It’s been 40 years since Lloyd Thornhill and Glenn Simmons zipped up their platform boots and strapped on guitars at the Bella Vista to play cover tunes from acts such as Chicago, David Bowie and Van Morrison. The band was called Stained Glass.
After pursuing separate paths over that span, they recently reunited to work on Thornhill’s first album of original material, entitled “Just For A Moment.”
Simmons, who produced the album, is reluctant to categorize it.
“I find it difficult to deal with the ‘genre’ obsession. It’s called mus-ic,” he enunciates. “It’s a mixture of folk/pop/country/rock, like records used to be.”
Despite the mixture, the album smoothly transitions from song to song.
The tunes, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Just for a Moment” could have been on the set list for the Bella Vista back in the day, while the folky “Where Trains Used To Run” landscapes the years rolling by outside a train window.
On the flip side, “Land O” is a rock-saturated sea shanty, and Thornhill’s saxophone gives a jazzy New Orleans flavour to “On The Sea I Swore.”
“The last couple of verses in ‘On The Sea I Swore’ actually happened when I was about 14,” he says.
Thornhill spent his early life pretty much on the ocean in Anderson’s Cove, Fortune Bay, where the only transportation was by boat.
By the time he was 15, Anderson’s Cove had been resettled and the family moved to Poole’s Cove.
“Dad never got a car till after I left home. He always used a boat for transportation.”
Still at home on the water, the songwriter spends much of his summer sailing around the province.
Where the time went
At the age of 17, Thornhill moved to St. John’s to find a job. He wound up in Labrador working with IOC and then Wabush Mines, playing in fledgling bands.
He leans in close, as if sharing a secret.
“That’s where I bought my first electric guitar, a Fender Jazz Master, brand new, in the package — who’d believe it?” he says, eyes twinkling.
He returned to St. John’s in 1971 and in ’72 formed Stained Glass with brothers Al and Hal Somers, Gerald Parsons and Bob Tilley. The band was managed by Bob Cousins of The Inside Track and Gemini Talent Agency.
That was the year Simmons, then 18 and “straight from the bay,” began checking out the St. John’s music scene. By ’73 Stained Glass was in need of a lead guitar player.
“I auditioned and Lloyd said, ‘Well, you’re in the band’,” Simmons recounts with a grin.
For the next year they played all over the island, and the Maritimes.
As The Newfoundland Herald put it in August of that year, “Fans of Stained Glass are saying they now have earned the right to be called the Number 1 act in the province. The five cats are back from a 14-day tour of the three Maritime provinces. …”
Beowulf, Sea Dog, Garrison Hill
In 1974, the two went their separate ways, Simmons with bands like Garrison Hill, Huski, Dick Nolan and Lary, and Thornhill with Beowulf and Sea Dog.
But times had started to change, Thornhill recalls.
“There were things happening that never happened before, like double booking. You’d drive to Corner Brook and there’s another band setting up. You had no contract, of course, so you had no money for that week.”
That was when the thought of going back to school kicked in.
Up to that point, he’d been self-taught, but getting into MUN’s brand new music school meant Thornhill needed some formal training. So he picked up flute lessons with Joy Tillotson, Beverly Lane and Marjorie Doyle.
“I took theory from Carla Furlong and prepared some pieces with the help of Marilyn Udell, a piano accompanist.”
During his university days, Thornhill, Ian Perry (the yet-to-be Wonderful Grand Band bass player) and Ken Wall appeared all over the island as Sea Dog.
“I put myself through university playing. You’d finish playing 1 a.m. and you’d have to get projects done and assignments in the next morning. It was hard, but I never thought for one minute that it was work. It was all enjoyment.”
In 1978, Thornhill, Simmons, Perry and drummer Paul Boomer Stamp formed Kicks, a weekend band that stayed together for about a year. Simmons was doing some CBC-TV shows at the time, and he and Stamp went on to play with the Wonderful Grand Band. And Thornhill, before settling down to the life of a music teacher, had one more kick at being a cat.
“My last band was The Edge, forerunner of Billy and the Bruisers. We usually played the St. John’s scene because everyone had day jobs.”
By then it was the early ’80s. There were more bands, scarcer bookings, less money and higher transportation costs.
“It wasn’t fun anymore. DeeJays were getting locked in. You could get a one-man band for a fraction of what you’d get a band. You needed more gear and it was getting to the point where you needed a soundman.”
Thornhill finished his degree and taught in Conception Bay South for a year before becoming the band instructor at Booth Memorial in St. John’s. He retired from Booth three years ago.
Over the years the two musicians ran into each other only occasionally.
While Simmons stayed in the business, Thornhill taught music and wrote songs to feed his musical muse.
“I kept listening to the songs and thinking I really gotta do something.”
About a year ago, he ran into Simmons at the Fat Cat. Simmons had a home studio and was producing on the side.
“I asked Glenn if he’d have a listen to some of the stuff I’d written and a few months later we started recording.”
Thornhill had initially chosen 11 of his songs for the album, but replaced four with new ones he wrote while recording “Just For A Moment.”
“I find you get more ideas when you’re playing and listening. I started writing ‘Just You and Me’ at Glenn’s, then went home and came back with it written the next day. And all the stuff took on a different form with the arrangement, which is what Glenn is good at.
“He’s pushy, and I like that. Sometimes you need to be pushed in other directions, so you can see laterally, take the flaps off and get fresh air in. He’s got a lot of tricks in his bag. He’s got his 10,000 hours in — and I got about 400 now,” Thornhill laughs. “That means a lot because you want it to be the best it can be. I don’t want to settle for second best. What’s the point? You gotta keep true to the song.”
Although it’s sometimes difficult to hang onto a song’s integrity through the many stages of production, Simmons agrees that was the aim. And he’s delighted with the collaboration.
“Lloyd’s songwriting must be the best-kept musical secret in the province. Although he was writing back in the days of Stained Glass, I never had enough appreciation at that time to understand the talent it took to write a good song. His experience in the world of theory and his absorption over the years has turned him into a writer of ‘real’ songs. I love this record.”
“Just For A Moment” is available at Fred’s Records on Duckworth Street.