The Tea Party – Photo by Francesca Ludikar
By Keith Sharp
Literally from day one, the country of Australia has embraced the music of Canada’s Tea Party. Their 1993 major label release, Splendor Solis was equally embraced by the Aussies and through numerous tours of the country (Wikipedia says 12 tours but lead vocalist Jeff Martin swears it has been many more). So it’s not really surprising that Martin now resides in Byron Bay, New South Wales as he phones in to promote the band’s latest “Sunshower” five-track EP (Warner/Coalition).
It’s a strange relationship in that while Martin resides in Australia with his Australian wife and two children, fellow bandmates Jeff Burrows (drums) resides with his family in Windsor Ontario and bassist Stuart Chatwood now living in Vancouver British Columbia. Yet despite these long-distance connections, the trio still insists on recording together in person. “Sunshower” was recorded at The Armoury Studios in Vancouver while their 2019 Black River EP was recorded at Martin’s Riverhouse studio in Byron Bay. Australia.
“As a band, we just have to be in the same room together, it’s the only way we can be creative,” Martin noted. “We recorded two covers; Joy Division’s “Isolation” and Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday” by sending each other files but it just didn’t feel right.“
Living in Australia has provided Martin with a number of solo touring opportunities. He is set to perform at the prestigious Byron Bay Bluesfest (April 16-17 2022) and has already performed a salute to Led Zeppelin, club tour. “Considering what has been happening in the rest of the world, I have been lucky to be able to continue working in Australia,” he noted. “The people over here seem to have done something right.”
The release of Sunshower will surprise Tea Party fans in its straight-ahead, dare we say, “commercial” sound with the band reverting back to their `pre-Morocco Roll’, origins. “Yeah, we wanted to show we could still play basic rock” Martin laughed, alluding to the very commercial “Summertime” lead single with the other five tracks being equally receptive to mainstream ears. “I am sure we will get back to sounding more exotic on future records but I think we got to a point where other bands who also tried for that middle eastern sound were sounding just like Tea Party. But considering the dark times, we have just gone through, we thought it was important to record something a little more uplifting.”
The five featured tracks do stay clear of political overtones which seem to be featured on many North American-based material but Martin does allude to a back-handed reference to Donald Trump on the EP’s title track “Sunshower” saying “There’s A Prince With A Broken Soul Now Using Words And Lies To Make It All Seem Wrong.”
Another track; “Hole In My Heart” features a vocal contribution from Todd Kerns (Age of Electric/Slash/Toque) who has appeared with Tea Party on a couple of recent occasions in Vancouver and Toronto.
Since launching in Canada out of Windsor Ontario in 1971 with a demo that caught the attention of Capitol/EMI, The Tea Party achieved instant acceptance with their label debut Splendor Solis which found an audience for the band’s musical complexity.
“It was funny but Australia seemed to just get us from day one,” Martin noted. “Like Canada, Australia has a multi-cultural population and our middle eastern musical overtones really registered with them.”
Tea Party released seven albums between 1971 and 2004, each one sounding more exotic than the next with their experimentation with middle eastern instruments and musical arrangements pushing their creative envelope. However, an inevitable clash of directions between the trio pushed Martin to move to Ireland to pursue a solo career. “I really need to take that break and find myself,” he declared. “Martin first moved to Ireland, before moving on to Australia, where he met his future wife and found the right creative environment.
Martin did reunite with Burrows and Chatwood for their 2014 `The Ocean At The End” album and have followed with the release of the two new EP’s which seem to suggest the trio have renewed a creative vision.
Although both The Black River and Sunshower EP’s were recorded as separate projects, both will be released together on a single album release “Blood Moon Rising” but only in Europe. The Tea Party are planning to celebrate their 30th year in business with the release of a double Vinyl, single CD remastered version of their self-titled debut release on December 10th.
The band had planned an ambitious `Saints And Sinners’ tour with Big Wreck, Moist and The Headstones’ in 2020 but that was pushed back to 2021 due to the pandemic and has since been scrapped altogether. “It was a good idea at the time but I think everyone has moved on. It would have been too complicated for booking agents and promoters to reschedule the tour.”
“The pandemic has “allowed us to reset our objectives,“ Martin acknowledged. “And it’s time to continue the legacy,” he laughs. “But the advantage of living so far away from Jeff and Stuart is that I have to be totally organized when I head over there and that challenge appeals to me.”