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,
Perkins, Johnny Cash,
Jerry Lee Lewis -
The excitement generated by these early rockers has been a major musical
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 were perhaps 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, John Einarson.
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
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 well.
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 Studios).
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
. . .
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. Alan was with Dire Straits until they
disbanded in the mid-'90s. Alan and a few of the members then formed a
touring tribute band that they call The Straits.
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
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
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
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
The shortened version was mastered and pressed at Columbia
Records in Toronto. The single received good airplay and 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.