Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nostalgia for Long-Forgotten Canadian Bands

Wherever you live there are bound to be half a dozen regional bands that YOU feel strongly about, but which nobody else remembers. The musicians ended up doing wedding parties and the singers became real estate agents. It happens.

In Canada during the '80s and early '90s, we had a thriving (and very popular) music channel with strict Canadian Content a result, many regional acts gained national status and had their week of fame before fading out again. You won't hear these bands in nightclubs and their CDs are long out of print. But some of them are much beloved.

Here's a sampling of the long-forgotten Canadian bands that have fond memories of. Not all of them were good, necessarily, but they all had at least ONE hit song.

National Velvet

They were Canada's hard-rockin', somewhat gloomy, altogether sexy answer to...well, nobody really, because they had a unique set of strengths and flaws.

All the musicians were top-notch, but they tended to suffer from tinny overproduction. Maria Del Mar's voice was unique and perfect, but her lyrics were sometimes embarrassingly bad. She was the sexiest woman alive, but her persona was a tad TOO aggressive.

The few videos they had on YouTube appear to be gone, but here's a "tribute" with pictures and soundclips:

Unable to find more than fleeting fame and suffering from a REALLY bad final album ("Wildseed"), they disbanded. Maria Del Mar still performs occasionally in Toronto (but never when I can find out in advance). Bassist Mark Storm suffered a truly bizarre and unexplained death.

Strange Advance

Cheesy wanna-be pop stars who just might have made it...but didn't. Their songs were slick and radio friendly. I can't imagine what held them back.

Andrew Cash

One of those guys who was always lurking around the music circles but you rarely ever noticed...but I absolutely LOVED his "Lot of Talk" video which, sadly, is not on YouTube. Sorry

Malcolm Burn

Producer wonderkind with only one album to his name...but what an album! Ditto the lack of YouTube exposure for his great "Walk Don't Run" song and video. Someday I'll have to properly digitize all those videos...

Sons of Freedom

They were alternative radio darlings with a brilliantly sharp, twangy, wall of sound approach. Guitarist Don Harrison later worked with Skinny Puppy and Lee Aaron. Apparently the lead singer was a jerk, but he had an endearing speech defect.


We didn't do gimmick-groups very well this side of the border, but Tu were a definite exception: identical twin sisters with velcro-style hair, so much sugar in their bubblegum pop that it almost made you sick. Almost.

Their wikipedia page still says that their names were Amanda and Cassandra, but my aunt attended their wedding many years ago, so let me give you the inside scoop: their REAL names were Rena and Pena.

Sometimes, changing your name is a GOOD idea.

Perfume Tree

Ethereal vocals, minimalist dub-style loops, beautiful ambiance...their show was one of the best I've ever seen: just three people on stage gently rocking forwards and backwards.

I don't think they ever actually MADE a video.


Long-gone Curve-style gothers. They only ever released two EPs, but we were CONSTANTLY being teased about a full-length album called "The Hanged Man." It never happened. They made at least one video (for "Revenge") but it's obscure and probably long gone.

According to a somewhat reliable source, lead singer "Madame Quattorze" went loopy.


Sort of electronic/psychedelic/goth-rock, they'd pop up as openers or headliners now and then but never struck it big. Their sound was erratic and never seemed to fit very well together, but when they clicked ("Crush") they were sublime.

I still cherish a cassette of instrumentals that I bought from band member Steve Faris...if only they'd kept going in that direction!

Acid Test

Achieved fleeting fame after their music was in Highway 61 (the wonderful "Mr. Skin"), they released only an EP and a quite-good record, neither of which was even remotely promoted. Big on college radio but they just dropped out of sight.

Sara Craig

Her debut "Bike" was an odd hit but she never managed to follow it up. I suspect that she suffered "lack of direction" syndrome, maybe exacerbated by producers who didn't know if she was Tracy Chapman or Jane Siberry.


Three women from Vancouver, only semi-competent at playing their instruments, took the punk DIY attitude and mixed it with tons of cute...creating a genre of music dubbed "cuddlecore," which is apparently now known as "twee-pop."

They were perfectly marketed by their label and it seemed like they were constantly touring. Of all these bands they are perhaps the most affectionately remembered, and here's their video for "My Chinchilla."


They rode the Chili Peppers "funky wave" but made it their own, mixing in live samples and a goofy sense of humour. Despite their silliness, however, they were almost preachy with social consciousness, but that's sort of what you expected in the early '90s.

I saw them live at The Volcano and they were amazingly tight, complete with Devo-esque uniforms and an En Vogue breakdown.

Gogh Van Go

The band members sadly decided that their FAMILY was more important than their MUSIC (silly!), but they still managed to put out two albums of perfect pop/electronic/rock. It wasn't ALL good...but most of it was.

I'm pleased to be able to present a video for my favourite Gogh Van Go song, "Call It Romance." I LOVE these lyrics.

Sucking Chest Wound

Obviously they win the award for "best band name," they were a bizarre collective of Negativland-ish sample mashers...and they're still in action!

Their song "Mary Dear" was a college DJ staple. While you watch them perform live, I'm going to see if their CDs are still on sale...

