Ask any Canadian musicologist and they will tell you that for every success story, there’s always at least one band or one artist who should have made it big, but for one reason or another fell through the cracks.
One group banded about by many of these industry scholars is Boulevard. A band created as a studio ensemble at Calgary’s Thunder Sound Studios in 1983 by saxophonist/songwriter Mark Holden and vocalist/keyboardist Andrew Johns.
Moving to Vancouver, Holden and Johns recruited the band’s original six-member unit and encouraged by A&R wiz, John Alexander (who also discovered Alanis Morissette and Sheriff), BLVD, as they were then known released a self-titled debut album which even today is considered a gem. Boasting tracks like “Never Give Up” “Far From Over” and “Dream On”, that 1988 debut (produced by Pierre Bazinet) was scooped by MCA International mogul Irving Azoff which led to tours opening for the likes of Boston and Glass Tiger.
Yet even thought they followed with a second release, `Into The Street’, in 1990, the band’s touring and recording career was short lived. Despite winning Top New Group plaudits at the 1988 Music Express Awards, a classic case of musical differences within the band coupled with the advent of the grunge movement sweeping the globe in the early 1990’s affected the popularity of commercial pop bands who just weren’t in vogue anymore.
“When the band broke up in 1991, we all left with the same feeling, that there was unfinished business. That there were tracks that never got recorded that should have been,” explained Holden over the phone from Vancouver.
Well it took 25 years but that supposed unfinished business has finally been completed. Boulevard is back with a commercially-polished 11 track release titled `Luminescence’ and Holden reports that already a number of European venues are clamouring for the band to perform again.
It took a phone call from the promoter of Nottingham England’s Firefest musical festival in 2014 to spark a chain of events which resulted in the band’s resurrection. An annual music event which had previously revived Canadian bands like Coney Hatch and Brighton Rock, Firefest was about to stage it’s 11th and final event and the Irish promoter had Boulevard on his bucket list for the grand finale.
“At first I thought he had the wrong band but he was insistent that he wanted us so I contacted the guys and there seemed to be an interest in reforming for the festival,” acknowledged Holden. “So we all gathered for a meeting at this Vancouver hotel. Andrew and lead singer David Forbes wandered down to the hotel’s lobby and they started playing “A Rainy Day In London”, a track off our second album.”
“So there’s this lady sitting at the next table who was in town for some KPMG convention and she says “I know that song, who sings it?” Holden continued. “Boulevard, responded Johns. Oh, I remember you guys’ she responded. “So we took that as a sign and we decided to reform that night.”
Prior to heading off to Nottingham, the band needed a couple of warm-up gigs to prove to themselves that they wouldn’t crash and burn but a show “under cover of darkness” in Vernon B.C and a small, intimate gig on Vancouver’s Granville Island convinced band members Holden, Johns, Forbes, guitarist Dave Corman, bassist Cory Curtis and drummer Randall Stoll that they were ready for their re-launch.
“When we arrived at the Nottingham Firefest, they had all these heavy rock bands from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K and there was us, a commercial rock band, I didn’t think we’d be heavy enough for the festival,” noted Holden. “But when the curtain went up, the place was jammed with people and about the third song in, I looked into the audience and noticed about half of the crowd were singing our songs, word for word. It was an awesome experience; I could hardly control myself.”
Encouraged by that positive response in Nottingham, Boulevard booked time at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios to lay down some bed tracks and that was all the incentive they needed to get back together as an official band.
“It took us three more years to complete the sessions. We wanted to make sure we weren’t just throwing something against the wall,” Holden explained. “We wanted to create a body of work that would have an impact that would represent the band for what it was then but also for what it is now.”
“At no point did we say to ourselves, `this has to sound commercial, that hook needs to be more commercial. This record had to sound like 100 per cent us That was our primary concern.”
Boulevard was able to road-test some of the new tracks while revisiting five of their previous hits by recording a 2015 Live At The Warehouse DVD. “Some folks had hired us for a private party so we thought why not stage this performance at (Bryan Adams’) Warehouse Studios. So we had everyone in attendance wear headphones instead of using a p.a system and performed live off the floor. Then we returned the following day, recorded a couple of new bed tracks and brought in a camera crew.”
Holden is aware that the global music industry has changed dramatically, radio airplay is tough to get and there is that minor problem of not being heard from in the past 25 years which might pose a challenge in securing gigs to sell their merchandise.
“Yes, there’s going to be some challenges but we have heard from people who are excited about our return, we’ve already secured gigs in Chicago, Malmo Sweden, Milan Italy and we have some dates in the U.K ,” informed Holden. “The way we look at things, we have some unfinished business to take care of and we look forward to making up for lost time.”