Exotic venues, sold-out concerts, and the companionship of the world’s most powerful people have given Liona Boyd a lifestyle that, like her music, is one in a million.
Exotic venues, sold-out concerts, and the companionship of the world’s most powerful people have given Liona Boyd a lifestyle that, like her music, is one in a million. The internationally acclaimed classical guitarist has crossed numerous boundaries, both musically and romantically.
In this colourful memoir covering her life up to 1998, she serves up a rich and fascinating mix: childhood with her progressive parents in England, Canada, and Mexico, exacting music studies in Toronto, down-and-out years in London and Paris, her eight-year romance with Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, drug experimentation in a Mexican artists’ colony, and whirlwind trips around the globe to eminent concert stages.
It all makes for a rousing, feisty, passionate tale, as compelling and entrancing as the music of her Ramírez guitar.
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About the Author
Liona Boyd, known around the world as “The First Lady of the Guitar,” has released twenty-eight albums, spanning a wide range of styles, many of which have gone gold and platinum. She has been awarded the Order of Canada, has been inducted into the Guitar Gallery of Greats, and won five Juno awards. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
One summer about ten years ago, I flew into London to record my Persona album. After a long limousine ride from Heathrow airport, I was dropped off in front of a Regency house in Kensington where my producer, Michael Kamen, and his wife were accommodating me for the night. As I looked around, the cockney driver remarked, “Ave you been ’ere before, luv?” I laughed, telling him that I had once lived a stone’s throw from where we were standing, and had spent the first year of my life being pushed in a pram up and down the sidewalks of this same street. The iron balconies, cream-painted walls, and mottled plane trees could have been lifted straight out of my parents’ first photo album. By coincidence, I had returned to the very street where my life had begun. My mother often told the story of how, when I was only a few months old, she was wheeling me along Kensington Park Road when an eccentric, white-haired lady peered through the veil of her hat into my pram to see the “dear little baby.” She stepped back with a startled expression on her face. “Dear Lord above, this child is going to be famous and travel all over the world!” she exclaimed. Years later, my mother, a skeptic in matters of clairvoyance, admitted, “You know, Liona, that old psychic was absolutely right.”
Eileen Hancock, my mother, had been raised in Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands, but had been drawn to London once she had acquired her teacher’s qualifications in 1945. The long-haired brunette enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere that flourished among her circle of acquaintances from all corners of the world political science students from India, artists from Africa, and writers from America who drifted through her emerging consciousness. But it was a blond, blue-eyed youth from northern Spain who stole her heart, wooing her with romantic dreams of travel and family. John Boyd and my mother had both been students in the north of England he at the Durham University, she at Whitelands College, which was evacuated to Durham during the Second World War. They did not meet, however,
until gravitating to the same student club in London: my mother by then an art teacher, my father waiting to pursue further studies after his stint as a Royal Air Force pilot trainee in Oklahoma.
John had been born into an English family that had resided in Spain for several generations and assimilated into the Spanish culture. William and Anita, his parents, were members of the English community centred around the mining industry. To their dismay, their handsome son gave up university studies in geology; weekends spent at the child psychologist A.S. Neill’s progressive boarding school, Summerhill, had stimulated his bohemian spirit and his interest in childhood creativity and emotional development. Postwar London was experiencing a resurgence in the arts, and he and my mother attended concerts, lectures, and galleries, hungrily devouring the delights of life in the cosmopolitan capital. Only one year into their twenties and after a few months of courtship, they were married and settled in a flat on Stanley Crescent, in that same elegant corner of Kensington.
Impatient, even at life’s earliest stages, I was born one month ahead of the anticipated date, on July 11, 1949. As at first my parents could not decide on a name, they called me Popsy. Many years later, it was amusing to read the headline of a music review of my Persona album, “Boyd Becomes Very Popsy!” Eventually, John and Eileen settled on the name Leona, but my paternal grandmother was horrified, as in Spanish it means “lioness” a name not at all befitting a delicate baby. My mother obligingly changed the spelling to Liona, and a Spanish middle name, Maria, was added to please my grandparents. As she set off to the registry office with my newly invented name, she stepped over a cleaning lady polishing the wooden stairs of the flat and exchanged a few words. “Oh, luvvy, you must call her Carolynne. It’s so pretty for your baby,” the woman insisted. In this rather haphazard way, my name evolved into Liona Maria Carolynne Boyd, leaving my parents happily confident that they had given their first-born plenty of choices.
I spent my first eighteen months teething on dried bananas and scampering barefoot on the grassy lawns of Holland Park and Kensington Gardens.
After my sister, Vivien, announced her presence one and a half years later, we moved to Welling, near the outskirts of London, in the county of Kent. The house had billowing bushes of pink roses in the back garden and a cement wading pool where I splashed naked during the hot summer and prattled away to an imaginary playmate called Oku Poku. My parents, indulging my desire for a kitten, brought home Mimi, a tabby who lived with us until my mother’s allergies and his nightly forays with the neighbourhood cats drove them to distraction. To my dismay, he was given away.
Christmases were spent with my grandparents, James and Millie
Hancock, in Stoke-on-Trent. The hissing steam engines of Euston Station in central London petrified me almost as much as the black-bear rug on my grandma’s bedroom floor; both recurred with regularity in my childhood nightmares. I remember frosty mornings before the coal fires were lit:
steaming bowls of salty porridge, tantalizing cornflake and golden syrup pies,
jam tarts, and treats of Turkish delight covered in powdered sugar from my grandpa’s secret store in the drawing-room bureau, where Vivien and I hung around like eager puppy dogs waiting for tidbits.
Each summer, our small family headed off to the empty, flat beaches of
Norfolk, on the east coast facing the North Sea, to erect canvas tents among pine-treed sand dunes. My father knocked together rough tables and chairs out of gnarled logs after first filling his rucksack with pine needles to make a long cushion on which we sat and watched in admiration. I amused myself for hours catching sea crabs or gathering the prettiest shells from the beach.
Once, my little sister and I, blissfully occupied constructing a sandcastle,
failed to notice that, as the afternoon tide edged around us, we were on an ever-diminishing sandbank. To my horror, Vivien’s beach shoes began to float away along the channel! My father, who had been sunbathing a short distance away, came rushing to carry his two panic-stricken daughters to safety. The sea barely rose above our ankles, but that image of eddying waters has remained with me ever since. Whenever I am particularly tense,
the night before an important trip or a critical performance, I dream of ominous dark waves creeping up the beach. There is no way to ever outrun those insidious tides of my nightmares.
Table of Contents
l. The Prediction
2. Setting Sail
3. Grammar School Girl
4. A Guitar for Christmas
5. Mexican Adventure
6. The Commitment
7. Paris a la Boheme
8. Have Guitar, Will Travel
9. On Tour with Lightfoot
10. “Bond, James Bond”
12. “Me and Julio”
13. “Why Do You Need Royalties?”
14. Fidel Castro
15. A Normal Existence
16. Conflicts of the Heart
17. Boyd Not Floyd!
18. Adventures in Housekeeping
19. Pilots, Planes, and Pachyderms
20. On the Road Again
21. The Ultimate Canadian Experience
22. Birth Pangs in Costa Rica
23. The Golden State
24. Noblesse Oblige
Appendix: Liona Boyd Discography and Music Publications