Norman Foote claims that developing a sense of humour was the only logical response possible to his full name: Norman Mervyn Barrington-Foote.
“I must have been a very hard labour – my parents punished me at birth,” quipped the Juno-winning singer and songwriter, who will perform his fast-paced, family-friendly show Jan 4 at 3 p.m. at Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd., presented by Peninsula Productions.
The lengthy moniker actually reflects an old country heritage – his great grandmother was a lady-in-waiting to the British royal family, and a great grandfather, Charles Barrington-Foote, was very much involved in military music in royal circles in the early part of the 20th century.
“But my granddad came to Canada in 1906 – he didn’t want that kind of life,” said Foote, a long-time North Vancouver resident who grew up in Whonnock and Squamish.
His parents also made another important practical contribution to his entertainment career, aside from providing a genetic predisposition towards music – when he turned 11 they bought him his first guitar at Sears.
Foote has made good use of such gifts, creating a niche all his own – family entertainer – out of an early love for musicians like the Beatles, Elvis and Hank Williams.
Songs like the title number from his most recent CD, I Love My Shirt (which landed him the Juno in 2010) – not to mention a fondness for physical humour, puppets and wild props in his live shows – might seem to brand him solely a children’s entertainer.
But, in truth, his appealingly catchy songs work just as well with adults as children because of an innate musical quality that takes them far beyond the limited realm of novelty.
“I try to entertain myself first of all; find stuff that works for me,” he said. “Some stuff has across-the-board appeal, but it’s a funny demographic. It don’t think it’s fair to call my my songs children’s music, because there’s a lot of integrity to them, as well as clever hooks and clever lyrics.”
He describes himself as “blessed” because he’s always loved the aspect of performing for and ‘hooking’ an audience – whether its five year-olds or their grandparents.
His songs are “a fusion of styles – comedic, folky, pop. Like anyone else who’s an artist, you’re always looking for something else you can use.
“Most songs on the radio are about love gone wrong, or some kind of love relationship. But I write about love for other things, like a grandfather clock, or yard sales, a bear or a dog – or love for a shirt. When you open up the envelope there’s so much you could write about.
“I do songwriting workshops and I tell people ‘you can write a song about anything.’ But you don’t have a lot of that going on nowadays.”
When he was 20 years old, he payed a lot of dues as a performer during extended trips to New Zealand and Australia. While busking ‘Down Under,’ he met and formed a working partnership with a puppeteer, and it sent him in a whole new direction as a musician.
“I found I could really respond to that. Up to that time, I’d really only worked in hotels and bars, but now I heard all these kids laughing and and enjoying themselves. I’ve never stopped wanting to hear that laughter. You can’t really fake it, you really have to have the heart for this kind of thing.”
Tickets ($10) are available from www.whiterockplayers.ca and 604-536-7535.