New interview series The Chesterfield highlights Canadian artists and the culture that inspires them

Emilee Geist

A chesterfield is a quaint term from Canada’s colonial past, denoting what our southern neighbours refer to as a couch or a sofa. It’s a meeting place, central to almost every living room in the country, a spot where ideas are exchanged, games are played and TVs are watched. “The […]

A chesterfield is a quaint term from Canada’s colonial past, denoting what our southern neighbours refer to as a couch or a sofa. It’s a meeting place, central to almost every living room in the country, a spot where ideas are exchanged, games are played and TVs are watched.

“The Chesterfield” is also the name a new 12-part online interview series, co-hosted by Hamilton-based singer-songwriter Iskwē and former Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner.

“‘The Chesterfield’ is a place where your favourite Canadian artists talk about their favourite Canadian art,” says Iskwē. “And we’re going to talk about the Canadian culture that inspires and unites us.”

Hamilton-based singer-songwriter Iskwe and former Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner host "The Chesterfield."

The series is available free online and is sponsored by the non-profit organization the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. The series launched this week and continues with a new episode on the Friends’ YouTube site each Tuesday until Dec. 22.

Each episode features an interview with a prominent Canadian musician, artist, author, filmmaker or comedian. Guests include Jann Arden, Max Kerman of Hamilton rock band Arkells, children’s entertainer Fred Penner, George Stroumboulopoulos, cartoonist Jeff Lemire, songwriter Catherine MacLellan, graphic novelist David A. Patterson, Chris Murphy of Sloan, comedian Ali Hassan, and Diana Reyes (Fly Lady Di).

Each guest is asked to discuss a particular aspect of Canadian culture that has inspired them. It could be their favourite book, film, record, painting or TV show. The results are often surprising, ranging from insightful explorations of high culture to madcap zaniness.

The Chesterfield is a place where Canadian Artists talk about their favourite Canadian Art. Premieres October 6, 2020. Co-hosted by journalist Ben Rayner and songwriter and performance artist iskwē and produced by FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting.

Penner, for example, chose to talk about “Cape Spear,” a painting by Newfoundland artist David Blackwood, while Stroumboulopoulos pontificated on the joys of watching “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein,” a campy Hamilton-produced kid’s show from the early ’70s.

“Fred was a wicked interview and, yeah, Strombo did a Hamilton-themed episode,” Rayner, 46, says in an interview from his Toronto home. “Strombo and I are both big fans of ‘The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.’ We had a lot of laughs. That show meant a lot to me when I was a kid. I couldn’t believe it when I learned all 130 episodes were filmed in just one season.”

The interviews are pandemic-friendly, using Zoom technology with guests and hosts working from their own homes. Rayner said he found the guests eager to talk after months of isolation, especially on topics other than themselves.

“We did it via Zoom, so it’s a bit DIY,” says Rayner, the Star’s music critic for more than 20 years until leaving the paper earlier this year. “I haven’t felt that kind of energy since I was making documentaries in journalism school. It felt really good.

Hamilton-based singer-songwriter Iskwe and former Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner host "The Chesterfield."

“And it was fun researching for these things. Chris Murphy (of Sloan) wanted to talk about Rush, so I had to listen to the entire double live album ‘Exit Stage Left.’ Then I started searching out ‘The Hilarious House of Frightenstein’ on YouTube … and I couldn’t stop watching it.”

Rayner admits, however, that “The Chesterfield” is more of an idea than a reality when it comes to the show.

“I have a wonderful leather chesterfield in my living room,” Rayner says. “But I couldn’t do it from there because the light from my living room window was far too bright. So I ended up doing it from a chair from another part of the room. My chesterfield does not play a part in ‘The Chesterfield.’”

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