The music and theatre community in the London, Ont., region is remembering Colin Stewart as a “consummate musician” and a creative individual who could take a concept and turn it into an entire show and someone who will be sorely missed.
Stewart died in a single-vehicle crash on Sept. 5 at the age of 60.
Doug Varty, who said Stewart was “like family to me,” learned of his passing through a Facebook post from Stewart’s sister.
“(My wife Sandy and I) sat in shock and disbelief for quite a time, and as our day went on, memories of the moments that Colin and I, and our family and his, had spent interacting and working together just kept coming up,” Varty told Global News.
“Colin was a hard worker, a caring person, and someone who’d be in your corner when the chips were down. He had a gruff exterior, and could be quite fierce at times, but he had a big heart and was always concerned with doing what was right.”
Varty first knew of Stewart through Stewart’s older brothers, Ian and Ken. Varty says Ian suggested he hire Stewart as his bassist when he started The Doug Varty Band in 1988.
“We clicked right away, and Colin and I put a lot of time and effort into building the band into a known entity throughout Ontario.”
The two grew close on the road, talking about what Stewart described as “life, the universe, and everything.”
“Most of the time the two of us would travel together in the band van. I’d drop him off at his place and he’d say ‘Well, now we’ve solved all the world’s problems, we can have a good sleep. Call you tomorrow.’ He had that offhand, even glib way of talking, but under it you could sense a depth to everything he experienced.”
Stewart’s interest in music began at an early age. He even appeared onstage with Karen Carpenter when he was a young boy in the school choir, Varty adds.
Varty says Stewart’s musical talents also extended to musical revues, resulting in shows that he produced, directed and performed in, which played nationally and even internationally.
According to his obituary, “for 21 years, he co-wrote and produced, was the musical director for, and played in many musical Tribute shows with his partner, Chris McHarge under C2 Entertainment and later, Stewart McHarge Entertainment.”
Those shows include Memories of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, Hallelujah Tribute to Leonard Cohen, Doowop to Motown, and Rat Pack.
“Colin would actually create shows from nothing by writing a script and writing a score and hiring the different actors and musicians and theatres and rehearsing everything and basically taking it from just a concept to a show,” musician Chris Murphy told Global News.
“He was one of those rare people in this world who knew how to get things done.”
Murphy, on saxophone and vocals, played with Stewart, on bass, as part of the house band at the former Old Chicago Speakeasy and Grill on Carling Street in downtown London, which also included Varty on guitar and vocals.
“Colin always had a good attitude on the bandstand. I played with him for just over three years,” he said.
“We were a house band there like five nights a week in the 1990s.”
Murphy adds that Stewart’s death is “very scary” for all travelling musicians.
“How many musicians over the years have been going to play a show or coming back from playing a show and didn’t make it?“
The City of London also extended its condolences, with its Music Industry Development Officer stressing Stewart’s immense impact on the local music community.
“Colin was a hard-working musician who was an important part of London’s music scene and community,” said Cory Crossman.
“He was very supportive of local musicians and took immediate interest in London’s music strategy as a key member of the Musicians Task Force. Colin was filled with a passion for music and will be remembered as a leader.”
Stewart’s support of other artists extended to his involvement with the London Musicians Association, where he was president for seven years.
“(He) put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making things better for all working musicians in our area and beyond,” Varty said of Stewart’s time with the association.
The Grand Theatre added that Stewart was “instrumental in negotiating the CERB and the extension of the CERB for artists” during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The family will mourn his passing privately but “an appropriate celebration of his life” will be announced at a later date, the obituary reads.
Instead of flowers, people are asked to donate to the Duncan Grant Bursary, a bursary established by Stewart in honour of a pre-deceased friend that helps “support local young talent in pursuit of their musical goals.”