In the 1960s, at a time when bands such as the DuCats and The Deltones had just started to make local rock ’n’ roll popular, a television show took to the airwaves which had teenagers racing home from school and gluing their eyes to their TV screens.
“Art Andrews’ Dance Party,” which aired on CJON (NTV) TV from 1964-68, was Newfoundland’s answer to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and was broadcast at a time when there was only one other television channel CBC.
Sponsored by Coca-Cola and shot live — and never recorded — from the CJON studios in Buckmaster’s Circle, “Dance Party” saw close to 100 teenagers dancing in spot dances and elimination dance contests to music by popular and up-and-coming local rock ’n’ roll bands
“You had to have a blue ticket to get in and if you could get one of those tickets, you were the cat’s meow. At school the next day you’d be the queen of the walk,” explained Greg Dodd, co-author of the book “Rock and Roll Comes to Newfoundland and Labrador: An Archive,” published by DRC Publishing in 2008.
“It was an opportunity for teenagers to see (each other) live on TV and to hear the music that was around, but it was also a great opportunity for the local bands, because you can imagine it was a half hour of live TV exposure. They used to get paid, but they never got a lot of money. It was the exposure — schools would see them on TV and hire them for their next dance, and all kinds of things.”
The TV program was beyond a doubt the most popular for local teenagers of the time, and likely the most important, Dodd said.
“It had a huge impact,” he said. “Rock ’n’ roll was just getting started, there was no outlet for it, and on the radio back then there wasn’t a lot of it being played. You had your Pat Boones and all that stuff, but the show was definitely important to the local music scene.”
Dodd was one of the music historians Petrina Bromley and Amelia Manuel contacted when writing their theatre production “Brand New Beat” last year. Commissioned by Rising Tide Theatre, the show is about “Dance Party” and the effect it had on young people in the 1960s.
The idea behind the piece was to combine Bromley’s idea to do a production around rock ’n’ roll music of the ’60s with Rising Tide artistic and executive producer Donna Butt’s plan to produce a tribute to Andrews and the show.
Andrews spent 30 years in broadcasting, both as a radio announcer on CJON and CBC and a TV show host. Apart from “Dance Party,” Andrews hosted “Reach for the Top” on CBC-TV. After his retirement, he and his wife, Louise, established a tourism business in Trinity — also the home of Rising Tide Theatre — offering boat tours on his sailboat Atlantic Adventurer.
Andrews passed away in August 2009.
“I just remember Art as such a charismatic and gracious kind of guy. He was someone you wanted to get to know and hang out with,” Bromley said.
“He seemed to know a lot and had been through a lot in his life; interesting things. He was generally an all-around nice guy.”
In researching “Dance Party” for the piece, Bromley and Manuel interviewed local musicians, fans of the show and people who had once managed to score a blue ticket.
From bits of history to funny anecdotes about being suspended from school for appearing on the show, they were able to take stories they were given and incorporate them into the script.
“They told us the story of The Deltones playing on the rooftop of the A&W in St. John’s, and things about the groups, like how they were Beatle boots and spray-painted them and ordered matching jackets from a company far away, stuff like that,” Bromley said.
“Sandy Morris told us a story. He was never on the show, but he used to watch it at home because he had a crush on a girl who used to regularly appear on it. We just blatantly stole that, and we have a character in the play who watches the show to see this girl he has a crush on.”
“I also spoke at length with Marie Sharpe, who had been at Holy Heart at the time. She gave us great info about being at the school with the nuns, like how Sister Nano checked your skirt hem to make sure it touched the ground when you knelt. There’s a character in the show named Jo who is a Holy Heart student. She kneels down at one point to figure out if she can get away with trimming some of the hem of her tunic, cause all the girls are doing it. Our Jo often talks about her friend Marie, who knows everything about everything, which we put in as a nod to Marie Sharpe, who also knows everything about everything.”
“Brand New Beat” is centered around four groups of people, sitting around TV sets in their living room, watching “Art Andrews’ Dance Party,” and follows what happens to them as they watch the show and how they interact with what they see. Occasionally they’ll burst into song, either singing along with the television or to express their own feelings. Music in the production comes from 1965 and earlier, and includes songs by The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes and others.
While Rising Tide isn’t attempting to portray Andrews directly — “We felt it would be sort of crass to try and emulate him,” Bromley explained — the characters speak about him and his actual voice is heard, thanks to an audio recording given to the theatre company by Derek Pelley of an episode of the show featuring The Sandells.
“That was Noel Dinn’s first band, and a member of his family actually sat in front of the TV with a tape recorder and recorded it,” Bromley said.
“That and an interview called ‘Not Bad for Local’ that Derek and Bryan Hennessey did with Art for CBC Radio back in the ’80s were invaluable to us.”
“Brand New Beat” debuted at Rising Tide’s Seasons in the Bight Festival in Trinity in the summer of 2010 with great success, so it was re-launched this past summer. Starting in St. John’s Monday evening, the show — starring Bromley, Manuel, Grant Tilly, Samantha Chaulk, Ken Butt, Michele Rex Bailey and Michael Power — will tour Arts and Culture Centres across the province as well as extra stops at the Clarenville Events Centre and the Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre in Carbonear.
Tickets are $30 ($25 for students and seniors) and can be purchased online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.