THE TRACKS: SONG ANECDOTES
SAIL ON 747
This is a Rock-a-Billy flavoured song. My first exposure to rock
'n' roll was through the Memphis Sun
Records artists: Elvis,
Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis - The excitement generated by
these early rockers has been a major musical influence.
The idea for the song came during a long wait at London's Heathrow
Airport during a work-to-rule strike. Sue-On was pregnant with our first
child, Ja-On, and we perhaps were a little nostalgic and homesick after
having toured for seven weeks in a foreign land. It had been a very successful
tour highlighted by the recording of five sides in a London studio, but
we have always been 'homebodies,' - a defence, I guess, from the craziness
of the road.
It was approaching harvest time on the prairies and we were looking
forward to experiencing our unique fall rituals and even seeing the stubble
fires which light up the night skies on every horizon. We had loved the
experience of this, our first tour of England - the Newcastle Brown Ale,
the ocean, the history, the Geordies, football, housie, BBC, Blackpool...everything
- but it was time for homefires.
The song was recorded three years later at Guardian Studios in northern
England. This 24-track studio is set up in two adjacent row houses on High
Street, in the tiny village of Pity Me, just outside the beautiful, historic
City of Durham. The studio was a labour of love and brain child of owner/engineer
Terry Gavaghan who saw it as a means of getting 'off the road' while still
staying in the music industry. He invested the money he had saved touring
as lead guitarist for the Carpenters - here in this quaint little Yorkshire
village. This choice of locale was perhaps not as unusual as it might first
appear as England's Northeast is saturated with clubs and musicians.
We later performed Sail On at the Manitoba Association of
Country Artists (MACA) Awards ceremonies where we were backed by a large
stage band complete with fully-charted arrangements - quite a contrast
to the small combo approach we took on the record.
GENERATION RADIO SHOW
U of M Radio ~ UMFM 101.5 FM
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Welcome back to MY GENERATION - I'm your host,
Happy Manitoba Day!
Speaking of Manitoba, I'm thrilled to be able
to play this song because it certainly name checks Manitoba. It's the idea
of coming back to Manitoba after you've been on a 7-week tour of the UK
and you want to come back to Manitoba because you miss it so much.
This song was conceived with that in mind by
two artists who are legends in Manitoba and certainly in WestMan. They
are huge. . .huge. They should be in the Order of Manitoba, I think, as
This is Bill and Sue-On Hillman, and it's a
very rock-a-billy sounding song, but it was written after a tour in the
UK of 7 weeks. Then, a couple of years later they were back in the UK and
they recorded it. . . actually in a village called PITY ME and I love that
name. . . just outside of Durham at a recording studio there (Guardian
They were backed by a band called DESPERADO,
who were an English showband, but the keyboard player in that band went
on to play in Dire Straits, which is pretty impressive stuff.
(actually our keyboard sideman was Alan
Clark: synths, strings, clavinet, acoustic and electric pianos - the original
guitarist in Desperado was Paul Rodgers who had left the band much earlier
to make it in London ~ wh)
This song called SAIL ON 747 was actually played
by Bill and Sue-On at the Manitoba Association of Country Artists Awards
Show. . . and I think it's just a great, great tune.
Here we go with Bill and Sue-On Hillman and
. . .
That's Bill and Sue-On Hillman from Brandon,
Manitoba and SAIL ON 747. I love the Manitoba sentiment in that song. The
only artist I can think to follow that would be Chad Allan.
I know that Bill and Sue-On are big Chad Allan
fans and it seems appropriate to follow their great song with another great
song. . . a Guess Who song with Chad Allan on vocals . . . and yes
folks, there was a Guess Who before Burton Cummings.
Musician, Educator, Broadcaster, Music Historian and
FOLLOW-UP CANADA DAY BROADCAST NOTES
This effort was the culmination of a joint international project.
