By Keith Sharp
The invitation came right out of the blue. When Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran touched base with Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris during his band’s Toronto and Hamilton dates (as part of Maiden’s global Legacy Of The Beast tour), Harris mentioned he would be taking his British Lions’ side project on a brief but intense 11 dates in 14 days British Tour in February – and would Coney Hatch like to tag along as the opening act! As Monty Python would comment, “Say no more.”
It’s an invitation that has been 40 years in the making. The North American success of their 1982 self-titled album had created a buzz in Europe, and Coney Hatch had been set to tour the U.K, first with Whitesnake and then with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, but both tours fell through. Their only British exposure had been two appearances at Firefest Rock Festival in Nottingham in 2011 and 2014.
“Yes, it’s been a long time coming, 40 years!” enthused Curran, on the phone from his Toronto residence as he promotes a one-off warm-up tour date for himself and fellow band members; vocalist Carl Dixon, guitarist Sean Kelly and drummer Dave `Thumper’ Ketchum Thursday, December 29th at Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo Tavern.
On that date, Coney Hatch will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their debut album with a special set that will feature each track from one to 10 in sequence, plus other hits and two new tracks – Dixon’s “It’s About A Girl” and Curran’s “Heaven’s On The Other Side” which will be featured on a forthcoming new live album titled `Postcard From Germany.’
“We’ve never done this before,” noted Curran. “Some one mentioned that this year was the 40th anniversary of that first album so we thought, why not do something special.”
So, what sparked the friendship between Curran and Harris? “I am told that when we released that first album, we got a lot of exposure on MTV, and Steve had liked our video for “Devil’s Deck so much that he went out and bought our album. And then, when Maiden was looking for an opening band for their North American `Piece Of Mind’ tour, they invited us to do about 40 dates with them.”
These dates included two high-profile gigs at Toronto’s Kingswood Theatre and Montreal’s Forum on September 5th and 6th 1983. But it was a mutual love of tennis which cultivated a friendship between the pair. “We had our tennis racquets on tour with as and we played each other every chance we got,” Curran allowed. Harris was also attracted to Curran’s Lado bass guitar, manufactured in Toronto by Joe Lado and had the local craftsman create his own Lado bass guitar.
Although Curran pursued his solo career following the break up of the band in 1985 (winning a Most Promising Juno in 1991) and forming two other bands, Soho 69 and Caramel, as well as working as A&R director for Anthem Records, the pair stayed in touch, and when Harris brought his new British Lions’ off-shoot band to Ontario in 2018, Coney Hatch was invited to open for them on five tour dates.
“The synergy between our two bands was strong, and we got along so great that when Steve decided to do his February UK tour with British Lions, he asked if we wanted the dates,” acknowledged Curran. “We weren’t sure how popular we would be in the UK, but with Steve in the band, you know they are going to be a draw and Steve was on the phone to me last week, and he thinks the strong interest in ticket sales has been generated by us being on the bill which is great to know.”
Initially formed in 1981 and signed by Rush manager Ray Danniels for his Anthem label with a U.S deal on Polygram, Coney Hatch’s 1982 debut (produced by Kim Mitchell) proved to be a major hit featuring three hit singles; “Devil’s Deck”, “Hey Operator” and “Monkey Bars”. But although, their second album, the 1983 `Outa Hand’ (produced by Max Norman), also gained traction in the charts, Coney Hatch, like Mitchell’s Max Webster band, discovered there were major disadvantages in being on the same label as mega stars Rush.“Kim Mitchell has said in interviews he left Max Webster because the band was tired with being treated like Rush’s little brother …and Curran can relate as they felt were being treated as Bon Jovi’s bastard child by Mercury-Polygram Records
“The reality is that I enjoyed great success pursuing a solo career but Coney Hatch has always felt like home. So many bands broke up because their labels lost faith in them and that’s how we felt after we put out our third album `Friction’ in 1985.”
Original drummer Ketchum had left the band after their ‘Outa Hand’ album (replaced by Toronto drummer Barry Connors) and guitarist Steve Shelski, Dixon and Curran all went their separate ways. Curran, with his projects and Dixon, who released his solo albums while taking over from Burton Cummings as the frontman for The Guess Who and even a fill-in keyboard player and vocalist for April Wine.
However, a near-fatal traffic accident sustained by Dixon while in Melbourne, Australia, in April 2008 led to him being hospitalized for five months, but Curran helped his convalescence by urging Dixon to get well so Coney Hatch could record a fourth album. That promise was kept with the release of `Four’ on European-based Frontier Records in 2013, and the band reformed in 2018 for eight Canadian dates and an appearance at Germany’s H.e.a.t Festival.
Appearing as a group of freelance gunslingers, free to play in various projects and lineups, the band now features Curran, Dixon, and the reunited Ketchum, who had served as a prison guard in Thunder Bay and Kelly, who has played previously with Coney Hatch but also spends time as guitarist with Lee Aaron’s band and has also put in appearances with Helix and Honeymoon Suite.
Curran was also involved in the high-profile release of the
Envy Of None’ project with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson and vocalist Mariah Wynne which had been touted as a `supergroup’ but has failed to tour or perform the release, although Curran notes future plans are still in the works.
`Envy Of None’ was recorded as a studio album, and we were all pleasantly surprised at how well it was received,” Curran enthused. “But it was like creating a new car that wasn’t yet ready for the highway. Alex recognized we only had about 30- 45 minutes worth of material and that we would need a second album to make future concert dates even viable. But we already started writing new material , and we hope will have a second album at some future date.”
During the pandemic layoff, Curran realized that although he still had a lot of projects to complete to fulfill his legacy, including a rework of his debut solo album, his recent focused has come full circle to the band he founded , Coney Hatch. “There’s always been something about Coney Hatch that draws me back; we all felt we have unfinished business,” he noted with the release of a two-disc Live At The El Mocambo record, released in 2021, and a new Postcard From Germany live album in the works for future release.
And who knows if their forthcoming UK tour will open the door for future European opportunities. When reminded that Spinal Tap was rejuvenated by a successful tour of Japan in Rob Reiner’s acclaimed faux documentary, Curran announced, “we have already created `Spinal Hatch’ t-shirts for our UK dates, but fortunately, we haven’t suffered from any exploding drummers yet,”