Andy Curran is stuck between a rock and a hard place – literally!
By day Curran toils in the A&R department at Toronto’s SRO/Anthem Records – home to Rush, Big Wreck, Tea Party and new boys The Reason – planning tours, organizing recording sessions and developing new talent for the label.
But in his off time, bassist/vocalist/producer Curran now finds himself reunited with Coney Hatch band mates lead vocalist/guitarist Carl Dixon, lead guitarist Steve Shelski and original drummer Dave (Thumper) Ketchum to launch Coney Hatch 4, the band’s first new release in 28 years.
“What am I going to do if this record takes off, I have no idea,” laughed Curran over the phone as he faces the quandary of a re-charged Coney Hatch heading out on future European tour dates in 2014. “This was supposed to be just a vanity record. After all this time, we set out to complete some unfinished business and walk away from it with a sense of pride and accomplishment. But none of us anticipated the reaction we are getting. Everywhere we’ve played, the support has been fanatical”.
[quote]Carl Is a different guy since the accident, he’s just happy to be alive. All that tension between Carl and myself is now gone.[/quote]“We kind of had the blinders on,” Curran continued. “People wanted to see Coney Hatch again but we were oblivious to this. The whole project was in cruise control from the minute we got back in the room together, everything just jelled. It was like we had never stopped.”
An almost fatal car accident to Dixon near Melbourne, Australia on April 14th 2008 was the catalyst for the band’s reformation. “Despite our breakup, we had all remained friends, there was no bad blood between us,” noted Curran. “After Carl’s accident, I wanted to organize a benefit concert for him, but he was in no shape to perform, Coney Hatch wasn’t playing together, but I got the guys together as well as rounding up members of my Soho 69 band, Blue Rodeo drummer Glen Milchem, who had worked with me on my solo album, plus members of Brighton Rock, Helix and Santers and we all got together at the Phoenix Club in Toronto August 5th 2010 for Carl’s benefit.
“We were all in each other’s ear saying we should do a gig together,” recounted Curran. “Derm Carndoff, the program director for Y108 and an organizer at Hamilton Ontario’s Festival Of Friends concert heard about our gig and called to offer us a spot in their festival. I told him we weren’t even together but he said `wouldn’t it be great if we made our comeback at their festival’. “I thought this would be a great carrot to dangle in front of Carl so we challenged him to get better by that date (August 8th 2010) to perform at that concert.”
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Opening for Gord Downie’s spin-off band, Coney Hatch couldn’t believe the crowd’s response. “About 5,000 people were there and the reception was unbelievable,” noted Curran. “The gig was going to be a one-off, just to help Carl, but word got out about our performance and next thing we know, the promoter who does the Firefest event in Nottingham England was on the phone offering us a gig.”
As Coney Hatch met to rehearse for their English sojourn, Curran immediately noticed a change in the band’s demeanour. “Carl and I definitely had our issues in the past, the usual clash of egos when you have two lead singers in the band,” Curran explained. “But Carl Is a different guy since the accident, he’s just happy to be alive. All that tension between Carl and myself is now gone. We’re now old mates, we’re all a little older and not so hung up on our egos.
Coney Hatch’s appearance at the Firefest event in Nottingham October 23rd 2011 was again set up as a one-off appearance to thank their British fans for their long-term support. “We met fans who told us they had been waiting something like 30 years just to see us reunite,” marvelled Curran who decided to capitalize on the gig to take his wife and daughters to Paris on vacation.
“So our concert reception at Nottingham is incredible, I take my family to Paris on vacation but when I get back to Toronto, Carl had sent me emails telling me we have two recording contracts from Europe (Italy’s Frontiers and UK’s AOR Heaven) marvelled Curran. “We thought it was all a big joke. We didn’t even get back to them for two or three months, but they kept calling us. “I said to them, `you know we’re just `Weekend Warriors’, we’re not a serious band. But they wouldn’t be deterred. They wanted vintage Coney Hatch and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Settling on the Italian label Frontiers, Curran, Dixon, Shelski and Ketchum had to decide whether they were actually serious about reuniting. “Steve was busy with his production company, recording music for television programs, Dave lived in Thunder Bay and we only used to see him when we travelled through on our way to Winnipeg or out West. “The offer from Frontiers was respectful but small,” explained Curran. “No one was going to get rich off this deal but we all felt we had unfinished business with the band and here was an opportunity to set right previous wrongs. I always felt bad that we had dropped Dave after our second (Outa Hand) album (replaced by Barry Connors). No disrespect to Barry but Dave’s drumming was the catalyst behind the band’s initial success. Here was a chance to record with him again and correct our original mistake.”
Proud of the band’s self-titled debut but not so happy with the band’s subsequent two releases (the 1982 Outa Hand and 1983’s Friction albums), Curran saw the opportunity to record a fourth record that would return the band’s direction back to their first release – hence the title Coney Hatch 4.
“Initially, there was no discussion about who was going to produce the record,” explained Curran. “We were on a tight budget, we were currying favours from engineers and scrounging studio time, my thought was that we’d all be involved. But about a week in, Carl said he wanted me to be in charge of the project. It was like, `Oh my god, here’s this guy I kept locking horns with in the past now saying he want me to steer the ship. Things had changed!
