John Balogh: 40 Years of Music in the City and It’s Your Festival
Forty years ago, a young Sheila Copps wrote about a young 19–year–old local music promoter who said, “Hamilton just makes steel and not music. We gotta have a bit of everything to be happening.” That small quote from that young promoter named John Balogh is a philosophy that has helped shape the music scene we enjoy today.
“I probably got started like everybody else – by neglect and rejection,” quips Big Time Productions’ John Balogh on life in Hamilton forty years ago. “There was an ad in the paper about needing talent for Jackson Square rooftop and they wanted to make that a people place. There was nowhere for all my friends like Teenage Head and Simply Saucer and the Diodes to play in the city so we needed to make our own place. Why did I call my company Big Time Productions? Because anybody who wanted the big time had to move to California but I didn’t have the gas money.
“I was part of the original arts scene that included mentors of mine like Bill Powell, Jim Skarrett, the Kudlet brothers,” he adds. “Rejection is the better part of growth so I bugged those guys for years. I applaud any other festival that is successful. Everybody’s patting each other on the back at city hall that Hamilton is now a music city but there was a lot of death and disfiguration before we could be noted music city. I remember when they wouldn’t let me book Teenage Head at the convention centre and now they were talking about erecting a statue to Frankie Venom. There’s some irony of age and advancement.”
The music industry is like few others with lots of spectacle but often little stability for those that struggle to succeed but in Hamilton it may have been even harder to build up the arts like Balogh did.
“I was forty years old before I owned a condo or anything of substance,” offers Balogh. “If you’re not in it for the friends and the memories then you’re best to work somewhere with a steady pay cheque. After you’ve done this long enough and gotten beaten enough times, you’ve got to be doing it for the love of what you’re doing.
“Our music scene might have been a little ahead of its time in Hamilton and the people looking to promote that music,” adds Balogh. “It took some time for people to learn we are a metropolis of music. The whole industrialization schlock had an influence on the bands and the promoters in the city. We weren’t overachievers; we were mocked as nerds long before the term came about. The music industry employs some of the ugliest people but you have the chance to be successful and get women, what other industry other than dentistry can you achieve that. It was a great opportunity because now there is some recognition in the city. I have to applaud the councillors of today. It was a hassle to be in the music business in Hamilton from 19 to maybe 59 years old. At 60, it’s a pleasure to be in the business.”
Everybody and their brother have played Jackson Square in Balogh’s estimation and he celebrates being the man behind four decades of free local music at a variety of locations. Anyone and everyone can check out the programming for Hamilton Music In The City 2014 happens at Lloyd D. Jackson Square Rooftop Plaza during July and August weekdays between 11:30am and 1:30pm as well as on August Saturday’s 2 to 4pm.
Free live music can also be experienced at Hamilton Pier 8 during July and August on Thursday evenings between 7 and 9pm, as well as on the Concession St. B.I.A. along Concession Street on Fridays between 12 and 2pm from July through September.
“It’s been a great ride doing Music In The City for the last forty years offering the general public all of these great bands – who get paid – for free,” smiles Balogh. “That’s what the whole thing is about. We’re treating the musicians fairly and hopefully getting some local talent a bigger audience. It’s been so great all thanks to the people who come to see the musicians and keeping them going.”
But the concert weekend Balogh works all year on takes is upon us. It’s Your Festival happens this weekend in Gage Park from Saturday to Tuesday featuring four days of music with a big focus on Hamilton musicians again. The thirtieth anniversary of the festival is celebrated this year as well as Balogh’s twentieth year with the festival and his sixtieth birthday on Monday. Ian Thomas, Tom Wilson, Harlan Pepper, Dave Rave and Rick Andrews, Sonny Del Rio, Crackers, Russ Wilson and so much Hamilton talent graces the stage just like every year and Balogh feels blessed to be working with the musical friends he has amassed over the years. It’s been a struggle sure, but seasoned music professionals like Balogh wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We’ve been in Gage Park for 30 years and we’re going nowhere,” says Balogh on It’s Your Festival. “We love that park. There’s a lot of input and effort to make a festival like this happen and successful for so long. A lot of people who volunteer and a lot of help from our board of directors and from City Hall.
“At least the last twenty years, I’ve spent every one of my birthdays at this festival,” adds Balogh. “All the people I’ve grown up with and grown old with are there. They’re all family, if the people you work with for forty years, if they’re not family to you... that’s what these festivals do; they bring a lot of people together and make families out of them. If I could do it all over again, I’d do it twice as hard and twice as fast but I’d definitely do it all again.”
It’s Your Festival happens this weekend happens in Gage Park June 28 through Tuesday July 1 Noon to dusk and free of charge. Click on Itsyourfestival.ca
A Northern Chorus Reunites for the Casbah’s Fifteen Year Celebration
Stu Livingstone (guitars, vocals) and Pete Hall (guitars, vocals) were scene veterans when they formed A Northern Chorus out of the ashes of their previous outfit, Datura Dream Deferred. With the idea of making more atmospheric chamber pop in a rock milieu, they immediately turned heads in 1999 and signed to the Sonic Unyon Label. With four records steadily building their career arc over nearly a decade, the band simply decided to call it quits and move on to different projects and different lives. While a reunion happened in 2011, the band has largely remained dormant until Casbah promoter Brodie Schwendiman suggested they reunite as part of his month long celebration of booking talent via venues like the Casbah.
