As we look forward to a shiny New Year in January 2014, even if it’s half as good as 2013 we should be in good shape. Mainstream fans are elated to hear of more ‘triple A’ acts coming to our Copps Coliseum and Hamilton Place – the hard rock scene in particular has been a buzz about Black Sabbath coming to town in April for weeks and other communities are digging Elton John’s Steeltown debut on February 8 – but Ozzy and Elton aside, there was so much going on in our local clubs... up close and personal and probably for twenty bucks or less.
Half of Sonic Youth came to town in separate bands; Cherie Currie of the Runaways debuted in Hamilton after 35 years, nascent indie rock lords Sebadoh seemed to develop a stronger relationship with a city they once didn’t seem financially viable, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Zombies, Carmine Appice, Andrew W.K. and so many other important acts graced our little community of clubs making it less and less necessary to go to Toronto.
But why go to Toronto when you have all of this incredible music being written, recorded and performed in your own back yard? When I started this column thirteen years ago, I had a few friends at a Christmas party help me tally up all of the music released that previous year on a page torn from an expired day–timer. It was a good year back then, but we’ve grown so exponentially in genre and in talent.
Veteran Sonic Unyon record label head Tim Potocic assures the return of Tristan Psionic, the band that started the company, this past Christmas will signify a new 45 from that band in 2014 – as well as new releases from a growing roster. That label is being joined by Young Heart Music, Schizophrenic Records, Perdu, Other Songs Music and more people hoping to help make the music they like get to more ears.
CDs, LPs, 45s and even cassettes were released from the likes of Johnny Debt, Gdansk, the Monarch Project, Ragged Bankers, Beard, the Saints Are Coming, New Hands, Marie Avery, Ian Thomas, No Shoes One Sock, Shattered Remains, Daylight For Dead Eyes, the Reason, Diana Panton, 2x the Mono, City and the Sea, Two Peace Extra Spicy, Rackula, Lindy, Lo–Fi, Conservation Authority, Ghosts of Memphis, Mother Tareka, Men to wolves, Guitar Mikey, Pick A Piper, WTCHS, the Hammer Antics, New Hands, the Acoustics, Andy Griffiths, Will Ross, the Barn Katz, John Mamone, Andreas, the Smoke Wagon Blues Band, Emorie, Rob Green, Nothing Helper, BA Johnston, Redanda, 40 Sons, the High Tides, Good Goddamn, Benefit Of A Free Man, Laid To Rest, Weekend Riot Club, Engine Empire, Poor Angus, the Hi Cats, the Emcee, Pet Sun, Tommy Gun, Quails in the Nest, Slender Loris, Radio Free Universe, Dawn and Marra, DToxx, Monkeys with Machetes, Boy With Atlas, Jessy Lanza, TV Freaks, Buckshot Bebee and the Secret Boyfriends, the Human Orchestra, Danielle Beaudin, Pete Van Dyke and the Second Hand Band, Kojo Damptey, Flamingo Bay, Jamsquid, Still Life, Lee Reed, Born Wrong, White Gravy, Rae Billing, Skynet, Motem, the Noble Savages, Artificial Dissemination, Canadian Winter, Varga, Mystics, Dave Rave, Ruth Sutherland, Cowlick, Sonny Del Rio, Andre Bisson, Ascot Royals, JP Riemens and the Barflies, and so many others (yes, hopefully your favourite didn’t get left out of this piece) – you hopefully read about them in this column, went to the show and took home a special cultural memento of Hamilton history.
History making like the Arkells Family Day charity show that sold out in 30 minutes after its announcement, the Killin’ Time Band 4–20 celebrations with three gigs in one day including one outside Hamilton City Hall, and the Reason played Grey Cup festivities, toured Canada, almost died twice in car accidents but came back alive to celebrate ten years as a band. These are musicians are on a mission and fans are taking note. Even if their celebrating other musicians’ music some times.
