Behind The Board : Jane Harbury

January 8, 2014
The Power of a Song
January 8, 2014

Behind The Board : Jane Harbury

Jane Harbury is one of the top publicists in this country. With a client list that reads like a who’s who in the international music business, Jane has been at her work for more than 40 years. She slaves away for her clients to make sure their latest release, their new video, their award nomination, their story … gets out to the public. Her job … to promote, publicize, and sing the virtues of each client. To do a job like that you have to believe in your clients. As Jane repeatedly states, “They’re not ‘acts’. It’s not ‘product’. It’s artists and music!”.  In fact, Jane feels the best piece of advice she ever got was “Believe in what and who you work with. And don’t compromise or it’ll come back to bite you in the you-know-what.”

But how did she get started in this crazy business we call ‘Show’? Born in Worthing, in the county of Sussex in England, Jane, one of five children, was raised by her father, who served with the Signals Corp during and post WWII, along with help from her grandmother (his mother). Since they were also very involved in Guide Dogs for the Blind, she developed a love of animals from early on and was always bringing home stray kittens, puppies, or anything that needed a home.

Early on, Jane developed a penchant for making money by opening a restaurant in her garden shed. She’d make food in the family  kitchen and then take it to the garden shed, and invite her father and granny out there to try her food. And then charge them for it. No flies on this girl … she’s a self-starter.

After several years as matron looking after 30 or so little boys (7-13 years old) in a boarding school, she emigrated to Canada. The year was 1969 and she got a job washing dishes at the famed Riverboat Coffeehouse owned by Bernie Fiedler. She soon moved up to 2nd waitress position, and finally to manager. When the Riverboat finally folded in ’78, Jane went to work with record producer Brian Ahern. Brian has produced Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Anne Murray and a host of others. (In fact he was married to Emmylou for some years). That recording connection led Jane to work for two and a half years at Eastern Sound, under Salim Sachedina. Eastern was the famous Yorkville area studio responsible for recordings by Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn, Lighthouse, Elton John, Anne Murray, Cat Stevens, Isaac Hayes and many more. Now Jane was firmly hooked in the music scene.  She started Jane Harbury Publicity (JHP) in 1988. She continued to work for many of the clients she had already interacted with in those early years, as well as adding new clients like BMG, the Juno Awards, The Chieftains, the Gemini Awards, Ben Heppner, NXNE, Bluebird North, Ontario Place, Toronto Independent Awards, and Smooth Jazz Awards, among others.

How does she keep the high profile clients coming back and getting the work done? According to Jane it’s all about the contacts. “The phone should be your weapon of choice. And media and industry have to trust you.” Well, they must trust her as Jane was recently honoured with the Canadian Folk Music Awards Unsung Hero Award. That honour, next to her work with international singing sensation Lhasa de Sela, stands out as one of her most memorable moments in her long and varied career. Lhasa passed away in 2010 and Jane as her publicist had to send out the news. Jane says that was heartbreaking.

On a more personal note Jane has three cats, Sparkie, Ahmose and Chance, loves watching the Blue Jays, Mary Tyler Moore, Tom Hanks, the music of Beethoven, Townes Van Zandt, Adele, Serena Ryder, Justin Rutledge, Tom Rush, and many more. Oh… and she loves the colour pink.

Jane Harbury is also on the faculty at the Harris Institute, and for ten years she has been producing a show at Hugh’s Room called Jane Harbury Presents Discoveries, where Jane shines a spotlight on 4 new deserving acts three or four times every year.

Jane was elected to the CMAO board this past September, and is currently planning out her approach to publicizing this years awards show (May 26, 2014). To quote Jane, “I want to continue the good work started and get the word out to increase the credibility and awareness of the CMAO.”

We’d like to welcome her to the working board of directors of the Country Music Association of Ontario.