By James Sandham
So it’s Halloween. But somehow, in the midst of stringing up cobwebs and planting your yard with coffins in preparation for your big party, you’ve overlooked what might actually be the most important element: the music.
It’s always an easy fix to just throw on a recording of spooky sounds – or, perhaps even more predictably, to just put on “Thriller” and “Monster Mash” on repeat – but if you’re looking for something a little more unique, a party mix that incorporates some specifically Canadian spookiness, then maybe these tunes will help get you started.
PAT LEPOIDEVIN – “GHOST OF CARBISDALE CASTLE”
Vancouver-born troubadour Pat LePoidevin brings us this spooky track, along with a video of sprinting and biking sheet-clad spirits that was filmed right in the heart of the great Canadian North – that is, Front Street in Dawson City, Yukon. He recently wrapped up a performance at Halifax Pop Explosion, but you can still catch him later this week at shows in Moncton, New Brunswick, and in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where he’ll be promoting his latest album, American Fiction.
NEKO CASE – “THINGS THAT SCARE ME”
Neko Case may have been born in Virginia, but we’ll give her honorary placement on this list for the time she put in in Vancouver – first as a student at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and then later for her work with Canadian indie rock staples The New Pornographers and The Sadies. This creepy little ditty comes from her 2002 album, Blacklisted.
FEIST – “GRAVEYARD”
This song comes from multi-JUNO Award-winner Leslie Feist’s most recent album, Metals, which itself won the 2012 JUNO Award for Adult Alternative Album of the Year and features fellow Canadian crooner Chilly Gonzales. It’s a mellow track about zombies – OK, well maybe not about zombies per se, but it does reference bringing people back to life in the graveyard, which is practically the same thing. Great music for all you necromancers out there.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – “ROMANCE TO THE GRAVE”
Speaking of both Feist and graves, we couldn’t omit this little number, “Romance to the Grave,” courtesy of her primary collaborative collective, Toronto’s Broken Social Scene. This song comes from the band’s 2010 release, Forgiveness Rock Record, their fourth and final studio album to date. It was a No. 1 chart topper in Canada and , in addition to Feist, also featured guest appearances by Emily Haines and Scott Kannberg of Pavement, among others. This song is sure to add some romance to your spooky night.
MATT MAXWELL – “C’EST L’HALLOWEEN”
Finally, what Canadian Halloween playlist would be complete without a little shout out to our francophone friends? This song may be familiar to those who attended elementary school French classes and was actually written in 1981 by a young teacher named Matt Maxwell. It turned out to be such a hit that he eventually left his teaching job to begin a 15-year career as a children’s performer. Thousands of concerts, six albums and a JUNO Award nomination later, it seems like he made the right career choice.
Have a happy Halloween!
By Adam Bunch
HANK SNOW GETS HIS BIG BREAK
By the time Hank Snow was 22 years old, he had already lived quite a life. Born in Nova Scotia to a working class family who struggled to make ends meet, he suffered at the hands of an abusive stepfather and grandfather. The frequent beatings were enough to drive him away from home when he was just 12 years old. He found a job on the high seas, serving as a cabin boy on a fishing schooner, but it wasn’t easy work and when a storm nearly wrecked the ship off of Sable Island, the graveyard of the Atlantic, the young Snow decided he’d rather live on land. He headed back home to his mother and stepfather, where he picked up a new job selling fish door to door.
Luckily, his parents had also given him a love of music. His father sang and his mother played piano at silent film screenings. Snow bought his first guitar from the Eaton’s catalogue as a teenager and he was soon ready to make his public debut: playing in blackface at a charity minstrel show in Bridgewater, N.S. The performance earned him a standing ovation. Before long, he would be playing a regular Saturday night gig for a local Halifax radio station – this time, without the racist face paint.
