Sunday, January 29, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 2

Media Moment: Journal 3009 student newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1975

Tracking down two student writers from a 1975 article ended up being a lot easier than I thought it would be. In an era of Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the world becomes quite small, I suppose.

With only one full name to go on, looking up “Lynne Sears” was simple. Someone with this name has a LinkedIn profile that even included an education entry for the exact school, program, and years I was hoping would match. (She had added a third name onto what was originally found on the concert review article, but this is no surprise as most married women go through a name change of some kind.) At least two-thirds of her name matched my search criteria so her educational information clinched the deal . . . at least in my mind.

From Ms. Sears’ LinkedIn profile, I went to her personal website and sent her an email with the details of my search for the co-author of the concert review article. She responded within a few hours and indeed admitted going to Mount Royal College back in the early-to-mid 1970s as a Journalism student. But, she claims, she had no hand in the writing of that article.

Hmmm. That’s interesting.

Even after reading a scan of the concert review I sent her that has her name on it, she freely admits being a Queen fan (then and now) and even going to that specific concert — but not writing any portion of the article. Because of this, she couldn’t really answer my questions about the concert review as I was hoping for.

I have no reason to doubt her since her memory seems pretty clear about other aspects of her life back then, so perhaps there is more going on than I realize. I needed to either find G.E. McCaw to get another perspective on what happened that night, or there were two Lynne Sears at Mount Royal at the same time. This seemed unlikely.

Before I could search for G.E. McCaw, I would need a full name. With a little help from a colleague of mine, we discovered G.E. was Gordon E. so now I was able to do an Internet search for what appeared to be the main writer of the review.

Nothing on Facebook or LinkedIn for Gord, but I did come across a blog based in Vancouver that gives credit to Gordon McCaw for photos used on that site. Through the Contact link there, I sent a very brief email asking whether this was the same person who attending MRC back in the 1970s. Sure enough, it was the same G.E. McCaw.

Not only did Gord’s full name come up in the school’s database, I got a bigger surprise. There actually were two Lynne Sears registered at MRC in 1975. One was in Journalism and the other was in General Studies. I’m not sure what the odds of that would be but if Journalism Lynne is denying involvement in the article, perhaps General Studies Lynne might have been the mystery co-writer. This would require two different Lynne Sears to attend the same Queen concert and — against all odds — the non-Journalism Lynne getting the writing credit. With so many years having past, who knows exactly what happened between the parties involved. (Hell, I can’t even remember what I did last week let alone 37 years ago.)

Speaking of Gord, he distinctly remembers writing a concert review with someone named Lynne Sears but after so many years he couldn’t remember which band they saw since he had written several as a student journalist. I sent him the scan of the article and he said he’d be happy to help out with any questions I might have regarding the review.

With that in mind, here are my questions and Gord’s answers:

PB: As a student in the MRC Journalism program, why were you the one to cover this event?
GM: We were encouraged to go out and dig up stories, around the campus was suggested. Since I saw very little of interest to me going on around the campus I usually sought out stories off-campus. This concert review was my own initiative.
PB: How did you get paired up with Ms. Sears?
GM: Probably because she was going to see Queen, too.
PB: Did the two of you discuss beforehand how you were going to divvy up the review. What part did you end up writing and what did Ms. Sears write?
GM: After 37 years any such recollections I might have would be too dim to be reliable.
PB: Were you given any special media access at the concert (i.e., front row, backstage, etc.).
GM: I don't believe we were able to get press accreditation, I was able to get very close to the stage at floor level, easy to do back then.

PB: How much did you know about Queen prior to attending the show? What about Kansas?
GM: They certainly had pretty strong cult status at that time. I had their first, self-titled album, probably before this concert, though I couldn't say that with complete certainty. I was also an avid reader of Rolling Stone, so had some idea of what they were about. I don't think Kansas was big at the time they toured with Queen, though that certainly changed.
PB: The tone of the review suggests it was a mediocre show and a mediocre band. In hindsight, 37 years later, has your opinion of Queen changed at all given the immense success they achieved -- literally a few months after this concert — with the release of Bohemian Rhapsody?
GM: It can’t be overlooked that I was a callow youth of 22 at the time of writing this review. It could be that I was trying to emulate some of my Rock Critic heroes like Lester Bangs, Joe Esterhaz and Ben Fong-Torres.
PB: I’m currently reading Queen: The Definitive Biography by Laura Jackson and in it she describes their 1975 tour as being fraught with intermittent cancellations due to Freddie coming down with laryngitis. She has this to say about their first headlining tour of North America:  “The remainder of the tour, as they gigged from Madison to Miami, New Orleans to Calgary, operated on this staggered on/off pattern, always determined by the condition of Mercury’s voice.” Do you think that their mediocre performance that night might have been attributed to Freddie not being on top of his game?
GM: Entirely possible. It may also be that the band may have been less inclined to pull out all the stops in a "hick town" like Calgary.
PB: When did you realize Freddie’s name was spelled wrong in the article?
GM: I can't honestly say that I did realize it was spelled wrong.
PB: Do you still have the ticket stub and/or program from that concert?
GM: Unfortunately, no. Though I did save a lot of ticket stubs. I have one from that era for Boz Scaggs at the Jubilee Auditorium, ticket price: $4.50!
PB: Out of all the concerts you reviewed as a student at MRC in the mid-70s, which one stands out as your favourite?
GM: I didn't do that many. The first one I did, which I would also say was my favorite, was Stevie Wonder, who was at the height of his career in the early 70’s. I went up to Edmonton for that one. I shot photos of that even though I was greener than green as a photog. Those negs, mercifully, didn't surivive, though we did manage to find one frame that was passable enough for Journal 3009.

