Christian McMaster and me, co-founders of the Jamie Lizmore Appreciation Society
I was exposed to a lot of really good music from a really young age. My dad, Dave Smith was an announcer and DJ on, “Ontario’s Music Leader, CKOC 1150”, so pop music was my Dad’s business. And if your Dad is a butcher, you eat a lot of bacon. So when I was at home with my Mum and brothers (kudos to Mum), the radio was always on. I ate bacon all day long.
There were many benefits to Dad’s job and one was that I got to go to a lot of concerts at a very young age. My first big concert was Culture Club in 1984. I also saw the Beach Boys, The Thompson Twins and many more, all before I was ten years old. If there was a concert I wanted to go to, I could ask Dad and he could usually sort it.
This being said, I remember the first time I saw a truly great band and they were a local band from Burlington, Ontario. They were called Gleet and eventually became Sianspheric. I can and would go on about Gleet but I’ve actually already written an essay in part about them here if you fancy reading it.
By the time they became Sianspheric they really seemed unstoppable. In my mental list of best gigs that I’ve ever been to, Sian holds quite a few spots. Rolling Stone said about their debut album (excuse the paraphrase), “the fact that this band isn't a household name should be criminal” They were my heroes but seemed to implode every time something good would happen something really bad was around the corner.
I discovered this first hand when my dream came true and I actually joined Sianspheric as their singer for about a year. In that time, I found us a practise space and helped get a set in a good enough position that they were able to play again, pretty regularly. At this point, I knew my time with them would be limited but if I could a small part of that band’s story, I was more than up for it.
We’d booked a tour of Ontario and Quebec and were in good shape until Matt and Paul got into a fight one practise, Paul left the band and we had five days to learn a bunch of new songs well enough to do the tour we’d booked. It wasn’t an easy feat considering most of the vocals in Sian’s recorded music is buried in the mixes and their original singer, Steve was nowhere to be found. I ended up either guessing or making my own lyrics up.
When we were in Montreal a friend came out to see the band and was astounded. “You guys were amazing. I go to friends gigs all the time and am just kind of used to the bands always being just okay. You guys were actually awesome”.
I nodded, agreed and didn’t feel I was being conceited as I had very little to do with the band being what they were. I was just performing songs that I already loved. It was like a tribute to the band that I loved and then, happened to be in.
Sianspheric (me on the right) in 2004
It’s remarkable to me that in all the years I’ve played music and all the places around the world I’ve been and all the people I’ve played with: some of the most talented people I know are still in Hamilton. Still one of the greatest technical guitarists I’ve seen is Jamie Lizmore. Heard of him? Probably not if you aren’t Hamiltonian. He played for a time in the town’s most popular cover bad, “The General Lee” (named after the famed TV car not the loser Civil War general). Legend has it that even the world’s fastest guitarist, Steve Vai saw him play and was floored at his prowess. My friend and future hardcore guitar-legend Christian McMaster (of Cursed fame) and I used to coax him into doing things like play behind his back and with his teeth. This definitely a rock faux pas in those grunge days but we loved it! However, this didn’t please his band when he was that sort of showman. He made being a technical master look rather simple. I’m not sure if he plays live nowadays but he was and probably is still really amazing.
Still one of the greatest musician I’ve ever known is my former Gorp band mate, Mark Raymond. I call him, “Snowy”. He plays nearly every stringed instrument better than most who’ve played them their whole lives and in recent years has started playing drums. Oh, and he sings really well, to boot. I’ve said for many years that if one manages to get Snowy in their band, they will immediately become 75% better. I've also been known to say that if I had half the skills Snowy has, I'd have gone super-nova years ago. Unlike a lot of great musicians, he has taste. He is also perfectly happy sharing his gifts with no one! This is why you used to find him running the downtown soup-kitchen, making food for people less fortunate than him and more recently, living off the land, tending to his farm. I once leaked an album he made to an indie label who released it almost immediately. I think it’s the only thing of his to be released. I wonder how many albums he has recorded since then? I reckon he’ll be the only one to know that.
Occasionally, people with say, “(name a semi-popular band) has put Hamilton on the map!” The truth of that is that the people who influenced the popular bands of any place are predominantly acts you have never heard of. This either because of bad luck, emotional issues, drug addiction or just plain stubornness. Of course, some people just don't want to play in a popular band.
Ken Corke, Alex Gumbert, Graham Peacefull, Steve Peruzzi and Carl and Tim Jennings are just a few more of the musicians that I’ve known that are or were at one time or another, world-class artists. I sometimes think that it’s ridiculous that the above people aren’t names that are more well known. On the other hand; ain’t in so punk?
PS- my greatest moment with Sianspheric was at the last practise I did with them, a week before moving to London. No one saw or heard it but the four of us. It's super-frustrating, awesome and on-brand all at the same time.