It was during this week in 1936 that Snow finally got his big break as a 22-year-old: an audition with RCA Victor in Montreal. It was the beginning of a 45-year relationship with the label. Snow would go on to record more than 100 albums, land a weekly spot on CBC Radio and become a featured star on the “Grand Ole Opry” (it was Snow who convinced them to let Elvis Presley appear and who introduced him to Colonel Tom Parker). He scored more than 80 hits on the Billboard country charts and made it all the way to the top on seven different occasions. He was one of the most famous and beloved country singers of all time.
In 1979, Hank Snow was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He called it “the highest honour I feel I could ever hope to have in a lifetime.” He passed away in 1999 at the age of 85.
SHIRLEY MATTHEWS AND THE YONGE STREET STRIP
One of the hottest spots in 1960s Toronto was an after-hours soul club on the Yonge Street strip. Club Bluenote was where all of the local rock and soul musicians would meet after their regular gigs, jamming with an all-star house band long into the night. Visiting musicians would make regular appearances too, stopping by while they were in town on tour. At the Bluenote, the best acts in Toronto shared the stage with legends such as Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson and The Supremes. Edwin Starr once called it his favourite music venue in the world.
The Bluenote’s house bands produced some of the city’s finest musical talents and one of them was Shirley Matthews. She got her start performing at night on Toronto’s high-school dance circuit after spending her days working as a switchboard operator for Bell. But it was singing with the Bluenote’s house band that led to her own solo career. Her biggest hit was a handclapping showstopper of a tune called “Big Town Boy,” which would also launch a recording career for her backing band (they took their name from the song and went on to become one of the city’s best fuzzed-up rock acts).
It was on Halloween of 1963 that Matthews appeared on CBC’s “Music Hop” show, hosted by Alex Trebek. That evening, she performed “Big Town Boy” on television sets across the country.
By James Sandham
Toronto is a good-looking town, but this week it seems even more stylish than usual. I keep seeing these well-dressed young men and these women who are well over six feet tall – all with the bone structure of runway models. Then it hit me: it’s fashion week here in the city. Well, fashion and music have always gone hand in hand, so this week I thought we’d take a look at some tunes that pay homage to sartorial finery.
DAVID BOWIE – “FASHION”
Obviously. You can’t talk about music and fashion without including this track from David Bowie’s 1980 album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). It was the second single from the disc, after “Ashes to Ashes,” and it features the guitar riffs of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. The music video, below, was shot at famous New York City nightclub Hurrah, renowned for its punk, new wave and industrial music.
BRYAN ADAMS – “FITS YA GOOD”
We certainly can’t talk fashion without reference to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2006 inductee, Mr. Bryan Adams, who is not just a musician, but is also a respected photographer – particularly of the fashion photo variety. He’s shot ad campaigns for brands like Guess Jeans, Fred Perry and Escada, and has had his editorial work featured in big-name fashion publications like Vogue. He even founded the art fashion publication Zoo Magazine. Not too bad for a kid from Kingston, Ontario. Check out Adams’ live performance of “Fits Ya Good” from his second album, You Want It, You Got It, here.
FELIX DA HOUSECAT – “READY 2 WEAR”
Felix Da Housecat (a.k.a. Electrikboy, a.k.a. Sharkimaxx, a.k.a. Aphrohead) is a Chicago-born producer and DJ. This track comes from his second studio album, 2004’s Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever. It’s basically the kind of song I picture models listening to to get themselves psyched up before they head on down the runway. If they even do that sort of thing. I have no idea.
SHANIA TWAIN – “COAT OF MANY COLORS”
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2011 inductee and officer of the Order of Canada, Ms. Shania Twain. Here she is, live at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006, covering Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” I guess this is really more of an “anti-fashion” song, since (as the lyrics detail) the kids at school mocked her for her sewn-up patchwork coat. Maybe that’s what fashion is really about: having the guts to go your own way and wear what you want. I’m sure there’s a morality tale in there somewhere (I just may have missed it completely).
LEONARD COHEN – “CAME SO FAR FOR BEAUTY”
Last but not least, here is the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1991 inductee, Leonard Cohen, singing a song that might not be about fashion or fashion shows per se, but that can certainly be interpreted that way – and which, when it is, takes on a certain ironic humour that I’m sure he didn’t intend. But that’s the beauty of fashion, isn’t it? It lets you see something old through new eyes again.
