HMN The Year in Review

With a new year and a new decade upon us, taking stock of 2019 is no mean feat. It offered the height of a decade long development of James Street North

With a new year and a new decade upon us, taking stock of 2019 is no mean feat. It offered the height of a decade long development of James Street North while both the Artword Artbar and Zyla’s Music and Menu closed along that stretch. It’s all very Dickensian being the best of times and the worst of times. The state of music in Hamilton is tenuous at best but many believe venues will come and go but with the Pearl Company officially announcing its end in the middle of the year, it remains open today only until legal wranglings can be fixed. So take heed and enjoy what we had.
Sonic Unyon’s Tim Potocic confirmed the biggest Supercrawl yet and while the organization’s live venue, Mills Hardware remains an ongoing concern, the company is opening up a new venue in the North End with an official opening for the as of yet unamed location scheduled for April. The label will be hard at work releasing new music from Terra Lightfoot, Basement Revolver and newest signing LT The Monk as it explores more of its hip hop inclinations.
Somehow Hollow have reunited and have their first new release in a decade coming up at Mills this month while other bands like Lo–Fi are releasing their new Pink Album track by track on–line for the next several months. Local folk–rockers, The Plain Steel offered a tease of their new 2020 release on January 1 dubbed “Hindsight” to perhaps underscore that it’s 2020 but we’ll learn more when they release their new vinyl later this year. Everyone has their own way to marketing to fans and we’ll see how the world wide web affects it this year.

Back in 2000, I was at a holiday party downtown and the gathering took glee in naming all the new artists and albums released in the year prior while I scribbled them down on a scrap piece of paper. That would become the basis for the New Year column but the task has gone from listing forty odd releases to hundreds in the last twenty years. Obviously, the last decade has seen a rise in vinyl and digital although some bands are still making use of the CD format.
Stalwards like Dave Rave began the year with his first solo album in 8 years called Adventureland but he’d also help Teenage Head celebrate the vinyl record store day reissue of Tornado with a live show at the Tiger Cat’s Labour Day Classic.
We had releases from new names like Espinola, Alex Whorms, King Dice, Harm and Ease, Heather Valley and Another Crush, James Ferris and the James Street North, Miles From Nowhere, Wooly Mantis, Pistol Packin’ Preachers, Tripper and the Wild Things and dozens more. While veterans on the scene like D–Toxx celebrated 20 years of making hip hop with a new release at a tattoo convention and art rocker Martin Verrall released a vinyl recording featuring his first band’s recordings from nearly 30 years ago as well as some of his newest songs. All of the media takes special place in my collection.
Sadly, we lost some area musicians including former Simply Saucer drummer Neil Demerchant on March 16, Blake Fordham [aka Kelly Jay] of Crowbar on June 21, and country music pioneer Dallas Harms on Saturday, October 12. We begin the year with a new memorial of a world class producer that ended up ingratiating the Hamilton scene for the last decade or so.
In a career that spanned five decades, Nick Blagona helped record some of the biggest names in pop and rock including  Deep Purple, Chicago, the Bee Gees, the Police, Cat Stevens, Alexisonfire and April Wine and more in studios in North America and Europe but the UK born Blagona made Canada home setting up shop in Montreal and Toronto before most recently making his home in Dundas and Caledonia. He’d record bands at Jukasa Studio, Grant Avenue Studios, Halo Studio or his own Psychotropic Studios making a profound effect on local musicians. Blagona spent his last days in Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, dying January 4, 2020 due to complications from heart, kidney and lung disease. He was 74.
While looking back offers many memories, this column has always been about looking forward and what’s on tap for 2020? It looks like it’ll be busy. Silverstein is planning on celebrating their band with a Twentieth Anniversary Tour with three sets and their longest performances ever to deliver the type of shows they say their fans deserve.
The latest incarnation of George Panagopoulos’ Radio Free Universe recently went to New York City to do some live straight to vinyl recordings we should be hearing about shortly.
And while Bob Bryden was born in Ottawa and raised in Oshawa, he’s called the Hamilton area home for the last three decades. He’s recently teamed up with much younger musicians like Rory Quinn and Katie Iarocci with a new album coming out in 2020 tentatively titled Love in the Atomic Age: Abandoned Songs & Living Room Jams Vol. 2.
“We’re very excited about it,” says Bryden. “Just as Volume 1 was a return to a less formal, retro approach — this one continues the pattern, but we’ve learned a lot about home recording and it sounds better — but still retro. It’s been a real joy to scale back and just work on a melodic but heavy approach with guitars and drums. I’ve been playing electric a lot and it’s been fun. Also Rory and Katie have similar tastes — and dislike all the same things.  
“In addition to this there was this big flurry of interest in Oshawa about Reign Ghost and Christmas,” adds Bryden on his bands from the ’60s and ’70s. “We had a major reunion in December — not playing — just getting together to shoot a documentary for Bell Media which will be aired in June. We had a public panel discussion at Kops Records in Oshawa and it went very well. We also found out that Reign Ghost and Christmas are being inducted into The Oshawa Music Hall of Fame in April and at the same time there will be an art exhibit at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.”
As the situation develops, your faithful scribe will keep you abreast of all your Hamilton Music Notes. In the interim, I wish all of our View readers a Happy New Year full of joy, love and of course, music.

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