2016 – Favourite Music Acquired This Year

The year is coming to an end and what a year it has been. In the news there have been so many high profile deaths and many others of lesser fame yet still tragic losses to the music world. On the bright side, this is the year that I made a number of new musician friends whose music careers have been taking off or climbing steadily higher.

Since we are at the end of another year, it is time for me to post where my journey in music exploration has taken me this year. In some ways the year started out as usual. Orders placed at the end of 2015 were brought home in early January and by February I was checking out the top albums of 2015 on Prog Archives and seeing which ones I thought would be worth ordering. By spring I was back into music history, topping off my Canadian 70’s hard rock and metal and my 60’s garage band collection. Then I discovered the progressive music of Quebec in the 70’s and brought home over a dozen albums from those exciting days. There was a brief period of Slayer and Megadeth classics, and then by the end of the summer I was checking a few more recent prog albums before launching into a 2016 release festa. In fact, I ordered more new releases this year than any other year since the mid-eighties when I was rapaciously following everything metal.

Here are a few lists of songs and albums that I really enjoyed.

Albums of 2016

img_121810. Strategies by Jesus Munoz – Quite a surprise this one. Jesus Munoz is a Spanish amateur guitarist who recorded an album’s worth of music in 2015 and then released it with two additional tracks and a real drummer in 2016. His playing style reminds me of a cross between Steve Howe and Steve Morse. “The Limpid Green” is the track that stuck in my head the most, though nearly every track on the album is really great.

9. Distance by Structural Disorder – I heard about this band through the Facebook page, Progressive Rock Fanatics. The fact that they use an accordion as a lead instrument but make it sound like a synthesizer for most songs intrigued me. I pledged money toward their new album and I was not disappointed. Progressive metal with lots of atmosphere and beautiful slower parts included, I enjoyed listening to this several times before reviewing it.

8. The Perfect Map by Elephants of Scotland – An album that was getting some attention during the end of the summer, I picked it up in the fall and was impressed. Though the vocals need a little more something, the music is top notch modern prog.

7. The Clockwork Fable by Gandalf’s Fist – Three discs! And a concept album! What made this one stand out was not so much the great music but the narrative that it went with. While most narratives are told in the lyrics, this album has a cast of voice actors and comes across as a radio play with musical interludes. For the first two listens, I was more interested in the story than the songs!

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6. Land of Blue Echoes by Marco Ragni – An excellent psychedelic / space rock inspired album of progressive music. Marco released a new album a few months later, “California” which is also very good. It’s thanks to this album that I got to know guitarist Peter Matuchniak of Gekko Projekt.

5. Silence Between Sounds by Karmamoi – An Italian band that don’t sound like RPI, Karmamoi’s album will keep you guessing where each track will take you. Four female singers contribute to the vocals. Great music and singing!

4. Holophinium by KariBow – A perfect blend of melodic rock and progressive rock. Oliver Rusing’s KariBow has been a personal project for nearly 20 years. “Holophinium” was his big leap into having a band and including several guest musicians. He also rereleased an older album, “Man of Rust” in the fall.

3. Overwrite the Sin by Maglev – Another almost one-man-band, Joost Maglev’s first full-length progressive rock album is a treat. Five songs each with its own approach and expertly executed.

2. Evership – self-titled debut. What a class act this is! A perfect blend of modern prog with late seventies / early eighties progressive rock sounds. A real treat!

ctp

1. Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but Sweet) by Colin Tench Project. The subject of my previous post, let’s just say this is a blend of many styles, sounds terrific and is entertaining as well.

 

Favourite Songs of 2016 Purchases

fish-on-fridayOf course each of the above albums had songs that stuck in my head and demanded repeat plays, sometimes over the course of a week, sometimes coming back again and again. CTP’s “Part 4b”, Maglev’s “Judith”, Evership’s “Slow descent into Reality” and KariBow’s “Quantum Leap” were some of the songs that became favourites this year. But here are ten other songs from my 2016 purchases that were played well over a dozen times.

Orbit by Thundermug
Phasors on Stun by FM
Madman by Klaatu
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp (yes, I finally bought some Supertramp albums)
Back to the Stars by Rosenkreutz (one of the best 17-minute plus songs I’ve heard in a while)
A tout le monde by Megadeth
The Endless Knot by Haken
Tick-Tock by Fish on Friday
Meditations by Modern-Rock Ensemble
A ciel ouvert by Grandval

Harmonium_-_Si_On_Avait_Besoin_D'Une_Cinquième_Saison

Rock progressif Quebecois – 10 favourites
I wrote about the progressive rock of 1970’s Quebec in a previous post. Here are some favourite tracks.

En pleine face by Harmonium
Eclaircie by Et cetera
La marche des hommes by Morse Code (keyboard player Christian Simard passed away recently at age 67)
Vivre la mort by Pollen
Voisins (mon chum) by Vos Voisins
Les folleries by Maneige
Algebrique by Sloche
Agneau de Dieu by Dionysos
L’alarme a l’oeil by Contraction
Le chant du Guerrier by Octobre

coney-hatch-outa-handHere’s a list of five new favourites from the hard rock and metal of Canada of the late seventies through to the early nineties.

Turn It Loud by Headpins
Don’t Say Make Me by Coney Hatch
Too Much Carousing by Goddo
Under the Influence by Sven Gali
Metal on Metal by Anvil (such a classic)

nemo

 

Finally, I want to mention ten bands and artists that were mostly new to me whose albums impressed me enough to deserve their own list.