We spent a week in Durham's Guardian Studios with Desperado, a Middlesbrough-based
English show band. After pooling our efforts on the backing tracks, we
each did our own version of the final vocals and mix. The result was that
they had songs to release as singles and we had enough originals and covers
for a complete album. I felt that we needed synth arrangements and since
our regular keyboard player, Kevin Pahl, couldn't accompany us on this
third tour, I hired one of the musicians whom we had met in the local clubs.
He did a fantastic job for us and we really weren't too surprised when
we learned a few months later that he had joined Mark Knopler's Dire Straits
as a regular.
Desperado was comprised of Alun Edwards (vocals, congas, percussion),
Mick Sandbrook (vocals, bass), John Whittingham (vocals, guitar), Colon
Bradley (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Paul Duckers (drums) - all from the
Middlesbrough, County Cleveland area. Paul Rodgers of Bad Company had come
out of this group a few years before.
It was while recording the vocal tracks for this song that we were
drawn into the realm of the supernatural. The hour was late - around midnight
at Guardian Studios, Pity Me - the bed tracks were in the can, and we had
just removed the drums from the isolation cubicle which was to double as
my vocal booth. Sue-On had gone across the street to make a telephone call
while Terry, Alan and Mick sat staring at me through the control room glass,
waiting for me to sing along with the backing tracks of Lady Luck. Part
way into the song there was a brilliant flash of light around me and someone
turned off the 24-track recorder.
Wondering what the problem was, I looked inquisitively toward the
guys at the console. They had strange looks on their faces and I heard
Terry's voice over the cans, directing me to come in. My first thought
was that something had happened to destroy the master tape. Terry phoned
his neighbour friend while I tried to get Mick to tell me what had happened.
The neighbour rushed in saying, "She's back!???"
All three in the control room had seen a brilliant light radiating
from a negative image of a small person standing close to me. Terry explained
that years ago a young girl who lived here in this row house, the one that
he had converted into his studio, had run out into the path of a lorry
and had been struck down. They carried her into this room and had laid
her dying body on a sofa in the same area as the vocal booth.
The ghostly image of this girl has appeared frequently, usually in
conjunction with some calamity - in this case her visit must have been
brought about by my singing. Stories about the 'ghost' (Guardian Angel?)
abound and her picture is displayed in the pub down the street. I suggested
to Terry that he should include the story in his advertising, but he seemed
very reluctant - in fact, he was afraid it would drive away business. I
saw no ghost but I did see a brilliant light...and the shocked and frightened
looks on my cohorts' faces.
We based this song on some old folk music themes. Previous to the
recording session we had done the number as an acoustic-backed duet - usually
at folk concerts or for small gatherings. Thanks to Alan Clark's synth
arrangements and the temptation to do layered vocal overdubs, the finished
recording differed considerably from our stage version.
REELIN' IN SOHO
Reelin' in Soho is an account of our first recording session in London,
England. As suggested in the first verse, this was the culmination of a
tour in which we - The Hillmans From Canada - had played 30 one-nighters
in night clubs and discos across Northern England. Many nights found us
in the ubiquitous Workingman Clubs where a house band opened at 7:00 pm,
followed by opening acts which usually offered variety entertainment.
We would then come on for a show set, after which there would be
a long break for housie (bingo) - a national addiction. After this exciting
gambling break we would return for a dance set - but by 11:00 pm the dancers
would call it a night since they had to work the next day. Being so used
to the long drives, long gigs and late nights back in Canada, it was hard
for us to wind down so suddenly and every night found us driving around
looking for some place which might still be open - we met some very colourful
characters on these midnight rambles.
The audiences attended these clubs every night of the week and had
seen it all, so it was especially rewarding to 'go down a bomb'...to 'bomb'
has a different connotation there than it does in North America. It was
tremendously exciting to study the dressing room walls which were festooned
with pictures, cards and stickers left by previous entertainers - even
the Beatles, early in their careers, had toured this circuit. These backstage
walls were seldom refurbished since it seemed that the more 'name' acts
displayed, the more prestigious the club. Perhaps the most fascinating
venues though, were the Country and Western Clubs where nearly everyone
showed up in full Western regalia - including boots, hats, gunbelts...and
western drawls - Geordie cowboys.
