This Thursday April 27th  at 7:30pm at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, GroundSwell and Hard Thread Collective present a new Song cycle by Manitoba composer Michael Mathews called “Bloody Jack.” The cycle will be performed by Winnipeg Soprano Dawn Bruch-Wiens, and pianist Laura Loewen, with poetic and historical insight provided by the poet for the cycle Dennis Cooley and historian Kristen Treusch. There will also be videography provided by Aiden Ritchie.

Inspired by the extraordinary life of Manitoba outlaw John Krafchenko, also known as Bloody Jack,  this song cycle explores the character and the many facets of the environment that created one of Manitoba’s most notorious and engaging  criminals.

Born in Romania to Ukrainian parents, Krafchenko and his family came to Canada when he was 7, settling in Plum Coulee which is roughly 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. He spoke German, Ukrainian, Russian and English fluently, which gave him the ability to maneuver and charm his way through the vast cultural tapestry of Winnipeg’s North End. As he got older and turned to a life of crime, he travelled to Europe. His knowledge of languages allowed him to rob banks in the native tongue, and threaten and intimidate local citizens as needed.  He worked as a boxer/ wrestler in Australia, and as a blacksmith in Thunder Bay. He could be incredibly charming, and had a reputation as a ladies man, but was also known for having a terrible temper that would regularly result in violence. Ultimately, Krafchenko would be hanged in the Vaughan Street Jail for shooting the Bank of Montreal manager in Plum Coulee.

For Soprano Dawn Bruch-Wiens, the story of Bloody Jack is something we can relate to. “I think he is actually relatable. He was trying to make the best of his situation with the skill set he had. He did rob banks, he escaped out of jail…he had a very interesting and colorful life,  and I think that is why he is so intriguing,” states Bruch-Wiens.

Michael Mathews song cycle “Bloody Jack” consists of 14 songs. Not all of the songs/poetry are specifically about John Krafchenko, but are  meant to create a specific mood and recreate the environment Bloody Jack was living in. “The poems are very atmospheric and evocative. They’re not all directly about him as such…but they are about the time period… they’re about the general experiences like winter or loneliness or motion and travel…all of the common human experiences,” explains Mathews.

The 14 songs that make up the cycle “Bloody Jack” will be presented with historical background by historian Kristen Treusch and insight into the poetry by Dennis Cooley. As Bruch-Wiens explains, “The song cycle is divided up with excerpts of video and images and abstract photography that Michael has taken. The cycle does get broken up into these moments of context or images that help move the narrative along.”

This is truly a made-in-Manitoba project; music and poetry written by Manitobans, performed by Manitoba musicians, about a truly fascinating Manitoba historical character. Mathew’s music combined with Cooley’s poetry make for a very beautiful and haunting experience.

GroundSwell and Hard Thread Collective’s presentation of ‘Bloody Jack” takes place this Thursday April 27th  at 7:30pm at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at Winnipeg Art Gallery. The cost of the concert is pay what-you-can, how-you-can. Tickets can be purchased through GroundSwell’s Eventbrite page or at the door.