Pat Blythe – What a Rush!
OMG!!! I can barely contain myself from bouncing around in my seat. There is not one part of my body that is not vibrating. Finally, unencumbered by my theatre seat, the urge gives way to pure, uninhibited “singing and dancing in the aisles”. I just about vaulted over my seatmate beside me to rush the stage and boogie up a storm. It is so liberating to let it just take over. What an encore!!!! Thankfully, my good friend and date for the evening, Pat Kelly, encourages this irrational behaviour. Gotta love him.
So exactly what am I going on about? Oh Canada, What A Feeling….yes, it’s a RUSH! From the first note, the temptation to belt out every familiar song, assaulting the ears directly in front of me, is incredibly strong but I restrain myself until the music and singing on stage is loud enough to cover up my vocal chords. I can’t believe I even remember all those lyrics!
I haven’t had this much fun at a show since We Will Rock You and watched my hero, Roger Taylor, glide through the gates and the mist, sitting behind his massive drum kit. (sigh) Music runs through my veins and out my pores….it’s literally in my DNA. But this show, it’s special. It’s a little musical history about the country of my birth, the place where I grew up and my coming of age. All accompanied by some of the greatest songs and musical talent in the world — written, produced and sung by Canadians. To coin an old phrase, “you can’t get much better than that”.
Sure alters the picture of those beer belching, chase the grizzly in your underwear, poutine slurping, sing around the campfire, I’m sorry, no I’m sorry, no I’M sorry, benign Canadians they portray in the commercials eh? We are sooooo much more than that. Personally, I think I am fortunate enough to live in THE best country in the world. We not only have the great outdoors, we have the great indoors as well. When was the last time you hit one of your locals to hear a great Canadian band or solo artist? Just where do you think it all begins? Do you, dear readers, have any idea, the tiniest clue, what Canada has contributed to the vast world of entertainment, particularly music? I am so proud I am virtually busting at the seams. I could just pop a cork, blow a gasket, especially after this absolutely brilliant lesson in Canadian virtuosity. Listen up, your history lesson is about to begin. Ooops….my cork just popped.
L-R – Jeremy Koz, Amy Bishop, Jaren Cerf, Peter Nunn (keyboards), Sil Simone (lead guitar), Sean Kilbride (drums), Jeremy Rush, David Michael Moote, Kit Johnson (bass), Peter Grant (guitar and sax). Standing ovation!
It was the utmost pleasure (and thrill) to attend not one, but two performances of what I consider the best live show this year. Oh Canada, What A Feeling was indeed a rush. The music, the songs, the energy, could just elevate you right out of your seat. I couldn’t stop arm dancing and swaying. Snapping and clapping, I actually broke into a sweat just moving around in my “most excellent” orchestra seat. (I could kiss you Martin Melhuish) The cast had a blast and the audience joined right in. What a feel good show….oh so proud to be Canadian….and what an amazing catalogue of music and talent we have shared with the rest of the world. From pop to country, rock to ballads….lyricists, singers, songwriters, musicians….some of the best in the world. The show features the works of Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Hank Snow, April Wine, The Guess Who, Gino Vannelli, Bryan Adams, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, k.d Lang, Sylvia Tyson, The Band, Loverboy, Tom Cochrane, Neil Young, Ian Tyson, Crowbar, Trooper, Steppenwolf (yes they are Canadian)….I think I got them all. Each performance was preceded by the various cast members, costumed to match the period, providing the context and the stories behind each of the songs and various artists. The multi-media show behind them displayed the major events associated with each musical period, adding to the narrative and anecdotes of each event, the songs completing the tale. Each of these intros would then waltz into the next tune. What a wonderful romp through our musical history. I attended Thursday night’s show with fellow writer and good friend Roxanne Tellier along with artist, chef and guitarist Peter Kashur, and my aforementioned friend, singer/songwriter Pat Kelly. The four of us settled in to watch a show with no expectations or vision on how it would roll.
A one, a two, a one two three four…Let The Show Begin!
The national anthem. What a fabulous way, and a great mark of respect, to lead into a show that honours Canada’s vast pool of musical talent. The entire house stood…..and SANG, at full roar. The two Jeremy’s (Koz and Rush) then bounded out from the wings and hit the stage joking and laughing while reminding us to turn off our cell phones while providing some fascinating insight into the first artist and song. Taking us back to the 1950’s, David Michael Moote opened the show by paying tribute to Paul Anka. Moote was the perfect 50’s Anka. Smooth and suave, with all the right moves, just like the teen idol himself. I saw many lips moving and bodies swaying to “Diana”. It was Moote’s rendition of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” that had the audience holding their breath right along with him. I’m sure Snow was chortling and clapping from wherever he is. The song was expertly done without missing a beat. Now breathe….