By Adam Bunch
THE FOUR LADS SCORE A HIT WITH “ISTANBUL (NOT CONSTANTINOPLE)”
When the Turkish capital of Constantinople was renamed in 1930, it might have caused some confusion, but it also inspired one of the most ear-warming songs of all time. “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” with its cheeky lyrics referencing the city’s name change, was first recorded in 1953, and it was sung by a Canadian group: The Four Lads.
The quartet first formed when the lads were teenagers attending St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. In fact, at first they called themselves The Otnorots – Toronto spelled backwards. Playing local clubs in the early 1950s soon led to a move to New York City, where The Four Lads were discovered by Mitch Miller (famous for both being the head of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records and for his “Sing Along With Mitch” records, a staple of thrift-store vinyl bins everywhere).
The group released an impressive array of seven singles in their first two years together, every one of which charted in either the United States or the United Kingdom. But it was “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” that was their biggest hit in those early years. During this week in 1953, it entered the Billboard charts for the very first time. It would sail all the way up to No. 10 and eventually become a gold record.
That was just the beginning for The Four Lads. They would follow that song up with even bigger hits, including “Moments to Remember,” “No, Not Much” and “Standin’ on the Corner.” By the time they had finished their recording careers, the group had released five gold records. In 1984, they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
While three of the four original members have passed away since then, the name lives on: baritone Frank Busseri still tours under The Four Lads moniker.
THE DEATH OF A 19TH CENTURY MÉTIS SONGWRITER
Pierre Falcon was one of Canada’s earliest songwriters – so early, in fact, that there wasn’t even a Canada yet.
Born in 1793, in what would one day become the Province of Manitoba, Falcon was the son of a fur trader and a First Nations woman (probably Cree). The young Falcon ended up working for the North West Company, the main fur-trading competitor to the Hudson’s Bay Company, just like his father did. But Falcon also had a talent for music and songwriting. As a result, he became an important voice for the new Métis people – those descended from both the First Nations people and the newly arrived Canadian settlers.
Falcon wrote songs describing the ordinary lives and historic events taking place around him. His most famous would be “La Chanson de la Grenouillère,” which told the story of the Battle of Seven Oaks, a clash between the Métis people and settlers at the spot where Winnipeg stands today. It was far from the end of the troubles in the region. When, decades later, Louis Riel led his famous resistance against the Canadian government’s colonial war on the Métis, an elderly Falcon would volunteer for a place on the front lines. His offer was rejected, but he wrote another mocking song about it: “Les tribulations d’un roi malheureux.”
They say that Falcon’s songs were once sung all over our country, from the St. Lawrence in the East all the way to the Mackenzie River in the West. Sadly, when he passed away during this week in 1876, most of his songs would soon follow him to the grave. Today, all but a few have been lost to history.
By James Sandham
Well folks, it’s been about three days since the seasonal food infusion we know here as Thanksgiving, and I guess you could say I’m nursing a bit of a food hangover. After a weekend dinner double-header that included everything from ham to turkey to pumpkin pie – and all of those cheesy, gooey casseroles we try to pass off as “vegetable” dishes – I’ve got food on the brain.
It seems I’m not the only one, because to my delight, I’ve discovered there’s a gravy boat full of food-themed songs by some great Canadian artists. So let’s take a little culinary adventure here and see what’s on the menu.
Food-wise, there’s probably nothing more Canadian than poutine. It’s basically right up there with the moose and maple leaf, as far as icons of our culture go, which is why it only makes sense to start this list off with a little dose of that squeaky cheese and gravy concoction – and sung in Québécois, too. This track, from back in 2007, comes courtesy of Montreal hip-hop group Omnikrom. Now that’s some salty goodness.
Omnikron ft. TTC – “Danse la Poutine”
SIDE DISH: SPUDS
And of course, since you can’t have poutine without potatoes, we had to include this tasty little side dish: Stompin’ Tom Connors’ 1969 classic “Bud the Spud,” an ode to those little gems mined from Prince Edward Island’s famous red soil. It’s a plate the whole family can enjoy.
