Memories of A Stagehand #1

Posted in celebrity, Memories of a Stagehand with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL

I worked for several years as a Stagehand, Sound Engineer, and Follow-Spot Operator at the Chatham Cultural Centre. More than a few celebrities came through and performed there; between them, and the multitude of inept amateurs, I’ve collected some amusing stories. Full credit is due to Mike LeBrain for his most excellent suggestion I tell them here, after a discussion on his amazin’ blog about concert contract riders.
#1“Only The Pure Of Heart”

Voulez-Vous Avec Moi Ce Soir

ERNIE “MR DRESSUP” COOMBS toured quite often in our area, and he was a joy to work for. Some children’s performers copped an attitude because they considered what they did a public service or “higher calling” (e.g. Sharon, Louis, & Bram) as if the table upon table of merch in the lobby didn’t show their real motives.  But not Ernie, he was down-to-earth and humble about his luck in being able to earn a good living doing what he enjoyed so much.

The first time he was scheduled when I was there, we were sternly lectured by the administrator about being polite, and neatly dressed in our new, official polo shirts. We practically stood at attention as an old station wagon, pulling a small trailer, rolled up to the door. Ernie and his son, who acted as road manager, climbed out and approached us. “You boys the crew? Pleasure to meet you!” Completely un-assuming in a plaid shirt and jeans, and puffing on a cigar. We started  emptying the trailer, only took a few minutes before we saw it; The Tickle Trunk! there it was, wrapped in an old blanket. Carried it in and placed it on the stage. Now, in his contract rider, he had specified that only “Clean-Shaven, Morally Upright Young Men” could directly handle his props. As the new guy, I had been the subject of much ribbing, that some type of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” situation would occur. As if the trunk would pop open, sensing my impure thoughts, and I would melt into a waxy puddle.

“We just did a few shows in Quebec, so you could say it’s now the French Tickler Trunk !” Ernie said with a twinkle in his eye. We all laughed, and his son quipped  “We might have to get Casey to sing Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir  to convince it to open!”  While we continued setting up, it was explained to me that the reason for the oddly strict rider was to make sure, through the office grapevine, we were on our best behavior.  From years of touring, Mr Coombs knew what stagehands and roadies were like, and wanted his reputation protected.  He didn’t want the kids exposed to any swearing, or lewd t-shirts, or alcohol-and-other-substances on the breath of anyone perceived as working for him.  Thoroughly professional ethos;  NOTHING interfered with the show.  We booked Mr Dressup a few more times, and the ribald humor during set-up, over headsets during the show, and tear-down afterwards, got dirtier and dirtier. But no Mommies ever had a reason to complain.



Sing Along With The Earl

Posted in music and art, performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL


Don’t laugh, but I have gotten hooked on the M3 show “It Takes A Choir”. English choir director Gareth Malone comes to an economically depressed town and recruits locals to join a community choir, working with them for a mere week and then staging a concert. The choir members are reborn- it is quite amazing to see some of their reactions; people who haven’t experienced singing in a choir get truly ecstatic about it. And this spills over into their daily lives, changing their outlook on the town for the better. That is the magic of music – scientists have done multiple studies that prove the psychological & physiological benefits. Singing and playing is capable of easing depression, staving off senility, even reaching the imprisoned minds of autistics. I would argue that music is the first civilizing force of mankind. Hunting is done in unison by many animals, but the beating of bones and howling around the campfire of our remote ancestors drew them closer together in concert against the night and it’s demons.

I was fortunate when I was younger to have the experience of filling in for our church organist during his summer vacation. It’s a powerful rush playing loud hard rock, but that’s only volume. A choir and organ working together has an awesome punch that is volume combined with group dynamics. When my feet hit the low notes on the bass pedals, and the choir’s harmonies flowed up into the rafters, I got chills! (Don’t tell them, but I also managed to sneak in Uriah Heep & Procol Harum as Postlude music) Churches now turn the service music into karaoke nights, soloists without choir gowns, guitars replacing the organ, headset mikes, etc. They are abandoning the unity of the choir and that is tearing away at the essence of community that choral music creates.

The colossal ego machine of TV-land sells dreams of stardom, tells you you’re a ROCK STAR, you’re one-of-a-kind, here’s the spotlight!! Too common are the spoiled tantrums of celebrities who think that they ALONE are responsible for their success. To those who think that I say, there was a hand guiding that spotlight, someone switched on that microphone, and cued the music.

