• By: OLM Staff

Still Cryin’ After All These Years

Photo credit: Sean Sisk

The Town Cryers
RBC Bluesfest / Thursday, July 12
6:30 pm/ Black Sheep Stage


“Who the hell are these guys?”

Wait, did I say that out loud? Yup, my jaw was adequately dropped, out popped the words, and somebody had just spun dervishly in their seat, eyes fixated on me, what I’d said having just smacked them squarely in the back of the noggin.

“Pretty (exploitive deleted) awesome, eh?” the man shouted over the music. I could only nod.  I think my eyes were trying to launch out of my skull and zip past this dude in a Looney Tunes’esq cartoon blur of smoke in order to get a closer look at the band that had just started ploughing into Irene’s Pub like a runaway truck with only madness at the wheel.

Every once in a while I find myself wondering how a band that really should have been on my teenage musical discovery trajectory passed me by. The Town Cryers, reunited on this epic night at Irene’s after 25 years of relative dormancy, are one of these kinda’ bands.

The Town Cryers are:
John Allaire: Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Tanguay: Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Rick “Dick” Dixon: Bass
Kevin “Breeze” Smith: Drums

“This show is going to rock your socks off!” proclaimed Allaire, sporting a helmet just in case some of that footwear hurling their way included a couple sets of stilettos.

Once a staple of the city's live music scene, the Cryers were known for their frontal guitar assaults and witty stage banter. If they were rusty it was well glossed over this night with a coat of raw pre-grunge indie rock, a sound the band sliced into back in the 80s long before things started smelling like teen spirit.

This was back in December of last year. The group was trying on their reunion wings having finally released their long lost album Stanley’s Cup. Planned for a 6 month shelving, the dust on that cup wouldn’t be kipped up for two and a half more decades.  I was lucky to make it into the place that night to join a crowd eager to lap up the nostalgia and relive the band’s glory days. They were packed in so tightly they should’ve started putting extra seats next to the drum kit to meet the demand

This was the beginning of The Town Cryers Break’s Over Tour and it rolls on into RBC Bluesfest Thursday, July 12 for the band’s biggest crowd since…well, maybe ever. I tear up memory lane in a Moped with the band that’s still crazy…no, wait…still cryin’ after all these years!

OLM: We all know it’s been awhile since the Town Cryers first were rompin’ around Ottawa. Let’s go wayyy back to the inception of the band, shall we? Can you tell me what had to fall into the place for the band to form?

Jeff Tanguay: Three friends; Mick Kern, John and I had fun jamming and thought it be great idea to start a band that had three songwriters and three lead vocalists.

John Allaire: Yeah, we were just a bunch of friends who were playing in different bands… a bit of dissatisfaction here and there with what we were doing and we started talking about forming a new group from the splinters of these other bands. So we did. It took a while to find our sound and momentum, but we got there.

OLM: Where were you all at in your music careers at that point?

John Allaire: I was pretty green. I was 20 years old, only played in a couple of punk bands and only for a short period of time. When The Town Cryers formed, I had only played about 20 times live, if that.

Jeff Tanguay: My old band, Gonks Go Beat, had some videos on Muchmusic and a national CBC TV spot after a year or two, so I thought it would be easy to do it again. It wasn’t! (laughs)

OLM: What’s in a name, huh? How did you settle on the Town Cryers and were you aware of the Australian group from the 60s with the same one (hence the spelling change)?

John Allaire:  Yeah, we had a long list of names… The Crafty Dinners, The Wild Oats, The Hipwaders, etc. I’m a big Elvis Costello fan, and “Town Cryer” is the last song on his Imperial Bedroom album. I suggested the name and it stuck. We didn’t give much thought about other bands being named the same. In fact, we ended up playing a show with The Town Cryers (same spelling!) from Fresno, California! Great guys. There was no internet back then, so people didn’t do as much research on this stuff. Nobody really cared.

OLM: How would you describe the Ottawa music scene in the 80s to where we are at these days?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: The Ottawa 80s scene was pretty vibrant and musically diverse and there were plenty of venues to play at.

Jeff Tanguay: Putting a record out back then was a big deal — it cost a lot more in the 80s. Now everyone can put stuff out for next to nothing. And the bands used to play 2 or 3, 45-minute sets. Now most shows have 4 bands playing half hour sets

John Allaire: People used to go out and seek live music. Now it seems they’re annoyed by it. Or maybe that’s just the shows I play.

OLM:  Every band has some choice road stories. What are some of your favourite moments touring in the early days?

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: It’s got to be the menacing trip to Sault St. Marie in the middle of February in a VW camper van. Brrrrrrrrrr for the whole 17 hours it took us to get there!

John Allaire: When we went to leave, Breeze was nowhere to be found. When we finally did find him at 4am in a diner, Jeff had to hide the tire iron from me. There are so many stories. Most of them revolve around spending way too much time together in confined quarters.

OLM:  How did you find the recording process when you all first hit the studio?

John Allaire: Recording our mini-album at Parliament Studios was interesting. I think we were really over-influenced by what was happening with the bands around us, like Blue Rodeo, and we tried too hard to fit into a mould. I guess to a certain extent, the strategy worked because quite a few college stations put that EP on their heavy rotation list. But sonically, I think we shouldn’t have mixed out our live indie sound in favour of commercial accessibility.

OLM: All’s Well was a break out hit for the group, shooting up to #1 on Canadian Radio. Still being fresh on the scene, how did the accolades for your first time at bat affect the band?

Jeff Tanguay: It was nice to get positive feedback, but right away we were working on trying to top it with the next batch of songs.

OLM: When you look back at cuts from All’s Well now, how do you think they hold up?

John Allaire: I like the songwriting much more than I like the production. It was the 80s though.

