We love our Battle of the Bands events on this island, and for those competing in Music Nova Scotia’s Battle of the Bands, HMV Next Big Thing, the stakes are bigger than ever.
Music Nova Scotia has partnered with the Seahorse Tavern, Cape Breton University Students’ Union, and UK-based MAMA group to present Battle of the Bands: HMV Next Big Thing. Throughout September, the province’s most promising acts will be competing for a spot in the final round during Molson Canadian Nova Scotia Music Week in Yarmouth on November 5. The winner, picked by MAMA group representatives, will secure a spot on one of the five HMV Next Big Thing showcase stages in London, UK in February.
Most of the preliminary rounds will be hosted at the Seahorse Tavern in Halifax, but there’s no need to let the mainlanders have all the fun. One of the preliminary rounds will be hosted at the CBU Students’ Union Pit Lounge featuring some of this island’s most rockin’ acts. Sure, it means only one of them can advance to the next round, but it also gives us the Tom Fun Orchestra, The Pranks, Buck & Kinch, and Carmen Townsend all together. With many of these acts featuring overlapping members, it’s like having Superman and Clark Kent in the same room, if they played in different but equally awesome bands.
It’s funny to think of someone like Carmen Townsend being a Next Big Thing, when it seems like she has already been a Big Thing for a while. Performing alternately as a solo artist, a Tom Fun Orchestra member, and with her own band the Shakey Deals with Shane O’Handley and Thomas Allen, Townsend is a veteran of wowing audiences both at home and abroad. There has seldom been such a buildup to a band’s first album as Townsend has done, putting in hundreds of shows in five years and becoming one of Cape Breton’s finest of rock acts. With last year’s music video for Sweet Little Bird to whet fans’ appetites, Townsend’s first record is just about ready for release. “The album is finally finished and being pressed right now. I really can’t wait for everyone to hear it,” she said. “This record took a long time to surface, but once people hear it they will understand.” Townsend promises that the wait will be well worth it. “Through this entire process the main thing we wanted was a record that sounded massive, and a record that would not slide under the radar. I want to go as far as I possibly can.”
Most recently, Townsend was on tour in Australia, and the possibility of snagging a concert spot in the UK with the Battle of the Bands would be a similarly onwards-and-upwards experience. “We made a great impression in Australia and everyone we met said they have never seen or heard anything like it,” reminisced Townsend. “Many of those people said, ‘you must play the UK!! They will love you!’ So here is our chance.”
Ian McDougall of the prolific Tom Fun Orchestra was happy to be preparing for the upcoming competition. “While I feel the idea of competing musically is a little silly, I like the idea that it forces you to consider how your live show is received. It’s a good exercise in putting together a cohesive show rather than meandering from one song to another in front of a group of people,” he explained. The battle is more than just practice in bringing their A-game, though. “The opportunity to play at a festival for new and emerging artists in London would be a pretty valuable one for us right now. I would really like to be able to expand our fan-base into different regions, particularly the UK, as it is such a large market in a relatively small geographical area.”
The Tom Fun Orchestra started recording their sophomore album in the spring. They took the summer off to do a cross-Canada tour. The album is due to be finished sometime next spring, in a highly anticipated follow-up to You Will Land With A Thud.
Hinson Calabrese and Merlin Clarke’s act Buck and Kinch toured with Tom Fun during the summer both as an opening act and as part of the sprawling TFO ensemble. “It’s always a good hoot to be on the road with the TFO, and they’re positively the most gracious hosts a new band could ask for,” said Calabrese, who also mentioned that the duo is also working on their own full length album. “So far we’ve recorded parts of the twelve song debut, mainly drums, but also some noise and some guest appearances. It’s turning out to be more a record rooted in the blues than a blues record. We’re never far from Son House, mind you.”
Meanwhile, the Pranks are one of Cape Breton’s hottest new rock acts, having formed in the winter of 2009. Its members though, are anything but rookies. With the imaginative songwriting and highly charismatic performances of frontman Russell Sullivan, being backed up by the solid chemistry of Bill Potter on guitar, Connie Boutilier on bass, and Rob Rushton on drums, the Pranks have been taking Cape Breton’s music scene by storm and like the other bands they’ll be sharing the Pit stage with, they have the potential to take their music as far as they want.
Doors to The Pit open at 8:00pm, showtime is 9:00pm, and admission is free of charge. And if you’re a poor exiled Caper in Halifax, you can still console yourself with some homegrown talent. Carleton Stone Drives the Big Wheel will be competing on September 28 at the Seahorse Tavern.