Stompin’ Tom Connors – “Bud the Spud”
Mmm. Steak. Over a Thanksgiving weekend that seemed to include every imaginable dish, I must confess that a beef course was conspicuously absent – just as it is, incidentally, in this song. Not that that slims it down much. The track, from Neil Young’s 11th studio release, 1981’s Re-ac-tor, still clocks in at just under 10 minutes. It seems we have a very potato-centric theme developing here.
Neil Young – “T-Bone”
ALTERNATIVE MAIN: BANNOCK
So “we ain’t got no T-bone,” but we’ve got bannock (also known as muqpauraq), a flatbread common in First Nations’ cuisine that is typically fried, baked or cooked over a grill (although technically the word can be applied to any large, round article baked or cooked from grain). In this song, Harry Davies recalls memories of eating frozen bannock for lunch. Yum.
Harry Davies – “The Bannock Song”
DESSERT: ICE CREAM
OK, well, turns out this has been a rather underwhelming feast: we’ve had three courses of potatoes, followed by a serving of cooked dough. Luckily, this meal was presented in musical form, though, which means that all of the offerings have been pretty sweet. Speaking of sweet, how about one last Canadian crooner to wrap it all up? “Ice Cream” comes from Sarah McLachlan’s 1993 LP, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, which was her big international breakout album. With songs like this, it’s not hard to see why. Bon appétit!
Sarah McLachlan – “Ice Cream”
By Adam Bunch
NARDWUAR HITS THE AIRWAVES
It was in October of 1987 that a brand-new music show debuted on the University of British Columbia’s radio station, CiTR 101.9 FM, hosted by a young history student who had a passionate interest in Canadian music. He had been born as John Ruskin, but just the year before, he had changed his name. He was now known as Nardwuar the Human Serviette.
Nardwuar would go on to become one of the most famous music journalists in Canada (as well as a musician in his own right, playing with The Evaporators and Three Goblins). His unconventional interview style – which involves guerilla ambushes, an eccentric fashion sense and deep research into obscure biographical details about the musicians he interviews – has made him an icon. Not to mention the musical catchphrase he always ends his interviews with – “doot doola doot doo…” – in the hope that the interview subject will finish it off with a “doo doo!”
It doesn’t always work that way though. Responses have included everything from angry curses to confused silence. For some musicians, the experience of being interviewed by Nardwuar is a pleasure. Drake once described his interview with the Human Serviette as the “best that I’ve ever done in my entire life.” Others get upset, throwing insults and threats in his direction. Quiet Riot chased him down the street.
Whatever happens does tend to make for memorable music journalism. Nardwuar has frequently contributed to MuchMusic, Chart and the CBC, but in all those years, he has continued to host the UBC radio show where he got his start. The show turns 26 this month and the very oldest interview posted to its online archives was conducted during this week all those years ago. You can listen to the young Nardwuar interview Vancouver punk band D.O.A. in 1987 by scrolling down on his audio page right here.
THE POPPY FAMILY RULES THE CHARTS
When this week dawned in the year 1969, it was a Canadian band that was standing on top of the CHUM Chart. The Poppy Family was a Vancouver pop group whose lead singer, Susan Pesklevits, had gotten her start on the CBC’s “Music Hop” (which was featured in this column two weeks ago). When she met guitarist Terry Jacks as a teenager in the ’60s, the two didn’t just end up getting married, they also started one of the country’s most popular bands.
Their debut album, Which Way You Goin’ Billy?, was a success not just in Canada, but also all over the world. The title track was its biggest hit, climbing all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and soaring all the way to No. 1 north of the border. It also made the charts in Britain and Australia. It would go on to win two Gold Leaf Awards (which is what the JUNO Awards were called back then) in 1971.
The band wouldn’t last for long, though. Neither would their marriage. The Poppy Family would only put out one more record, Poppy Seeds, before Susan and Terry Jacks separated and the band broke up. They would, however, continue on with their own solo careers.