Jeff Tanguay: We spent a lot of time on four of the tunes, and bashed out two others really quick so we wouldn’t waste the 24-track tape. I think the two we spent practically no time on stand up better because they don’t have all the 80s’ studio tricks making them sound dated.

OLM:  The follow up Surprise Surprise opted to roll with a video for the album’s final track “Never Bin Hurt B-4”, one of John’s tunes. Why was that song chosen to make the MuchMusic rounds?

John Allaire: I think it captured our live energy the best. As I recall, actually, we didn’t choose that song. Our forward-thinking video producer, Rob Kazemzdeh, wisely told us that it was a good song to visualize. He’s smart!

OLM:  How did you find the band dynamic touring those first two releases?

Jeff Tanguay: I remember it being pretty good.

John Allaire: Sure, we had our ups and downs like every band. Mostly ups. Lots of great stories come out of stuffing yourself in a van and touring the countryside. We hooked up with Toronto management for a while, which proved comical in and of itself! Our manager became a source of constant amusement (we would start up his moped and drive it around his house indoors when he wasn’t there!), and our live shows became legendary because he was booking us into the strangest places. We started to become known more for debauchery than music. In fact, New Music Express magazine had seen us at one of those crazy shows and called us “Canada’s Replacements” in a review. I’m still kinda’ proud of that designation!

OLM:  If you had to choose one tune that best defined the band for somebody to spin, what would it be and why that one?

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: “Mack Truck” – pure energy! It's a perfect reflection of our live show.

Rick “Dick” Dixon: “Road to Hell” cause it aptly describes any lengthy road trip with Breeze in the van.

Jeff Tanguay: “Mount St. Helens” because I think this song shows all the different aspects of the Cryers. You can hear influences of garage rock, rockabilly, pre-grunge with the keyboards and feedback guitars we sometimes added in the studio.

John Allaire: “My Pain”. It has that raw guitar sound, the quirky Grunge-era chord progression that kinda’ defined our sound during Stanley’s Cup, and it has that Zombie Apocalypse lyrical imagery.

OLM: Why do you think the group opted to go in different directions come 1992?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: Adulthood sucks….got jobs, responsibilities….playing in a band doesn't pay the bills.

John Allaire: We were faced with a fork in the road, and we took it.

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: It wasn't my decision. I was devastated!

Jeff Tanguay: I think we were all a bit bored and wanted to try something else.

OLM: Now, you had recorded an entire album at that point but opted to leave it unreleased until last year! Why did Stanley’s Cup stay shelved?

John Allaire: Releasing an independent album in 1992 was a significant financial undertaking. It would’ve required a year of touring to support it, etc. We decided to shelve it for 6 months and do some non-Cryer things with our lives. 6 months turned into 25 years.

OLM: Was there much communication over the years between band mates after the breakup and did any of you ever entertain the idea of reuniting sooner?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: We had talked about reuniting over the years when we would see each other at shows; it was just a matter of finding the right time in everyone's lives.

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: I didn't see Dick much but John, Jeff and I shared the stage with our 90's projects (Cameltoe/Mercy Miners). Jeff and I also continue to help out John with his solo stuff as his backing band, the Campistas.

Jeff Tanguay: We did a couple small reunions in 2007 and 2008.

John Allaire: Yeah, but we didn’t tell anyone. They were truly family-and-friend get-togethers!

OLM: Alright, so it’s 25 years later. What finally clicked to get the album out there and the Town Cryers playing together again?

Jeff Tanguay: John’s great at noticing anniversaries and other milestones, so I think he convinced us that if we wanted to release the record, it had to be now. (Or we would have to wait until 2042)

OLM: You reunited at an epic show at Irene’s last December. Did it seem like no time had passed or did you have to shake off some rust?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: Plenty of Rust. I think I would have done better on drums the first few practices…..and I don't even play drums!

John Allaire: In fairness to Breeze, he was just coming back from a nasty broken leg. I was really the only one who knew what he was doing. (laughs)

OLM: When you were all finally up on that stage together looking out at a packed house, what was going through your minds?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: Where are my glasses?! I….I can't see anyone!

John Allaire: It was great to see the familiar faces out there in the audience. That and the immediate reminder of why I’m deaf in one ear.

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: Drive the bus and keep smiling no matter what happens!

Jeff Tanguay: All hail the power of nostalgia!

OLM: You’ve opted to put your lives and other music careers on hold for a bit to bring the Cryers back. What are you most looking forward to about the coming shows like the coming one at Bluesfest?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: Getting the Cheap Trick Bluesfest experience.

OLM: The stage crashing down on you?

Rick “Dick” Dixon: I mean in terms of playing an outdoor festival.

John Allaire: The tiny sandwiches. And going one trailer over and stealing Blue Rodeo’s beer.

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: A The Town Cryers show is so much fun! I'll look forward to camaraderie between Dick, Jeff, John and myself. The best thing is seeing all the bright eyes and smiles in the audience as we blast through our set.

Jeff Tanguay: You get treated great at those gigs!

OLM: Last but not least, you think you all got another The Town Cryers album in ya’?

Kevin “Breeze” Smith: I have written so many songs and I can’t wait to see why they will be passed up yet again for the next TTC album.

Rick “Dick” Dixon: Pretty sure Breeze has enough new songs for a double album. So probably not. 1-2-3-4: "No!"

Jeff Tanguay: I hope not, I have a hard enough time remembering the songs we already have!

John Allaire: I’m always the band cheerleader when it comes to doing new things. I guess the greater question would be ‘to what end?’. We all have our individual projects that record quite a bit. Things have changed so much in music. I could see us bashing out a lo-fi EP or something and making it available digitally. Honestly, I’d like to do more, but we have 100 “Break’s Over Tour” t-shirts that we have to sell first!