Alan Frews’ 80’s tribute: A stroke of genius!
By Keith Sharp
Glass Tiger vocalist Alan Frew wasn’t feeling quite right when he woke up Thursday August 20th after spending an exhausting night in the studio putting the final touches to his latest solo recording 80290 Rewind, a collection of 11 covers of classic 1980’s hits – so he went out to shoot a round of golf!
It was only midway through the round when he felt paralysis setting in on his right arm and right leg that Frew realized he was in serious trouble.
“The general prognosis is that if you get your arse to the hospital inside four hours, the medical staff can give you a cat-scan and administer this stuff called TPA which acts like Drano for the blood, and makes it difficult to clot,” explained Frew from his Toronto residence having endured a session of physiotherapy that day to get his motor skills re-activated. “But with me, they reckon I actually had a stroke in my sleep and I’d probably been having the stroke for about seven hours before I arrived at the hospital.”
Fortunately for Frew, it was a minor clot which triggered the stroke and by working on his weakened right arm and right leg, he is slowly making progress to a point where he is confident he will be able to tour with a new band to promote his new record.
“I’ve been doing some swimming and I have been in the studio, getting my vocal chops back in shape,” explained Frew. “It was pure fatigue that was the real problem but at least now I’m not falling asleep in my dinner,” he laughs.
Like Peter Quill, the Guardians of the Galaxy hero who spends the movie playing 80’s classics off a cassette tape his mother gave him on her deathbed, (a soundtrack which ended up topping the Billboard charts), Frew had just recorded his own version of that cassette. A selection of hits he recorded as a salute to his 80’s contemporaries.
“Years ago, former Capitol Records’ president, Deane Cameron had suggested that I do a tribute record to the British Invasion but I couldn’t see the point of covering classic Beatles and Rolling Stones tunes, but then my current manager, Jason Murray (Blackbox Music) started kicking around ideas about my future career direction,” Frew noted. “Glass Tiger had just released a new single, “I Take It Back” which I thought was one of the best things, we’d ever recorded – but it went nowhere at radio and a solo album of original songs didn’t seem to be an option. So Jason suggested I take my voice and apply It to the people who were my contemporaries when Glass Tiger first hit the charts.
Frew, whose buddy Rod Stewart has created a cottage industry or releasing American Song Book covers of classic standards, thought the idea was brilliant! “Suddenly I’m going through like 125 songs trying to figure out which 11 to record, it’s incredible how much great music came out at that time,”
Releasing a collection of hits as a tribute to a particular period isn’t exactly a novel idea. Aside from Stewart’s series of re-releases, David Bowie probably got the industry started with his 1973 `Pin Ups’ release and in more recent times, Def Leppard, Duran Duran and even Bryan Adams have all had their shot at covering favourite songs.
“The trick is that you don’t want to make it karaoke, you want to own the song but you have to maintain the essence of what people loved about the original,” noted Frew. “With Rod, he was singing standards from the 1930’s and 40’s, there aren’t too many people around who can relate to the originals. But when you start covering classics from the 80’s you’ve really got to be careful how you interpret those songs.”
Frew’s 80290 Rewind runs the gamut of British and U.S pop songs from Simple Minds’ “Won’t You Forget About Me”, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, Yes’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, Human League’s “Human”, and The Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” to the likes of Madonna’s “Live To Tell”, Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”. He even cheekily sneaks in a Glass Tiger track, “Someday”
“What was amazing is that when you break some of these tracks down, you realize there were great songs that were squashed by 80’s production methods,” revealed Frew. “Listen to The Thompson Twin’s “Hold Me Now” for instance. A great song totally buried in the production. What I wanted to do was keep the essence of the song but use my voice to produce something different. Same with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, you break that down and you realize what a complex song that really is.”
Frew also discovered that recording these tracks would not exactly be a walk in the park. “When (producer) Jim Vallance and I used to record Glass Tiger songs, I’d sing about four songs and then something magical in my voice would kick in and then we’d go back and start re-recording the first song. But with Jason (Blackbox Music) , I was singing my arse off and Jason just kept saying “No,No.No”, it got so bad I wanted to strangle people. So, one day when he wasn’t in the studio, I got the engineer to call up “Someday”, I re-recorded that and I think I did a great job. So when Jason came back into the studio, I played him “Someday” and said right, that’s the bar. Everything I sing from now on has to reach that level.”
At a time when 80’s classics are enjoying a revival (a case in point is the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team using Blue Suede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” as their World Series rally anthem), Frew is looking forward to recruiting his own band to tour the new record early in the new year.
“I am sure from the media attention that my first gig back will be a bit of an event so I am looking to do a special gala for the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” revealed Frew. “But after that, I hope to hit the road and we’ll play in a phone booth if we have to.”
Frew is no stranger about going it alone. He recorded his first solo album, 1994’s `Hold On’ after initially quitting Glass Tiger in 1993, has recorded a second solo record, 2000’s `Wonderland’ after returning to the band and has gone out as a solo act and with his own band in between gigs with the Tigers.
“I was in L.A a couple of years back when I got this call from call from an agent who wasn’t mine, asking if I could open for Tom Cochrane,” Frew reflected. “So I went on stage with just my acoustic guitar, belted out a few Glass Tiger songs and it went down a treat. Since then, I’ve opened for the likes of April Wine, Trooper and Tom again, both as a solo act and with my own band.”
Complicating matters is that Glass Tiger will celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2016, even though the band is taking a hiatus while Frew tours his solo record. “That clock has changed a bit because of my stroke, but I am sure Glass Tiger will do something together to mark the occasion, but that might be later in the year.”
80290 Rewind Track List:
Don’t You Forget About Me
Every Time You Go Away
Live To Tell
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Hold Me Now
Nothing Compares 2 U
In Your Eyes
Time After Time
Owner Of A Lonely Heart