By James Sandham
Well folks, it’s definitely autumn. There’s a crispness to the air and the leaves are changing colour – and it makes me want to get out into the woods to mosey along the trails, maybe with a little acoustic guitar playing in my ears. I guess what I’m saying is that this is the season for folk music, which is perfect timing, because the nominees for the Canadian Folk Music Awards were just announced and there are some great musicians on the list. But it’s not just guitar plucking you’ll find – this is real folk, representing traditional music from around the world.
“This year’s nominated artists are all marked by a startling enthusiasm,” says Grit Laskin, president of the Canadian Folk Music Awards. “We’ve got Appalachian dulcimers, five-stringed violins, punk-inspired folk, classical-inspired folk, Irish hand drums, Iraqi oud fusionists, world-renowned step-dancers and heart-wrenching songwriters – all of whom are releasing and performing some of Canada’s best folk music.”
It’s a nominee list as multi-ethnic as Canada itself and it seems as though there’s something for everyone, so let’s check out a few of the artists who happened to catch our ear.
Three years ago, Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra was a quartet of buskers; the group has since grown into a 16-member guerrilla folk force, with members including Mark Marczyk, James McKay, Emilyn Stam, Anastasia Baczynskyj, Tangi Ropars, Alex Nahirny, Jaash Singh, Stephania Woloshyn, Oskar Lambarri, Rob Teehan, Chris Weatherstone, Karl Silveira, Michael Louis Johnson, Nic Buligan, John David Williams and Mike Romaniak (phew). Audiences from New York City to Budapest to Berlin have been hailing them as folk-music revolutionaries. They’ve received multiple nominations at this year’s awards, including for Instrumental Group of the Year, New/Emerging Artist of the Year, Best Traditional Album of the Year (for 2012’s Lune, Lune) and World Group of the Year.
The Lemon Bucket Orkestra – “Tomu Kosa’
Born and raised in Toronto, Anabelle Chvostek is a versatile multi-instrumentalist who made her professional debut with the Canadian Opera Company at just seven years of age. After years as a solo artist, she joined the JUNO Award–winning group The Wailin’ Jennys in 2004, a gig that took her from relative obscurity to international acclaim. During her years with the Jennys, Chvostek toured Europe, performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” and sang on the JUNO Awards telecast. Leaving the Jennys in 2007, she reprised her solo career and signed to Borealis Records, with whom she released Resilience in 2008. She’s since been touring the United Kingdom on a yearly basis, as well as crisscrossing Canada, the United States and Europe. She’s nominated in the Contemporary Album of the Year category for her latest album, Rise.
Annabelle Chvostek – “Resilience”
Hailing from the red shores of Prince Edward Island, Ashley Condon is the grandchild of Canadian country pioneer Bill Leblanc, who – interesting fact – once spent the night in jail with 1979 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Hank Snow. Felonious pseudo-associations aside, suffice it to say that Condon’s musical upbringing has included everything from old-time country to folk, blues and southern rock – and her music reflects it. She’s been nominated in the New/Emerging Artist of the Year category. The track below comes from her 2013 release, This Great Compromise.
Ashley Condon – “Your Love is Beautiful”
Nominated in the category of World Solo Artist of the Year, Lenka Lichtenberg is a composer, vocalist (Yiddish, English, Czech, French, Russian and Hebrew) and bandleader. She has six solo albums to her name, along with several collaborations, and she creates a uniquely Canadian sort of world music, channeling the rich soundscapes of the Middle East, India, Brazil, her own East European heritage and, of course, the influences of her current place of residence, Toronto. Get a taste of her eclectic style with the track below.
Lenka Lichtenberg – “Avinu Malkeinu”
Nominated in the Vocal Group of the Year category, Victoria, BC’s The Sweet Lowdown is comprised of Amanda Blied, Shanti Bremer and Miriam Sonstenes. They do a Dixie Chicks-ish sort of bluegrass-country music that is heart-wrenching in its beauty. Their self-titled debut LP, from which the track below comes, was nominated for the Vancouver Island Music Awards’ 2012 Album of the Year, and their 2013 follow-up, May, won the festival’s award for Roots Album or EP of the Year.