Diana – Paul Anka
The classic shimmy, shimmy, shake song, “Shakin’ All Over” by The Guess Who was performed by Jeremy Rush in bellbottoms and fringe. Rush had us all wriggling in our seats. Formerly known as Chad Allan and the Expressions, the group’s Canadian label Quality Records weren’t enamoured of the band’s name and released “Shakin’ All Over” by “Guess Who”. The rest, as they say, is history. ….and then there’s Gino. Who can forget the sexiest Italian this country has ever produced. With a voice like velvet, you just wanted it draped all over you. (another sigh) Rush does Mr. Vannelli proud from the voice, to the song, to the sexy white shirt and jeans. Yum. Amy Bishop and Jaren Cerf were the perfect “harmony” on background vocals. I really was listening with my ears and yes, I have retained my entire Gino Vannelli vinyl collection. Oh….and big shout out to Peter Grant, I just love good sax. That was beautiful!
I Just Wanna Stop – Gino Vannelli
“American Woman”. There have been various interpretations by different artists (most notably Lenny Kravitz) since The Guess Who made American women famous (or infamous). Jeremy Koz belts this one out with aplomb. Burton would have revelled in it. We all know the song so well, all the grunts, groans, inflections….Koz has it down to perfection. Most of all, he had fun prowling around on stage, for this and other rock numbers, thoroughly enjoying himself and taking the audience right along with him. Koz segued from this to Steppenwolf’s 60’s anthem and Easy Rider’s theme song, “Born to Be Wild”. I’m sure if you plugged Koz in he’d light up the entire city of Toronto. Bounding all over the stage like a man possessed, he had all the moves. Koz performed many of the “hard rock” songs, tossing and flipping his long black hair, his voice, his look and his ‘tude were pure rock ‘n roll.
Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
Kit Johnson ambled out to the stage, unassumingly positioning himself in front of the mike holding an acoustic guitar, long hair held in position by his cowboy hat. As the first note passed his lips the audience immediately responded with audible gasps and applause. Johnson had Young’s languid, borderline whiny, nasally way of singing down to a tee and it all seemed to come so naturally. If you closed your eyes, Young was singing right in front of you. Starting with Young’s ode to his childhood, Johnson opened with “Helpless” and had us all feeling the pain and helplessness Young felt struggling through polio, his parent’s divorce and living in small town Ontario. Johnson then changed out acoustic for electric, asked us if we minded and then drove right into one of the most recognizable guitar licks of all time….“Cinnamon Girl”. That got the audience whooping and clapping. According to his bio, Johnson is a “solid, no nonsense” bass player. I say he plays a really wicked bass. Gave me the chills.
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
Jaren Cerf sang two Joni Mitchell pieces I never would have thought could be sung like Joni, except Joni herself and if Joni heard Cerf, she’d be smiling. Seated at the piano, Cerf began with a song Mitchell wrote paying homage to THE festival of festivals….Woodstock. Made famous by CSNY, the origins of the song “Woodstock” belong to Mitchell. Although she missed the concert, much to her disappointment, the song completes 1969 and the “summer of love”. Mitchell’s voice is so distinctive, her very particular, quirky way of phrasing as well as her rapidly changing highs and lows is next to impossible to mimic. Cerf nailed it! I’m not sure how many octaves were covered but she hit every one of them. “Big Yellow Taxi” was another Mitchell piece and again, when I looked around, noticed a whole bunch of lips silently following Cerf along.
Woodstock – Joni Mitchell
The Band. Which band? THE Band! What a lot of history these guys carry around. Oh to be a fly on those walls. Originally Ronnie Hawkin’s band The Hawks from 1958 to 1963, Robbie Robertson and the boys hit pay dirt with their album Music from Big Pink. Peter Grant had the honour of honouring these Canadian legends and he did so flawlessly. His voice was a precise fit to the songs and the genre. A little bit country, a little bit folk and a little bit rock. It fit like a glove. “Take A Load Off Annie/Fannie”. Okay, which is it. Annie or Fannie? Someone call Robbie? I say Annie. She is called Anna Lee in the song. Following “The Weight”, “Cripple Creek” was another and that one brought back some personal memories for me. Heading up the side of Pike’s Peak in Colorado with my mom in 1996, looking down a 300-foot drop, tucked away in a craw of the mountain, the one-horse town of Cripple Creek (it was pointed out by the tour-bus driver). I will forever remember that trip — the pleasure of traveling with my mom and actually seeing Cripple Creek — every time I hear the song. Ya’ll done The Band, and The Hawk proud.
Cripple Creek – The Band
Two guys in wedding dresses! My kingdom for a camera. What a sight that was. (nice gams fellas). A humorous way to remind us of k.d. lang’s attire when she accepted her first Juno in 1985 for most promising female artist….a formal wedding dress complete with cowboy boots. Amy Bishop’s rendition of k.d. lang’s “Hallelujah” was a heart-stopper. The audience was so enraptured, you could have heard a pin drop. I closed my eyes and drifted with her voice and the song, soaking it in and feeling the tears start to escape the corners of my eyes. Bishop has a powerful, passionate voice that reaches out to the far corners of the theatre and envelops you. She received not one, but two standing O’s. Kleenex or Scotties should consider sponsoring her. When I looked around, almost everyone was dabbing their eyes. That’s a lot of tissues. Bishop’s version of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” was crystal clear and precise. A beautiful song sung with an equally beautiful voice.
