Al Harlow of PRiSM – Photo by Debbie Albrough
By Keith Sharp
An examination of PRiSM’s personnel timeline on Wikipedia reveals that no less than 24 musicians have featured in the band since two other Vancouver-based bands; Seeds Of Time and Sunshyne, merged together in the early 1970s as a studio project producer Bruce Fairbairn was assembling, eventually developing into a five piece rock band in 1977 called PRiSM. And although the band’s lineup has been in constant flux since that time, the one (near) constant player has been Al Harlow.
On Friday, September 9th, Harlow will bring the current version of PRiSM to Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo Tavern before appearing at Casino Rama near Orillia the following night in a lineup with fellow Vancouverites Trooper and Toronto’s Saga.
Phoning from his Vancouver residence, Harlow notes he was a solo artist before joining PRiSM, just after the band had issued their debut, self-titled release in 1977 and was in the process of recording a solo album when he got the phone call to replace Tom Lavin in PRiSM that year. “I’ve always been a solo guy,” Harlow admits. “And I’ve lived with a bit of a stigma of taking over lead vocals after Ron Tabak (who died December 24th, 1984). It’s been a bit of an axe for me to grind, so during the COVID layoff, I released “Al Harlow Now!”
“It’s a big statement for me, quite separate from Prism. My production team spared no expense; we have some notable guest musicians, mixed and mastered in world-class facilities.” Harlow shared. “I wanted to establish Al Harlow as a recording artist separate from the Prism Home base.“
I also remastered my first album from the 70s, which I was recording before I went over to PRiSM, to be released next year as `Al Harlow THEN,’ an archival companion piece to `Al Harlow Now!’ Harlow claims his band has been understanding of his desire to release his solo project and has incorporated one of his new tracks, “Let It Go,” into the band’s live setlist. “I think my new solo album has inspired a future PRiSM album. There’s a feeling now that there’s still fuel in our gas tank and that we still have something to prove.”
Although it could be argued that PRiSM was at its peak in the late 70s early 80s when the core lineup of Tabak (lead vocals), Lindsay Mitchell (lead guitar), Rocket Norton (drums), John Hall (keyboards) and Harlow released key albums like ‘See Forever Eyes’ (1978), `Armageddon’ (1979), and `Young And Restless’ (1980) which spawned a slew of hit singles; “Spaceship Superstar,” “Take Me Away,” “Flying” “See Forever Eyes” and “Armageddon” to name just a few, their lineup seemed to be in question.
It all came to a head when Tabak was fired by band manager Bruce Allen due to Tabak’s drug problem. PRiSM’s performance at Toronto’s Danforth Theatre on December 9th, 1980, would be his last and replaced by former Scrubbaloe Caine frontman Henry Small. Not a good move, as things turned out. Surviving PRiSM members rebelled at Small’s authoritarian approach after the release of their 1982 `Small Change “album. with virtually the whole band quitting and Small forming his own PRiSM lineup for a 1982 tour in support of the band’s `Small Change’ release.
PRiSM then entered into a period of flux after Small quit following a solo album `Beat Street’ in 1983, which still carried a PRiSM tag, but Harlow, Norton, and Mitchell reunited in 1987 when Capitol released a “60 Minutes With PRiSM” compilation album with one of two new tracks; “Good To Be Back” written by Harlow, Adams and Vallan, featuring new vocalist Darcy Deutsch featured on the two tracks. They then recorded an album `Jericho’ in 1993, with Harlow taking over vocals in 2003.
“Personally, I’ve never taken a day off, working with PRiSM,” Harlow explained. “Our legacy is to keep the band fresh and relevant. It’s a matter of reality that musicians are going to retire or die, unfortunately, but it’s the legacy of the music that’s important. Keeping the music alive and the band exciting onstage, the audience still supports it.”
Fans wishing to purchase tickets for PRiSM’s El Mocambo date Friday, September 9th can do so by linking to www.eventbrite.ca/e/PRiSM-tickets