Photo courtesy of Robert Potoroka
My friend and former publicity man, Sean Palmerston used to joke that, “Mayor McCa is in Port Dover”. For those that don’t understand what that means; Port Dover is a little town in Southern Ontario with a grand total of around six thousand people inhabiting it. It’s not exactly a huge market.
I came from a scene where a bunch of bands would play wherever and whenever possible. I recall countless shows with other Hamilton bands playing shows in backyards, union halls, Chinese restaurants, church halls, store roofs. Anywhere that would have us, we’d play. The more we played, the better we got. And the bigger the scene got. Everyone won.
These shows almost always start when a teenager asks you to come and play a show at (choose unusual venue of your choice). They’d just want a gig for their band to play at and would need a headlining act. I’d imagine at that time, I would have been quite a cost-efficient and easy acts to book. I used to do these types of show quite a bit and I cannot remember turning too many of them down.
These shows were really ideal for me. It was always a good-size crowd (for the venue), I’d sell a good amount of merch (which really helps) and I would sometimes be lucky enough to watch a little scene grow. And the (let’s call them) community centre shows were perfect to bring out the musician in a kid. Each time I’d go back there would be a new band of kids that were punters from the previous show and the bands that had played before would get better and better. And similar to the scene that I came up in, one could look around the crowd and not be sure who was in a band and who was there to see them. These sort of shows were super-encouraging to a kid who wants to be in a band and a formula for a healthy music scene.
Another thing that made these gigs special is that these small towns didn’t get a lot of shows from properly big acts put on, so when I did come around, the people really appreciated it, especially when the shows were all ages. I’ve had enough interactions with kids who used to come out to said shows to know that as far as they were concerned, I was rock star. And I get it. I had music on the radio and videos on Much Music (Canadian MTV). It wouldn’t have mattered to them to know that I was still working forty hours a week at a restaurant to get by. As far as they were concerned, I had made it. To a kid with nothing to do and in the middle of nowhere, a nominally popular, half decent band can inspire a young soul to do great things.
And the more obscure the town and venue, the better it seemed to be. By the time I was working with my booking agent, super hero and dear friend Joey Balducchi, I knew not to question him if he asked me to play unusual places whether it was a little cafe in the day or a bakery (though I do remember saying no to being the in between act at a strip joint). It really didn’t matter and I knew not to question it and enjoy what may be the best show of the tour which they often were.
I’m reminded of an encounter that I had years ago, around 2003. I was at my favourite bar in Toronto, the Horseshoe, when I walked by Ian D’sa from Billy Talent. Their first hit single, ‘Try Honesty’ had just come out and I thought it was great. And something that I’ve learned over the years (I’ll expand on this idea in a future essay) is that no one gets sick of hearing how great they are. So I walked up to him and said, “Hey man. I think your band is great. Congratulations.”
He thanked me for his comment and I was on my way. As I turned around to leave he asked, “Hey, are you the singer of Gorp?”
I nodded affirmatively and giggled a little bit as it was not very often that I had been recognised from my old band. I didn’t put two and two together at first but Gorp used to play with his old band, Soluble Fish (featuring future friend and colleague Bowman The Broke Ass Rock Star) at amongst other places, a high school and a community hall. Though I didn’t expect it, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’s recognised me as Mayor McCa as I had achieved a mild popularity by then. But no; to Ian, I was the guy from Gorp. When I last went to see Billy Talent in London, I was still introduced to the people as the singer of Gorp. I think it’s safe to say those shows made an impression.
Flyer courtesy of Trevor Bowman
I’ve had quite a few experiences like that where I ended up opening for a band and they’d remind me that I’d played with them (or an early incarnation) when they’d just started out. It seems that I must have been a nice person. This pleases me because there is nothing more disappointing than opening for an act you like and they turn out to be a band of assholes.
And being a small part of those scenes is a real source of pride for me. Especially back then, I enjoyed being an example of an artist who was almost their age and was just doing it. I had a CD for sale and T-shirt and if I could do it, then surely they could too. I had many fine examples of people that inspired me that it was nice to pay it forward.
By the time Joey and I started working together full time and I was touring Canada regularly, I was not only playing all of the cities you’d expect like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and the like but I’d also have regular gigs in places like Brandon, MB, Cranbrook, BC and St. John, NB. I can confirm that the shows in these smaller towns were almost always better than the shows in the big cities. In the cities they get spoiled for choice but in the little communities that no one goes to, I was treated like a star. Depending on the market, I was a huge act.