Blue Peter & Chalk Circle: New Romantics and The Oshawa Tree

Saturday, October 1st — Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto

Tonight in the city there are no neighborhoods, only letters — A, B and C. Nuit Blanche has begun and the streets are coming alive with people ready to interact with art and each other. You have to decide which letter will begin your experience. For me, it’s B for Blue Peter and C for Chalk Circle. These names sound like Pop Art and minimalist paintings — I am obviously getting into the feel of Nuit Blanche.

I arrive at the Phoenix Concert Theatre halfway through Blue Peter’s set. On stage Paul Humphrey is sharply dressed. He looks like he could be on the set of Twin Peaks. His delivery is a collage of David Byrne, Ian Curtis and Bryan Ferry — so much coming at you at once, he is a compelling front man. I get to hear my favorites, ‘Radio Silence’ and ‘Don’t Walk Past’. These songs seamlessly fuse the condensed drone and angles of post punk with the smooth crooning of the New Romantic period. “Don’t walk on past”– you just wanted to whisper it to that girl in the hall, but it seemed so hard. A great, earnest, self-conscious love song. Check the video – it won Best Video of 1983 from the Canadian Film and Television Association.

Chalk Circle takes the stage and I overhear a group of people discussing how pleasantly surprised they are by the turnout. I am too. Chalk Circle recorded one EP and 2 albums during the 80’s. Their biggest selling record, The Mending Wall, was recorded at Quest Studios in Oshawa, Ontario and dubbed ‘The Oshawa Tree’. Is Chalk Circle Canada’s U2? Maybe, but only if you insist on viewing all things as derivative of others. If creating earnest, thoughtful and politically conscious rock & roll makes them Canada’s U2 then sure, it’s a fair comparison. But it always pissed me off when people would say that about Chalk Circle. It is so rare when an artist is able to create a new color in the spectrum — when it happens it is monumental and everyone is affected. I would argue (and I wouldn’t be alone) that The Edge created a new color with his guitar sound with U2. And yeah, Chalk Circle were inspired by that, along with millions of other people — but to dismiss their music as “U2-lite” does them a disservice. These are some great songs. Whew…looks like this show is stirring up lots of thoughts and emotions for me. OK, I’m done for now. But I will never stop taking the piss out of music snobs — no room for them.

I’m feeling fired up. Chris Tait is sneering away and Brad Hopkins’ bass is punching, pushing, and pulling me around. It’s nice to hear the bass way up front. As I’m getting my groove on I’m beginning to feel the political weight of the 80’s. It starts with ‘This Mourning’ with Tait spitting out the lyrics: “It’s 11 o’clock and they talk of him / About the eve of destruction / And a new ray gun / For my defense / A mended fence”. I’m taken down memory lane right back to “Ray-Gun Reagan”, Star Wars weapons in space, and the arms race. Later, they play the pretty guitar song ‘N.I.M.B.Y.’ — a term that was new to me in high school. Now that I am a land owner ‘N.I.M.B.Y.’ tests me, revealing things I didn’t know about myself and my ideologies. Wow, I am tripping now — loud music and politics filling my head. Then comes the hammer fall of ‘Sons and Daughters’ a seething indictment of Free trade: “They see gold in your trees and gold in your people / They’ll be panning for it in your water”. I begin to remember the uncertainty and anxiety during the 80’s about how Free Trade would change Canada. It felt like our sovereignty and economic future was up for grabs and the Americans were getting too good of a deal.

I leave the concert with a warm feeling and a head full of politics, and I like it. Election signs are all over the place, on people’s lawns and on store fronts. Election week is upon us, and this is the perfect time to think about what kind of politics we want for Ontario.

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