Cocoon by Tiger Moth Tales (Peter Jones)

Refuel by Rocket Scientists

The Road to Avalon by The Minstrel’s Ghost (Blake Carpenter)
Chapter One by Cell15 (Robert Scott Richardson)
Coma by Nemo
Ones & Zeros by 3rdegree
Who’s the Boss in the Factory by Karmakanic
Godspeed by Fish on Friday
The Ones I Condemn by Sacrifice (I’ve known about Sacrifice since the 80’s but this album really stands out)
Mood Swings by Harem Scarem

I want to close off with honourable mentions going to Peter Matuchniak’s solo work, GorMusik, Grandval, Yuka & Chronoship, Q65 (a Dutch garage rock band of the 60’s), and The Troggs (for some of their hard and heavy hitting music of the 60’s).

What is CTP?

Colin Tench Project

ctp

On September 30th of this year, Colin Tench released his long-awaited solo project album “Hair in a G-String (Sweet but Unfinished)”. I call it a solo project because he usually plays in a band called Corvus Stone where everyone contributes to the music creation; all four members come up with their own bits. Colin has played lead guitar on a few other album’s like “The Road to Avalon” by Blake Carpenter’s Minstrel’s Ghost, “The Road to Mingulay” by Andy John Bradford’s Ocean’s 5, and most recently on “Bridge Across Time” by Steve Gresswell’s Coalition (with Blake Carpenter). But this “Hair in a G-String” is a Colin Tench album, with all the music and much of the lyrics created by him.

No. Not quite. Let me correct that. The music was created by Mr. Tench but a rather lengthy list of people (25 I counted including Colin) contributed with some of them building on the music that was created while others – namely Phil Naro and Peter Jones – contributed lyrics to some tracks.

CTP for short (and not to be confused with the Christian Tolle Project) has culminated in an album that can best be described as entertaining and enjoyable. The music is varied and wonderfully composed, performed, and produced. Some of the lyrics are very clever and beautiful while others are quite amusing. It’s an album of progressive music but not in an exceptionally technical way nor in a grandiose fashion. It’s an album of melodic rock in a manner reminiscent of the classic days when melodic rock was a pop radio staple. Though the primary influences would seem to be Genesis, Queen, ELO, and even Santana, one can pick out some Pink Floyd and even a touch of Iron Maiden, plus as many other artists are you care to find. Rumours of both Sir George Martin and Spike Milligan being channeled on this album add to the intrigue. It’s an album of serious music (mostly) not to be taken too seriously (mostly).

The stories behind this album’s creation are interesting. It began way back around 2010/11. Colin had played in a band called BunChakeze (say bunch-of-keys) in the 80’s and they had recorded an album’s worth of material that was never released. After a 25-year hiatus from guitar playing, Colin got in touch with Pasi Koivu, a keyboard player and composer in Finland. Pasi recommended releasing the BunChakeze album. Around this time, Colin decided to pick up a guitar and see if he could still come up with something. What resulted was an instrumental piece that was comprised of some material from BunChakeze, some new ideas, and a little bit of stuff borrowed from elsewhere. The final composition was entitled, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Screwed”. Shortly after, Pasi asked Colin to play guitar for a piece he was working on called, “Iron Pillows”. This collaboration was the beginning of Corvus Stone. The guitar instrumental was the beginning of CTP.

Colin became very occupied with chatrooms and through these he came in contact with several people who would become instrumental in his sudden and rapid career development: Sonia Mota (artist), Blake Carpenter (singer), Steve Gresswell (multi-instrumentalist and composer), Stef Flaming (multi-instrumentalist and composer and singer for Murky Red), Andres Guazzelli (composer), Andy John Bradford (folk singer and composer), Oliver Rusing (multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer) and several others too. From 2011 to 2015, Colin would not only go on to release two Corvus Stone albums and one album of remixed tracks and new tracks, but he would appear on a few other albums playing lead guitar and guest on a few more like KariBow’s “Holophinium”, United Progressive Fraternity’s “Fall in Love with the World”, Marco Ragni’s “Land of Blue Echoes”, and Grandval’s “A ciel ouvert”. During all of this, Colin had let singer Phil Naro (who appears on a few Corvus Stone songs) hear “Something Old…” and he took part of the track and recorded vocals with his own lyrics. This became the basis for “Can’t Have It Any Other Way”, the second track on “Hair in a G-String”.

After Corvus Stone “Unscrewed”, Colin decided to work on his solo project in earnest. “The Mad Yeti” was a demo that he had created earlier after buying a microphone called Yeti. This along with other working demos were available on Melodic Revolution Records’ web site. Colin picked up a piece he was working on called “Hair in a G-String” (a title inspired by “Air on a G-String”) and decided to see where he could take it. He also composed a piece called “The Sad Brazilian” which he put on YouTube. Meanwhile in Buffalo, U.S.A., Gordon Bennett, a fellow musician on the United Progressive Fraternity album, found Colin’s Brazilian and pilfered it. Gordo, a very talented guitarist in his own right, went ahead and added orchestral arrangements to the Brazilian and then sent the whole thing back to Colin with a “hope you don’t mind but…” type of a notice. Colin did not mind one bit. Gordo’s contribution had been to enhance the music rather than go over it. Colin was thrilled. Gordo was invited to join the project.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Steve Gresswell, who had provided orchestration for what was to become “Hair in a G-String part 1 (The Opening)”, was becoming busy with his latest recording project, Coalition’s new album “Bridge Across Time”. Gordo was put in charge of most of the rest of the orchestration to appear on the album. Other important names to appear were Phil Naro (vocals and lyrics on two tracks), Vic Tassone (drummer for Unified Past), Oliver Rusing on drums (Oliver commented that he was given the music and with no click track, he had to add his drums and percussion), Ian Beabout on flute for “Lisa’s Entrance Unplugged”, drummer Jay Theodore McGurrin, Petri Lindstrom on bass (Corvus Stone, Saturn Twilight, Progeland, Petri Lindstrom Project, etc.) and a host of others. The biggest addition to the album however had to be Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales and Red Bazar.