Gord was also generous enough to send along some of the photos he took that night at the Corral where he had front row access to the band. (All images are copyright Gordon E. McCaw.) All I can say is Wow!

Thanks Gord and Lynne for your help with this blog entry.

• Lynne’s book can be found here.

• Gord’s portfolio can be found here.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Calgary concert review – Part 1

Media Moment: Journal 3009 student newspaper
Queen-related: Concert review from 1975

Two weeks ago, a student of mine (the same one I wrote about here) tipped me off about a Queen concert review that she came across in Journal 3009, a newspaper run by our Journalism students. Apparently she found it in a hardbound volume of past issues that is housed in our Communications Lab. My curiosity got the better of me when I was at school late one night so I flipped through a bunch of these old hardbound volumes in search of it. Not only did I discover the review itself but I was surprised by a few other Queen-related finds.

The earliest reference I found to Queen at all in these archived issues was a January 11, 1974 review of their debut album, Queen (seen here). Whoever the student was that reviewed it obviously thought Queen were on their way to greatness. (Interestingly, there is no review of Queen II or Sheer Heart Attack in these back issues.)

The next Queen sighting was of a pre-announcement that appeared a few weeks before for their upcoming concert at the Stampede Corral on April 3, 1975. I can’t say for sure whether this announcement was put together by the students or whether the concert promoter opted to place the announcement in that student paper given the demographics it would reach. The photo of the four of them looks suspiciously like an ad slick and I’d have to wonder where students would get their hands on such a marketing image.

(As an aside, the headline below the announcement is an odd bit of irony, as far as I’m concerned.) 

After the concert on April 3, a review on it came out in the Journal’s April 11, 1975 edition and it even manages to garner a spot on the paper’s Table of Contents (as seen here). The review itself gives writing credit to G.E. McCaw and Lynne Sears, two Journalism students at the time.

The full story reads like this:

Queen, a product of current trends in British sound

By G.E. McCaw & Lynne Sears

The music of Queen, who played at the Corral last Thursday night, can perhaps best be described as a synthesis of trends in mainstream British rock.
     Take the flighty harmonies of Yes, some Pete Townshend powerchords, some Mick Jagger posturing, the hard-driving straight-ahead energy of Uriah Heep, throw in the half-baked commercialised occultism of Black Sabbath for good measure: and there you have Queen.
     The focal point of the group is Freddy [sic] Mercury. The band’s vocalist and sometime piano player. He delivers the group’s lyrics convincingly; which is not always easy to do when they deal with witches, goblins and faery queens. Not your everyday hearts and flowers teenage love stuff, but sort of a hybrid of The Brother’s Grimm and J.R.R. Tolkien.
     The band effectively employs tape loops to produce a product close to what they put on their records. Such things are gigantic beating hearts are heard to duplicate on a stage without a little taped help.
     Queen’s act was, surprisingly, almost free of parlour tricks. Aside from a few dry-ice clouds and a lot of vamping around on the part of Mercury the band relied mostly on its music to carry through.
     However, the evening was free of surprises musically, Queen is basically a three-piece group: drums and guitar (Mercury plays piano only occasionally). To be outstanding such groups need the guitar virtuosity of an Eric Clapton or a Jimmy Page in addition to a strong vocalist. Unfortunately, no such combination is evident here. The axework of guitarist Brian May is competent but nothing exceptional. In short, your average wind-up rock ’n roll guitarist.
     The main thing which sets Queen apart from other groups is their motif of black versus white. Sort of a yin-yang thing which they express in their dress as well as their music.
     The seven-member Kansas, an imported group from (what a surprise) Kansas state is one of the latest examples of glitter-rock, little talent and lots of sound. The group’s 46-minute performance (including the obligatory encore) was an electronic holocaust of sound and, to be charitable, caterwauling, further complicated by what could only be called an over-exuberant lightshow.
     By the middle of their third number, the audience had begun to migrate en masse to the foyer, cavort and play impromptu hockey games on the ice on the floor of the auditorium, or merely chat and talk while they waited for it to end. 
     Musically, the band performed what appeared to [be] poor plagiarisms of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson numbers and their style was at best, repetitive and at worst, inconsistent. The only thing they offered was tasty electric violin playing for most of their set.
     In any case, despite the lackluster performance, the group was accorded a hearty reception by the audience, which only seems to prove that people can, indeed, be railroaded into assuming that if everyone else is cheering it must have been good..

