Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Red Special gets popcharted

Those crazy infographic nerds at Pop Chart Lab have done it again. Back in May 2011 they released a rock ’n’ roll haircut poster where both Freddie and Brian’s hairdos make an appearance. And now they’ve introduced a poster (A Visual Compendium of Guitars) that illustrates 64 of the most famous guitars in rock history. To no one’s surprise, the Red Special can be seen surrounded by other greats from the industry.

Based on year of manufacture (1963), it gets wedged in between Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Number One” Strat from 1962  and Johnny Cash’s acoustic Martin D-35 from 1964.

I’m somewhat surprised that the 0001 Strat which currently belongs to David Gilmour wasn’t included. Oh well, I guess they only had so many years to work with and there wasn’t room for another Stratocaster. Or maybe immortalizing the 0001 on this poster was too risky because it is up for debate as to its authenticity.

Seeing all of these guitar designs together, it’s interesting to note how radical the body shapes and designs got once Gene Simmons  broke away from a conventional solid body guitar mould in 1980 when he came out with his battle axe bass guitar. (I think he even got the term battle axe trademarked, didn’t he? I seem to recall reading something about it from the early ’80s.)

Prints of this poster are available on the Pop Chart Lab website and I see that they’ve also released a modified arrangement of the guitars for sale as a monochromatic t-shirt design, as seen here:


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Queen featured in Revv52 show

A few nights ago, I attended a performance of British tunes by Revv52, a local vocal ensemble based here in Calgary.

Revv52 has been a local singing sensation here in Calgary since 1952 when it began life as the Calgary Choral Society operating out of the Wesley United Church. The essence of their group, as their website states, is to bring “…their unique and high energy performance to many audiences. Revv52 performances offer up a diverse fusion of musical styles and energy, layering vocal arrangements and rhythms.”

I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Revv52 until my colleague asked me if I was interested in going since she knew I was into classic British rock. When she showed me the London Calling promo for the event, I immediately noticed “Queen” listed first amongst the musical acts that were being covered. Hmm. How will they do on Bohemian Rhapsody, I wondered. What the hell, I’m in. My friend arranged to buy the tickets and we met up prior to the show which was being held at a local church.

As the three of us sat waiting for the show to start, I flipped through the complimentary program and noticed two Queen references: 1) Radio Ga Ga was mentioned in the Artistic Director’s commentary about how the show came to be, and 2) Ga Ga is listed again in the centrefold spread at the end of Act 2.

Here’s the full list of 19 songs performed in the show:

Act 1
Those Were the Days (Mary Hopkins)
Dedicated Follower of Fashion (The Kinks)
Ruby Tuesday (Rolling Stones)
Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)
Downtown (Petula Clark)
To Sir With Love (Lulu)
For Your Love (The Yardbirds)
Time of the Season (The Zombies)
If I Fell (The Beatles)
My Generation (The Who)

Act 2
Video Killed the Radio Star (The Buggles)
Adventures of Major Tom (David Bowie)
Mercy (Aimee Duffy/Stephen Booker)
Wannabe (The Spice Girls)
Every Breath You Take (The Police)
Your Song (Elton John)
I’m Not in Love (10cc)
London Calling (The Clash)
Radio Ga Ga (Queen)

Wait a minute . . . they’re closing with Radio Ga Ga? I didn’t expect that. Okay, let’s see who in the audience will follow along in fascist style to the hand-clapping that was bound to come up during the chorus.

During the 30-minute intermission, I mentioned to my two concertmates that I didn’t think that Radio Ga Ga was famous enough for this crowd to be a strong closer. One of even admitted that she hadn’t even heard of the song. So I found it on my iPhone, hit play, and held it up to her ear but it still didn’t ring a bell for her. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come for the finale.

Photo by Patrick Brooks
After Dan Duguay — one of the senior members of the vocal ensemble — delivered a strong version of London Calling, he introduced the four musicians who constituted the “band” — Trevor Waters, Steve Pineo, Kit Johnson, and Nicolai Drost. His comments ended and another voice could be heard: “The War of the Worlds. Orson Welles. This was their finest hour. Winston Churchill. Freddie ‘freakin’ Mercury!” There was a mild roar from the crowd. At least a few people in the audience were on board for the finale.

The opening synthesizer segment to Radio Ga Ga could be heard and then the drums kicked in. Kitty Bosch, a female soloist from the group, stepped forward and delivered a decent rendition of the tune. The hand-clapping from the crowd didn’t happen (at least not that I could see from the angle I was seated at), but that’s okay. I think the fact that 55 singers were gesturing in unison was enough to mimic the music video and get the point across.