Kathleen Yearwood

Reclusive, bizarre, wonderful. Her albums were a strange mix of conventional folk and yodel-screaming fury, a style that was personal and all her own. NOT to be confused with TRISHA Yearwood, of course.


Unknown said...

Oh, Maria Del Mar. They put on one hell of a sexy show at The Bomber back in the day. I actually knew a dude that dated her, if you can believe it. She was like a fucking Amazon.

True story: Strange Advance was the first band I ever saw live. They opened up for The Spoons in Niagara Falls, a show I saw when I was like 14 or something. I remember the guy had some crazy-lookin' keytar with one of those pitch-bending strips. I love those.

Another true story: Sons Of Freedom almost destroyed The Bombshelter's DJ booth. They played a gig in the Bomber that was SO FUCKING LOUD the bass physically pushed all of the CDs off the shelves. That was a fun night.

My forgotten 80s band: The Pukka Orchestra. They had a couple of minor hits with a cover of Tom Robinson's "Listen To The Radio", but their great moment was "Cherry Beach Express", a fantastic new-wave pop song about having the Cherry Beach police kick the shit out of you.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. What a nice trip down memory lane!

I've actually chatted with a guy somewhat recently who did some kind of technical wizardry for Sucking Chest Wound...

I think I have go and listen to "Mary Dear" right now. *dives into the CD collection* ;)

Adam Thornton said...

I saw National Velvet at Phil's, and it was like being dipped in a pungent sex musk. She got very drunk and insulted us.

Awww, I'm so happy you saw Strange Advance! And yeah, I can imagine SOF playing a set like that. Unfortunately I never saw them (I missed their tour with Bootsauce, partly because they were playing with...well, Bootsauce).

Pukka Orchestra! I almost put them in but I've never been sure if they were REALLY Canadian, or just British citizens with some tenuous Canadian connection. I have sadly never heard "Cherry Beach Express" but I LOVED "Listen to the Radio!"

Adam Thornton said...

Raven, didn't we see both Thrive and Perfume Tree at the Volcano?

I haven't thought about SCW for was only while dredging through my memories for this post that I realized...holy cow, they were FUN!

Adam Thornton said...

And you know who I forgot to mention? Eva Everything.

Kimber said...

Muffy, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this trip down memory lane. I loved Andrew Cash (remember Time and Place and those adorable suspenders he used to wear?) and Sons of Freedom. I think I saw that same show MK talks about at the Bomber...but I used to stuff kleenex in my ears to be prepared.

Funny story about Maria Del Mar: my very religious ex-mother-in-law found a National Velvet tape I'd lent to her son. She LISTENED to it, then confronted me and READ THE LYRICS TO SEX GORILLA OUT LOUD ...and asked if I really thought such music was appropriate!!!! Oh, the horror.

Kimber said...

PS: That Furnace Face video is one of the best I've seen from the 80's!

Unknown said...

Re: The Pukkas:

Sadly, there's no YouTubeage of "Cherry Beach Express", but there is some for "Rubber Girl":

Adam Thornton said...

The scariest part of your story, Kimber, is the that you had to sit and LISTEN to your ex-mother-in-law actually READ those lyrics! "She's a lover in red / grab you by the head / yeah, she's as sweet as Sex Gorilla."

Good lord!

And I'd completely forgotten Cash's suspenders! I didn't like him much during his "folkie" period, but I particularly liked his "grungepop" period.

Anonymous said...

oooh i should have looked you up years ago. Furnaceface and Acid Test were on the same bill for my first rock concert ever. I'm happy to hear they are remembered by someone other than myself.
I suppose my missed band would be Phleg Camp. Dale Morningstar still does stuff but it don't hold a candle to his old rock work.
sigh...I'm gonna go bundle up in a plaid shirt and dig through my cassettes.

Colin said...

Funny: I'm listening to Thrive at work. I got curious to find out whatever happened to them, so I googled "Thrive Madame Quattorze" and your blog was the first hit.
I still really dig Thrive. The main musician in the band, Deane Hughes, released a decent ambient album under the monicker Akumu.

Unknown said...

A BIG Thank you to Muffy and to all those fine folks out there whom continue to support, champion and remember many forgotten Canadian bands...and in particular for remembering my band "Acid Test". Some of the bands mentioned (mine included) suffered greatly from "negative press", angles created by so called established or influential writers/critics in the Canadian media whom would take shots at a band once it was thought the band became "big" enough to an effort to create a new press angle or hook..modeled much like the British entertainment tabloids and media..What is ironic is some of these fabricated and negative opinions were written and vocalized from the very writers/music critics whom helped champion the band they would now "slam"..the timed negative review at the release of a debut Major label cd or video trying to get on air-just because it was now fashionable to now hate the band! Bands would often have no other choice than to hit the road and tour indefinately to spread the word,without the support of homegrown media to lift the band to the next level. So cheers to all of you for mentioning bands that I think mattered,whom helped shape in some ways what is out there in today's music and sound and dare I say culture in Canada and beyond.
I am happy to mention that some of Acid Test is currently writing and recording again. We hope to once again reach out and discover! Peace and happiness to all!
Steve Fall

Adam Thornton said...

Steve, is there a website or Facebook group for the new project? I hope so! And I look forward to hearing more.

Anonymous said...