The eleventh annual Steel City Rockers has expanded to two nights of celebrating the music of Joe Strummer and the Clash and there are a variety of such tribute shows (Not to be confused with tribute bands) that oft are wondrous celebrations of local talent. “Some Kinda Love”, the mammoth star–studded local tribute to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground in June was a simple precursor to the two–day “Magic and Loss” tribute in December once Reed sadly passed away this year. Hamiltonians are contributing to a cosmopolitan culture and with determination.
While we’re looking for an official recording from them, two veteran supergroups proved there is no giving up when they formed the likes of Tongue Fu (featuring members of Teenage Head, the Dinner Belles, the Orphans, the Killjoys backing bar owner/CFMU broadcaster Lou Molinaro) and Say Yes (featuring ex–Saint Alvia and ex Alexisonfire members).
More and more new groups are forming but some definite favourites ended things far too early. The Fat Cats officially broke up this summer and returned for Halloween and fans were delighted for it. But after ten years, the Rest played their last waltz for fans at a Dundas grade school and after eight years, Saint Alvia sang farewell in Toronto, Hamilton and finally, where it all started for them, at Burly Calling.
The Burlington based Burly Calling festival (led by Saint Alvia singer Ben Rispin and Killin’ Time Band’s Pailface Brad Hails) has easily grown in stature to fit nicely beside fixture festivals like the Festival of Friends at Ancaster Fairgrounds and It’s Your Festival in Gage Park. Seven Sundays – the live Sunday night low–key music performance series proved a welcome summer success story... while the music and colour blast pleased all attendees of the Hindi inspired, colour festival A Midsummer’s Dream in Gage Park, it did cause controversy with some area residents concerned over painted fans making their way through the city and some not without leaving a mark. We had a multi–night Steel City Jazz Festival and a similar Southern Ontario Metal Festival on the same day on King William Street this summer, Sonic Unyon’s inaugural Roots And Blues festival in Westdale Village, a Green Belt Harvest Picnic at Christie Conservation Area (a stand out event that was pure bliss even if Gordon Lightfoot had to replace a backing out Neil Young – Daniel Lanois, Whitehorse, Basia Bulat, Harlan Pepper and Terra Lightfoot mesmerized 10,000 music lovers). And Supercrawl the downtown festival that could — that crazy collective capitalizing on a constant growth in culture in the core was blessed with great weather throngs of fans and important performances from the likes of Yo La Tengo, Fucked Up, and dozens of great local bands like Cowlick, the Dirty Nil, BA Johnston and more.
While more notable out of towners like Elliot Brood, Dale Morningstar and Martin Tielli made noticeable relocations to Steeltown, it was sad to document Brantford born Ray Materick’s departure to the west coast after some 30 plus years of adding to our culture. But that is the cycle of life and assuredly, we will stay in touch.
Others we lost forever in 2013; Kent Abbott (Grade, Somehow Hollow), Jack Street, Jason Lees (Abstract, The Plain Steel) and Alex MacDougall (Magic Bubble, Bond, King Biscuit Boy, Crowbar, Trailblazers, Groove Corporation) all passed away but their music will live on.
At the beginning of this year, 43–year–old Riddim Riders vocalist Mike Rajczak gave everyone a scare when he had to cancel his band’s New Year’s Eve gig. His near aneurism health scare stunned many but fans and family were happy to see Rajczak and band return to the stage in time for Bob Marley’s birthday in February.
And then there was Harrison Kennedy’s life threatening condition. It was in the ‘60s that Harrison Kennedy first made his mark on the music world with the Chairmen of the Board but it wasn’t until his sixties that he started making some of the most important music of his career. A myriad of fans, friends and family rallied together in March to aid Kennedy in his battle with prostate cancer.
“In the process, friends came out and supported me when they found out I had to pay for it and wanted to help,” recalled Kennedy. “I was gobsmacked at the response. We raised some money, not all of it but when I talked to the fellow about doing the operation and told him my story, he said, ‘I’m going to do it’. With this experience, I just found everything I thought was important, wasn’t. When he told me that my cancer was gone, all of that worrying and negativity went with it. Maybe I was holding it in my prostate. So all of the tunes that I started writing came back to the roots of the feeling I have in the music. All of the parts of me that I feel comfortable are in this music and I never debated whether I should do it. That’s how [the new album] Soulscape happened. It’s deeper than just the music, it’s my essential self and I feel great.”
