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After the very intense and change-inducing years of the late 60’s, it was quite natural for 1970 to feel a bit ‘different’.  The Paris peace talks to end the Vietnam War continued into their second year without progress.  And as casualties for U.S. troops rose in Vietnam, President Nixon made his April 30 television address ordering U.S. troops into part of Cambodia.  And in a rather dumb statement for an American President (in my opinion, of course), a day later on May 1, he was quoted as saying: “College campus radicals who oppose [my] policies in Vietnam [are] ‘bums.’”  Three days later, on May 4, National Guardsmen opened fire on 1,000 protesting students at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine (three seriously).  Four days later on May 8, New York construction workers broke up an antiwar rally on Wall Street.  The next day, on May 9, another rally brought 75,000 to 100,000 peaceful demonstrators marching toward Washington.  President Nixon, unable to sleep, drove to the Lincoln Memorial before dawn to talk for an hour with the students.  On May 12, six blacks are killed in race riots in Augusta, Georgia.  Two days later, police killed two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi.  And in a rally in support of the Vietnam War and its policies on May 20, 100,000 people marched in New York. Marches and protests were no longer ‘new’ in 1970, and those that formed became increasingly larger as people realized the power behind such things.  This was the year that one could feel that all the rebellion of the last few years was beginning to show signs of progress.  Following a feminist demonstration at a men's bar at New York's Biltmore Hotel, Mayor John Lindsay signed a bill prohibiting sexual discrimination in public places.  Margaret Kuhn, 65, founded the Gray Panthers and began fighting for the rights of retired Americans.  The photo to the left of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller after he was shot by the National Guard at Kent State won a Pulitzer Prize.  The first Earth Day  protest on April 21 would see the U.S. government pass many major environmental statutes over the following few years.  Of course, the year was not without environmental tragedy as an earthquake in China claimed 1,100 lives and another in South America took the side off Mt. Huascarán, Peru’s highest peak, burying the town of Yungay 20 feet deep in rock and ice.  The death toll there was 66,000.  And in November, a massive cyclone hit East Pakistan and Bangladesh leaving 500,000 dead.  We did see the successful return to earth of the Apollo 13 astronauts: Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise – three men surviving four days in a lunar module meant to keep two men alive for two days.  But, by and large, 1970 did appear to be the year that the world was moving ahead to what would come ‘next’. In the entertainment industry, the year saw the Isle of Wight Festival in August – the largest ever rock festival (600,000 people) – followed a month later by the deaths of Jim Hendrix from a barbiturate overdose, and two weeks after that, Janis Joplin from a heroin overdose.  Both performers were just 27 years of age.  1970 was the year that the Beatles broke up, the year of the M*A*S*H and Patton movies, the release of the movie about the Woodstock festival the year before, and the year that Simon and Garfunkel released their last album together, fittingly: “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.  But while the world and the entertainment industry tended to go through a bit of a lull, the local band Brass Union proceeded ahead into what would be their biggest year to date.
Top 40 Singles of 1970 1.   Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head -- B.J. Thomas 2.   I'll Be There -- The Jackson Five 3.   I Think I Love You -- The Partridge Family 4.   Bridge Over Troubled Water -- Simon and Garfunkel 5.   (They Long to Be) Close to You -- Carpenters 6.   My Sweet Lord/Isn't It a Pity -- George Harrison 7.   War -- Edwin Starr 8.   American Woman/No Sugar Tonight -- Guess Who 9.   Let It Be -- The Beatles 10.  I Want You Back -- The Jackson Five 11.  The Tears of a Clown -- Smokey Robinson & The Miracles 12.  We've Only Just Begun -- Carpenters 13.  One Less Bell to Answer -- 5th Dimension 14.  Ain't No Mountain High Enough -- Diana Ross 15.  Abc -- The Jackson Five 16.  Mama Told Me (Not to Come) -- Three Dog Night 17.  Band of Gold -- Freda Payne 18.  Make It With You -- Bread 19.  Spirit in the Sky -- Norman Greenbaum 20.  Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today) -- The Temptations 21.  Everything Is Beautiful -- Ray Stevens 22.  Venus -- Shocking Blue 23.  Get Ready -- Rare Earth 24.  Cracklin' Rosie -- Neil Diamond 25.  Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/ Everybody Is a Star -- Sly & The Family Stone 26.  Fire and Rain -- James Taylor 27.  Candida -- Dawn 28.  Whole Lotta Love -- Led Zeppelin 29.  All Right Now -- Free 30.  Love on a Two-Way Street -- The Moments 31.  Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) -- Edison Lighthouse 32.  The Love You Save -- The Jackson Five 33.  Patches -- Clarence Carter 34.  Indiana Wants Me -- R. Dean Taylor 35.  Stoned Love -- The Supremes 36.  Hitchin' a Ride -- Vanity Fare 37.  Instant Karma (We All Shine On) -- John & Ono Lennon 38.  Green-Eyed Lady -- Sugarloaf 39.  Lookin' Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See the Light -- Creedence Clearwater Revival 40.  