On to the band, a fundamental element of the show. Consummate musicians….tight, professional, impressive, fantastic….I’m running out of adjectives. (Vickers….can I borrow your dictionary brain?) Sil Simone’s playing on what I refer to as “lead guitar” was exquisite. Rush’s Tom Sawyer sent chills down my spine. His solos were, yep I gotta say it, fucking amazing! Peter Nunn on keyboards was a master of the ivories (even though they’re not really ivory anymore). Magic! His hands flew over the keys, producing sounds that are significant to many of the songs. Notes and sounds that, if they were missing, you’d definitely know something was missing. I love the way he plays on the angled keyboards. Drummer Sean Kilbride was a powerhouse. Some of those pieces are tough, especially when you have an audience that knows every drum beat. An instrument I am sincerely trying to learn (my triplets aren’t too bad), I have a new appreciation for the incredibly hard work it takes to master your own beat let alone everyone else’s. …and yes Sean, I saw you in We Will Rock You. As for Kit Johnson, as I stated earlier, the bass rocks! Especially the bass run, again, in Tom Sawyer. ….and they all sing!!!
Everyone was fantastic. The voices, the guitars, the keyboards, the harmonies, THE SAX! Exact, accurate, note-for-note, solo-for-solo, move-for-move….all performed by accomplished by skilled and talented individuals. They captured the heart and soul of each song, the entire show a wonderful, loving tribute to Canadian talent and the amazing parts we have played in the world of music. This is our mark in the sand. We, as Canadians, seem to forget, or simply don’t know, what talent this country has spawned. Too saturated with American offerings we overlook, or simply ignore what’s happening in our own backyard, failing to see or hear what’s on offer in our own clubs, bars, theatres and halls. Keep in mind, much of the talent south of the 49th came from north of the 49th.
The familiarity of all those glorious tunes, walking us through our childhood and teenage years while we segued into adulthood, never forgetting how simply marvelous, or free, they made us feel…never forgetting. Ah, the memories. Take me back, if only in my mind. Now of course, after the second and final show I attended on Sunday, I had the opportunity to take a whole whack of pictures (thank you again Martin….and to Hutch for corralling the cast), so here they are…..
The Wall of Pics….
Top Right- L-R – Jeremy Koz, Peter Grant; (L-F peeking from behind) Sean Kilbride, Sil Simone, Centre (L-R) David Michael Moote, Jaren Cerf, Peter Nunn; Front (L-R) Kit Johnson, Amy Bishop, Jeremy Rush
Jaren Cerf & Jeremy Koz
Sil Simone and David Michael Moote
Amy Bishop and Bob Segarini
Autograph hound – Sil Simone and Jeremy Rush
Bob Segarini and Hutch (apparently getting a pic of Hutch is a rare phenomenon)
My assistant for the day (holding the appropriate accoutrements) and very good friend Robin Seif
Sil Simone and Jaren Cerf
The Three Amigos L-R – Greg Godovitz, Bob Segarini, John Rowlands
David Michael Moote and Kit Johnson
The Book, The Show….
The book Oh What A Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music, was written by Martin Melhuish, and published in 1996 on the occasion of the Juno Awards 25th anniversary. Fast forward to 2013 and Melhuish received a call asking if he would like to expand on his original book. After some consideration, he agreed and the larger version we have today, three times the length of the original, is the inspiration for the show or vice versa. The title also changed slightly — Oh Canada, What A Feeling: A Musical Odyssey. The multi-media, music-filled production does a beautiful job of encapsulating Canada’s musical history into two memory-filled, sometimes hilarious, dance in your seat acts. It is both uplifting and at times heartbreaking. A brilliant walk down memory lane.
Jeremy Rush presents…..
The cast met for the first time at Coalition Music at the end of July, 2015. With two weeks already booked at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, they did a couple of full rehearsals (no audience) at Caesars in Windsor, then two shows (with an audience) before opening night in Toronto. With excellent responses from the audiences, and the positive feedback from Caesars management, everyone sensed they had a hit on their hands. From their very first meeting to opening night in Toronto, the entire cast had about two weeks to prepare. Aggressive, cocky, self-assured….yep. But they were right on the money.
The people you see on stage are there with the assistance and support of a crew of individuals that world tirelessly behind the scenes….and so, I give them their due and express my personal thanks to all of you. In no particular order they are Jeff Parry, Producer, Annerin Productions; Scott Christenson, Creative Director; Russell Broom, Musical Director; Martin Melhuish, Writer; Mathieu St-Arnaud, Video Designer, Turbine Studios; Brent Clark, Lightening Designer; John Dunnett, Costume Designer and Hutch, Production Manager. Again, I thank you all, and anyone else not named here.
The encore finale, a medley that began with Trooper’s “Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)”, which segued into Crowbar’s “Oh What a Feeling”, ending with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”. A fitting song for today’s ending.
I leave you with one of my personal favourites.
Life Is A Highway – Tom Cochrane
Indeed it is….
All photos by Pat Blythe
Please note, the songs and performances are not necessarily in the order in which they were performed.
Find Dates, Cities, Venues, and Tickets for Oh Canada, What a Feeling HERE
My attendance at the two shows, Martin Melhuish, Wikipedia, YouTube
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!