Moving into my new apartment on Asquith Road (just behind the Bay Centre at Yonge and Bloor) I noticed a major crack in the dining room wall. Not particularly of the Mike Holmes, Mr. Fixit breed, I decided to cover this offending crack with a large poster – but it needed to be a big poster as it was a big crack!
Then I remembered a promo poster that had been mailed to me at Music Express by the Thriftys jeans people. The band they were promoting were four young musicians from the Burlington area called The Spoons. So for at least a year, my morning ritual was to sit at my breakfast nook and stare at this monster poster of Gord Deppe, Sandy Horne, Rob Preuss and Derrick Ross.
“We got a lot of stick for doing that sponsorship with Thriftys,” notes a still youthful Deppe as we meet at a Bloor West coffee shop to discuss the band’s pending 30th anniversary Arias & Symphonies concert to be staged Friday November 30th at the Revival Club. “There were four versions of that poster, one for each season. At that time, it wasn’t cool to commit to corporate sponsorships, but at the time, our record company, Ready Records, was running out of money but they wouldn’t release us from our contract. So Thrifty’s sponsorship money really helped us out and some of the Thrifty’s in-store promotions we did were better attended than similar record store promotions”
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Through Deppe’s tireless efforts, The Spoons are back on the local concert scene. They recently performed at Moses Znaimer’s Zoomer Convention, provided live entertainment at the recent Hockey Hall Of Fame All-Star game, will join forces with Randy Bachman to execute a United Way benefit and will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their chart-topping Arias & Symphonies album release by performing an already sold-out concert at the Revival Club.
Deppe and Sandy Horne will definitely be playing, keyboardist Rob Preuss is flying in from New York where he toils as the musical director for Broadway show `Mama Mia’ and word is that Ross will come out of retirement as a music industry mogul to get behind the drum kit for at least part of the set.
Renewed radio airplay for hits like `Nova Heart’, `Romantic Traffic’ and `Old Emotions’ has returned the band to the local spotlight and Deppe is hoping their current spate of concerts will lead to future touring and recording activity.
“For the longest time, we thought The Spoons were past tense, but we’d always pop up and do the odd date,” explained Deppe. “But around 1995 I realized it wasn’t just nostalgia. It was like a nostalgia movement. Suddenly, we were being perceived as cool and I realized this movement wasn’t going away. As long as stations were playing 70’s, 80’s 90’s songs, there would be a place for us.”
Deppe and Horne were inspired enough to record a new album `Static In Transmission’ as The Spoons which resulted in one single `Imperfekt’. The single didn’t generate much airplay but did create renewed interest in their catalogue.
“But around 1995 I realized it wasn’t just nostalgia. It was like a nostalgia movement. Suddenly, we were being perceived as cool and I realized this movement wasn’t going away.”
Formed in 1979, Deppe, Horne and former keyboardist Brett Wickens had attended the same Aldershot High School together before Deppe moved on to Hamilton’s McMaster University. At that time, two local music moguls; Andy Crosby and Angus McKay were recruiting local talent for their formative Ready Records. The New Romantic movement had just launched in England with OMD, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and Echo & the Bunnymen leading this invasion. With the band’s youthful, fashionable appeal and keyboard-based arrangements, Crosby and McKay felt The Spoons fit the image and soon he had them in the recording studio with a budding young producer, Daniel Lanois.
Their resulting debut, `Stick Figure Neighbourhood’ was a bit too disjointed to enjoy commercial success but was well received at college radio and the band found a champion in CFNY’s Dave Marsden.
“To listen to our album being played on CFNY with all those British bands with their great names, was magic.” reflected Deppe. “CFNY became the centre of my musical universe.”
Prior to the recording of their debut, Deppe and Horne had replaced Wickens with a 15-year keyboard genius named Rob Preuss and original drummer Peter Shepherd with Derrick Ross but the band was still experimenting, trying to define their direction. We were doing a lot of instrumental stuff, but really hadn’t settled on anything. Then one night I caught OMD playing at a club in Hamilton and it was like I had an epiphany. Watching that concert helped me solidify our style.”
Deppe was inspired enough to borrow on of Preuss’s keyboards. “I didn’t really know how to play, I just plonked on some scales, but I did come up with this simple riff that became “Nova Heart”. Rob though it was genius. He said `I would never have come up with something so simplistic, but that simplicity was genius.’