While Queen avoided the level of scorn aimed at Kansas, I was left with the impression that G.E. and Lynne weren’t huge Queen fans. Either that or the band wasn’t on top of their game given Freddie’s recurring laryngitis. That wouldn’t have explained the comment about Brian being an “average wind-up rock ’n roll guitarist,” though. As a matter of fact, this reviews seems so out of character to what the Journal’s “Queen” album review a year earlier had to say about the band’s potential. I guess this dichotomy is a good example of the uneven press relationship that the band had talked about since day one.

Whatever the case, I thought it would be interesting to try and track down both of these writers and possibly conduct a follow-up interview with them to get the scoop on how the concert review was co-ordinated and what their thoughts on the band are currently since Queen achieved superstardom literally a few months after this concert with the release of A Night at the Opera in November 1975.

My pursuit of Sears and McCaw would prove successful but it resulted in an unexpected mystery which I’ll explain in Part 2.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kiefer Sutherland should play Irish royalty

I’ve been intrigued by a book based on the life of a country doctor here in Canada for years now. 

The book, called Saddlebag Surgeon: The story of Dr. Murrough O’Brien, has been making the rounds in my family for years simply because our family and his family intermingled briefly in the late 1800s in southern Manitoba.

Although there are many fascinating moments described in the book, the real drama, in my mind, hinges on his patrilineal family line, who are descendants of Irish royalty. 

At the time of his birth in 1867, his uncle was the Baron Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle in County Clare. Even the current Baron Inchiquin, Conor Myles O’Brien is a descendent of the original King of Ireland, Brian Boru

With such a pedigree came privilege and status although Murrough lost both when he failed his final exam at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1888 and was essentially banished from the family. 

With nowhere to go, he ventured to Canada, finished his medical degree in Winnipeg, and started a country practice that lasted for 60 years. 

In addition to his alleged encounter with Jack the Ripper in 1888 as a med student (you can read about it here), another of his famous encounters was with Tommy Douglas who was an adolescent patient of his for a spell. Douglas would go on to pioneer Canada’s medicare system and was also the father of Shirley Douglas, a well-known actress here in Canada. Shirley, of course, married Donald Sutherland in 1966 and Kiefer was born that same year at — of all places — St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The same teaching hospital that Doc O’Brien had attended 80 years prior.

When I had learned that Tommy Douglas was featured in Doc O’Brien’s biography, I immediately thought of Kiefer Sutherland as a potential lead to play Murrough if my decades-long effort to adapt the book into a screenplay ever took off. I think he would have a personal interest in the project plus there’s a distinct similarity between the two men as seen above. 

How does Queen tie into all this? I stumbled across this little treasure in the trivia section of his IMDb profile:

It seems to me that one huge Queen fan is keen to have another huge Queen fan participate in a project whose main character crosses paths with both of our families years ago. Add in the fact that St. Mary’s Hospital is an affiliate of Imperial College . . . and the stars have aligned.

Now, how do I get him a copy of Saddlebag Surgeon so we can get this show on the road?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brian reigns over heaven and earth

From the mind and ability of a 16-year-old Queen fan, I painted this rather bad rendering of Brian when I was in Grade 11 in 1984.

I attempted to combine my interest in Queen, landscape painting, and a Boris Vallejo-type outer space scene — none of which were executed that successfully, I would add.

Revisiting this painting after all these years, I’m wondering if I had a premonition that Brian would go on to get his PhD in astrophysics, co-write a book on the origin of the universe, and get politically active in terms of earthly endeavours (i.e., badger cull, bone marrow donation, and even AIDS awareness).

Maybe I should re-imagine this scenario in current terms, both conceptually and technically. I would like to think my painting ability has improved after four years of art school.

Maybe this should be one of my New Year’s resolutions?


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Stop Staring at this Queen II tribute

Media Moment: Stop Staring textbook
Queen-related: Parody of Queen II cover

Mick Rock’s iconic photography for early Queen has been used to promote everything from Harper’s Island (see my blog entry here), Lego, and even a Harry Potter homage.

The latest sighting of a Queen II cover parody was sent to me by an old art school chum of mine, filmmaker Robert Riendeau, who recently became aware of my blog here and all things Queen-related found in it. 

I’ve since deputized him so you can expect more Queen sightings from him here on Queenville in the year to come.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Postscript (October 13, 2012) — Another QII-inspired image from SNL last night, this time for the band Passion Pit.

Postscript (November 11, 2012) — Stumbled across this Aliens version of Queen II.

Postscript (November 15, 2012) — Found this anime version at

Postscript (August 3, 2016) — Vancouver-based film makers and videographers, Noravera, use the Mick Rock pose for some self-promotion

Postscript (August 23, 2016) — Discovered this Protomen tribute to Queen.