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Seeds of a song

Jim Henman collaborates with house concert audiences to shape his recent album

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Jim Henman started playing house concerts about 15 years ago at venues from Ontario to Halifax.

“They are always my favourite gig,” Henman says. “I am always looking for a way to engage the audience, making it a more entertaining evening for them.”

A co-founder of April Wine and Juno Hall of Fame member, Henman grew up in Waverley and attended Sidney Stephen High School in Bedford as a teen where started the band Woodies Termites with his friends.

He penned his first song when he was 12. He recorded the tune for a young crush and then played it for her over the phone. But his new home venues provided him with a new opportunity for songwriting collaboration.

“I came up with this idea one night and said, ‘I am going to try to write a song with them,’” he says.

During one house concert, he grabbed several magazines, and asked the house concert audience to pick out several headlines and pieces of text they thought might provide the basis for a good song. Henman says the audience picked five songs, eventually choosing a cheeky one called “You’re in my pajamas.”

“But I didn’t know what to do with it,” he recalls. Henman passed around his songwriting notebook to the audience, asking them to write down some lines or notes based on the title. He took the book home and wrote a song “Pajamas” based on the audience’s thoughts.

“It started out bluesy,” Henman says of the tune, “but eventually turned into a Bo Diddly, Little Feat type of feel. I think it’s a neat little tune.”

“Pajamas” is one of 10 songs on Henman’s recent album House Plants. And like “Pajamas,” all are inspired by those collaborations with house concert audiences.

“Sometimes all I would use out of their ideas would just be one word or one phrase,” Henman says. “I really feel the lyrics on this project are the best I’ve ever written. I had 100 collaborators on this.”

The song “Hooked” came from a concert he played at the Bedford Basin Yacht Club and an audience of sailors. Henman says he wasn’t sure how that title would work with a sailing song, but he eventually found the way. “It worked out well with the ideas they contributed,” he says.

Still another song, “Everyday,” started out as “Almost Everyday,” and was a love song to a former flame.
The house concert process was just one step of Henman’s evolution as a musician and songwriter. He went on to a career in medical technology after the early days with April Wine, but kept writing.

He co-wrote and co-produced albums with other musicians such as Cape Breton singer Jeannie Beks. He co-wrote the music for Death the Musical, which was performed at Neptune Theatre.

He studied classical guitar and used his talents to give back to his community. That included co-producing “Night to Remember,” which was produced to support recovery homes for men and women. His recent philanthropic work includes a concert with proceeds going to help a Syrian family new to the province.

These days, Henman continues to play house concerts. He also maintains a blog called Jim Henman’s Musical Blog at www.jimhenman.com. There, he posts entries about his days in April Wine, his latest songs and other musical tidbits. All of it together, has made Henman grow as a musician and songwriter.

“Now, I feel I am a much more mature writer and a lot more rounded in who I am and know who I am as a writer,” Henman says.

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