Alberta singer/songwriters John Wort Hannam and T. Buckley come together in a new duo

Years ago, at a now-defunct songwriting contest jointly produced by the Calgary Folk Fest and The Ship & Anchor, master songwriter John Wort Hannam first heard Calgary’s T. Buckley (Tim), who would become his future writing companion in their duo The Woodshed. 

Hannam won the inaugural competition with his song Church of the Long Grass, which later appeared on his 2004 album, Dynamite and ‘Dozers. Then he won again. And again. It seemed the only way to keep him and his memorable songs from soaking up all the prize money (not to mention the glory — can’t forget the glory) was to invite him to be on the judges’ panel.

Hannam must have been impressed with what he heard, because that year he was a judge, Buckley won the competition with Walkin’ Home, which later appeared on his first album, 2010’s Roll On. 

“After that, I occasionally crossed paths with Tim, like musicians do,” Hannam says from his Lethbridge home. It wasn’t until both songwriters were enjoying a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2017 that the two got the idea of writing something together. 

“It’s been a long, slow burn on that one,” Buckley says. “John and I obviously knew of each other and enjoyed each other’s style of music for a long time. And that residency [in Banff] was an amazing experience for both John and myself. We both found it really inspiring and out of that definitely got to know each other a lot more, hanging out and bouncing ideas off each other, a little half-baked here and there. That sort of evolved into getting together outside of the Banff Centre and trying to write a bit and having some success with it.”

But with young children at home, solo careers, and physical distance between them, along with the curve ball of the pandemic, they put the project on hold.

Then another kind of contest brought them together again. 

In 2023, both musicians received nominations for the Canadian Folk Music Awards English Songwriter(s) of the Year. Fortunately, to keep a balance of both egos in check so there would be no whipping boys in The Woodshed, both lost that category, although Hannam did pick up Contemporary Album of the Year for Long Haul, and also won Solo Artist of the Year for the same.

“John got asked to play at the awards,” Buckley says from his Calgary home. “[He] phoned me up and said, ‘Do you want to do this together? We’ve been trying to do something together.’ And I said, ‘Awesome!’

“That was our first duo show; we played a couple of his tunes and one of mine. I guess that would have been our first Woodshed gig, although we didn’t even have that name at that time.”

The artistic director for the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton saw the performance and booked them to play some of their first shows as The Woodshed a few months later.  

As for the duo’s name, it does sound like someone is gonna get a lickin’, but Buckley says that wasn’t the idea. 

“It could have that connotation to get to the woodshed and teach you a lesson. We’re honing more in on the working at your craft analogy. It seemed like a good fit, too; they’ve got all those little writing huts going through the hills [at the Banff Centre]. As a resident there you get your own little hut. It seemed like this thing started to be us showing each other songs, working on songs in these little cabins.”

The two plan to record material together once they get out from under their own touring and writing and can carve out time beyond their families. 

In the meantime, Calgarians can hear The Woodshed April 20 at Southwood United Church, in a show presented by Fish Creek Concerts. In preparation, the two play together when Hannam comes up to Calgary to visit his relatives; they also spend time together at The Coutts Centre near Nanton, which is about halfway between the two songwriters’ homes and an idyllic place to write and play music.

As for working on songs, Hannam is in that process both for his next album and his work with Buckley. “[Austin songwriter] Kevin Welsh talked about seasons of songwriting at Banff Centre. I’m in the gathering stage… you aren’t actively writing; you are collecting ideas. A story someone tells you, something you overhear, something you see. You gather these and then take them back out to see what’s there when you’re writing.”

“We’re finally getting to it now,” says Buckley. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Hannam says not only does he enjoy Buckley’s songs, he enjoys being around him. And Buckley reflects that back to him.

“[There’s] lots of great things about him. He’s really funny. It’s good to have a good sense of humour when you’re driving in a van for hours on end to get to a gig. I admire the guy’s writing — he’s such a great songwriter. I feel fortunate to now be in this collaboration with him. Working with him even before we were doing shows together was really important for my songwriting development, so to learn from the dude is
pretty cool.”

The Woodshed performs April 20 at Southwood United Church. For information, go to fishcreekconcerts.com