Ace English producer John Punter was brought in to produce Arias & Symphonies, former Martha & The Muffins’ bassist Carl Finkle Jr. assumed management duties and in 1982, Ready Records had their first big hit album. Marsden’s push at CFNY created a domino effect at radio, with other national stations jumping on the bandwagon and local promoters Gary Cormier and Gary Topp not only booked The Spoons at their influential Edge nightclub but also parlayed their connections with The Police to get The Spoons featured on the bill of the Police’s second picnic concert July 15th 1983 at the CNE.
Performing before a crowd of 30,000 fans on a bill with the Police, Joan Jett, A Flock Of Seagulls and English Beat was heady stuff for such a young band. “When you’re on stage, you’re just looking at a sea of people so you’re not aware of the magnitude of the event. But later in the day, when we got to go into the crowd and sense how overwhelming it was, I think the reality hit home.”
The Spoons soon found themselves touring with The Culture Club and at one of their dates, ace producer (and former Chic member) Nile Rogers checked them out and decided he wanted to produce their next album. The story is that Rogers was actually there to check out Culture Club but was put off by their reliance on backing tracks and he felt The Spoons were more ‘honest’ in their performance.
“I had no real idea who Nile Rogers was,” admitted Deppe. “I wasn’t into that funk thing and we were kinda hoping John Punter would produce our next album. But I was convinced Nile was a big name, we let him produce the album.”
The 1985 `Talkback produced one big single `Old Emotions’ but signalled a direction change to a more commercial sounding record which confused their fans and upset band members. The Spoons did record `Tell No Lies’ and `Romantic Traffic’ as a double sided-single with Rogers but both Preuss and Ross decided to leave the band, replaced by keyboardist Scott MacDonald and drummer Steve Kendry.
“If you watch the video for `Romantic Traffic (shot in one day on Toronto’s subway system), you can see the band’s in trouble,” explained Deppe “Sandy and I are having one of those Fleetwood Mac moments (they’d just recently broken up romantically). It was kind of our final hurrah.”
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By this time, their label Ready Records had gone bankrupt, and even though Anthem Records picked up their option, a new album, the 1986 `Bridge Over Borders’ was even more commercially sounding and proved to be the eventual death knell for the band.
“(Anthem’s) Ray Danniels is a great business manager but he doesn’t know much about music,” observed Deppe. “He brought in Tom Treumuth to record “Bridges Over Borders”, now Tom’s a good producer but he knew nothing about the band, and the resulting album sounds like it. I had fans come up to me and basically ask “what went wrong, what’s with the new sound?” I honestly didn’t know what to say to them.”
The Spoons tried to bounce back by reuniting with John Punter to record the 1988 “VertigoTango” but by that time, the initiative had been lost, radio support dried up and Anthem dropped the band. “At first you think, “Well that’s it then, and you try to move on, but in the back of your mind, you never really give up on the band”, observed Deppe.
“It’s something to mark the occasion, gives our fans a bonus on the new tracks and hopefully introduces us to a whole bunch of new fans,”
Deppe launched a new band `Five Star Fall’, Horne toured with Jully Black, Preuss replaced Ray Coburn in Honeymoon Suite before forging a name in New York as a much sought-after Broadway musical director and Ross established himself as a top executive at EMI Canada Records before joining Sam Feldman’s talent agency and more recently Gary Slaight’s new company.
Yet Deppe never gave up on the Spoons and come Friday, he’ll be back on stage with his old mates, reliving the past and hoping there is still a future for his group. To help celebrate the occasion, Sparks Entertainment has released a special Arias & Symphonies CD featuring all original 11t tracks plus six additional live versions of compositions; `”Symmetry”, “Broken”, “Tunnels For Testing Wings”, ”Walk The Plank”, “Blown Away” and , “Test Site” plus a re-recorded version of “Nova Heart”.
“It’s something to mark the occasion, gives our fans a bonus on the new tracks and hopefully introduces us to a whole bunch of new fans,” concluded Deppe. “I’ve put a lot of time into this and from the reaction we’ve generated so far, ‘there’s nothing to suggest we can’t make a comeback.”