Our strangest and perhaps most memorable night occurred at Scarth
- a village in Yorkshire. Throughout the tour, we spent most mornings and
afternoons being tourists - traipsing through castles, cathedrals, and
pubs and across highlands and moors. Scarth, however, offered a special
reward because it is home to Alf Wight, aka James Herriot of All Creatures
Great and Small fame.
We visited his veterinary office and toured his small museum just
down the street. Fittingly, the club we were to play was on the outskirts
of town surrounded by a meadow or cow pasture. It was a 1920s pavilion-style
Our opening act for the night arrived late - surrounded by an entourage
of people in formal wear. He was a singer who had been married just a few
hours before in Newcastle. This set the mood for the whole evening - the
place seemed to explode and although the club should have been emptied
by 11:00, the management barred the doors to keep out the local constabulary
and the party continued into the wee hours.
When Sue-On wearied of the drums, a succession of people - our agent,
the bartender and even the groom - took control of the sticks. Something
right out of the fictional Darrowby.
HOLD ME DARLIN'
This ballad is just an old-fashioned country love song I wrote to
show off Sue-On's gutsy emotional delivery. It came out of the Durham/Pity
Me sessions with Desperado. Their drummer had some trouble with the country
3/4 rhythm so Sue-On moved into the drum booth to do the drums - nothing
new for her as she has done drums on about half our records.
The curious thing about the studio drums is that they had been purchased
in England from the estate of the late Keith Moon of The Who. The studio
owner had been a buddy of Moon's and shared many stories of their antics
around London. The studio piano also had some claim to fame, being the
French upright used on Elton John's Honky Chateau album... Oh, the
stories they could tell.
Hold Me Darlin' first appeared on Album 9 - On Stage in England.
In answer to DJ response we later released it as a single.
BYE BYE JA JA
I wrote this song near the tail end of the Disco phenomenon - in
fact, the original title was Disco Stomp, but I have adopted the subtitle
since the Disco fad mercifully has fallen from favour (even though live
DJs with their dead music have survived and have greatly reduced the number
of venues for live bands).
Since Sue-On and I had just backed Barry Forman on two fiddle albums
and we had just finished an album of our own Cajun songs, it seemed natural
to combine all these influences. The song has a "what if...?" premise -
what if a John Travolta-type denizen of the once-famous disco hangouts,
Regine's and Club 54, was transferred from the New York disco scene to
a backwoods, bayou town in Louisiana?
While writing this I repeated the hook "Bye Bye" so often that it
found its way into our toddler-son Ja-On's vocabulary. For months, the
last words we heard as we left to play nightly gigs were "Bye Bye Da Da".
His constant input on this one was such that I just had to use his name
in christening the song's main character.
Curiously, despite the Cajun theme and all the Cajun-style music
we have done, this song features no fiddle. We recorded it in Durham with
the English show band, Desperado and there was a shortage of fiddlers in
the area. However, later in this session we did attempt a 5-string banjo
imitation on a synth for the Eagles song Take It Easy - but that's
BRING BACK THE GOOD TIMES
(Album No. 9 Out Take ~ Released
later as a single)
This song has a complicated genealogy. We recorded the bed tracks
with Alan Clark (later of Dire Straits) and the writers, Desperado, during
our third tour of England, but we did not have time to complete the vocals
before we flew home.
Due to luggage restrictions, we left the two-inch masters in England
so they had to be brought over a year later when bassist Mick Sandbrook
and his wife Margaret visited us in Canada. We added vocal tracks in Winnipeg's
Century 21 A-Studio, mixed it at the B-Studio, and sent it to Edmonton
for a Dolby fix.
At this point we realized that the song was too long for single release,
so we went into the editing studio with John Hildebrand to razor blade
cut a verse and chorus out of the 1/4-inch master tape. John was a master
at this, having done many similar edits on the K-Tel TV records.
The shortened version was mastered and pressed at Columbia Records
in Toronto. The single received good airplay and the since the song has
never appeared on our albums, we felt it would make a suitable finale for
our first all-original CD and digital tape release.