The Sweet Lowdown – “Red Shift Blues”
By Adam Bunch
THE RELEASE OF HARD CORE LOGO
It was during this week in 1996 that one of the greatest Canadian films of all time was released. Hard Core Logo starred Headstones frontman Hugh Dillon and Callum Keith Rennie (who is best known for playing one of the cylons on “Battlestar Gallactica,” as well as for roles in Memento and “Due South”). The pair played members of an over-the-hill Canadian punk band who slowly disintegrate while being filmed mockumentary-style on tour. They weren’t the only familiar faces on screen: Joey Shithead from the Vancouver punk band D.O.A. made a cameo, as did Joey Ramone.
The comedy became a big Canadian hit. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was distributed in the United States by Quentin Tarantino. (Dillon was even considered for a role in Jackie Brown.) It was nominated for six Genie Awards, spawned a tribute album and a sequel, and has been repeatedly listed among the best movies our country has ever produced.
Hard Core Logo helped to establish director Bruce McDonald as one of the leading filmmakers in Canada, and he has continued to have a close relationship with the Canadian music scene in the years since. He’s been behind several recent films about Canadian music, including the Broken Social Scene concert film This Movie Is Broken and a series about Toronto’s 1960s rock and soul scene titled Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories.
THE RETURN OF CRACK OF DAWN
During the 1970s, a new wave of immigration from the Caribbean was changing the sound of Canadian music. As reggae stars such as Jackie Mittoo and Johnny Osbourne came north, their tropical sound mixed with the harder edge of Canadian rock ’n’ roll to produce a new generation of outstanding bands. One of the best was Crack of Dawn.
The group consisted of members from Jamaica, Grenada, Nova Scotia and Toronto playing some of the best disco-tinged funk our country has ever heard. By 1977 they had released a full-length debut on Columbia Records, becoming the very first black band from Canada to ever be signed to a major label.
They were huge. “I remember pulling into Edmonton and seeing thousands of people waiting for us and all these girls screaming,” guitarist Rupert Harvey would later remember. “We were shocked that all those people were there for us.”
And they did it at a time when black immigrants were still a new sight for much of the country.
“The first time we played in Saskatoon,” says Harvey, “I remember walking back to the hotel early in the morning and a van came up beside us really slowly. This guy looked at us and said ‘Howdy, never seen one of you guys before, only on TV.’ It was friendly, but strange.”
The band broke up a year after their debut was released, with some members going on to play in other landmark groups, like Toots and The Maytals, while others passed their knowledge down to the next generation, becoming managers, producers and professors. It wasn’t the end of their story, though. During this week in 2012, Crack of Dawn reunited, playing a show in Toronto with Canadian hip-hop pioneer Michie Mee.
By James Sandham
Vice Magazine–approved Vancouver songstress Crystal Dorval, a.k.a. White Poppy, brings her emphatically down-tempo brand of dreamy/delirious fuzz-rock/noise to Remington Gallery this Friday. You may want to check her out if you’re into a) ambient sounds or b) prolonged periods of deep introspection. Watch her video below.
White Poppy – “Wish and Wonder”
In a month that seems dominated (in Calgary, at least) by musical performances of the heavy metal/death metal/black metal/technical death metal varieties, there is one performance that stands out – a light in all the darkness, if you will: The Mahones, Kingston, Ontario’s Irish punk originators. They’ll be playing the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology on October 17 and there will be no better place to shed a tear in your beer, wax nostalgic for Ireland (even if you’ve never been there), meet a new best friend and then get in a bloody fist fight – and all before last call. In other words, it’ll be a night well spent.
The Mahones – “Back Home”
So it’s a Thurday night, you’re in Winnipeg – what’re you gonna do? That’s actually a trick question, because there’s really only one answer (or at least, there’s only one answer on Thursday, October 10): go see Toronto hardcore maniacs Cancer Bats. They’ll be shredding eardrums all night and, in the Halloween spirit, will also be donning the guise of their rock ‘n’ roll alter-egos Bat Sabbath, a (you guessed it) Black Sabbath cover band. That’s like two bands for the price of one. You can’t go wrong.