“The band dissolved in 2008 because we’d had enough of touring and things like that,” explains Livingstone. “Our last tour was a North American perimeter tour with Aerogramme and Twilight Sad from Scotland and it had its highs and its lows. Tours can be daunting and exhilarating at the same time. It was fun but we were exhausted by the end of it.
“By the last album, we had distilled our sound down to something that was ideal and unfortunately that album didn’t take off like we wanted it to,” adds Livingstone. “It’s still one of my favourite albums to listen to. I still really enjoy those songs.”
Building from Before We All Go To Pieces (2001) to Spirit Flags (2003), and “Bitter Hands Resign” (2005) and that favourite album of Livingstone’s, “The Millions Too Many” released in 2007 documents a monumental growth, stellar musicianship and that last album, a hallmark recording in the annals of Hamilton rock and pop lore. But at the time, ANC band members took stock, started families, Pete Hall took on the drummer’s throne in psychedelic hard rock outfit, Huron and their efforts simply became lore. While the individual members of ANC have moved on, they all still felt fondly about their time in A Northern Chorus and seemed pleased to have the opportunity to see old friends and relive some of this important music.
With a focus on the music of that last album, Livingstone and Hall haven’t played together in three years with Alex McMaster (cello, vocals), Owen Davies (bass), Craig Halliday (percussion) and Erin Aurich (violin)
“There’s no ill will, it was just the right time to end it back then,” says Livingstone. “But we all remained friends and we just don’t get to see each other all that often. Brodie then asked us to play as part of his celebration and it seemed like a good chance to see each other and play the music again. We would like to see each other; it’s in the middle of summer, why not?
“I’m really enjoying playing together again but people are still getting married and travelling and they’ve got a lot on the go,” adds Livingstone. “I don’t know what the future holds, we’re just doing this show – its good fun at this stage – with regard to the future, I’d never say never to playing again.”
A Northern Chorus Reunites this Thursday June 26 at the Casbah with the Medicine Hat and Go To The West. Doors open at 9pm.
All Out For Ang Fundraiser
A special daylong benefit concert offers a group of musicians helping one of their own battling cancer.
Rebel Time Records is a Hamilton based label dealing in socially conscious punk rock since 2008 with 13 releases to date including music from Action Sedition (Montreal), The Class Assassins (Toronto) Spanner (England) and Streets of Rage (France). When one of the label’s artists fell ill, it was natural to rally the troops and help out.
“Ang Orchard is the drummer for Kitchener–Waterloo’s punk’n’roll outfit The Rotten,” offers Rebel Time Records’ Randy Smith. “Ang and her husband Jan have been playing in The Rotten for over a decade and they’ve been a big part of the Southern–Ontario scene, putting on shows, hosting bands and playing lots of benefits themselves. A few years back Rebel Time Records released The Rotten’s album “Enemy Of The State.”
“Ang has been fighting breast cancer since about 2010,” adds Smith. “It’s been a long struggle and she has been undergoing traditional treatments; chemo, radiation, surgeries, etc, as well as some naturopathic medicines that have been helping. There are other treatments and medicines available, however they are not covered by OHIP and are expensive. Hopefully this fundraiser, along with a few other fundraisers in the works, will help raise the needed funds. Ben Rispin heard about Ang’s situation and was quick to offer up both his services and Club Absinthe for a fundraiser. Crash Landing Music Store and Rebel Time Records signed on to help out with the organization of the fundraiser, and we’ve been busy booking the bands, doing promo, etc. And, big thanks to Darlene McNeil for doing up the poster.”
An eclectic offering of bands including Broadcast Zero, The Fallout, The Letdowns, Fire Next Time, The Rezentments, Gag Order, Come Out Swinging, The Vaudveillian, Artificial Dissemination, the Class War Kids, Hellbent Rockers, Warlord Messiah and Classic Sabbath Live are volunteering their services to help the cause at the daylong concert.
“We’ve got a real musical smorgasbord – 13 bands with, hopefully, a little something for everyone – punk, metal, rockabilly, folk–punk,” says Smith. “The local music community really came together for this event and we wish we could have included all the bands that wanted to play. It’s been really inspiring and gratifying to see so many people, organizations and bands so eager to help out our friend Ang. We thank everyone for their support. Quite simply, this is a full day of good music for a good cause. Things get started around 3PM and it’s all ages/licensed.
“Along with the music there will be raffles, food and more,” adds Smith. “For example, Horror In The Hammer has generously offered up a prize package that we’ll be raffling off, there will be a hot–dog cart with food and drink and lots more. Rebel Time Records will of course be selling The Rotten’s CD and other CDs to raise funds and I know that some of the bands will be selling their merch as part of the fund–raising effort as well. We realize that there is a lot going on this weekend, but we hope folks will come down to the club, check out the great bands, have something to eat and drink, buy a raffle ticket and help support our friend Ang in her fight against cancer. All monies raised will be going towards helping Ang get the treatment and therapies she needs.” V
All Out for Ang happens this Saturday June 28 at Club Absinthe from 3:00pm to close and $10 gets you in. Click on http://www.dontstopbelieving.ca/