Peter Jones not only brought his talents as a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist (he plays a clarinet and a saxophone solo on the album) but also as an improvisational mad man. Though Colin’s lyrics were at times zany enough, Peter was free to interpret them as he liked and add things when he felt inspired to do so. Thus we get the lines, “Put them together and what do you get?/ Goodety goodety good!” Peter also contributes a minion vocal break near the end.

Peter’s serious side can be heard on the first single, “And So Today”. He sings with passion and sentiment on this song about the passing of some of our musical heroes in this past year. It’s a beautiful and touching song.

The album became available on CD in early November and there are plans for a vinyl release of the “Hair in a G-String” parts, “The Sad Brazilian”, and “And So Today”. There is also a bonus track with the download that will not be on the CD and that is Gordo’s orchestral work on “Lisa’s Waltz with full orchestra”, a phenomenal piece on its own.

Currently ranking on the top of several prog lists including CD Baby and Prog Archives, the album received a favourable review in Prog Magazine as well. Colin will be the first to tell you though that this was indeed a band effort. Every single contribution helped make this album the success that it is.

Guitar Rock Explosion!

Several years before the birth of heavy metal, in a time that is now recognized as the beginnings of punk rock, there existed various styles of aggressive and energetic guitar rock. On the English side of the Atlantic, young musicians were plugging in to a rock and roll band format but playing African American blues. Other bands were into the Mod beat music scene. Then one day, Ray Davies heard the American garage rock classic song “Louis Louis” and decided to try to write his own riff rock number. The result was the 1964 hit “Girl You Really Got Me” and its sibling “All Day and All of the Night”. This in turn inspired Who guitarist Pete Townshend to write “Can’t Explain”. In the final months of 1964, a single American garage rock hit had inspired three English riff rock classics.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S. of A, garage rock bands who were busy tinkering with classic 50’s rock and roll, frat rock, and surf rock and turning it into proto-punk garage rock got a taste of the British Invasion. Beatles’ popularity aside, it was the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who (self-described purveyors of “maximum R&B!”) and The Yardbirds that intrigued many bands to take on the English renditions of American blues and give these songs a shot of their own juice. Thus as the American garage rock scene was building up to boiling over, many bands took a decided and guided turn into adding English R&B to their set lists.

A big kick to both sides came in 1965. Previously used by select artists as an effects device for an occasional song or instrumental track, the fuzz box gained overnight popularity when The Rolling Stones’ new single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with its fuzz-toned memorable riff hit the charts. Before 1965 was over, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were testing the capacities of their speakers with the alien buzzing of the fuzz box.

the sonics

Were they loud to compete with the Boeings? The Sonics from Tacoma, Washington.

On the American side, Tacoma Washington’s The Sonics were already well-versed in overdriven, over the top classic rock and roll covers, giving them an unbridled, feral injection of power. Their 1964 single “The Witch” loudly proclaimed what this band was capable of and fully intended on doing, which was to push the needle into the red as far as possible. Back in jolly old England, The Pretty Things were turning their R&B sound into something grittier and dirtier, a sound that matched the image the band was also earning for themselves. Ronnie Wood started up his first recording band, The Birds, a band that frequently put an emphasis on hard-hitting guitars. Their cover of “Leaving Here” in 1965 would later be covered by Motorhead for their debut single.

pretty things

The Pretty Things: making long hair for men trendy since 1965.

In 1965, The Yardbirds lost Eric Clapton but gained Jeff Beck. Beck’s contribution to the band would be a harder edged sound with frequent diversions from standard English R&B to something that permitted fuzz box experimentation and loud, resonating power chords. Their urgent and charging cover of Johnny Brunette’s cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” became an inspiration to future bands and was covered in the 70’s by Aerosmith and Motorhead.

The typical sound set up of bands at this time, regardless of their preferred style(s), was a four or five member band with drums, bass, vocals and then usually either two guitars – one clean rhythm and one lead guitar often employing fuzz tone – or a keyboard. The Music Machine and The Seeds, both of California, chose Farfisa organs while The Artwoods in the U.K. had a young Jon Lord on Hammond organ. Original songs were typically about unfaithful girls. Some bands experimented with a harder, more aggressive sound for some of their songs while others may have only ever recorded a song or two that even come close to the proto-punk, proto-metal arena. Australia’s The Easybeats – featuring George Young, older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC fame – hit a few upbeat guitar rockers but changed their sound with the times. Meanwhile Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds when he felt they were not truly dedicated to the blues after recording the chart-making “For Your Love”. Still, bands like The Sonics, The Seeds, and The Troggs caught attention exactly because they went for volume, grit and edge.

shadows-of-knight2

They should have put the all of the taller guys in the back. Chicago’s The Shadows of Knight.