I was never interested in the Guitar Idol or Rock Band video games. Everyone kept telling me how it was “just like being in a band”– No. It. Wasn’t. You are two competitors in a game, out to score points and outdo each other, but a band is teamwork. I had this argument with a gamer guitarist I was playing with “But it’s encouraging them to want to play music”said he. No, it’s encouraging them to desire instant stardom and adulation, I doubt if the games foster the patience to practice, practice, practice and achieve that. Those games instead re-inforced the wrong attitude that music equalled ego, that musicians only play solos at each other until one wins (The worst jazz music encourages this too). The true joy of playing in a group setting is listening to the other players and adjusting your pitch, volume & timing to blend together better – to create something as a unit. I have always preferred dynamics to show off a band’s ability, over constant soloing.Faced with a drummer who did Keith Moon solo endings to every song, I made him do a fade-out to display control. Fed up with a guitarist who constantly lost himself in soloing when we were ready for the next verse, I would lead the rhythm section in stop-start cues and soft-loud dynamics to get his attention. At first he resented this, until he saw how it actually forced him into putting a period on his solo, instead of just trailing off into the vocals. Only guitarists enjoy “cutting heads”-trading solos to one-up each other. The longer that goes on, everyone else (audience & other band members) get bored – the best performances I have been to drew the audience in with call & response vocals (Gospel!), or had the audience sing the chorus, to make them feel part of the event. A fave concert memory is of the audience slowly dispersing after a Police show, we were all singing the Yo-eyo-eyo-yo’s of “Walking On The Moon”. You could hear it for blocks, fading off in every direction.


What Kind Of A Man Reads Playboy?

Posted in music and art, popular culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL

What Kind Of A Man Reads Playboy?

When I started this blog I swore to myself it was going to be about looking forward – new concepts and trends in music, new technologies, etc. And definitely NO nostalgic nattering, droning on about how much better vinyl records are (though they ARE) or the “golden ages” of various styles of music. But we seem to be at a crossroads in today’s pop culture; I see many young up-and-coming bands taking a back-to-basics approach to production values and songcrafting, and the popularity of musical competitions on TV igniting a new interest in forgotten pop classics. New musical technologies are about making things simpler, to not impede the creative process. I remember this arc of the music cycle very well, because at the dawn of NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, I had just moved to Toronto, seeking a new start. Freshly fired from a BostonKansasStyxSupertramp cover band, I wanted to shed that glossy pop and re-invent myself.
So this post is going to be about how sometimes leaping ahead takes you to a place further back than you started from…
I got a job at Roblan’s Warehouse, the main distributor for Sam The Record Man, thinking about the networking possibilities, as well as how great the fit for my skillset. That didn’t matter- Sam wanted cheap, didn’t even care if you spoke english, most of my fellow bottom rung-ers were Chinese (If  you ever wondered why your special order from Sam’s was wrong….) My only stroke of luck was that I was hired just prior to summer holidays, and demonstrating a knowledge of records got me rotated through the various departments as a temp replacement. The first adventure was “the Returns Basement”…. (spoken in a contemptuous voice, implying a Stygian crypt of uncleanliness)
Surprise! Matt & Dave were very friendly, funny cats who had converted a dank cement basement into a colorful tribute to the history of vinyl. The walls were covered everywhere with all the records that featured the female form. Herb Alpert, Ray Conniff, Boots Randolph, Roxy Music, and hundreds of unknown lounge lizards who had discovered marketing rule number one;
(drum roll) SEX SELLS
But it wasn’t just the girls, these guys could discuss the relative merits of Acker Bilk and Ace Cannon, in the same breath as Killing Joke or Joy Division. I had never met such musical non-partisans before- they had a deep appreciation for ALL music, and could intelligently discuss the commonalities that linked Engelbert Humperdinck and Adam Ant, or the classical themes that appeared in both Beatles and Black Sabbath. They showed me that everything old is new again – one night we got invites to a record release party for Jack De Kyzer’s Rockabilly band “The Bop Cats” (The Stray Cats were currently no 1) and we wound up in the A&R guy’s office listening to the REAL stuff; Sonny Burgess, Vernon Taylor,et al.
(much, much later that night, after a few ‘shish bowls-full, he started pulling out all his ‘slush pile’ demo tapes. All the wanna-bes and earnest hopefuls that should have considered a career in comedy instead. Laughed until it hurt…)
That same week, Wayne Kramer’s Air Raid played at Larry’s Hideaway and blew the doors off with a heavy rock version of the Supreme’s  “Stop, In The Name Of Love”.  Saw tons of new/ modern bands too (Kinetic Ideals, Breeding Ground, L’Etranger, etc.), went to auditions seeking that SOUND no-one else was doing (paging Lorenzo St Dubois !), but the mirror had been shattered. In every Talking Heads song I heard Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, in every Bauhaus lurked Ziggy Stardust. And when The B52’s “Rock Lobster” infected all of Toronto later that summer, all I could think was:


Posted in celebrity, Electronic Musicians, music and art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL

We lost someone very special in Canadian Music this week. Jeff Plewman, A.K.A. NASH THE SLASH died, taking with him a uniqueness that deserved far greater acclaim in today’s sterile Beiber-ized pop landscape.


