A GUEST POSTING by DOUG McLAREN
I have long been inspired by your daily blog posts, and turn to them of an evening for some refreshing diversion from the news of the day and for some intriguing insights into the past and present of good, independent music, especially the jangly guitar and melodic pop tastes we (all) seem to share. You may recall that I have contributed a few small pieces in the past, under the secret code name “rhetor”, for your ICA series, and this has only served to help me realize what an impressive and profound service you render the great blogosphere by putting metaphorical pen to paper on a daily basis.
So when you asked (out of blog fatigue) for a few contributions from guests to be considered for the upcoming months, in order to give you a break, I felt I had to weigh in. Furthermore, your frequent mentions of Toronto as a city for which you have a particular affection have of course struck a chord with me, as this is my home city and indeed my place of birth, and I believe the music that this fine city is currently producing is second to none, though many around the world may not have heard of some of the fine talents we currently enjoy. One such (among many) that I think your readers would do well to give a good listen to would be The Holiday Crowd.
Of course, even a quick listen to a track or two of theirs will reveal more than a little of the influence of The Smiths, and I hope you feel as I do that they do it in fine style. It is early Smiths particularly that comes to mind with their first album dating from 2014, entitled Over The Bluffs. But it is not just homage to the great Mancunians as a form of hero-worship; they come by their influences honestly through a deep fondness for eighties post-punk and new wave, influences that are indeed many and varied.
As the promo material on their Bandcamp page puts it,
“With a name like theirs, it’s hardly a surprise that the band’s sound invokes scenes that feel quite distant from their home city of Toronto. If anything, the quartet sound as though they’d fit perfectly side by side with The Chills, Orange Juice, The Smiths, and other groups from the United Kingdom whose influence The Holiday Crowd wear proudly. Perhaps this could be partly attributed to the fact that half of them actually hail from the same place as these influential bands; bassist Alex Roberts is from the U.K. while John Coman, the group’s new drummer, calls Ireland home. As far as The Holiday Crowd’s North American half, guitarist Colin Bowers has reflected that he “can’t fully explain [his] love of English music,” but thankfully he doesn’t need to; the band’s sound speaks for itself…”
Their first album, Over the Bluffs, is a cracking debut and would be a fine accomplishment if they had produced no more. Perhaps as a visitor to Toronto yourself you encountered those impressive Scarborough Bluffs by the shore of Lake Ontario? As residents of Scarborough, I believe the band members had those same bluffs in mind, and the breezy landscape they evoke, when they were inspired to write the songs for this compact 7 track album. Take the light, repetitive melody and jangly guitar rhythms of the track “In My Arms”, and do you hear the wind, the waves crashing against sandy bluffs, the nostalgic yearning for more open waters, while standing one a shore one is destined never to leave? Perhaps that is a fanciful stretch, but I am sure you will admit that it is as much music “of a place” as indeed the vibe of Manchester imbued the songs of early Smiths oeuvres?
In any case, the band’s lead singer himself, Imran Haniff, called their first album,
“an open love letter to Scarborough, Ontario, a notorious suburb of Toronto…The whole mood of the record has a Scarborough vibe to it and it only seemed fitting to name it with an honorary nod to our old stomping grounds. Scarborough has so much stacked against it; it almost seemed like The Holiday Crowd needed to stick up for it. There’s more material lyrically to write about a place that’s tangible and misunderstood than writing about Narnia or Mordor”.
But to take a quick look at another of the album’s tracks and a personal favourite, “While She Waits”, it is clear that their approach to songwriting does not limit them to love of places and a fondness for local colour, but more timeless subjects like love, loss, pain, and yearning for an ineffable better just off the horizon are handled with equal Smithsian deftness.
I was fortunate to catch the band playing live in 2016, just as they were working on new material for their soon to be forthcoming self-titled sophomore album. It was in a very, very small pub in downtown Toronto, so small that if I stretched out my legs in the rickety folding chair I was given, I was just a little afraid I might trip up the guitar player Colin, or perhaps unplug his amp. Under these conditions, naturally, it was quite possible to strike up a conversation with the band, and after that evening, I have to say the guys in The Holiday Crowd are a fine collection of gents, really warm personalities and passionate fans of music as much as they are producers of it. The “chat” that began on that day continues to the present, in a sense, since, a little astoundingly, the lead singer friended me on Facebook thereafter, not just with the official band page but with his personal account too, and he is totally open and receptive to questions, comments, and the like. Moreover, his frequent posts linking to songs he loves has opened the eyes to more than one of the influences mentioned above.
Perhaps you may be wondering if the follow-up album, “the Holiday Crowd”, was equally enjoyable, or if it suffered from the “sophomore jinx” that so many bands with great potential fall prey to? Or, perhaps a more sophisticated question, “Were they able to grow beyond the strong influences of the first album and expand more musically, exploring their own voices and experimenting with different directions musically?”
The album is currently for sale, and as I believe the band makes their money from such mercenary things as album sales, I will leave you with just a song or two as suggestions, and encourage you to look into the album deeper on your own. For me, the answer is a clear yes, though, and I think if you give “Another Nite” and “After The Long Dash” a listen, though the Smiths fan in you will still be satiated, you can hear a band that is growing and maturing in sound with each new release. The latter, for example, begins with the ubiquitous but strangely impersonal “time signal” and makes of it something really quite lovely…
But if you really want to hear the spirit of Johnny Marr’s brilliant influence alive and at work, you will have to seek out “Rosy Lies” on your own and invest in the album. I believe you will agree it is worth it.
Doug was the first to drop me a line after the request for December guest postings and I’m delighted to open up this month with his contribution. I do indeed know Scarborough very well – it was where I actually lived and worked for a spell ten years ago – and I did visit the Bluffs which are quite spectacular to look at.
I really enjoyed these songs and Doug has described them perfectly. Oh and I also thought that Another Nite was reminiscent of the much-missed Father Sculptor. I’m intending to put an order in for the albums as recommended.