It was 1966 when this transatlantic breed of music hit its undisputed peak. From the American garage rock perspective, many bands began at last to release albums. The Remains released their one and only album, The Shadows of Knight released two long-players that year, and The Music Machine released an album in December. That last band deserve mention in particular because they combined the garage rock sound with the emerging psychedelic rock sound. They dressed all in black and dyed their hair black, down-tuned their instruments a semi-tone and built their own fuzz box. While their teen angst song “Talk Talk” became their one big hit, the band recorded mostly mature and intelligent songs about various topics such as women’s liberation, food waste, and environmental abuse. A good number of their songs feature heavy, fuzzed out guitar and leader Sean Bonniwell’s powerful, and at times acerbic vocals.

musicmachine_002

Making black the new black: The Music Machine

Another band that was about to blow the music apart but whose candle was snuffed out on the brink of stardom was California’s The Misunderstood. Originally a band chiefly inspired by The Yardbirds, The Misunderstood gained good fortune at each time their first two guitarists had to leave for the draft. The first time, they gained steal lap guitarist Glenn Campbell and the second time they gained English lead guitarist Tony Hill, who later formed the progressive heavy rock band High Tide. The band were in London, struggling to get a record deal when Hill joined and the chemistry between him and singer Rick Brown buzzed so well that they wrote out a song on the same day. Their rare six-track recording in London combined blues-inspired rock with a heavy flower power sound that was unlike anything in their day. No one would come close to that sound until at least 1968. Unfortunately for them and us, Brown was drafted and the band collapsed.

q65

Taking the long hair thing one step further: Q65 of the Netherlands

While garage rock was chiefly an American (and also Canadian) phenomenon and R&B had found a new sound in English rock bands, this music was not limited to two or three countries. There was a kind of zeitgeist that inspired teens and twenty-somethings around the world to try to play this more aggressive style of guitar rock. From Iceland to the Netherlands, from Australia and to Japan, fuzz-toned guitar rockers were cropping up everywhere. Some followed the garage rock sound, others went for the English R&B sound. Still others fused the emerging psychedelic sound into their songs. Not everyone was going for the level of intensity that The Sonics were and not everyone was trying to be the baddest boys on the block. For most bands, the pursuit of the chart-topping single was still paramount because it would mean the record company would be happy and there would be money to allow the bands to record more music. However, the desire to play harder, louder, heavier, and with more energy was made apparent in songs like “Louis Louis” as covered by The Sonics or The Troggs, The Yardbirds “I Ain’t Done Wrong”, Q65’s “Cry in the Night”, or Guess Who’s “It’s My Pride”.

Yardbirds_including_Page

The Yardbirds once boasted having Jeff Beck and Jimmie Page in the band.

The band who best brought heavy to a new definition had to have been Cream. Though their debut album in 1966 was essentially a blues album, the whole sound of the album was unlike anything that had gone before it. Mostly notably, “Spoonful” and “Toad” included guitar chords that were heavy enough to blow everything else out of the water until Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues” cover or Iron Butterfly’s “Iron Butterfly Theme” both released in January of 1968.

By 1966 the elements that would distinguish the future path differences between punk rock and heavy metal were already cropping up. Psychedelic music and progressive rock meant that bands who played songs constructed by simple three-chord riffs could now begin experimenting more with song structure, styles, and sound. Most of these mid-sixties rockers are associated with the proto-punk scene namely due to their rawness and simple, energetic, often angst-filled songs. Nevertheless, from a heavy metal perspective, energetic, guitar rock with guitar distortion, lead guitar solos, and driving riffs are what made heavy metal recognizable. Plenty of elements exist here among the proto-punk files.

creation1

Eddie Philips of The Creation in 1966: “Hey, Jimmie Page! I’ve got an idea. A bowed guitar!”

The final glory year was 1967. British R&B and Mod beat had given way to freakbeat, a kind of aggressive guitar rock style that strove for catchy vocal melodies. The Creation, The Action and The Attack managed to find degrees of chart success but soon after faced a critical turning point in the sound and of popular music. The Creation folded; The Action recorded a album’s worth of songs in a new style which was not released until decades later; and The Attack attempted to move toward a heavier British psychedelic sound before disbanding with guitarist Jon Cann then forming the early heavy progressive band Andromeda.

The+Litter

The Litter, a decent bunch o’ lads

Psychedelic rock, acid rock, and flower power were upsetting the garage rock scene in the U.S. Short, three-chord rockers about cheating girlfriends were no longer in vogue by 1967. Some bands like The Litter and The Amboy Dukes (the Ted Nugent-fronted version) released their debuts that year with decent success; however, by ’68 their styles were changing with the times. Bands the world over, in fact, were trying out new approaches that included more acoustic tracks, adding strings, more experimental and art rock styles, catchy pop rock and bubblegum songs aiming for the charts, and anything else that could hopefully ensure their survival in a rapidly changing popular music scene.

Above all of these changes in popular music was the appearance of Jimi Hendrix on the scene. Guitar playing was never the same afterward. There was simply so much more potential in electric guitar playing. By 1968, bands like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Jefferson Airplane were bringing a completely different kind of guitar rock to the scene. For those earlier bands that survived, 1969 vindicated their persistence. Heavy blues rock, a new more evolved but still raw and aggressive garage rock, and the first generation of heavy metal music emerged from the other end of the peak psychedelic years. Hard and heavy guitar rock had a new sound.

Now, it’s interesting to look back to those years from late 1963 to 1967 when English R&B and American garage rock cross-pollinated and gave us often hard-hitting and testosterone-fueled rock that has earned the title of proto-punk but also holds many of the fundamental elements of heavy metal.

