By Keith Sharp
Saturday April 17th 2010. Glass Tiger frontman Alan Frew has arrived at the Juno Awards to be staged at Mile One Centre in St John’s Newfoundland, ostensibly to hang out with Canada’s music industry and possibly make a few connections.
With Glass Tiger in limbo and Frew bereft of any record company contracts, he was enjoying a bit of a buzz in the spotlight having co-wrote that year’s Canadian Olympic anthem, “I Believe” for Nikki Yanoffsky with Stephen Moccio.
“I didn’t want to go to the actual Juno Awards, just hang out at the dinner and see if I could make some song writing contacts, explained Frew over the phone from his Toronto residence. “So my former label EMI, were happy to oblige and when I’m at the dinner they said we want you to meet this other Scottish guy who we have just signed who really wants to say hello.” That other Scottish guy was Johnny Reid.
Both from the Scottish central area of Lanarkshire, both products of hard-working families who immigrated to Canada at a young age, they hit it off immediately. “We went on a pub crawl of two or three pubs, went back to Johnny’s hotel for a few more drinks before I staggered back up the road to my hotel and we just took things from there.”
“I was aware of Alan and Glass Tiger after hearing “My Town”, the song he sung with Rod Stewart and it was just great to meet him. We found we had so much in common,” noted Reid, now a multi Juno Award winner, top selling artist, in Toronto late last year to promote his new `Revival’ release.
That bond of friendship resulted in a song writing partnership for the track “Fire It Up” which became the title track for Reid’s 2012 release and also provided a hit single for the late Joe Cocker. A friendship that was extended when, after Frew suffered a near fatal stroke August 2nd 2015, Reid invited Frew to attend a celebrity golf event at the Cabot Cliffs course in Cape Breton.
“I said I’m not sure how my arm will work but Johnny told me to come anyway and just hang out and have a good time,” Frew reflected.” “So we got talking about my stroke and about the important things in life after you’ve suffered something like that. It’s not money, power or big cars, it’s friendship, and love and kindness and family. Then he suggested we should do an album that makes people feel bonded and then he had this great idea. He said, `You’ve already got songs that sound like old friends and family so why don’t we take them and re-imagine them.”
The result is `31’ a re-fashioning of 11 classic Glass Tiger songs (two separate versions of “Someday” and “Diamond Sun”) plus a new version of the Reid-Frew composition “Fire It Up” and a brand new composition, Wae Yer Family. A live segment of the new versions will be performed when Frew and Glass Tiger members Al Connolly and Sam Reid appear as special guests on the 43-date Johnny Reid Revival tour which kicks off in Nanaimo Friday February 28th.
“The only way we could do this was to take a leap of faith and give control up to Johnny.” Noted Frew as he packed his bags for the flight out to Nanaimo. “I am not saying we couldn’t have redone a couple of songs, but someone who is equally as talented at the helm who isn’t as invested in these songs as we have been over the last 31 years was needed to provide a different insight. He would come down one day at his studio in Nashville with a wide open sense of imagination and say, “okay, call me crazy, but I am going to run this one by you.”
Guest artists also contribute to the arrangements with Alan Doyle helping to turn “My Song” into an East Coast, celtic chant, complete with horns and whistles, Julian Lennon adding a poignant duet with Frew on “Thin Red Line” and Reid himself joining forces on the new track Wae Yer Family.
“We almost had Vince Gill to do a duet on “Healing Hands” but at the last minute he joined some piddly little band called The Eagles,” laughed Frew.
To give the project a distinct multi-cultural feel, Quebec chanteuse Veronic DiCaire performed an Anglo/French version of “Someday” and for “Diamond Sun”, Susan Aglukark and David R Maracle added a distinctive indigenous element to the production.
“To Johnny’s credit, he was familiar with Glass Tiger’s legacy, what we had done and he was familiar with “My Town” and “Don’t Forget Me” but he wasn’t that familiar with our catalogue and he wanted to stay away from the original production as much as possible. He asked us to give us the lyrics first, he didn’t know “Healing Hands” from a hole in the ground but he got a copy of the lyrics and he said, “this is fuckin great!
Frew agrees that Reid’s interpretations of the band’s catalogue benefited from the stripping away of the band’s 80’s era compressed production, a process he also undertook when he reworked a number of classic 80’s and 90’s songs by the likes of Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel, Paul Young and Simple Minds for his 80290’s covers album. “When I started to strip away the production of these songs, I realized just how great these songs were. It reminded me of what former EMI Publishing president Michael McCarty said about song writing to me when I was just a young pup. He said every great song has to pass the campfire test. If you can sing it around a campfire with just an acoustic guitar you might have a great song.”
As a capper to the project, Frew, band member Sam Reid and Johnny Reid combine on a new song, “Wae Yer Family” an epic, singalong track which reflects the pair’s Scottish roots while espousing the album’s overall theme of friendship, love and family. A song that should be a highlight of Reid’s upcoming tour which will feature Frew, Connolly and Sam Reid airing out the new treatment to familiar songs before bringing Johnny Reid back to sing “Wae Yer Family”.
The release of 31 will also invigorate Glass Tiger with Frew aware that old fans, familiar with the band’s catalogue will hopefully approve of the more updated versions while new fans (Johnny Reid’s Tartan Army is a formidable force) can also re-discover the band’s 80’s and 90’s legacy.
“I’ll be honest with you; I was getting a little worn again with Glass Tiger.” Frew explained. “I was certainly revitalized with my own band and my whole 80’s to 90’s revival because it was new and it was fresh. But since my stroke and since the effort that we put into this `31’project, it definite has been revitalized again. We have a new manager in Andrew Turner, we are going to Nottingham England to play in the Rockingham Festival, I want to play in a club in London just to see if we can put some bums in seats and I also want to play in New York and Florida, just to get our momentum flowing again.
And as for recording 80290 Volume Two? “Absolutely, we’ve got two or three tracks recorded already. I just need the time to go in and finish it,” beams Frew. “The next one will be a little livelier, I’m definitely recording Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good”, I just love that song”.