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Going into the project, Frontiers Records A&R chief Serafino Perugio requested the band to promise him there would be no surprises. “He said I don’t want an updated version of Coney Hatch, I don’t want an alternative band, I don’t want you to sound like The Foo Fighters – I want vintage Coney Hatch!,” laughed Curran. “There were still some concerns with Steve (Shelski) in particular whether we could still do a new record. So I found an old cassette of a song originally called `I’m Lazy’ that we had recorded in 1982 for the first album with Kim Mitchell that we had half recorded then left. I thought if we could finish off this track (now called `Connected’) it would put us back in the groove and help us recapture that original sound. When we completed that one track, I think it proved to everyone that there was still validity in the project.”
Admittedly, the band didn’t have any brand new material but started recycling old riffs and ideas that they sent to each other in a barrage of emails before getting together in the studio. “Carl had pretty well completed `Holding On’ which had been lying around for a while. I had written all the instrumental arrangements for `Blown Away but I thought it would be great if Carl could sing a melodic vocal over the top, kind of like what he did with `Devil’s Deck’.
The one cover song on the record is `Marseille’ originally recorded by Australia’s Angels. “In the early days, before our first album, we played a lot of covers including Aussie bands like Rose Tattoo, AC/DC and the Angels,” explained Curran. “`Marseille is one song we’ve always kept in our set list so we cleared it with Serafino for inclusion on the record. Then I found out that the Angels’ lead vocalist and songwriter, Doc Neeson was battling cancer and going through treatment. That made my mind up that we were going to do that song up good for him, I can’t wait to send him a copy of our cover.”
A highlight of their recent live set in Spanish Ontario (at the Come Rock And Roar Festival) was a new song `We Want More’ which sums up the band’s renewed aggressive nature. “I’ll tell you a story about that song,” laughs Curran. “When we did the bed tracks, that song sounded so different than the others, it had a real dark Sabbath sound. Our engineer said, `hey, that tracks stands out a mile’. I said, don’t worry we can always put it through the Coney Hatch grinder. So it got to the pivotal point of which bed track to use and all hands went up in favour of keeping the original Sabbath-sounding bed track. Dave said I’m not leaving Toronto until we track this thing. We Want More is one of my favourite tracks on the record.”
For the cover design, Dixon had previously designed this quilt cover illustration which Curran thought was ideal for the project. “That design sums up our band,” responded Curran. “We are patched back together, a bit rough around the edges, doing it in bits and pieces. That design said it all.”
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Released at a time when Retro Canadian Classic Rock is back in vogue, Coney Hatch have been road-testing the material with a series of summer concert appearances highlighted by a great set in Spanish (with Loverboy, Streetheart, Lee Aaron, Sweeney Todd and David Wilcox) and a Concert In The Park in London Ontario with the likes of Journey, Styx, Toto, Grand Funk Railroad and Saga. “I said to Steve Harris (Iron Maiden bassist – and a good friend of Coney Hatch), “We just played with all these Eighties bands – what year is this! Steve’s reply ` A very good year’.
Observing how hot Coney Hatch is live and how strong Coney Hatch 4 is as a current recording, it’s excusable to think, what would have happened if the band had been able to resolve their differences back in 1985. “There is always that thought, but I think we’ve all come back much stronger and more mature,” offered Curran. “At the beginning, everything happened so fast. One night we’re playing at the Knob Hill Hotel in Scarborough (suburb of Toronto) and the next week we are opening for Judas Priest before 18,000 people at the Cows Palace in San Francisco. Talk about a rocket ride!”
“Those three years between 1983, ’84 and ’85 were such a blur,” continued Curran. “I loved that first album; we had great radio success with `Hey Operator’, `Monkey Bars’ and `Devil’s Deck’ got to tour with Judas Priest and headline across Canada. But with our second album (`Outa Hand’), despite touring with Iron Maiden, our label couldn’t find a single and then Mercury dropped us, by the time we did the third record (`Friction’) the band was haemorrhaging. Producer Max Norman told me the band was going in a defined direction and that Carl would be singing all the lead vocals (bar one) and then Carl left the band and we were basically toast.”
Dixon went on to record a couple of solo albums, formed his own touring band, performed with April Wine and enjoyed two stints as replacement lead vocalist for The Guess Who when he suffered his near fatal car accident. Curran meanwhile, formed his own band Soho 69, recorded two albums for Alert Music, won a 1991 Juno for Most Promising Male Vocalist and formed another band, Caramel before landing a plum job at Anthem as their A&R contact. Shelski was equally busy with his production company writing music for television productions while Ketchum also pursued his own projects while moving to Thunder Bay.
“As much as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are my favourite bands, ” noted Curran “the first three songs, we thought the kids were going to eat us alive until we earned our spot on those stages by morphing into a much harder version of the band.”
Fans still remember those dates though and often tackle the band with memories of seeing them open for Priest or Maiden or of catching them at the Gasworks or the Knob Hill Hotel. “We are like a snapshot of their teens and it’s great that these people have such great memories of us,” observed Curran. “But now we are back, four different people, more mature and I think we have a renewed confidence.”
Curran says the band will be playing a waiting game to see what develops with Coney Hatch 4; they have a Make A Wish Foundation date in Winnipeg in November. Yet all signs are that if the band enjoys any level of response to their record, they will be very active in 2014- but don’t tell that to Ray Danniels or Pegi Cecconi at Anthem.
“I am making sure the two wires don’t cross and that I am still committed 100% to my day job at Anthem,” concludes Curran. “I just love working there.”
Photography by: Ted Van Boort