Rock Progressif Québécois

The progressive rock scene in Anglophone Canada during the 1970’s was not particularly robust. Rush are the most well-known band to attempt to apply English prog sensibility to their sound. Earlier in the 70’s, bands like Warpig and Jackal played the heavy rock and Hammond organ style of English bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Chilliwack, Lighthouse, and A Foot in Cold Water were known to veer proggish at times. Progressive pop on the Canadian scene came ahead with Klaatu and FM, and SAGA delivered an earlier neo-progressive pop sound. Nightwinds was probably one of the bands who best tried to follow the English prog example but only lasted one album. It would seem that in spite of Canada’s close connection with British music, the progressive scene did not really take hold.

Not in Anglophone Canada maybe. However for Francophones, progressive rock was given a huge welcome!

It is very curious how English progressive rock became most popular in Canada in the Province of Quebec where most people speak French, and that it became popular there during the height of the Separatist Movement and Québécois pride. But it becomes easier to understand when considering how progressive rock was advantageous for French-speakers: progressive rock was a lot about the music and less about the lyrics, unlike pop which is lyrically oriented. For Francophones who weren’t particularly keen on singing in English just to get a hit song in Anglophone North America or who simply had a difficult time with the language, progressive rock was a way of creating contemporary music that gave them more freedom to express themselves without turning to the English language. Furthermore, progressive rock incorporated a lot of jazz and classical influences, and for many Québécois musicians with degrees in classical music or experience with jazz, progressive rock offered them the liberty of composing music as they liked.

maneige

Quebec jazz classical rock fusion giants, Maneige, sitting down so as to appear not so huge

Two results emerged from these two important reasons for prog’s popularity in la belle province. The first is that many bands chose to sing in French, thus creating not only a platform that made French lyrics acceptable and even desirable, but also blazing a trail for upcoming bands to follow. This was supported and encouraged by the French pride supporters and hence French-only bands were promoted and praised. Meanwhile, other bands committed themselves to being entirely instrumental. The second is that many bands experimented with ideas that were initially perhaps inspired by the British progressive rock scene and soon some went ahead with their own ideas, developing a sound that was distinctly Prog Québec. In fact, as the progressive movement in Italy earned the title rock progressivo Italiano, so the prog movement in Québec could almost have had its own special moniker, rock progressif québécois.

Sloche-Jun-Oeil-Booklet-Front-Cover-31291

Sloche in fine running form

Several English bands were first welcomed to North America by Quebecers. Prior to the prog trend catching on in the rest of Canada and the U.S., bands like Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Camel, Supertramp, and Pink Floyd were filling concert halls in Québec, and as the Québec prog scene grew, local bands opened for their major English counterparts.

contraction

Contraction recorded two excellent albums in the early seventies

The progressive rock and progressive music scene in Québec went through some stages during the 1970’s. At first, bands followed the trends of other North American acts: psychedelic music, heavy psych, blues-based rock. Dionysos was one of the first bands to switch to French-only lyrics and released a heavy psych album with blues influences in 1971. Offenbach and Morse Code Transmission also leaned towards heavy rock and blues. But by as early as 1972, the jazz rock fusion bands were starting to put out vinyl. Octobre, Contraction, and Maniege were among top performers in this genre, with Sloche coming in during the peak years between 1975 and 1977.

It was during these years that the rock progressif québécois scene was at its strongest and with the influences of the English prog scene sewn into the music of many bands. Et Cetera has been called the French Canadian incarnation of Gentle Giant, while Pollen and Morse Code (formally known as Morse Code Transmission) showed some Yes and Genesis influences.

morse code

Changing from heavy psychedelic to symphonic prog, Morse Code after dropping the Transmission

Incubus (later to be known as ExCubus) employed the organ-led power trio approach. For other bands like L’Orchestra Sympathique, orchestral jazz was their cup of tea, while Conventum went more for folk influences. Toubabou followed a world music route, bringing in African drums.

By the mid- to late seventies, however, prog folk was replacing prog rock in popularity. This was most likely due to the great success of Harmonium’s second album, “Si on avait besoin d’une cinquiéme saison”, an album that often appears in top twenty lists of best prog albums ever. Other bands to become successful with prog folk include Garolou (who were actually Ontarians singing French Canadian folk songs) and folk-pop artist, Beau Dommage. There is also a long list of artists who went by their own names in the prog Québec scene.

Harmonium_-_Si_On_Avait_Besoin_D'Une_Cinquième_Saison

The most well-known Quebec prog album ever? “Si on avait besoin d’une cinquieme saison” by Harmonium

By the end of the seventies, many prog bands everywhere the world over were struggling to find relevance in their style of music and either disbanded or modified their sound to a more pop friendly approach. In the case of québécois bands, many also switched to singing in English in order to score hits which would in turn keep record companies interested. For some bands who decided to switch languages earlier on, they found themselves in a tight spot as supporters of French pride regarded singing in English as bad as treason. Gaining popularity in one language meant losing it in another language.

Though the classic years of French Canadian prog are considered to be in the mid-seventies, progressive music and prog rock never truly died out in la belle province. Even in the eighties, new bands like Miriodor were forming. And as both the thrash metal and progressive metal movement began in the mid-eighties, Québec’s Voivod established a special place for themselves in both scenes, singing in English mind you.

octobre

Octobre, undersung heroes of Canadian music

Listening to music from the classic years of French Canadian prog, there is such remarkable, fantastic, and wonderful music. Why didn’t Anglophone Canada make contributions on the same level? Though largely unknown outside of Québec and perhaps France, a few years back ProgQuebec began reissuing classic québécois prog albums on CD. Though word is the label is winding down now, there are still many great albums to be found on CD out there.

