Sunday, 2 August 2015

Battle of the bands 1987

It was a strange time in my life. Kind of a “no man’s land” between the past and the future. It was the summer between Grade 12 and my first year of university, and I got a job with the Lethbridge Exhibition Board. I saw a lot of things and I am always reminded of them when I think of two songs. Not just any two songs, but two that dominated the “Catch a Rising Star” at the 1987 edition of Whoop-Up Days in Lethbridge.

Summer jobs
The summer of 1987 was an odd one, because I spent it doing a bunch of different jobs. It started with my last few weeks at Gergely’s Greenhouse, then I spent a week or so painting fences at my friend Dave’s place.

After that, I kind of moped around and killed time, hanging out, shooting hoops on an outside court in Coaldale, and basically waiting for summer to end. It would be the end of that phase of life, because I was heading off to university in the fall.

One day, my friend Mat phoned. We had been friends since before school began, riding the school bus together, and living on neighbouring farms. He was going to Lethbridge to apply for a job at Whoop-Up Days. It was the annual fair with a midway and grandstand show, put on I believe by the Lethbridge Exhibition Board. Every summer they hired dozens of workers for the week, mostly as parking attendants, to pick up garbage, and other jobs like that.

When we got to the Exhibition Pavilion, there was a huge line of people just like Mat and I, high school kids looking to make a little cash.

There were forms to fill out, but I didn’t even have a resumé. They didn’t actually ask for one either. I do remember giving Mr. Ed Ryan, my high school guidance counsellor, and Ida Gergely, my boss at the greenhouse, as references.

Finally, we were at the front of the line, and I got called to sit in front of a man with an English accent who asked me a few basic questions. Had I swept, had I picked up garbage, and so on.

I honestly never went to get a job, as much as to have the experience, and hang out with Mat.

A couple days later I got a call from a fellow named Len from the Lethbridge Exhibition board. He wanted me to start on Monday. I thought that odd, because the fair wasn’t for a couple weeks.

It turns out, and I only found this out later, I was hired to replace a guy on the regular crew, not to help out for Whoop-Up Days.

Battle of the bands
Our coffee room, and kind of base of operations, was underneath the seats in the Exhibition Pavilion. We had lunch and a couple coffee breaks each day. It was, I think part way through the week of Whoop-Up Days, that I heard this familiar sound midway through the afternoon coffee break. We got free pop from one of the cantinas, so I was sipping on a cool fountain Coke on a really hot day, and I heard this song playing.

Back then I listened to a radio station called 1090 CHEC. They had this countdown of the most requested songs every week night. Probably a month earlier, I recall hearing two songs that were really cool, but I had never heard of the bands who played them.

One was called “Please Hold Me” by a band called Credit, and the other was a song called “Fantasy Child” by a band calling itself Barricade. Both songs struck a chord and sat on those nightly charts for weeks.

It turned out they were both local bands from Lethbridge.

Well, during my coffee break, I heard “Please Hold Me.”

Oh that’s cool, I thought. Someone found a radio to listen to while we worked. Well, break was over and I had to go through the pavilion.

There, standing on stage in street clothes were a bunch of guys singing “Please Hold Me” and they weren’t lip synching. It had to be Credit. I couldn’t stay to watch, but I wish I had, because they sounded good.

It turned out they were rehearsing for "Catch a Rising Star" which was sponsored by 1090 CHEC. Barricade was there too.

Because I had to work, and I had some other things going on, I never did see  that battle of the bands and I’m not even sure who won.

Still, it was cool to see, even just for a minute, a band I had heard on the radio. It was the first ever piece of live music I had ever heard too.

Parting thoughts
I‘m not sure how much success Credit had beyond those few months in 1987. As I write this, I think they may have won that talent contest, and that may have been their peak.

Barricade is another story.

I was working in Fort Macleod in 2001, and I was previewing a fundraising concert. I was set to interview one of the members of the band, a guy who lived in Fort Macleod named Rob. He was at home that week, so I paid him a visit to interview him at his place. While we were talking, we got on the subject of his musical background.

He starts telling me about this band he was in back in the 1980s, and how they even charted a song on 1090 CHEC. I asked what the song was.

“Fantasy Child,” he replies. It turns out, he was part of Barricade.

He laughed and said they even had an old poster still hanging in the place where his current band rehearsed.

So, the night of that fundraising concert, I’m walking back to the office after the concert is finished. It was late and dark, and I see this vehicle slowly driving parallel to me. Suddenly, the window opens and it’s Rob.

“Hey Rob,” he says. “Have this.”

It was a poster of Barricade.

Fourteen years later, but it was just as cool.

It reminded me of a unique summer in my life, when I had closed one chapter and was about to open another.

Looking at that poster reminds me how cool that last summer was.

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