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Halifax’s songstress Alana Yorke on the comfort of memories

Halifax singer Alana Yorke was moved when her songs were used on a PBS documentary out of Kansas.

Paul McCurdy

A few years ago, an American man posted an hour's worth of 8 mm home movies from his 1950s childhood online. The classic mid-century Americana, entitled The Glasco Family – The Wichita Years, ended up being used in various films and music videos. More recently, for her affecting new album Dream Magic, Halifax's ethereal-pop songstress Alana Yorke composed and record The Wichita Years, an elegant song about the comfort of memories, inspired by the scrapbook images of a family she didn't know. We spoke to Ms. Yorke in advance of her show here on Dec. 1.

Your song The Wichita Years was inspired by home movies from the late 1950s. How did it happen?

Around the time I was developing the concept of the album, I was on, just looking at footage. I watched a few different things, but quite quickly came to discover home movies. They were fascinating. I came across The Glasco Family – The Wichita Years, which was so well put together. It's an hour's worth of footage, with birthdays, Halloween, Christmas and a road trip to Disneyland. It's really transporting, and very poignant and intimate.

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And was the song you wrote meant to be a soundtrack to the images?

Not a soundtrack. The images inspired a mood that ended up catalyzing the writing of the song. It helped me to remember my childhood, or different things in my life.

Even though the home movies were from a different era than that of your own childhood?

There's a timelessness of nostalgia, and just looking back on the happy times of our lives. I don't look back to the 1950s. I look back to the eighties. But that's where it was timeless for me. You remember that Christmas morning when you got that special gift or you remember Halloween. It looks the same to me in my memory. Do you know what I mean?

It's a filter, like on a camera, except for your mind.

Right. I think we all have good times and we all have bad times. I think we can all look upon a time of our lives and idealize it. It's nice. It can bring us a lot of happiness and joy.

Okay, to get back to the story, a Kansas PBS station broadcasts a piece on Midwesterner Alan Glasco and the Glasco family movies, and pairs your music to some of the images. How did that make you feel?

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It was very moving. Here I was looking back on my own childhood, and writing this song which comes from a genuine place. What was absolutely haunting was to find out afterward that what I was singing couldn't have been any truer to Alan's experience. I was singing his life somehow.

So we have your lyrics, 'I found this film, inside my head / When things get bad I turn to it.' And Alan, in the PBS interview, is basically saying the same thing, right?

You know, it could have been a complete miss. He could have said he didn't like the song. But I find out that not only does he love the song, it really has meaning to him. He watches those movies to this day on special occasions, by himself, sometimes. That came out in the lyrics, and I don't know how. It's eerie, how literal it turned out.

Alana Yorke plays Burdock, Dec. 1, 9 p.m. $8 to $10. 1184 Bloor St. W., 416-546-4033 or

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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