Home By the Years Where Are They Now? More Other Stuff Guest Book Contact
Once the band started work on the Fairytale in the late spring of 1971, it became all-consuming.  There was so-o-o-o much to do – coordinating the acting, learning music parts, lighting cues, special effects and even little things like where each of the nine members of the band would be standing on stage and what they would be doing.  There were costumes to design and make, music and dialogue to memorize, ideas to come up with on things like how to get the Magician to shoot balls of fire out of his hands without setting himself or others on fire – and we, of course, won’t talk about how the band set a 40 by 100 foot red velvet drape on fire at the back of a stage in Sault Ste. Marie with one of their flash pots, now will we? Throughout all this work, the band was still a working band with bills to pay – not only individually but for the maintenance and upkeep on the equipment.  So the Brass Union needed to stay working as well as learning their Fairytale.  They kept their regular sometimes-grueling one night shows in various local locations – special events, dances, festivals, etc., but more and more, they started to take extended club dates – one week, two weeks and sometimes three.  And these club dates involved shows every night of the week and usually an additional afternoon show or two as a weekend matinee.  And while playing the clubs, they continued to practice.  They’d play till late in the night and be back in the club by noon the next day to practice for three or four hours before the club filled up again. When the band was in town, they had switched their practice hall to an unused Hungarian Centre near Locke St. and Main in Hamilton.  This hall had a large stage that they could use for rehearsing the Fairytale and also, large doors in the front where the trucks could be backed inside the hall to be unloaded.  They stayed there most of 1971 and by the late fall, they had moved practice to the other end of town to the Serbian Community Centre on Barton St. E.  The hall was much newer and the stage larger and more suitable for their needs with the play.  I can distinctly remember that during the latter part of 1971, when the band wasn’t on the road somewhere, that we would get together, 5 days a week at 10 a.m. at the Serbian Centre and practice the Fairytale until suppertime.  I talked with Bruce Ley recently (one of the co-authors of the story) and his recollection of those times was:  “Len and I wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then we practiced and practiced and practiced … until we all started yelling at each other.”  As I said previously, the personalities in the Brass Union were very strong and working and being together so much for so long was bound to have its effects.  And we would find out very soon just what those effects would be.
The Hungarian Centre Strathcona Ave. N., Hamilton, ON The Serbian Community Centre Barton St. E., Hamilton, ON Not exactly like the 'Big Mother', but very similar.  It had a black cab and a white box with no corrugation.  And the Brass Union logo covered the 2 sides and back of the box. Sweet Daddy Siki, The Smile and cast members of the CBC television show Time for Living were all there – but when the rock band Brass Union came on, the crowd went wild.   Made up mostly of Burlington teens, the crowd of 800 jostled into Central Arena yesterday for the CBC cavalcade of stars show, proceeds from which will help send the Burlington Teens Tour Band to Pasadena, California, New Year’s Day to play in the annual Tournament of Roses parade.   Before the show, the band had raised close to $33,000 of the $40,000 needed to fly the 146 members to Pasadena and lodge them for five days.  Although not all clear profit, the show raised $800.  The teens sat patiently through the country and western singers and Time for Living entertainers, warmed up when the Burlington rock band “Smile” played, but when the Brass Union came on, they surged over the hockey rink boards to get closer and dance to the throbbing music.   “Come on down here, out in front of us,” encouraged the band’s lead singer.  “We want to see you.”   Stands were soon almost empty leaving a few adults sitting in small knots plugging their ears against what they consider noise and the teens feel is “groovy.”   Their set finished and the teens restored to their seats in the stands, the second half of the show, Sweet Daddy Siki, made his entrance.
Meanwhile, the heavy focus on perfecting the Fairytale led to some other major band personnel changes.  The first to leave the band to return to school was Bill Hughes, the band’s lighting technician – or as is more accurate, the member of the band’s stage crew.  Bill left to pursue what would be an extremely successful career as a medical cardiologist.  Soon after that, George Hamor left to pursue his career as an electrician in the aviation industry.  Replacing Bill and George would first be Rick Moses, the first member of the band’s stage crew and then, Brad Stone.  The band, at this time, was heavily into practicing the Fairytale and both these new members brought their own knowledge on stage lighting, special effects, and anything else the band would need.  Rick and Brad both knew each other from high school and they had both played in bands of their own before.  And Brad had just graduated a two-year Theatre Arts course and his knowledge was a big benefit to the band as they continued to put their Fairytale together.  “I taught John Willett (the Magician) how to do his magic tricks”, Brad told me recently.
