Call it an epiphany if you will, a moment when that imaginary light bulb flashes above your head. That moment of inspiration came to me late August 2012 while working as a security officer for G4S, one of the world’s biggest security companies.
It was that single moment of clarity which lead to the re-birth of Music Express as a digital magazine which celebrates it’s first year of operation today October 11th 2013.
One of G4S’s annual assignments is the CNE Exhibition and I was on duty, patrolling the Midway Concert Stage and adjacent beer garden making sure no miscreants hijacked any alcohol away from the closed-in confines of the concert site.
Noticing on my night off that Vancouver rockers Trooper where headlining the CNE Bandshell, I decided to check out their performance. In my previous life as editor-in-chief of Music Express magazine, I had established a strong friendship with Trooper’s lead vocalist Ra McGuire and lead guitarist Brian Smith which paralleled the success of our magazine from 1976 until it’s unfortunate demise in 1993
I had bounced back from a nasty experience at the end of that magazine to re-launch my music journalism career, publishing ACCESS Magazine. Although I kept this title alive from 1994 until 2010, ACCESS never attained the same international reach as Music Express, and as the economy tanked in 2008, that magazine was in it’s death throes, forcing me to seek employment elsewhere, hence my unlikely appearance as a security officer.
As Access started to go in the tank, friends of mine, noticeably Doug Wong in Calgary, convinced me I should document my escapades running Music Express in a book, recounting anecdotes involving all the top Canadian and international artists of that era. “Hey Keith, you travelled with David Bowie to Australia, you toured Poland with Iron Maiden, you were with Bryan Adams in East Berlin when the wall was still up, you were in London for Live Aid – people want to read that stuff.”
Reluctant at first, I stumbled on to a treasure trove of research material when Brent Silversides informed me that the University of Toronto Reference library contained virtually every back issue of Music Express. Armed with all this history, the chronological format of “Music Express – The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of Canada’s Music Magazine” began to take shape. After a year of writing and nearly two years of finding a publisher (Dundurn Publishing), thanks to the efforts of my literary agent Arnold Gosewich and Dundurn’s Allister Thompson.
Music Express: The Rise and Fall of a Canadian Music Icon
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In my research for my book I noticed to my amazement that virtually all the bands and artists that I wrote about in the mid-seventies, eighties and nineties were still operational and I was able to get up-dated quotes for my book. But of course, publishing a book takes time (about two years) and bereft of ACCESS magazine, which was kicked into touch in 2010, I was in need of some steady income in the interim, hence my unlikely appearance as a `Rent-A-Cop’
So there I am at the CNE checking out my old mates Trooper and I am impressed! Impressed that they pulled a crowd of some 15,000 fair goers, impressed by their amazing live performance and even more impressed that the crowd not only comprised of veteran fans but also young kids, bopping along at the front of the stage. You could see them staring at each other, saying “Who the fuck are these guys!” as they sang along to `Raise A Little Hell’ and `We’re Here For A Good Time’.
Meeting up with Ra and Brian in the Merchandise tent after the gig, I am greeted like a long-lost brother and then Brian gave me that moment of inspiration when he asked “Whatever happened to that Music Express magazine of yours – we could sure use it now.”
Heading home to the suburbs on the Go Train that night, my mind was racing a mile a minute. So what was stopping me from relaunching Music Express. The bands are still here, it would help promote my book. Obviously a print version was out of the question but what about a digital version?
A quick call to Agency 71’s Chad Maker, whose company had designed my Access print magazine and had done a digital version as the book entered its death throes, was greeted with a positive response. A couple of days later I am meeting with Chad, his sidekick Kirk Comrie and designer Darryl Spreen and they are all over this idea. With modern computer technology, we can achieve so much more than a printed book, insert video clips to enhance the features, run audio content, video content and then there is the luxury of immediacy. No delayed deadlines or dated stories, I revelled in the luxury of being able to write a story one day and see it posted, complete with photos and video clips, the next day!
Within two weeks, I had assembled the contents for our debut issue. Along with feature stories, I wanted a comprehensive concert guide, record reviews, concert reviews plus I could post advance chapters of my book to promote its future release and to also start gathering a pre-order list.
My timing for the return of Music Express, couldn’t have been better, Rush were out touring their Clockwork Angels release, Glass Tiger were on the road opening for Roxette, Platinum Blonde were about to release a new record, Triumph had just issued their Live In Sweden concert DVD and bassist Mike Levine hinted the band could be getting back together (which apparently is happening in 2014).
When I asked former ME Calgary photographers Charles Hope and Ian Mark if they wanted to participate in the rebirth of Music Express, they both jumped at the chance to provide classic rock pix and Hope, along with writers Brian Stanko and Keith McTaggart have been a great help with reviews and features from Alberta.
Looking for a photograph to go with my pending Trooper concert review, I was directed to Hamilton-area photographer Ted Van Boort. Reached on the phone, Ted readily consented to providing a shot of the show, and even though he was told at present, we couldn’t offer financial compensation , he offered to be our Toronto area photog. A meeting with Ted at a Helix concert at Rockpile West cemented our relationship and he with his partner Karen Uildersma have proved to be an invaluable resource to the magazine.
With former publisher Conny Kunz also on board, compiling our Concert Connection listings, I sat by my laptop screen at 11 am. October 11th 2012 when that magic moment arrived with the appearance of Music Express – the digital version!
What has followed has been a whirlwind of activity but I have to say I’ve loved every minute of it. In such a short time we have talked to so many artists who are genuinely thrilled to get press coverage and nearly all had an awareness of the historical significance of Music Express the magazine.
The key thing is that there is a real need for Music Express at the present time. Although there is a renaissance of classic Canadian rock with former great bands reforming (take a bow Coney Hatch) and many bands, who had wandered in the wildness, now finding receptive audiences at major festivals around the country.
Yet FM rock radio would rather play their golden oldies than acknowledge new material by classic rock bands, traditional press would rather fawn over Justin Bieber than give any press attention to established artists – and the traditional record industry – long gone!. These days it’s all about iTunes, Amazon and social media. Want to sell a CD?, you have to be creative and do it yourself. Either backstage at the Merchandise Table after the show, or from your website or via social media outlets like Amazon or iTunes. It’s a whole different world out there. But a world that has already embraced the return of Music Express, and to paraphrase Trooper, “we’re here for a good time AND a long time.”
Highlights: So many but the trip taken by Ted, Karen and myself to the Come Rock N Roar concert at Spanish Ontario August 15th and 16th in September was probably THE highlight. To catch Loverboy, Streetheart, Lee Aaron, Nick Gilder’s Sweeny Todd, Coney Hatch and David Wilcox over a magical two-night period in an idyllic concert setting and to be greeted like a long-lost brother by all the bands was priceless.
It was also great that we were able to engage Sennheiser to sponsor our Music Express Awards again and award our distinctive microphone trophies to the likes of Burton Cummings, Rush, The Sheepdogs and The Spoons, helped re-establish our credibility in the industry.
And the neat thing is that we are just getting started. With the introduction of a video page, an audio page and even a store page for band merchandise, it is our aim for Music Express to be a one-stop marketing and advertising package for any new release by a Canadian band or artist.
Keep rockin! And by the way, thanks to Darryl Spreen, who is now off to rainy Victoria, but we hope he will still maintain a creative involvement in future issues.