Cancer Bats – “Sabotage”
Winnipeg’s Royal Canoe sails into Hogtown as part of their current ongoing tour before further stops in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee… Paris, Reykjavík, Brussels… and so on. Catch ’em while you can. They do progressive pop music that will make you want to move.
Royal Canoe – “Bathtubs”
To round things off, how could we fail to mention hip-hop/R&B’s reigning king – and Toronto’s very own – Mr. Aubrey Graham, a.k.a. Drake. He’ll be in Montreal on October 21 for the first Canadian date of his current North American tour, promoting his new release, Nothing Was the Same. Check out the video for the album’s second single, below, in which he plays a vengeful, gun-toting, 1980s Mafioso-type intent on rescuing a kidnapped girlfriend.
Drake – “Hold On We’re Going Home”
By Adam Bunch
THE DUMBELLS PLAY ON BROADWAY – AND AT VIMY RIDGE
The night of October 1, 1919, was a big one for a group of Canadian soldiers-turned-singers who called themselves The Dumbells. They had first formed as a theatrical vaudeville group in 1917. The idea was to provide some entertainment for troops fighting on the front lines of the First World War – and that’s exactly what they did.
The Dumbells would drag all of their costumes, curtains and sets – and even an upright piano – all the way to the trenches of bloody battlegrounds like Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. They would then perform comedic sketches about life in the military and sing songs about the war on stages that might consist of nothing more than a few old crates and some makeshift footlights made of candles placed in biscuit tins. Many times the sounds of gunfire and artillery would be raging in the background. Once a German shell even shot across the stage. The Dumbells’ performances would often be one last moment of joy in the lives of the soldiers who were about to be sent over the top. They say Canadian troops could be found all over Western Europe marching into battle whistling “The Dumbell Rag.”
After the end of the war, the group stayed together for a while. They organized a touring musical revue and it was during this week in 1919 that it debuted on stage in Toronto after previews and rehearsals in Owen Sound and London, Ontario. The show was a hit. The Dumbells would tour Canada a dozen times over the next decade or so, release more than two dozen recordings and become the first Canadians to have a hit show on Broadway.
One of the most popular tunes the group sang was “Oh, It’s a Lovely War,” which you can still listen to on YouTube as recorded by another group.
THE DEBUT OF ‘MUSIC HOP’ WITH ALEX TREBEK
It was on the Thursday afternoon of this week in 1963 that the CBC debuted a brand-new music show called “Music Hop.” It was Canada’s answer to the runaway success of “American Bandstand”: a show that would appeal to the nation’s youth while supporting Canadian musicians.
The host for that first year was Alex Trebek; it was the “Jeopardy” legend’s first-ever hosting gig. But it wasn’t until the show’s second year that it really took off. The initial weekly program filmed in Toronto was joined by four more shows broadcast from cities across Canada. Mondays featured “Let’s Go” from Vancouver, Tuesdays it was the francophone “Jeunesse Oblige” from Montreal, Winnipeg’s “Hootenanny” was on Wednesdays and “Frank’s Bandstand” wrapped up the week from Halifax on Friday afternoons. One million Canadians watched the show every week, most of them under the age of 20.
As psychedelic music took hold in the late 1960s, “Music Hop” would share the fate of most of the shows that followed the same format: it was finally cancelled during the Summer of Love in 1967. But for four of the most important years in the history of popular music, “Music Hop” was the televised voice of Canada’s contribution. By the time they went off the air, the shows under the “Music Hop” umbrella had featured international stars like Petula Clark right alongside our own homegrown talent, including some Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees. A young Anne Murray was a frequent guest on “Frank’s Bandstand” in Halifax, while you can still find Sylvia Tyson singing “Salty Dog Blues” on YouTube thanks to an episode of “Hootenanny” from 1963.