 

 

For further reading:

ProgQuebec – features bios in French and English of many bands

Canada.com – a story about prog’s popularity in Quebec

the journals of alan rhodes – an article from 1995 about Quebec prog

 

Below is a playlist of some of my personal favourite songs from my private collection that I have made into a mixed CD.

Morse Code – La marche des hommes

Vos Voisins – Voisins (mon chum)

Maniege – Les folleries

Harmonium – En pleine face

Contraction – Claire Fontaine (YouTube video not available)

ExCubus – Parade de l’armee de verre

Octobre – Le chant de guerrier

Et Cetera – Eclaircie

Pollen – Vivre la mort

Sloche – Algebrique

Offenbach – Marylin

Contraction – L’alarme a l’oeil (second track in this four track set)

Maniege – Les epinettes (video not available but there is one for “La fin de l’histoire“)

Dionysos – Agneau de Dieu (awesome proto-metal song too!)

Metal On Ice – A book review

As we saw in the last two posts, hard rock and heavy metal were a driving force behind the success of Canadian bands beyond the national border. While some bands fared better than others, the world – meaning mostly Western Europe, parts of the United States, and Japan – were becoming acquainted with hard and heavy sounds from Canada.

Canada’s love for heavy music was surely obvious by the eighties as several bands paid homage to heavy rock fever. Anvil’s anthem “Metal on Metal, Helix’s party rock hit “Heavy Metal Love”, Kick Axe’s “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, Killer Dwarfs’ “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, White Wolf’s “Metal Thunder” and Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” all offered different takes on what heavy metal meant and sounded like to them and nearly all of these songs reached the radio waves and late night video programs. Add to that the debut album by Sword, “Metalized”, and there’s no doubt that Canadians loved their metal.

In spite of the fact that Canadian rock had made great headway through the seventies and into the early eighties, there were still great hurdles for bands to overcome. As many bands discovered, deals with record labels didn’t guarantee their albums would make them superstars. And as the nineties began, a lot of bands who had fought hard to achieve some degree of international success and play in the big arenas found themselves back in the bars as grunge made metal subgenres like thrash and glam passé almost overnight.

The story of the Canadian heavy metal band in the eighties has been wonderfully retold in a book by musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly, Helix, Nelly Futardo). Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes takes the reader on a journey from fandom to budding musician, to bar band to debut album, to arena band to canned band wondering what to do next. Kelly interviews over a dozen Canadian hard rock and heavy metal musicians about their early days in their respective bands, their experiences in making their way to the peak of their success and what happened after the grunge explosion hit plus where they are at now and how they look back on the eighties and early nineties. There are stories of harrowing winter road travels packed in a small touring van and the wild lifestyle that evolved around glam metal in particular. While the book doesn’t expound upon episodes of gratuitous debauchery, certain suggestions of youth-gone-wild are mentioned where artists are willing to offer a little insight. More importantly are the common trials shared by Canadian bands trying to make the big time.

For this book – remarkable for its subject matter (how many other books can you name that deal with the subject of Canadian hard rock and metal?) – Kelly interviews members of Coney Hatch, Helix, Headpins, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, Sven Gali, Voivod, Sword, Lee Aaron, Sacrifice, Killer Dwarfs, Razor and more. Plus he recounts his own experiences as a youth first exposed to heavy metal, learning to play the guitar, the life on Younge Street, Toronto, and his own pursuit of heavy metal-dom into the nineties. It makes for a very entertaining read if you were/are a fan of Canadian hard rock and metal. That last point – the Canadian one – is very important because there is a strong sense of Canadian identity running throughout the book. Near the end, musicians are asked if being Canadian had any influence on their lives on the international scene and how they were regarded or treated as Canadian musicians abroad.

Finally, the book ties in the heavy metal arena with the hockey arena; musicians share their thoughts on how hockey and heavy metal are related in Canada and how the relationship is reflected in the life of a Canadian rocker.

If there are any cautionary points to make about this book, then there are three that I noticed. The first is that this is a very Canadian book and perhaps Europeans will be sympathetic but I suspect some Americans might be less so. As a Canadian who is proud of his country’s hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock output, I felt a glow of pride often while reading the book. But Canadian pride is often and personal thing and not something we shout about to the rest of the world. So I felt it would be a little humbling to sit next to an American reading this book. The second point is that this book is very Ontario/Toronto-centric. I felt most bands mentioned were from Ontario or on the periphery but western bands in particular received less mention. Not something to really complain about however as there was plenty for me to learn about from a Torontonian’s perspective. And it’s thanks to this book that I learned muscleman Thor was from Vancouver! Furthermore, Mr. Kelly’s life experiences as a metal head in the eighties are not so far from mine (we are only a year apart in age), and as Toronto’s Younge Street became like the Sunset Strip of the North, it was interesting to read about.

My biggest warning to any potential reader, however, is that you may feel tempted to go add some Canadian metal albums to your collections, and finding some of these like Sven Gali and Slik Toxik means tracking down expensive collector’s copies or finding used CDs in excellent condition. This means it can be a little expensive to satisfy the craving for Canuck metal that this book encourages.

“Metal On Ice” is published by Dundurn and is available on Amazon.ca for $14.98. It’s 208 pages and includes several pages of B&W images.