The NDP took over the Palace Theatre last night for one of the biggest, noisiest political rallies of the election campaign in Hamilton.   More than 2,500 people filled the theatre and spilled over into the aisles and stairways to hear leader Stephen Lewis cheer the party on.   It was an old style political rally, brought up to date by the Brass Union, a local rock group that opened the rally with a 40-minute set which had the young audience standing on their seats, cheering, clapping and waving signs supporting the seven local candidates.    “This is like a political Woodstock, you’re too much,” the leader of the group shouted.  Most of the crowd loved it.  The older ones sat with hands folded and watched.   “The music is too loud – it’s disgusting,” one woman shouted above the din.   “People say the NDPers get too stodgy and serious about elections but we’re going to take a little time to have some fun,” Bill Foley, a former controller and former secretary of the Hamilton and District Labor Council, told the crowd. The Spectator, Wednesday, October 20, 1971    Comedian Don Harron or “Charlie Ferguson”, the farmer from Owen Sound, took over for an election skit that kept the crowd cheering after every line.    And Jerry Grey of The Travellers brought them to fever pitch with Solidarity Forever, the NDP theme song.   The time was right to introduce the seven local candidates and their wives – Norm Davison, Hamilton Centre, Bill Freeman, Hamilton West, Reg Gisborn, Hamilton East, Don Eastman, Hamilton Mountain, Ian Deans, Wentworth, Gordon Vichert, Wentworth North, and Walter Mulkewich, Halton West.   They got up on the stage and danced while the Brass Union played again and the NDP took up a collection to defray costs of the theatre.   When Mr. Lewis and his wife came running down the aisle, the audience began chanting his name and cheering wildly.   He told the crowd the local candidates were “objects of veneration and beauty.  Collectively, they’re irresistible to voters.”   He added:  “We’re a trifle punchy as we near the stretch but we’re very, very spirited.” On stage at the Serbian Community Centre during a lighter moment from rehearsing the Fairytale From left to right:  John Hannah, Bruce Wilson, Len Blum, Bruce Ley, Don Berryman, Terry Bramhall, Darrell Nameth, Cliff Hunt and John Willett
The final personnel change that the band would do was the addition of a 12th person, a monster of a man, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known – Peter “Humble” Hume.  He would be part of the stage crew and would do just about everything, from lighting to technical to costumes, etc.  “We were playing a show right in front of Hamilton City Hall”, recalled Brad Stone, “And I backed the ‘Big Mother’ right up the steps to the front door to unload.  Standing around the back of the truck when I got out was this huge kid – he was about 6 foot 8 or 9 and must have weighed over 300 lbs., and he was only 15 years old at the time.  On top of this, he had this huge ‘afro’ haircut that made him look even bigger.  He came up to me and said:  ‘I’m going to start working for you guys’.  Well, what could we say?  He showed up to band practice the next week.”  And Humble was a huge (pardon the pun) benefit to the band.  The large column P.A. speakers that we used back then, that the band members would struggle with, two and three at a time, would be picked up by Humble with his two arms and he’d throw the speakers up on the truck.  When we moved Bruce’s Hammond organ up flights of stairs, Humble would be on one end and a number of band members on the other.  In shows where we needed a bit of ‘security’ at the front of the stage, we’d have Humble stand to the right of the stage with his arms crossed.    We never had any security problems with Humble overseeing things.
