Flin Flon’s history and present are a key element in a new song and music video released by a Winnipeg artist.
The community is featured prominently in the track “Postcard from a Quarantined Miner in Flin Flon”, released by music project Bluebloods, as well as its accompanying video, released online Feb. 12.
The song itself is a poppy, jazzy pastiche of several different styles and eras - similar to the video produced for the song, which mixes images from Flin Flon’s past and present with colourful animation and theatrical segments with vocalist Courtney Devon. In the video, Devon plays Louise, a worker in Flin Flon who is having trouble with the isolation some experience upon moving up north. Louise writes letters and sends postcards back to her Winnipeg-based sweetheart Abelard, intercut with colourful, lush animations by artist Ben Clarkson and historical images of Flin Flon.
Conrad Sweatman is the man behind Bluebloods and the project’s back catalog, including the EP Make It Rain, released in late 2019. Sweatman, along with his mother Sally, also created the concept for the video.
While he’s never actually come to Flin Flon, Sweatman found himself drawn to the community due to its relative oddity in Manitoba - a mining town in a farming province, a town with rocks, hills and lakes in a province often seen as flat and boring.
“It’s a city with a lot of character. I was thankful for the guidance of the Flin Flon Heritage Project in researching archive material - I was just constantly struck by what an original place it was,” he said.
“I don’t know what it is about Flin Flon - that’s the place that’s always interested me the most. I was planning to come up this summer and maybe do some shooting there, but by the time the shooting started, we could barely have enough people in the room to do the film shoot.”
There are also northern ties in the group behind the song and video - Devon herself has performed in Flin Flon in the past and Abelard is played by Avis Penner, an actor hailing from Moose Lake/Mosakahiken Cree Nation near The Pas.
The video and song include several anachronisms and historical mismatches and comparisons - for instance, while the video features slightly altered local sights like the Kin Park water tower (complete with someone climbing up it) and the Flinty statue (depicted smoking a cigarette), the song is also inspired by events dating back to 1919.
Those visuals are intentional, said Sweatman. He said the song and video are meant to is meant to capture what it feels like to be gripped in an uncertain environment in the midst of a pandemic and political unrest. Could it be set in 1918-19, around the time of the Winnipeg General Strike and a worldwide flu pandemic? Could it be set in 2020-21, with protests for racial equality, gender equality, labour rights and other issues and COVID-19 as a backdrop? That, Sweatman said, is for the viewer to figure out for themselves.
“It’s a project that deals with certain major protests and historical events. It’s sort of unclear sometimes what era it’s set in,” he said.
“Flin Flon has certainly been touched by pandemics and has a very storied labour history. It just felt right to have one character in Flin Flon and another in Winnipeg. We wanted to take these big issues and relate them to the experience of the average person or people living in rural or less populated areas, people who are working class and not famous politicians or powerful men. It seems like a way of rooting some of these issues we’re trying to deal with.”
According to Sweatman’s own description blurb of the project, “Postcard explores parallels between the crises of today and yesteryear and how Manitobans living in communities like Flin Flon and Winnipeg have experienced them.”
“It’s also a dreamy love song about the fantasies and yearnings of people trying desperately to stay together — even while history and fate conspire to keep them apart, perhaps forever.”
Sweatman himself said Flin Flon provided plenty of inspiration to work off.
“There’s also this very un-prairie-like landscape for Manitoba, the old industrial buildings, the water towers - and of course, there’s Flintabbatey Flonatin.”
One of the inspirations for the project was an old tune dating back to the 1960s - “The Ballad of Flintabbatey Flonatin”, writted by folk singer and former Flin Flon resident Jack Shiffman. The original song makes a brief cameo in the new Bluebloods tune and Sweatman said he has received permission from Shiffman himself for the appearance.
“Through a mutual acquaintance, I was able to get in touch with him. He let me quote the melody in the song,” said Sweatman.
Critics have lauded the song and its accompanying video, praising its unique feel and visual presentation.
“Bluebloods delivers the story through esoteric references and archaic language that will have you reaching for your dictionary – and that’s all part of the joy. The delivery is outstanding and the hip hop backing track entirely unexpected. It really is like nothing I’ve heard before,” reads a review penned by critic Graeme Smith for British music website York Calling.
“An electronic slow burn that has only one problem - it ends,” reads a description from music site Secret Eclectic.
Postcard was created with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts and Manitoba Film and Music. The video and song can be found on the group’s social media pages.