Spill the Wine -- Eric Burdon & War During the “Battle of the Bands” on January 30 I had the opportunity of interviewing the Brass Union, the so-called “soul” section of the Battle of the Bands.  In the interview we talked to the members of the band and we had a very informative discussion with them.   First of all I’ll try to familiarize you with them.  There are nine members in the band and two technicians.  The members are Len Blum, Bruce Wilson, Darrell Nameth, Terry Bramhall, Cliff Hunt, John Willett, John Hannah, Don Berryman, Dave Thrasher, George Hamor and Bill Hughes.   Panther:  How long has the group been together?   Brass Union:  We have had three years experience, we feel though, that a band cannot start off good, but it is a gradual thing that must build and build.   Panther:  Do you consider this a full time job?   Brass Union: Yes.  Six members left school and three members are on leave to play in the band.   Panther: How long do you practice?   Brass Union: We practice  five to seven hours each day.      Panther:  What is your opinion of High Schools and the education system?   Brass Union: We feel that High School is a terrible institution, and we are glad to be out of it; but we also feel you have to do your best to get through it.   Panther: Does your band operate under an agency?   Brass Union: No, we are not restricted by any agency or contracts, but we do have a booking agency that handles our engagements, Willock Enterprises.   Panther: Are you required to play any particular type of music or trend of music?   Brass Union:  No, the material we play is left to our own descretion, we try to do our own thing.   Panther:  Do you use any drugs?   Brass Union:  No.  We feel there are too many dangers, especially while performing.   Panther:  Do you set any standards in the band, performance wise?   Brass Union:  We try to do our best, because the better the performance the lighter and more enthusiastic the  band and audience becomes.  We play what we feel at the time, but we try to time, but we try to be tasteful.  In our show, we try to feature every member as an individual and as a member of the group.   Panther:  How do you feel about performing with other groups such as tonight?   Brass Union:  We like it. We seem to try better.   Panther:  What is your opinion of the music business?   Brass Union:  It is a very funny business, it has its many ups and downs, but we try to be optimistic.  You have to be dedicated to the business or get out.   Panther:  How did you like the other bands tonight?   Brass Union:  We like Major Hoople’s Boarding House very much, both personally and professionally.  Hoople tries to follow the trends to an extent but they are making it and we respect them for it.   Panther:  What is your opinion of the dance tonight?   Brass Union:  We are astounded, this has been one of the best dances we have seen in a long time.  The audience was very enthusiastic in all respects.  We would like very much to be able to play here again.
By 1970, the Brass Union was into its third year and it was full speed ahead.  The boys were all out of school now or on leave from their day jobs, and had rented an old Hungarian Centre in west Hamilton which had been converted into a local theatre and they spent their days there practicing.  Not only did they continue to change and tweak their 'cover tunes' regularly, but they had added quite a few original songs to the show as well.  Everyone in the band had a hand in the writing and arranging of the new material, with many different names on the writing 'credits' of their new songs. As they headed into the new year, the band continued to play regularly everywhere they could.  In January, they played at another Battle of the Bands (see article to the right), which they won.  And as the year wore on, their gigs not only covered both southern and northern Ontario, but they began to branch out into venues outside the province.  It would be a very busy year for the Brass Union.
Of the events that happened to the Brass Union in 1970, perhaps the biggest (quantitatively) were their trips to Quebec City, Canada.  They had done the Northern Ontario circuit a number of times by this time – Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Haileybury, Timmins, Cochrane and as far west as Port William and Fort Arthur (now Thunder Bay).  They had covered just about everything locally – festivals, private parties, high school dances, universities, special events, outdoor ‘bandshell’ concerts – and the next progression of the band was to take their show to the province of Quebec.  It was about this time that they played a gig in Montreal, Canada on Rue Sainte-Catherine, the main street for night life in the city.  And in February of 1970, the band made its first trip to Quebec City to play for three weeks in a club called, Le Cercle Electrique (Electric Circle) in the heart of old town Quebec City. The club is gone now (see picture, bottom left), converted into a 2-floor residence for the adjoining hospital, Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (north America’s oldest hospital, established in 1839, by the way), but at the time, The Electric Circle was one of the top night clubs in the city.  I remember well the ceiling that went up two floors high, filled with flashing lights, strobes and ‘black lights’ and covered in flat black paint, the huge elevated stage at one end of the room and the non-stop dance atmosphere of the place.  The band had played to some impressive audiences over the years, but this place, coupled with the magic of Quebec City itself, was truly unique.
