By Keith Sharp
Northern Pikes’ long-serving drummer, Don Schmid is in the mood to celebrate. Yes, it has been 30 years since the pride of Saskatoon first release `Big Blue Sky’, their 1987 break-through debut album and he and fellow original members; Jay Semko and Bryan Potvin are about to mark the occasion with the release of a `Big Blue Sky’ Super-Sized package.
This will comprise of a three-record vinyl (each record a different colour) and a two-cd release which features a remastered version of the original recording, a 10-track record of previously unreleased material and a complete live concert recorded at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern.
Recorded three months before the Pikes signed that debut deal with Virgin Records, the session was taped by Comfort Sounds’ Doug McClement, (September 27th 1986), and according to Schmid, the band didn’t even know the tape existed.
“About 10 years ago, McClement contacted Bryan and told him he had this live recording” explained Schmid on the phone from Harrison Mills B.C prior to the release launch and the kick-off of a 29-date Canadian tour. “It was on a ¼ of an inch tape and Bryan didn’t originally listen to it because he didn’t have the means to play it. But when it came down to planning the Anniversary package, we thought why not at least listen to it. So we sent it off to Peter Moore to remastered it and when we got the recording back, we thought it was great. Nothing edited, the tape captured just how we sounded before we were signed by Virgin.”
As for the new material, Schmid claims that was no problem as Semko and Potvin were constantly writing tracks in preparation for new releases. “We’ve probably been working on this package for about 23 years,” joked Schmid. “Even when we had completed `Big Blue Sky’ we had a lot of material that was never released so finding additional songs from that period wasn’t a problem.”
The idea of the re-release format for Big Blue Sky has created a new five-year plan for the band. “We are going to create anniversary releases for our other three original records (“ Secrets of The Alibi’, `Snow In June’ and `Neptune’) and in the off year that we don’t have a previous release to celebrate (2020), we are going to record a new album,” Schmid announced.
Employed by a medical company with a wife and new baby to look after, Schmid initially couldn’t afford to play drums for the Northern Pikes. He did use vacation time to perform six shows with the band and it was at this time that Virgin Canada President, Doug Chappelle flew out to Saskatoon to scout and then eventually sign the band to his label.
“We couldn’t believe that Doug did that,” exclaimed Schmid. “I mean who at that time flew out to Saskatoon? I mean no major bands played Saskatoon. We didn’t have a big enough venue to stage a major concert so all the big bands would fly over us on the way from Edmonton or Calgary to Winnipeg. But that probably worked in our favour in getting signed by Virgin. I think there was a sense of innocence about us. We weren’t influenced by anybody else and I think Doug picked up on that.”
That debut `Big Blue Sky’ release featured two hit singles; “Teenland” and “The Things I Do For Money”, written by Semko and although their follow-up `Secrets of The Alibi’ only featured three minor hits, the band’s third album, `Snow In June’ produced a Bryan Potvin song, “She Ain’t Pretty” which proved to be the band’s biggest radio hit.
Unfortunately, Semko and Potvin began to clash creatively and the band folded in 1993 only to return in 2000 when Virgin released a best of collection, (`Hits And Assorted Secrets’) which including three new songs that were supposed to have been included in the Snow In June record. This new recording convinced the band to reunite to plug the re-package.
“We didn’t really have any expectations but we thought we’d give it a go and see how things worked out, and we’ve been together ever since,” enthused Stroud. “Since getting back together, we’ve recorded two new studio albums `Truest Inspiration’(2001) and “it’s A Good Life’ (2003) and we sense that we are entering a new era for the band. I still can’t get over the fact that we can get on a plane and fly off to do a gig somewhere.”
With a major Canadian tour set to launch next week and with Grapes of Wrath’s Kevin Kane, filling in for original member Merl Bryck on guitar, Schmid reflected on a quote from Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl in explaining the drive that keeps the Pikes active.
“Dave said `you can play a song for 85,000 people and those 85,000 people will sing it back to you for 85,000 different reasons. I can’t agree more with that sentiment,” noted Schmid.