Soulscape would be a life affirming, critically acclaimed and award winning record that sets Harrison back on course to take his music to international audiences again.
Hamilton is already making international news on a variety of fronts. Director Floria Sigismondi, a Juno–winning filmmaker who grew up in Hamilton, made international waves when she created a fitting wild treatment for David Bowie’s return to music. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, from Bowie’s The New Day features the singer with actor Tilda Swinton, Andrej Pejic and Saskia De Brauw in a captivating vignette.
Hamilton emcee, OB (also known as Matt O’Brien) was already making waves when we saw him with his buddy Drake in music videos or at the Grammy’s. While he’s easily viewable on youtube.com as well with a song simply called “Hamilton” or as a guest rhyme on “Say I,” by Toronto’s Saukrates, he made tabloid TMZ type news in late 2013. When 59–year–old Kris Kardashian (family matriarch to Kim, Khloe et al) posted a photo to her twitter account featuring a photo of herself with 29–year–old OB and the caption “How Kris got her groove back”, websites like wetpaint.com had to report on the news and Hamilton had another international ambassador, even if it wasn’t from a song. (Fans are still awaiting the debut album O.B. but God love ya!)
2013 could be remembered as the “Year of the Truck”, Monster that is. Jon Harvey (bass and lead vocals), Jeremy Widerman (guitar and vocals), Brandon Bliss (organ and vocals) and Steve Kiely (drums and vocals) came together as Monster Truck just a few years ago but had slaved in the underground in a variety of bands since their teens. When they came together to do a side project, it was just for the love of music and it blew people away. We got to see them in the clubs, we heard about them getting on massive tours, we learned how Alice in Chains and Slash love this band and people just lapped up 2013’s “Furiosity”. They sold out a three–club tour of Hamilton in Christmas 2012 and this year they jammed Hamilton Place Great Hall and it was a brilliant end to a stellar year for a great band. Monster Truck epitomizes Hamilton – talented, tenacious, determined, and focused on doing what they have to do regardless of critics or detractors. It is exciting to think what these boys might do in 2014.
“The more the detractors or haters you have the more successful it means you are,” smiled Widerman before their hometown Hamilton Place return. “It’s a strong reflection that you are doing something right. You can’t truly have any magnitude of success without having people wanting to take it down. I say, bring ‘em on.
“We don’t take things for granted,” added Widerman. “Every time we have any success, all it does is it shows us just how much more there is to do. Every door that we open is proof that we’re not even close to where we could end up if we just keep at it... We’ve been able to take our time and it makes you more confident to for whatever comes next. There’s a lot more to come next year and I’m looking forward to each challenge.”
While Monster Truck are the new Hamilton boys taking on the world, Hamilton’s long–time ambassador has been Tom Wilson. He continues to tour internationally with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings ramping up for another new album in the New Year. But 2013 was the year to tour in support of his sophomore release with Lee Harvey Osmond. And it was good. Wilson has always been a vibrant community member and local arts supporter and that just seems obvious to anyone that knows his name. He’s never been ashamed to let people in other cities and countries know what’s going on in Hamilton, even if as a city, Hamilton might be a little too self–effacing at times. For 2014, Hamilton should heed the advice of Tom Wilson.
“I love Hamilton and I tell everyone I meet everywhere around the world,” explained Wilson before Lee Harvey Osmond’s Hamilton Place showcase. “We have a very vibrant art community in music, film, literature and the visual arts and it’s always been there. It’s just that the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail decided to write about it so now people are paying attention. As Hamiltonians, we should be proud of what we’ve been doing for the last fifty years in terms of music, film, art and writing. It doesn’t have to start with some Toronto newspaper. We don’t have to be defined by anyone else; we should stand tall as Hamiltonians.” V