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Maple Leaf Mayhem

After the 1971 implimentation of CanCon, the mandate that stated radio and television stations must include 25% Canadian content (it was later increased to 30% and then 35%), Canadian artists found they had a voice on the radio, and this meant that it became possible to attract wider audiences and possibly sell more albums. In repsonse, American record labels opened subsidiary offices in Canada. Bands got signed, albums released, and music played on the radio. Canadian music found its way onto the American airwaves as well, and bands toured in the States opening for American acts. More and more Canadian bands were scoring chart hits down south some even overseas in Europe. It was the time of the Canadian Invasion in the early and mid-seventies.

In particular, Canadian hard rock bands were doing well, and as the seventies were coming to an end, more new groups began forming. Toronto was especially a hotspot for new bands, mostly because that’s where all the big American labels had their Canadian offices. Rush had already managed to crack the Big Time and Triumph were hard at work. Other acts like Max Webster, Coney Hatch, Goddo, and Santers emerged with hopes of following suit. But Vancouver also had its share of bands like Chilliwack, Trooper, and new bands like Prism, Loverboy, and Headpins. The Prairie provinces who had delivered Canada’s first big time rock band The Guess Who, now had Streetheart and Harlequin, and a young outfit named Kick Axe was soon to come together as well.

Though success was now within reach for Canadian bands, things weren’t exactly easy. Having a deal with the Candian arm of an American label didn’t necessarily mean a band could get an album released in the States with the parent American label; they were busy promoting their own native bands. Some Canadian bands did get signed and have albums released but then found themselves on tour opening for American bands with their albums barely available anywhere. American record companies were not always eager to promote their northern acts.

But there was another market that was quite hungry for Canadian music. Across the water on mainland Europe, many nations’ radio stations were state controlled and were not so generous with air time for hard rock and heavy metal acts. Seen as music for pimply-faced teens with no strong educational hopes, the harder and heavier stuff was often kept for special radio programs and limited to one or two hours a week. However, there were plenty of people with a desire to hear something new and cool from the American side, and while American labels were busy plugging their bands at home, Canadian acts were dying for more exposure.

Thus it was that magazines like Sounds and Kerrang! were more than pleased to introduce new artists from the west and many Canadian bands were welcomed. Saga found a big audience in Germany and other artists like April Wine, Helix, and Lee Aaron did rather well in Europe also. Canadian bands had such skill from their hard earned experience playing small gigs around their own large country and had a style that was neither British nor American, and so it was that European music journalists easily found words of praise for the struggling bands from the Great White North. Sounds magazine writer Geoff Barton even coined the phrase Maple Leaf Mayhem.

Most of the information stated here comes from an article by one Mr. Paul Suter who wrote for both Sounds and Kerrang! and in his article for Candy Rock he describes very well the story behind the struggle. He is also not short of pity for all the remarkable talent that sadly was unable to take a big bite of success largly due to the challenges of being from Canada in a time when the business side was still not ready to deal with them adequately.

Canadian Hard Rock Invasion

The British Invasion of the sixties is well documented and regarded as a pivotal and defining moment in pop music history. The music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, and several others reached the American airwaves and music stores and had a tremendous influence on the development of Rock and Roll not only in the United States but across the world.

Much less documented and by no means famous or even well-known was the so-called Canadian Invasion of the 1970’s. Several Canadian rock bands found audiences south of the border and were supported and promoted in the States. Other bands were less successful southward but nevertheless a part of the burgeoning rock music scene in Canada.

Naturally, Rock and Roll became popular in Canada almost simultaneously with the U.S., and a few Canadians, most famously Paul Anka, found success in the American market. But there was a real struggle back home for bands to get noticed. Canadian radio stations favoured American or British artists and local promotion on the air was not always easy to come by. Furthermore, there were few record companies in Canada and they were much more cautious about what bands they signed. A lot of great Canadian talent went south where there was a better chance of finding stardom.

The Guess Who was probably the first Canadian-based band to hit the American charts big time. Their 1970 #9 hit “American Woman” opened doors for them both stateside and at home in Canada. With proof that home grown talent could be successful, Canadian bands became regarded with less scepticism at home.

Two important developments were to take place in the early 1970’s. One was the establishment of CanCon (Canadian Content), which refers to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requirements that radio and television broadcasters include a specified amount of Canadian material (content that was at least partly written, produced, presented or contributed to by Canadians). In 1971, this percentage was set at 25%. To acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Canadian artists, the Juno Award was created by Stan Klees. Thus by the early seventies, Canadian music was on the rise at home, and with more bands getting their music on disc there was material to promote down south.

As the hard rock scene flourished in the nineteen seventies, so did many bands from the Great White North. Here are some of the (mostly) hard rock outfits that hit the charts at home and to varying degrees made themselves known stateside.

april wineApril Wine formed in Nova Scotia in 1969 but soon relocated to Montreal. Their eponymous debut album in 1971 scored a domestic hit for the band. Over the next two albums, the brothers Henman and their cousin would depart as the band’s sound moved toward the arena rock style that they became famous for. Their success mounted in the mid-seventies and by the end of the decade, their album “Harder… Faster…” had peaked at spot #64 in the Billboard charts and reached Gold in the U.S. Back home in Canada, however, they had three Platinum albums and two Gold, plus a string of hits. Their international success continued into the early 80’s.

btoBachman Turner Overdrive was Canada’s biggest success story in the 70’s. It has been said that if The Guess Who had introduced Canadian rock to the States, then BTO had introduced it to the world. Formed by former Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman, the band emerged from the collapse of Bachman’s first project, a country rock band named Brave Belt. Encouraged to play more of a heavy rock style, Bachman’s new band with Fred Turner (bass/vocals) spent a few years on the top of the charts, hitting the number one spot with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” on November 9, 1974. The song went to number 1 in 21 countries! During their run of hits, BTO had 10 singles reach the Billboard Top 100.

chilliwackChilliwack’s success south of the border actually came in the early 80’s, even though they raked up six songs in the charts in Canada. Part of the problem was that the band kept changing labels, their first five albums being released by four different labels. When they finally found some stability with Mushroom Records and released three albums, the label went bankrupt. By the end of the seventies, only Bill Henderson from the original line-up remained, but with the addition of Brian McLeod (who would later form Headpins) the band’s chart fortunes began to look up. Their music throughout the seventies was an array of styles including country rock, progressive rock, experimental music, hard rock, and lighter pop rock.

