Billy Bob hits the wrong note in Canada

Hollywood actor-turned-musician cancels tour after 'national insult' provokes a furious reaction

Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are no problem. But as Billy Bob Thornton has just discovered, no musician – however famous – can get away with coming to Canada and suggesting that the locals might be ever-so-slightly boring.

The Hollywood actor, who is trying to rebrand himself as a hillbilly singer, has cancelled a tour of Quebec and Ontario after saying in a radio interview that Canadian fans were like "mashed potatoes with no gravy".

During a remarkably cantankerous audience with CBC, the national radio network, Thornton complained that local audiences were "very reserved" and consistently failed to behave in a suitably uproarious fashion when his band takes to the stage.

"It doesn't matter what you say to them," he complained. "It's mashed potatoes with no gravy ... We tend to play places where people throw things at each other. And here, they just sit there."

The comments sparked public outrage when they were aired on Wednesday and Thornton and his band, the Boxmasters, were greeted with a chorus of boos when they arrived onstage in Toronto as the support act for Willie Nelson the following night. The Toronto Star reported that large sections of the audience shouted "here comes the gravy!" while unconfirmed reports suggested that several irate punters decided to take Thornton at his word and throw plastic cups at him.

On Friday, a large crowd in Montreal was gearing up for a similar performance when they were suddenly informed that the Boxmasters had cancelled their remaining Canadian dates. The news was greeted with wild applause.

A post on Nelson's website initially said that "no reasons have been announced" for the withdrawal. But yesterday, Thornton's publicist blamed flu, which he said had suddenly struck down the group's guitarist and several crew members. The band will resume scheduled performances on 14 April, in the safety of their native USA.

It will take some time for Thornton to regain the affections of the Canadian people. The actor, who was once married to Angelina Jolie, launched his tirade against the country after becoming highly upset at the way his "electric hillbilly" band was introduced on CBC's Q programme.

In the opening segment of the show, host Jian Ghomeshi had gently informed listeners that, in addition to being the Boxmasters' lead singer and drummer, Thornton was an "Oscar-winning screenwriter-actor-director".

That apparently contradicted Thornton's wishes that his career outside of music never be mentioned during interviews he conducts with the band. In the remainder of the interview, he greeted most questions with either complete silence, or non sequiturs.

At one section of the appearance, Thornton complained that he had been forbidden from smoking in the radio station's studios – a factor which some blamed for his apparent belligerence.

Some might say that Canada's response to them came dangerously close to protesting too much. However, the famously hospitable nation's concert-goers have a reputation for pushing the envelope: last week, Britney Spears had to leave the stage in Vancouver for 30 minutes after becoming upset by fumes from people in the audience who were smoking marijuana.

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