By Dave Mahalik
It takes a while to digest the ECMA trip, to sort through the travel, the hype, the drama, the bullshit, the work and play. WGO had a lot to do this year in Newfoundland. Besides just being in Newfoundland, (if Cape Breton is the home of our hearts, Newfoundland is the land of our dreams) we were responsible for twelve hundred words on the goings on to be delivered to the Cape Breton Post in Sydney in three hundred word installments, on a strict deadline, we were to be available for interviews with CBC Radio One in Sydney (upon arrival and the morning after the awards show) to keep radio listeners appraised of the situation, and we had to cover the whole event for WGO and consider representing ourselves responsibly at the trade show. Somebody’s gotta do it, right?
I personally missed most of what I was looking forward to, like Cape Breton night, Barra MacNeils and Mary Jane Lamond in the Concert Series, the daily newspapers’ coverage of what was happening where I was at, a screeching in ceremony… I didn’t, however, miss the debauchery of the Cotton Club in what can only best be described as a loathsome afternoon which wasn’t nearly as frightening as it should have been (thanks mostly to the liquor). I didn’t miss the late, late nights and meeting new people either. I was even surprised by the excitement of discovering a band and, for the first time in a very long time, not wanting them to stop playing.
A few years ago, there was a big buzz about things at ECMA, it was all new, bands getting signed was big news and there was a vibe that this was what’s going on. I don’t see that anymore. I wonder if there’s much big news left in the ECMA at all, beyond, perhaps its demise. What will be the next big thing? Will a traditional music backlash finally take hold and crumble Cape Breton’s reign or will this attitude of quiet confidence (that we rule) be a catalyst for the same? And how will Urban Cape Breton handle ECMA 2K? I just wonder if we haven’t seen it all before.
THURSDAY: “do whoop de do whoop de do whoop de do” We arrived in plenty of time to check in and call CBC Sydney for the interview, but we can’t check in ‘cause we gots no credit cards so we have to start calling around to borrow one. I’m almost late for the interview as a result which doesn’t matter ‘cause I’ve got nothing to say, having seen nothing but planes, airports, a shuttle bus and a hotel lobby. By the time the interview is over, we’re settled into a room upstairs. Tommy Fidgen is playing that night but we’ve got work to do first. Three hundred words for the Cape Breton Post , the hard way because there’s no computer to use in the Media Centre. The beer goes down easy after that and Fidgen’s showcase is a treat. Later we discover that jam session isn’t quite twenty-four hours a day this year at the Thirsty Moose (a pub which was reminiscent of the bar in Star Wars) so we wander out into the streets in search of real music and, finding none, return to the hotel where we test out our tape recorders, capturing many memorable moments which will never be broadcastable, not even on the cbc.
FRIDAY: industry awards, cotton club, fpa, pipes The day started out innocently enough. At the Industry Awards Brunch, ad salesguy Jeff and I found seats between Ivan Melanson (CBPMA) and Marc Perry (EMI) just before JJ or whoever from FACTOR was poo-pooing us to stand up if we believe in what we’re doing. Get-Up! Stand Up! Hell Yeah! It was a self-conscious ovation at best, but was put nicely into perspective once he got on to the part about Ron “Hanes”, speaking as he was about the health of the East Coast music industry. I had just been reading in a Newfoundland publication called Beam about Ron Hynes turning down “an invitation to play the ECMA concert series” after asking to be paid. Yeah, JJ, I believe in what I’m doing, do you?
As it turned out, JJ’s commentary was only a ripple on the surface of Eric MacEwan’s East Coast Music Oration (so many musical references). I think it was all a bit much for the seedy-headed buffet brunch seekers. The experience wasn’t without its highlights, however. The supply of scrambled eggs and bacon and two kinds of breakfast fried potatoes was breathtaking and performances by Four The Moment and Lennie Gallant were well worth the effort of attending. But the absence of coffee was mind-numbing. I think this event is better attended as media than delegate. Skip the seats and the circumstance, get some grub and get out.
