Davis Manning was the fifth Hipster. He had come
from B.C. with a saxaphone under his arm, Gord Sinclair explained, and
when the band started up, the sax sound suited the style of music they
were playing to campus crowds. Davis was older, quieter, he worked at Bubba's
Pizzeria, he was enigmatic, ultimately cool and definately hip.
Besides having an uncanny knack for choosing eccentric
yet understated atire, the Tragically Hip had also already developed an
ease and an offbeat sense of humor in interviews, something that would
serve them well later on.
I experienced this firsthand while working as the entertainment
editor of the Queen's Journal 1985-86. Having been left breathless by several
of their shows, I was convinced it was time to get an exclusive interview.
I sent two reporters to find the Hip and get the story. It appeared October
1 1985, accompanied by a photograph of the band members dressed in identical
shiny raincoats, dangling playfully from the monkey bars in Victoria Park.
The headline read: Long-haired monsters? Just good clean boys.
Here's an excerpt from that interview:
Journal: How do you write your songs?
Bobby: Gord Sinclair writes the basic songs, I
arrange it and Gord Downie forgets it.
Journal: What about musical influences?
Johnny: Andy Gibb has been like a father to us,
Keith and Laurie Partridge gave us a home when no one else would.
Gord S.: We feel our biggest audience will be
a pre-teen crowd.
Bobby: The freshettes really identify with Johnny,
he's become the patron saint of Victoria Hall.
Journal: Will there be posters and T-shirts?
Gord S.: No but we're coming out with Tragically
Hip pencil cases and lunch boxes.
Journal: What about a Saturday morning cartoon
Gord D.: It would be a deep and lasting honour
to appar with Scooby Doo.
Johnny: What we really want to do is get on Gil
Fisher's "Fishin' Musician" and go up to Scuttlebut Lodge for the weekend.
Bobby: I'd just like to get some fish and fry
them up in beer.
Toward the end of the interview, Bobby Baker got serious
and talked about the band's plans. "We're going to keep playing around
town until Christmas. Then we've got some connections in Toronto and Ottowa
for some gigs. We're going to stick together for a year anyway, make some
demo tapes and see what happens." Of course, a lot happened within that
time, but during the school year it was business as usual. The Hip started
sliding more original tunes into their sets; the first Hip-penned tune
Saturday, October 18 1985, Fleming Field, Queen's campus
- The Tragically Hip open for Teenage Head. The following Tuesday the Queen's
Journal healine read: Hip to Head in music and muck. (It had been raining
and the ground was pretty muddy.) I sent a budding rock journalist to cover
the event, and this is an excerpt from his report.
"The concert ws opened by Queen's own sensation the Tragically
Hip. Unfortunately the Hip didn't have the audience they deserve. The majority
of the crowd didn't show until after their short set was finished. The
Hip were forced to head quickly for the Manor to put in a couple of sets.
"Vocalist Gord Downie's incredible stage presence made
the band come alive. As a new twist, they brought out three stylish female
dancers. Within minutes of arriving, the excitement of the 60's was recreated
for you, live and in person."
One of the musical mainstays of the Terrapin, the Tragically
Hip played at the club's wake. During the year the Terrapin was open, owner
and manager Logan Murray had brought in some greata Canadian talent, trendy
Toronto Queen Street acts, Montreal grunge bands the likes of k.d. lang,
Blue Rodeo and, of course, the Hip in their early unsigned days, all played
But on January 31, 1986, the hot spot for cool music closed
it's doors. It was a wild and magical night, it felt like an historic event.
People were standing on tables and chairs, local songstress Georgette Fry
got up with the band for a few songs. Gord Downie sported a black turtleneck
to mark the sad occasion.
One face you'd always spot at a Hip gig was that of Fraser
Armstrong, who had attended Winston Churchill Public School and Kingston
Collegiate with Bobby and Gord Sinclair and lived five houses down from
them. When the band started up, he would help out lifting equipment and
a little later did the lighting and started arranging for sound production.
"When they (the Hip) first got going, Kingston had a really
thriving music scene," Fraser Armstrong says. "Before then, people were
putting out a mediocre show and getting away with it. When the Hip started
up, everyone had to make their act more professional."
CKLC music director Steev Jordan, who was an avid fan
long before he started playing their records, agrees. "They kicked everyone
in the (rear). It was the first time that a local band could consistantly
draw huge crowds. People would even try to check out their out-of-town
gigs. They really upped the stakes and the standards for other local musicians."
Mr. Armstrong remembers well some of the clubs the Tragically
Hip played during the early road trip days: the Belleville yacht club,
the Rainbow Bistro in Ottowa, the campuses of McMaster University in Hamilton
and St. Lawrence College in Brockville.
He recalls one Toronto gig at Lee's Palace. "That was
a novel show, because no one in the audience had any idea who they were;
but you could see towards the end of the show that people's feet were tapping.
They really liked the music." But Mr. Armstrong's most fond memories are
of the Manor gigs, and one in particular. "I was doing lights. This woman
was waitressing and dumped a tray of drinks on my head; that's how I met
The summer of 1986 held a lot of changes and a few surprises
for the band. Sax -player Davis Manning left. The band gigged for a while
as a four piece, hiring a sax player for the odd show. The Gords and Bobby
had been living in a house on Brock Street with Gord Downie's high school
buddy Paul Langois, who was constantly strumming on the acoustic guitar.
In Auust of 1986 it seemed logical that he became a Hipster. Also during
the summer, Fraser Armstrong passed along one of the band's demo tapes
to his brother-in-law, a political cronie of pollster Allan Gregg who he
knew was interested in developing new Canadian musical talent. Mr. Gregg
and his business partner Jake Gold, of the personal management company
Jacob J. Gold & Associates, wanted to check the band out and needed
a place to hear them.
Jake Gold booked them into that famous Toronto club, Larry's
Hideaway (also now long gone), opening for a Rolling Stones clone band.
"Well, we needed a spot to see them," Mr.Gold explained. "We met them upstairs
briefly, before they went on. After 30 seconds into the first set we knew
we wanted to sign them. After the show we went out for beers at the Pilot
Tavern and we signed them on our label."
And the rest, as they say, is Hipstory.