A Foot in ColdwaterA Foot in Cold Water are perhaps known for their Canadian classic rock radio staple “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want)“, a sweet ballad with strings that was later covered by the Canadian hard rock/glam metal band Helix in the 80’s. The band released four albums in the 70’s, starting out with a very hard, heavy and gritty sound on their debut, and then gradually spreading out to include a more mainstream sound, light rock, and somewhat progressive directions. Though the debut is an excellent heavy rock album and the band continued to write quality material, they weren’t able to reach the heights of some of their contemporaries.

mahogany-rush-20150527024849Mahogany Rush was a trio led by guitarist Frank Marino. The band name later changed to Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush and then just Frank Marino. Their style was like a heavy rock version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, especially thanks to Marino’s guitar playing style which on early albums had an uncanny similarity to the famous deceased musician’s, so much in fact that there were rumours that Marino’s body had become occupied by the sprit of Hendrix. The band’s albums “Child of the Novelty” and “Strange Universe” made it to the Billboard Top 100 and “IV” to the top 200.

max websterMax Webster was a hard rock/rock outfit that added some progressive flourishes. They were well known in Canada for touring with Rush and had a few singles in the charts in the seventies. “Paradise Skies” from their fourth album became a hit in the U.K. reaching the #43 spot. After five albums, the band’s guitarist/vocalist Kim Mitchell established a solo career and scored international hits in the eighties with “Go For Soda” and “Patio Lanterns”.

moxyMoxy was a solid hard rock band from Toronto that formed in 1974. Thanks to support from KISS-FM in San Antonio, the band received American airplay early in their career. They toured frequently in the U.S. and opened for AC/DC in 1977. Due to disagreements between the producer and guitarist Earl Johnson, Johnson was kicked out of the studio and American guitarist Tommy Bolin, who was about to embark on a solo career and eventually take over for Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, was in the studio next door and asked to play the solos on the debut album. By their second album, the band were getting comparisons to Aerosmith, Rush, and Deep Purple, and U.K. music journalist Geoff Barton would call Moxy the Canadian Led Zeppelin.

prismphotoPrism was meant to be a vehicle for the music of Bruce Fairbairn. He put together a band comprising members of two other Vancouver bands and called it Sunshyne. Jim Vallance wrote some of the songs and a recording contract was pursued. The debut album was released in 1977 and produced the Canadian hit “Spaceship Superstar”. Two more albums were released in the seventies and were successful in Canada, but it was not until 1981 that Prism would get a hit in America. The band split up in 1984 but later re-formed with some new members. On March 6, 2011, “Spaceship Superstar” was the wake-up song for the crew members of the International Space Station.

rushRush probably needs no introduction but no list of Canadian music from the seventies would be complete without mentioning the band. Their fourth album “2112” was revolutionary for some and how they blended heavy rock with progressive rock has sometimes earned them the title of fathers of prog metal. Their biggest success was still ahead in 1981, but before then, Rush was already touring the U.S. and Europe.

thundermugThundermug shares a similar history to A Foot in Cold Water. A hard rock outfit from Ontario, they scored a couple of hits with their debut in 1971, “Africa” and a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. They released two more albums, each one less heavy and more commercial than the previous, before finally coming to an end. Their first two albums were released in the U.S. as a single compilation album and their third Canadian album was released with a different cover in the U.S. as their second album. An excellent hard rock act in the beginning, it’s a wonder they never had more success.

triumphTriumph is, after The Guess Who, BTO, and Rush, perhaps one of the most successful Canadian hard rock acts to tour the States. Three albums were released in Canada in the seventies, their debut and sophomore made into a single compilation album for the American market. Rik Emmett’s classical and electric guitar abilities gave the band both hard rock cred and a twist of prog. Their third album “Just a Game” scored two hits, “Lay It on the Line” and “Hold On” where the latter reached spot #40 in the U.S. charts. The album peaked on Billboard at #38, while “Hold On” reached number #1 in St. Louis. The band found even greater success in the early eighties and did a commercial for Pepsi.

Trooper-Harry-KalenskyTrooper is Canada’s band, so it has been said. Always drawing crowds at home but never really breaking the U.S., Trooper continues to perform today. Their big Canadian hits include “Raise a Little Hell“, “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)”, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”, “General Hand Grenade”, “3 Dressed Up as a 9”, “Janine”, “Two for the Show”, “Oh, Pretty Lady”, and “Santa Maria”. From the release of their debut in 1975, Trooper began touring in the U.S. Though their albums second through fifth went gold, platinum, double-platinum, and quadruple platinum (a compilation album) in Canada, they only achieved one hit single in the U.S. with “Raise a Little Hell” which reached #59 in 1978.

There are plenty of other exciting bands from Canada who produced quality music in the 1970’s and we will take a look a little later on at the Canadian progressive rock scene during this incredible decade.

For more reading check out this site and this one.