The corner of Rue Charlevoix and Côte du Palais, the site of Le Cercle Electrique.  The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec is to the left, and the parking garage to the right.  The front door to the club remains, in the centre of the brown brick part of the building.
Bill Hughes, the band light technician recalls:  “We were playing in Quebec City at a great club called Le Cercle Electrique.  This was to be a 3- week gig – 21 shows. It was a huge place that held up to about 2,000 people. We started on a Monday night and a typical crowd of a couple of hundred showed.  However, the Brass Union’s sound was very powerful and exciting and word spread quickly about town.  The Tuesday night crowd was several hundred and by Wednesday night the place was approaching usual Saturday night numbers.  Needless to say the management was very happy with what was happening.” “In those days we had a big TEAC reel to reel tape deck that sat in front of George Hamor’s sound board (the band’s sound technician), which itself was quite impressive for the day – a creation of George’s accomplished by ganging together three, six-channel [sound] boards.  We used the deck to record every show and listen to it later for critique and improvement.  By now some of the patrons had spotted the deck and concluded that they had been hoodwinked, certain that the great sound they were listening to was recorded and the band was just lip/instrument synching.  A crowd developed behind George and I as we were trying to do the sound and lights and it was quite distracting what with all the shouts and curses in French and English.  Finally George figured out what the issue was.  He sat back down at his board since he had work to do as the guys we’re still in the middle of a number.  Then he lit a cigarette and invited the ringleader of the revolution to come closer. He showed the guy the switch on the TEAC that shut off the machine. He then invited the guy to do so.  Now the guy looked a little less hostile and a whole lot more sheepish but sure enough, he shut off the TEAC tape deck.  Miraculously, the sound of the band continued uninterrupted.  I realized instantly the brilliance of George’s move.  If he had done it himself, the skeptics would have thought it was still some kind of trick.  By letting the accuser do it they all knew it was for real.  These guys all erupted in applause and laughter and they were all our pals after that. By the weekend the place was hosting its largest ever crowds and this persisted for the remainder of the 3 weeks.  Heady days for the band, for sure.”
Above:  Terry Bramhall (left) and Cliff Hunt (right) overlooking the St. Lawrence River just outside Quebec City Below:  One of the band's day excursions, possibly to see nearby Montmorency Falls, with Cliif driving and 'yours truly' in the passenger seat.
To the right:  Bruce Wilson riding passenger in the white equipment van.  And no, I have no explanation as to his choice of head gear at this time ... but then, there was little about the band's resident comedian that I had explanations for at that time.
To the left:  Along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, with Dave Thrasher (wearing the scarf) talking to our French-Canadian friend, Pierre.  All I remember about this man was that it was the time of the Canadian FLQ crisis and there was some story about a bridge being blown up.
The band returned to Quebec City twice more during 1970 -- once, for two weeks during the summer when they stayed during the off-season at the Lac Beauport ski resort, just 15 minutes north of the city, and the second time during the fall for another two-week gig.  I especially remember the last trip, as during one of the band's afternoon breaks, the boys got a game of touch football going on the lawn of the hospital next door.  Half way through the game, John Willett's elbow game up, caught me across the bridge of the nose, and broke it clean.  I spent the last three nights of that trip, with a nose full of kleenex so I could play my trombone -- but as everyone knows ... "The show must go on."
Above:  Darrell Nameth in the white equipment van and, to the right, a current shot of scenic Lac Beauport, just north of Quebec City.
The three trips to Quebec City in 1970 were a fabulous experience for the band.  Playing every night and back in the club on many afternoons, practicing new material, listening to the tapes from the night before and working new tunes yielded one tight, cohesive unit.  There were, of course, many, many road stories to come out of the adventures of those trips -- I have hundreds of my own -- but as the saying goes:  "What happens on the road stays off the internet" (or something like that).  But by the time the band got home from their first trip to Quebec City at the end of February, they were ready for the next major development for the band -- releasing their first record.
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