The downtown cores – actually the hearts – of many cities are either dead or dying, and when the heart of a city dies what is left is little more than a collection of subdivisions loosely connected by the tax rolls, which is a pretty bloodless way to exist.   For some years, that appeared to be the approaching fate of Hamilton, a fate that, hopefully, seems to have been avoided by two developments – one, the building of Jackson Square and the accompanying urban renewal and, second by the so-called planned “happenings” near, at or around City Hall.  For that last, our thanx are due to the Mayor, city council, Bob Gregson, and the fact that the city is 125 years old this year.   In this particular case I am referring to Future-Fest which was held around the Hall Sunday afternoon and which proved, to me anyway, that there are thousands of Hamiltonians that like to, perhaps even need to, attend communal get-togethers.   One such proof came in the form of numbers – a great crowd came out and obviously enjoyed itself despite weather that was mild but dull and despite some pretty tough competition – the seventh game of the world series and the token appearance of the Tiger-Cats in Winnipeg.   You can read about what went on, in other sections of the newspaper, but perhaps you can sit still for a few personal observations here?   Our truly fine City Hall was the centre of attraction, but running it a close second was a musical group known as Brass Union.  They played directly under the front entrance canopy and their reverberations gave the Hall’s marbles a real workout – yet  not one piece came down, not even over the drum section.   The Brass Union is made up of competent musicians but their audience was definitely divided – between the young who bounced to its beat and the aging, who flinched.   A dozen times during the afternoon individual members of the crowd approached and murmured this, that and the other about the music, most of it expressed in tones of outright incredulity.  This was especially true of one number whose chorus seemed to be composed of the stirring lyrics, KILL, KILL, KILL.   No one got THAT excited but it seemed like a strange song to be played in front of tens of hundreds of people.  More like the sort of thing a band might play for the U.S. Marines shortly before going over the side on an invasion.   There exists today not so much a generation gap but a musical gap.   Still, the Brass Union did the job it was intended to do, provide a focal and vocal point for the crowd.  Under the heading “vocal”, I enjoyed listening to a man of about my age who said he was glad his father wasn’t still alive as he would have come down and personally cleaned out the band with a baseball bat.  What a picture it conjures up – a man aged over a hundred batting out fungoes with musicians.   I also enjoyed talking to a lady who informed me that she was almost deaf without her hearing aid, an aid that gave her very sensitive hearing indeed.  “I just keep turning the band off,” she said.  “Very restful.”   One of the main problems with her hearing aid used to be when she passed a record store with the juice on and she’d be blasted by the street-recording of a popular song.  She has largely conquered this by the location of the various record shops and by signing off as she approaches and then tuning back on when she has passed.   Deafness has its drawbacks but it has his compensations as well, the most important being the ability to pollute one’s ears to one’s own individual taste. In any event, I think Sunday proved that there are thousands of people, particularly the retired and the very young, who would like a regular, once-every-Sunday, during-the-summer event around City Hall, a splendid spot at which to pump blood through the heart of the city.   Perhaps next year, the city might consider throwing up a number of chairs, tables, and garden umbrellas and hiring a few job hungry students to flog tea and cakes, or cakes and ale every Sunday afternoon.   My stay at the Sunday affair was curtailed by a minor accident, by which I mean that the person that caused it was minor.   He happened to be passing at close range when the gargantuata bubble-gum bubble he had blown exploded, with most of the debris ending up as sickly purplish strands in my beard. I had one of two choices: Go home. Or throw up some scaffolding and call for tenders.    I went home instead and watched a local disaster taking place in Winnipeg.
The band went back to Le Cercle Electrique in Quebec City in 1971, played in the Four Winds Lounge in Sault Ste. Marie and played clubs in Toronto and Hamilton a few times, but by far, the most memorable of all the club dates were the ones at Davey Crockett's Lounge, Joey Desanto’s club in Westland, Michigan (just west of Detroit).  The band was there a couple of times for a couple of weeks each time.  It should be realized here that this was just a couple of years after the Detroit race riots and we were a group of 12 white guys driving through miles and miles of Detroit suburbs to get to the club.  After we crossed the border into the States, we would drive for about an hour and a half without seeing a single white person.  Stopping at traffic lights with 12 white guys in 2 trucks was rather unnerving.  It took the owner of the club no time at all to get to know Humble and within a few days, he was arm-wrestling the meanest and toughest bouncers from all over the Detroit area for bragging rights in the club.  Humble never lost.  And as a band, we’d play every night till 1 a.m., hang out and party till 4 or 5 in the rooms, then be back in the club the next day just after noon hour to put in 4 hours of practice on the Fairytale.  I can only guess what the locals thought of the nine white musicians, dressed in dragon and jester costumes, practicing away in their club every day. Another of the notable events in 1971 was when Ronnie Hawkins’ manager approached the band.  Ronnie was quite well-known in Canada and he was setting up a tour for himself to Australia and he needed a horn band to go with him.  The established thought on this was that the Brass Union and Ronnie’s manager were never able to come to an agreement on this, but the real truth was that the Brass Union were just finishing up their Fairytale, had a very strong local following of their own and they were more interested in establishing themselves as a unique musical entity rather than backing up another musician.  Decisions of this type always look so different forty years later. By the end of 1971, after all the hours of practice and work on the road, the band sounded better than they ever had, and the reviews and acknowledgements that they got for their efforts showed this.  The Fairytale was done and had been performed a couple of times, which I will get to in the next page.  The band was working solidly, getting excellent response and hopes were high for their new stage production.  They continued to pack Le Cercle Electrique in Quebec City, two years after they were first there, and they were invited back again and again to Joey Desanto's club in the heart of Motown to play to full houses every night of the week.  The events of the next year were eagerly awaited, but they would not turn out to be what everyone had in mind.
After the Fairytale