He was a HUGE influence on me, showing that a solo electronic performer could do so much alone and still ROCK; he broke the barrier of using (at the time despised) Drum Machines, he’d create a textured sound with a few devices that could serve as a shimmering backdrop for his Violin and Mandolin virtuosity, and using simple costume, light effects and slide shows, created an eerie environment that transported you along with his otherworldly music. He started his own Independent record label, and built a successful multi-album career, totally without any Government grants!! Only person to ever release a vinyl album (“Decomposing” –so clever) that could be played at any speed (‘tho playing at 16 r.p.m. only suitable for acid hangovers)

First saw him performing on NIGHTMUSIC, a 1970’s late-night TVOntario program that featured uniquely Canadian bands way WAY before MuchMusic. Alt-music fans of today have NO IDEA how special that was, in the days before remotes & 500 channel digital, sitting on the floor right up to the screen, with the sound down low so as not to ssssh! wake the family!!
In addition to playing with Cameron Hawkins as duo FM, NASH performed solo, musically interpreting the abstract art of his friends Rob Vanderhorst & Paul Till, and also doing a soundtrack to Salvador Dali’s 1928 film “Un Chien Andalou”
(also performed to special live screenings of that film at the ROXY theatre, and I still insist he originated performing live music to silent BW movies – he did “Metropolis” YEARS before QUEEN did) Through him and NIGHTMUSIC I discovered David Pritchard’s NOCTURNAL EARTHWORM STEW, a seminal Canadian electronica album, and another NIGHTMUSIC performer with SLASH . BTW; also saw Joe Hall & the Continental Drift on that show, another HUGELY under-appreciated Canadian act.

ImageA friend of mine had the special treat of seeing him play violin in early prog-rock band BREATHLESS at the Canadian National Exhibition way back in the early 70’s. After he did a solo, he tossed his violin in the air and had it explode, presaging the pyrotechnic performances that would be his trademark, long before many other acts would get the actual credit for (CURVED AIR e.g.). Chainsawing his instruments, a skull-shaped electric mandolin that spewed blood, and his “Invisible Man” costume helped me turn even the most die-hard metalhead into a fan.
Saw him many times at THE EDGE, another lost Canadian Musical Heritage landmark. I convinced a date that his Valentine’s Day Show counted as “romantic”, but was left to enjoy the show alone when it turned out to be projected images of the Valentine’s Day Massacre– alas, she never talked to me again. Later on, I worked at Sam the Record Scam’s warehouse with his lyricist John a.k.a. “Toby Dammit” and came to know his brother, who owned a Classical record store in London, but never got to meet him personally.


I won’t say “rest in peace Nash”…. because if there were ever anyone that would come back from the hereafter to haunt us with his incredible music, IT. WILL. BE. HIM.!!

Get some grass in your jam

Posted in popular culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by theEARLofSWIRL

Happy EarthDay

I was reading the other day a fascinating  article about “Earthing”, describing  the health benefits of exposing your bare feet to grass/nature at least once a day. The TARAHUMARA tribe in Mexico never wear shoes, and run constantly, sometimes days at a time. They are some of the healthiest people on Earth.

We spend all our lives these days insulated in our electronic cocoons, bathed in electromagnetic waves that have proven carcinogenic effects. I think we should make an effort to more attune our bodies with GAIA,  with  the natural magnetic fields of our planet, and today is the right day to start.

So ….GO OUTSIDE! Wiggle your toes in the grass!

How “social” IS the Social Media

Posted in popular culture, Technology with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by theEARLofSWIRL

I’m saddened this week by the death of yet another teen who could not do without the fake social interaction that Facebook peddles, even though bullies had turned it into a horrible experience.
Changing schools, addresses, phone numbers, etc. does no good if you constantly return to the root of the problem. In spite of Facebook’s much-vaunted “terms & policies”, these boys were allowed to post obviously objectionable material that should have been easily screened out, and their accounts terminated. Or is this negative publicity more useful to Facebook?
In this internet age people are addicted to the imaginary attention from these sites- pushing a “like” button is so much easier than picking up the telephone, or meeting someone, and it gives many sad individuals a “score” to wave around and further debase the concept of being a “friend”.

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