As soon as we realized that none of the nominated party was winning, I remembered, hey, we’re in St. John’s, Newfoundland and it’s sunny out. Suddenly all I wanted to do was to go outside somewhere in the sun and find a beer at a pub in town. Jeff said no and Gordie (Sampson) had an interview so Matt (Foulds) and I headed out into St. John’s. We wandered around a lot, up and down the alley stairs, looking in windows and deciding the sun was too comfortable. Eventually, we decided we needed beer more than anything, so we headed for the first pub past the high sheriff’s building. Then we doubled back and found the Duke of Duckworth. While ordering drinks at the bar we caught the reflection of Tommy Fidgen & Scott Brown, Murd Smith, Craig Mercer, Amy Druker and Barb Cameron sitting in the corner at the back of the bar. From there we were off to the Ship Inn where Ron Hynes had played the night before and now Tom Waits was singing through my headache. A glass of Smithwicks almost fixed it, and before I knew it, we’d hooked up with Angelo Spinazzola and Ian Janes and assorted others as we ascended into the darkness of the Cotton Club.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew we had a story due for the Post by approximately 8:00 pm so I headed back for the light and made my way back to the hotel to find Mike. Fortunately, Mike had his wits about him and had a story cooking. All I had to do was provide colour commentary, fill in some blanks and make some suggestions. Things were going okay. We had The Dull Thud of Fur cranked on the little CD player in the Media Centre and nobody seemed to mind. I had a lovely chat in the hall way with Mark Vaughan-Jackson who was covering ECMA for The Telegraph. Made a new friend, I thought, a colleague even. Then I heard the cursing from inside the door. Now what? I thought we were on the homestretch here. It was bad enough having to write the article by hand, making sure things were legible and so on, but to go through that torture only to have the fax machine not work was just too much. We had to get out of there. It was time to pack in this action.
SATURDAY: tradeshow, elevator, tidemark party “I heard you were loaded writing your articles for the Post.” Not the kind of question you’d expect to answer at a trade show, but there it was. What stories do you tell? Can you talk about the afternoon in the strip club, or the full frontal nudity in the hotel sauna and the hot tub and the pool?
Saturday night was the beginning and end of a long day. The trade show had us up and at ‘em only about an hour and a half after our impromptu hospitality suite emptied out enough to wish for more time to sleep, which wasn’t all that long after the bagpipes had finally finished echoing off the walls and through the halls of the Delta hotel. The trade show went on way too long (10-5) for what was there. It only took about half an hour to get around, meet everyone there and pick up all the free stuff offered. We survived in shifts. After a quick nap and an insufferably long supper at a Chinese food place around the corner, we got back to the Delta just in time for Knifey Moloko’s showcase in the Delta Ballroom. Fur Packed Action’s set was next, broadcast live on CBC’s Radio Sonic, live from the lobby, but it wasn’t nearly loud enough to stop the room of transient bodies…and it would have. Gordie Sampson started his showcase with instrumental guitar work before breaking into “Trip” with a heavy Hammond sound from Kim Dunn. Ed Woodsworth was on bass, playing what looked like a Rickenbacker, Matt Foulds was smiling on drums and Fred Lavery was playing guitar. There was another guitar player and occasionally a cello or something, but not a fiddle in sight or sound and the Marshall mini-stack Gordie was playing through made all the difference. “Sorry” sounded like a bonafide radio hit; in fact, it felt like I was listening to the radio’s favourite song of the summer. “Still Working On A Dream” was the last song of the set and after the day we’d put in, we left on wobbly legs just before it ended. Somehow we made it back to catch Bucket Truck who had the crowd jumping for joy.
SUNDAY: awards, lineup at the end of the hall, pool party The winners and everyone else got down to party Sunday night. No time to reflect on the weekend yet, just keep on truckin’. But in retrospect, there is one thing I must bring up. I was most aggravated by something I read in Atlantic Gig’s ECMA Special Edition which described Tommy Fidgen as “a former member of Real World”. Also in that February issue, it was stated that Lennie Gallant had won “an estimated eight” awards and went on to say: “In fact Gallant has more hardware in his trophy case than any other East Coast act.” And this was written by the editor himself. Now everybody knows Fidgen was with Sunfish and the Rankins have won, dare I write it, exactly fifteen ECMAs. Other notable mistakes appeared in the January issue which had Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival happening in Iona, and Denmark’s 24 year old Tonder Festival as the “Tudor festival” not to mention, but I will, sentences that go nowhere, misspellings and improper word usage… I know, I know, we all make mistakes and by bringing this up, it makes me look like I want to get stoned first . . . but come on. As editor and publisher of a magazine which relies on advertising revenue, I’m concerned when companies like Tidemark prefer to advertise in magazines like Gig which print such uninformed nonsense as fact. Just had to get that in.