As a finale, this song did get a standing ovation so as a closer it seemed to work. Brian Farrell, the group’s Artistic Director and Conductor, turned around to face the audience during the ovation period and when people began to sit back down, Brian shared these thoughts . . .

“London, England...quite a town. It was 2004 when I went there for the first time. And I went there with a Calgarian who actually had two hit singles on the British charts at the time. He’s now an international singer and songwriter. He’s from Calgary. Well, at the time he was performing in a matter of ten days 30 clubs all over England. It was the very first time in my life that I had been to clubs like this. Very first time. I was amazed. Well, this summer I went back to London and this time I walked the streets where The Beatles walked; where the Rolling Stones did their very first audition at Duck Lane. And just around the corner from Duck Lane is Denmark Street . . . and there was this studio, Regent Studio . . . Regent Sound Studio. That’s where the Stones recorded their first album. Yeah, and around the corner from that, not too far away, Trident Studios. A multi-track studio where David Bowie recorded his song Space Oddity. And Queen. Queen recorded their great, great hits. Queen. Queen! Give a listen . . . ”

And so began the piano intro to Somebody To Love. I guess Radio Ga Ga wasn’t the closer after all. Did they bring the house down, in my opinion? No, but it got more of a standing ovation than Radio Ga Ga, which is saying a lot. Apparently, the Revv52 show planned for May 2013 will be called British Rhapsody, so obviously they’ll be playing BoRhap at that show. Maybe they’ll even throw in an extra Queen tune like they did this time.
The next day, I sought out Brian Farrell’s opinion on all things Queen-related in this show as I figured he’d be privy to how those decisions were made. I compiled a list of questions and fired off an email to him after the performance:

Q: On the cover of the program, poster, etc., Queen gets first billing, so to speak, on the list of songs being featured. Was there a particular reason they were put first or was it simply coincidence?

A: Queen is so recognizable to the general public and certainly would draw attention.

Q: Radio Ga Ga ends the show according to the program. What criteria was in place to choose that Queen song over the more popular ones that could have been chosen, and was there a particular reason it was selected as the finale?

A: When I was in London this past summer, I talked to the gentleman who books punk bands at the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street. He mentioned that Queen was embraced by him and the punk musicians when they performed their huge Wembley show in 1986. That song in particular is a huge stadium rock song.

Q: After RGG, you went on to describe the recording studios on Denmark Street that many famous acts used to record landmark albums. As soon as you mentioned Trident Studios, I knew where you were headed but was surprised at the passion behind your Queen commentary that segued into the real finale, Somebody To Love. Is Queen a favourite of yours and is that why you opted for a second Queen tune to wrap up with? Was there any discussion amongst the other Revv52 members as to alternative finale songs. If so, what were the suggestions?

A: I just appreciate great innovative music — Freddie Mercury had a one of a kind voice for that genre of music and the band was stellar. The innovations for the multi-track recordings were substantial! We were all confident that the closer would work as a Queen song — the theme of the song wraps nicely around what we were saying in the second act — radio was a thing of the past and video killed the radio star. Bohemian Rhapsody is the song we’ll perform in May. We knew that Somebody To Love was a strong arrangement and we could meet the demands of the music as Revv52.

Q: Did the gospel quality of STL have any bearing on its selection for a performance in a church setting? Just curious.

A: Hopefully the entire show didn’t reflect a church setting — we sought out the space because of its accoustic — we could do something with our signature sound in that venue. The arrangement of STL is excellent for the voices of Revv52 to shine!

Q: For what it’s worth, I think putting the Revv52 touch on Queen’s The Prophet’s Song would make an amazing performance. As a matter of fact, a whole concert of Queen tunes would be sweet, but that’s just me talking :-)

A: I enjoyed Queen in my earlier years, but I now appreciate the musicianship and the quality of the work as expressed in the writing when I am able to study an arrangement/vocal chart of their work.  And when we can bring it to life and express the music of Queen as a vocal ensemble of 55 singers and rock band!


Photo by Patrick Brooks
As a side note, Dan Duguay and I have crossed paths once before. I was asked to design the cover art and liner notes for a CD called Songs From the Oil Patch by a group of local musicians who called themselves Hwy 63. Dan was one of the musicians involved with the project.

When I was at the recording studio one afternoon to get some cover art approved by the project’s main financier, I was called into the studio to help with background vocals on a song called Roughneck. Small world, eh?