Beverly Glenn-Copeland Taps into the Universe

"I am in my 80th year, and there's no time to waste," he says of new album 'The Ones Ahead' and its sense of urgency

Photo: Brianna Blank

BY Kaelen BellPublished Jul 27, 2023

On Canada's eastern shores, waves crash and cradle the shattered remains of shells; feathers sweep against fir; rains draw ancient scents from darkened stones, and the sky drags across the sun in a series of unpredictable veils. This is where Beverly Glenn-Copeland recorded The Ones Ahead, the 80-year-old trailblazer's first studio album in 20 years. 

And while the record's birthplace is unmistakably threaded through its DNA — its harbours and loons and lakelands, its flecked light and surging tides — The Ones Ahead isn't beholden to any one place, physical or otherwise. It crosses the ocean in its first seconds, as "Africa Calling" falls in a warm rain shower of pattering percussion and keys, and Glenn-Copeland's voice, richer than ever, cascades in wordless murmurs. 

"I had some newer music, like 'Africa Calling,' that needed to be out there doing its good work," Glenn-Copeland tells Exclaim! via email. "Stoking the fires of the calling that so many of us feel to find and remember 'home.'"

Glenn-Copeland is searching for home, both spiritually and literally — he and his wife Elizabeth Paddon are currently in search of permanent housing, a cause that fans can support via Patreon (Glenn-Copeland says that Paddon once had a vision of a red brick house with a turret). This is just one of the airborne engines that drives The Ones Ahead, a record that seeks to be of use in a time that begs for guidance from somewhere beyond ourselves. 

"I am in my 80th year, and there's no time to waste!" Glenn-Copeland says of The Ones Ahead's sense of momentous urgency. "I have an entire filing cabinet full of music that has yet to be recorded, and some of it was crying out to be heard — music that is aligned to the times in which we live, aligned with my mission to be of service in these times." 

Glenn-Copeland is particularly equipped to be of service, crediting these songs — crying out, calling in — to the Universal Broadcast System, an intangible guiding force that lights up his mind with music. He says it still speaks to him regularly, even after decades of connection, though the shape and tenor of its messages shift through time as he does. 

"In my younger years, I wasn't attuned in this way, which doesn't mean it wasn't being sent. But in the last 25 or 30 years, I came to understand that the songs were being sent from outside of me, then had the courage to name it about 15 years ago," Glenn-Copeland says. "Thank goodness I had the sense to trust it — the range of the call still surprises me. Right now, for instance, after a lifetime of mostly writing songs with lyrics, I'm beginning a series of compositions that are all instrumental. I take no credit for what comes through, just keep my chops ready."

On The Ones Ahead, what came through was a series of songs running the gamut of ecstatic, polyrhythmic pop in "Africa Calling" to the thundering march of "People of the Loon" and limpid balladry of "Harbour (Song for Elizabeth)." 

That last song is the record's beating heart, the moment when all of Copeland's enormous feelings and impassioned pleas — for unity and healing, wakefulness and wildness — shrink to fit in the space between two clasped hands. 

"A harbour is a place of safety, and Elizabeth has been and is that for me in so many ways," Glenn-Copeland says of his wife, whom he married in 2009. "When we first got together, not a lot of people were interested in my music and I remember telling her that, when I died, my music would be discovered and she'd be set for life. She said something like, 'Hell, no! That's not happening. I want you to be able to experience the fruits of all your labour.'

"So she began to actively pray for something to manifest, and as often happens when prayers are sent with purpose and action, almost seven years later, something did, and in a way no one could have predicted."

That unpredicted "something" is well-told by now, as Glenn-Copeland's music was rediscovered and fallen-in-love-with anew in 2015, toppling a series of dominoes that saw him emerge from relative obscurity and claim his well-earned spot as a generational inspiration and musical touchstone. 

The magic that ran through those older records — the jazz-inflected folk of 1970's Beverly Glenn-Copeland and Beverly Copeland, 1986's seminal Keyboard Fantasies, 2004's Primal Prayer — is alive and well on The Ones Ahead, spinning further enchantment from Glenn-Copeland's signature warp of synthetic and analogue sounds, his heart-cracked-open sincerity. 

Produced by John Herbermann and recorded alongside Indigo Rising — Bianca Palmer, Jeremy Costello, Nick Dourado, Carlie Howell and Kurt Inder — The Ones Ahead is buoyed by the double helix of age and youth, a confluence that colours Glenn-Copeland's timeless musical instincts with both a quicksilver sense of playfulness and a gentle sobriety. 

"I am deeply honoured that so many young artists are inspired by my music," Glenn-Copeland says of his musical collaborators. "It goes both ways — I am inspired by them, by their essential joy, by their willingness to write outside of genre lines, to stand for the best of what it means to be human."

The small crew of dedicated creators that helped craft The Ones Ahead is fittingly mirrored by Glenn-Copeland's belief in the unassuming collective, the power of a committed few to tilt the planet. "We talk about this a lot with our friends, and believe the new world will be birthed in small groups of humans working together for a common cause in community," Glenn-Copeland says. "History shows us we work best in small, local groups."

Glenn-Copeland continues, "Elizabeth and I feel heartened by so many grassroots movements on the planet, most of which we never hear about on the news... A new world is waiting to be born, and millions of people worldwide are working to midwife this new world into existence for the benefit of the ones ahead, the next generations. We already know that it won't be an easy birth, but then birth is often messy and difficult, so let's get to it."

The hope that Glenn-Copeland holds — and releases in clarified drips through his music — is enviable, the kind of faith in possibility that feels harder to touch as the world careens ever faster, hotter and louder. As he describes it, however, the hope isn't easily come by; it requires constant tending, a daily practice of seeing and hearing that rejects our tendency toward apathy and fatalism.

"I have a daily practice of chanting from the Soka Gakkai Buddhist tradition. Part of the daily prayers involves honouring my ancestors, those on whose shoulders I stand," Glenn-Copeland says. "As I said in one of my earlier songs, 'Montreal Main': 'It's not the hills we climb / It's the practice of climbing.' Daily practice is to life what solid rehearsal practice is to performance. It builds muscle memory, teaches the brain how to stay away from that which would drag us down."

And, of course, when daily practice feels untenable, there's the world shaking and crashing and fluttering outside our doors. "I'm casting my life on the river / As it tumbles along to the sea," Glenn-Copeland sings on "Ones Ahead," subsuming himself in nature's still-moving cycles and finding new avenues for living in the thrall. 

"I find spiritual guidance in nature, in the whisper of the wind through the trees, in birdsong, on calm days and stormy days," he says. "The world is always in communication with us — we just need to look up long enough from our devices to hear and be led."

The water keeps moving, the voices continue to speak, and the music goes on.

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage