"Cracklin' Rosie" is a hit with the residents of Gambier Island. They jump from their seats on the grass in front of the Gambier General Store and Restaurant to dance wildly and sing in front of Nearly Neil, the Neil Diamond look alike. In reality, the Diamond impersonator is Bobby Bruce, now a new resident of the island, who does this for a living. His talent for impersonating the prolific vocalist Neil Diamond was realized in 1994. Bruce has never looked back.
Over the last decade, he has played with some of the biggest shows in the business including a 10-month tour of the U.S. with Las Vegas based Legends in Concert, and two tours of Australia with Legends of Rock. He will occasionally outdo himself as a myriad of outrageous characters in The Shagadelic Swingers, which trades on British spy comedian Austin Powers. He loves to do impressions, he says, from Ozzy Osborne to Neil Diamond. Not bad for an opera-trained singer who always liked heavy metal. Bruce has performed at Toronto's Skydome, sold out Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom and performed before his largest audience to date, 30,000 people on millennial New Year's Eve in Calgary. But he seems at home in front of the smaller Gambier crowd. "This audience gives more than it takes," says Bruce. "We just wanted to say thank you to the community who have been so helpful here."
As one new fan says to Bruce after the show, "You even look like Neil Diamond."
While Bruce's wife Leanne sits at the sound console, he delivers a long set, even though he must rush off to take the water taxi to another gig in White Rock that same day. Why are so many people visiting the General Store, "the centre of the universe" as Bruce calls it?
It's the annual Gambier Art Show, that time of the year, Labour Day weekend, when any resident, including summer cottage part-timers, can show their work at the community hall and invite visitors to voyage to the island on the foot ferry. The show was almost cancelled this year, but thanks to a few local artists who hustled, Ursula Fritsch among them, it is back on track. For two days, the hall was hung with a variety of paintings and other work such as pottery and ceramic tile from Beth Feldman and Morgan Campbell that reflects the creative talent of the community. The guest book overflows with comments and praise: "Imagination is in the very air of Gambier," remarked one guest.
The display is draped in colourful collages from Fritsch and some excellent older works from the Island's resident art teacher, Gloria Masse. In one piece, entitled Babes and Cubs, that depicts the progeny of bears and humans, the bear cubs and human babies look astonishingly alike. The effect is an interesting blur of reality.
The very colourful oil painting, Dancer in Silk and Palm, is also riveting. Artist Sherry Cooper shows many of her detailed pen and ink drawings; especially interesting are her erotic ones: Arbutus Detail, in which bark peels off the naked skin of an arbutus tree. Artist Carol Whittaker exhibits four stunning small seascapes in acrylic on board, while Morley Baker's three untitled abstracts offer pause for thought. Sheila Weaver, who usually sells her photographically correct paintings with ease, is showing only four older pieces this time. It takes her a long time to paint her detailed landscapes, she says, but the result, especially a scene of Mt. Baker, a gnarled tree against a vivid blue sky, is a winner. Most of the artists are well known on Gambier, and some are new faces, such as Lea Hazeldine and Bob Bruce - the same artist as Nearly Neil. The performer started painting only two years ago while possessed by a need to find himself on canvas. He is as thrilled to have had his nude painting and two surreal pieces chosen for this first small show as he is to be on stage.