At one point during Wednesday nights Wonderful Grand Band (WGB) reunion show, Greg Malone in the guise of Mr. Budgell made a remark about not having seen us, the audience, in 30 years.
And I realized he was right. It has been that long since I first saw this band.
I had the pleasure of seeing them perform dozens of times during their heyday, at a number of venues around town though my favourite spot was the Strand in the Village.
I covered the entertainment beat at The Newfoundland Herald for most of the Eighties, and came to know the bandmembers on a first-name basis. I interviewed them while leaning on the bar, in the dressing room between sets, and was even a guest at some of their places of residence. I wrote about each new season of the TV series, sat in on several of the studio tapings and witnessed much of the behind the scenes action. I attended the launch party for the Living in a Fog album, which was a memorable night indeed.
I remember one time, having an informal chat with Jamie Snider in the Strand downtown, and somehow the topic veered into the area of graphic design. I offered that I did some illustration work, but was not a straight line man. Well, he repeated that phrase several times, his fingers tapping on the wall, and he said, That would make a pretty cool song. It was a blast watching how their minds worked.
There was a lovely video tribute to the late Tommy Sexton at the start of the second act, which Malone introduced in a tasteful, touching way. I liked how the band didn't try to replace Tommy; instead, it fell on Malone's shoulders to carry the comedic elements of the show on his own, improvising as necessary and leaning frequently on his bandmates.
I interviewed Tommy so many times that I was fortunate enough to call him a friend. Can you imagine what a prodigious talent he would have become and how different our cultural landscape would be if he were alive today?
When Glenn Simmons and Ian Perry decided to leave the WGB, I broke that story, and even helped name their new group (I called them the Simmons-Perry project, as a working title, and the band used that name for some time, before calling themselves The Business).
Those were exciting days. And it was a thrill to relive them, at the WGB reunion concert, Wednesday night at the Arts and Culture Centre. The band played most of their better known hits, plus some more recent material written by band members in the years since the band split.
The band included Glenn Simmons, Ron Hynes, Sandy Morris, Jamie Snider, Ian Perry, Paul Boomer Stamp and, of course, Greg Malone (the best of several different lineups the band has seen).
Of course, Greg was a one-man show on his own, changing costumes between songs as he rolled out a dizzying array of characters. One of the highlights for me was his fleet-footed rollick through Rufuss Tune, which is probably my favourite WGB song. The years have been kind to everyone in the band, but Malones energy and dancing skills are, if anything, better than ever.
But the moment that really took me back, all the way to 1979, was Malones impression of a famous politician. Wearing a pair of baggy pants and a paper bag over his head, Malone used voice and mannerisms to nail one of the best impressions of Joey Smallwood I have ever seen. It was astounding 30 years ago, when I saw the band at the Thomson Student Centre, and it was equally good this week.
In fact, one of the first acts I ever reviewed, as a young writer, was that WGB show at the university. The band was different, with Kelly Russell on fiddle and Rocky Wiseman on drums, but the musical innovations and distinct comedy were already well established.
At the time, I was managing editor and owner of Night People, a tabloid about nightlife and entertainment that was circulated free in bars (it lasted all of three issues, and is a topic best left for another day). That sounds important, being managing editor, but I was also the only writer, typesetter, and layout artist.
For the 1979 review, I scratched out a little illustration of Malone doing his Joey impression, which you see at the top of the page. And as for the article, well, its a piece of crap. Badly written. Full of clichs. Some, uh, creative grammar. It is quite possibly the first review ever done of the WGB, but that doesnt make it any easier to read.
Without further ado, here are the concluding paragraphs of that review, from November 1, 1979:
The Grand Band has created a fusion of folk and rock that, judging from the audiences applause, is a very tasteful combination.
Lo and behold, after the second song Budgell returned with more antics and I soon discovered (to my delight) that this was the routine for the evening. This guy is outrageously funny, each skit being funnier than the last, with no limit to what Budgell would come up with. As the evening wore on, Malone did impressions of (among other things) various politicians, including Clark and Trudeau, with style and wit that cracked up the audience.
I should point out that I had had a harrowingly serious month prior to this night, and had practically forgotten how to laugh. So, when Budgell entered the stage with a paper bag over his head (talk about innovations) and stood scowling at the front row, it hit me like a ton of bricks This person, clad in black, with black bowtie, and even the paper bag it was Joey Smallwood . The first line had me clutching my ribs. I believe long pause I BELIEEEEVE The duration of the skit saw me doubled over in hysteria, my first real bellylaugh in ages. Thank you, Mr. Malone!
As for the band, I dont mean to neglect them, for they were superb. This was the first time I had seen such fine response to a Newfoundland group. Towards the end of the show everyone was standing on chairs, hands over head, clapping and shouting. Some were even doing jigs on the tables! Why is there never a big-time promoter around at a time like this?
All in all, it was wunnerful grand.
And there you have it. Proof that writers do improve with age or, at least 10,000 hours of practice.