The women of Borealis: Eve Goldberg and Linda Turu reflect on life at the label
When Borealis Records announced earlier this year that it was selling its operation to Linus Entertainment, fans and industry people alike directed many well-deserved kudos at its principals, Grit Laskin and Bill Garrett.
Fair enough. It was their vision to create a label that supported artists from coast to coast without requiring them to sign over their souls in the form of publishing rights and royalties surrendered to recoupable marketing budgets.
But anyone who ever worked with Borealis knew that while Grit and Bill did the deals and dictated the direction, the day-to-day operations were run first by Eve Goldberg and then by Linda Turu.
In honour of International Women’s Day, this story is dedicated to them.
These days, Eve is an established artist in her own right whose duo, Gathering Sparks, with Jane Lewis, won a Folk Music Ontario Songs from the Heart Award in 2019. But 25 years ago, she was an emerging artist who performed part-time while holding down other jobs.
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She had met Borealis co-founder Ken Whiteley for the first time when she was 14. Her family were family friends with Grit and his wife, Judith, and she had already gotten to know co-founder Paul Mills through the folk scene. So, when they all got together to form the label, they approached Eve about administering it.
“I think there was an interview,” she said, laughing. “I can’t completely remember.”
Eve started with the label right at the beginning and was involved in everything from setting up systems to helping furnish the office.
Before long, she was arranging manufacturing, designing ads, writing news releases, sending out packages to media and doing just about everything else that comes with selling and marketing an album.
“It was exciting to be part of something right at the beginning,” she said.
“We all love Canadian folk music… We were all passionate about doing something for folk music and doing something for the artists.”
Training in the business side of music
Working at Borealis gave her an in-depth training in the business side of music, she said. She spent her days interacting with distribution companies, media outlets, concert promoters and festivals.
She fondly remembers meeting all kinds of artists whose music she enjoyed and industry people who played a major role in promoting them – people like Mark Moss of Sing Out magazine and Rich Warren of WFMT’s highly regarded Midnight Special radio program.
“It really was great for me,” she said, “because it gave me the opportunity to meet all these people, not as like myself, an artist, trying to, you know, further my own career. But as someone working on behalf of Borealis, trying to make connections or get things done for Borealis.”
A particular highlight of her time at the label, she said, was the company’s fifth anniversary celebration at Harbourfront Centre, which she described as a “gratifying” acknowledgement of just how much the label had achieved in such a short time.
That five-year mark, however, was also the point at which Eve realized it was time to make the leap to a full-time music career for herself. She had released her debut independent solo album while working for the label, and interest in her work was growing.
This is where Linda Turu enters the picture.
Linda isn’t a musician, but she had a background in event management and graphic design.
She is also the partner of Canadian blues and world music mover and shaker Derek Andrews, so she had plenty of exposure to the Canadian roots scene.
In fact, she thinks it was her skill in organizing a massive, 100-plus person surprise birthday party for Derek’s 50th that put the industry on notice of her administrative skills.
“I think word was out in the community that this individual existed who organized a pretty damn fine party for that Derek Andrews character,” she said, with a smile audible in her voice.
When she first started with Borealis, the label shared an office with Northern Blues Music, the blues imprint launched by Fred Litwin. That meant she had a counterpart at Northern Blues in Pamela Brennan, and the two kept each other company and spelled each other off for breaks.
“We had a great old time,” Linda said.
Travelling to industry showcases
“There was a ton of ‘administrivia’ to wrap my head around, just learning the office systems, QuickBooks, you know, the accounting, the customer service parts, the fulfilling orders.”
For Linda, one of the highlights of working at Borealis was traveling to industry events all over North America and helping to support artists who were showcasing.
Her job took her to conferences in San Diego, Memphis, Kansas City, Nashville, and Austin. Not only would she get to watch the artists perform for audiences of concert promoters and other industry people – she loved watching the room to see how people reacted, she said – but she played a role in helping interested industry-types connect with the performers.
“It’s an awful lot of fun to watch how people watch the show because you relate to what you felt in the first place with them, and you recognize what they see,” she said.
One particularly memorable moment for Linda, she said, was the day Bob Snider signed to the label.
Signing Bob Snider
Linda had been a fan of Bob’s since seeing him play in a restaurant she worked at in her early 20s. He was one of her all-time favourite artists, so having him join the label she worked for was a special moment, she said.
“I thought, ‘Man, I’m in the right place because this is cosmic that he’s been signed to Borealis. I know I’m doing the right thing in my life right now.’ It felt really nice.”
Linda also loved getting to work with the catalogues of the late Stan Rogers and Oliver Schroer, she added.
“I felt like either Stan or Oliver were kind of watching over my shoulder every once in a while,” she said. “Even Laura Smith. I remember talking to the designer and saying, ‘Hey, I think Laura would like this.’ And it’s like, we both got the goosebumps as we thought, ‘Yeah, she’d love that.’ So there… have been some magical moments… There’s a lot of intuition [that] comes to play as you work to respectfully present another creative person’s work in the best possible light. That was something that I always endeavoured to do.”
Linda and Eve both say they’re said to see the end of Borealis as it existed under Grit and Bill but happy that it will continue in some form under Linus.
“I think most of all, I’m going to miss the people,” Linds said. “Because the people are the best part of all that. Bill and Grit too [are] wonderful souls.”
“Twenty-five years is a long time, and they really worked their butts off all that time doing this,” Eve said. “and, you know, I feel like they deserve to be able to pass it on.”