Drink in some April Wine

Alongside The Guess Who and countless other classic rock bands from Canada, Montreal’s April Wine has rightfully earned its place in the annals of the Canadian rock history.

With 16 studio records and hard rockin’ hits such as Roller, Oowantanite and Weeping Widow firmly engrained in the conscious of most Canadians above the age of 40, the group continues to pack crowds into their concerts.

Fans in Metro Moncton will have the chance to see April Wine live again when they perform at Casino New Brunswick this Saturday.

Formed in Halifax in 1969, the group initially consisted of lead singer Myles Goodwin, brothers David and Ritchie Henman along with their cousin Jim Henman. The quartet would eventually relocate to Montreal where they signed on with Aquarius Records, with whom they would remain for the majority of their career.

Over the past 40 years, April Wine’s lineup has changed several times before arriving at the current incarnation of the band which includes Goodwin, guitarist Brian Greenway, drummer Blair Mackay and bassist Breen LeBoeuf.

While both Goodwin and Greenway have been fixtures in April Wine for more than three decades now, Mackay and LeBoeuf could be considered the “newbies” of the group. Mackay joined the band in 2009 following the retirement of long-time April Wine drummer Jerry Mercer, who bowed out of the band after more than 35 years of playing with the group. LeBoeuf joined the group a couple of years prior to Mackay, replacing former bassist Jim Clench.

At the Juno Awards this past April in St John’s, Newfoundland, April Wine were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, joining an already impressive roster of bands including Rush, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

As far as guitarist Brian Greenway is concerned, the Hall of Fame nod was a nice tip of the hat to the band as a testament to its hard work and perseverance over the past 40-some years.

“It’s an incredible validation,” Greenway says from his Montreal home. “It is very nice to be recognized for our work and also nice to know that when you’re gone, there will still be something left behind for people to remember you by.”

“I think the logical next step is to get a building for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame like they have for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland,” he laughs.

The 58-year-old Greenway still keeps a fairly busy schedule with April Wine these days. While the group still plays 70 to 80 shows each year, Greenway isn’t shy about admitting that the group had been playing upwards of 160 shows annually in the early ’90s. Nowadays though, the band is a little more selective about the shows they play, opting to work smart instead of work hard.

“We don’t tend to play many shows in bars anymore,” he says. “We would rather opt to play shows that make sense for us and our fans.

“Playing nice, controlled music rooms such as Casino New Brunswick makes a lot of sense for bands like us at this point. We get to go on stage early, our fans get to go home early but a good time is still had by all. I doubt many of our fans would want to stay out until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning to see us play in a bar.”

Having been on and off the road for the past 33 years, Greenway says that touring in today’s world is vastly different than it was in the past. The economic downturn of the past two years hasn’t exactly helped matters neither.

“Touring has changed for practically all bands, no matter where you live. Album sales are down the drain these days so you have a lot of bands going to out-of-the-way places for shows as the live show has become their bread and butter.

“But people are tighter with their money these days than they have been in the past. We haven’t seen this as much in Canada as we have in the United States. It seems as though Canada was fairly well-positioned in regards to our banking and real estate systems so that the whole economic downturn didn’t hit us as hard as it did the Americans. But there is no question that live show attendance is down for practically everyone, no matter who you are.”

While their studio output has declined in the past two decades, April Wine has continued releasing new records; its last studio record, Roughly Speaking, was released in 2006. In Greenway’s opinion, the group is in no rush to get back to the studio to make a new record, largely because albums aren’t selling these days like they used to but also due to a lack of support from radio to play new material from a “classic” band.

“Recording is an expensive proposition, just like making a music video is. At the end of the day, you have to ask ‘Who is going to play this?’ We’ve been very lucky to have the continued support of radio right across the country for our older stuff, but programmers tend to keep going back to the ‘classic’ material and don’t really consider playing our new material,” he says.

“But we know it is not just something with April Wine specifically. I think it’s a common thing for bands in our demographic.”

Greenway goes on to note that the group’s music is finally available for sale via iTunes in Canada while the group’s current label Unidisc is still marketing the band’s catalogue, recently releasing the group’s “Live At the El Mocambo” on CD for the first time.

But amidst all the uncertainty of being in a band today, fans don’t have to worry about April Wine retiring any time soon.

“We’re having too much fun to retire at this point,” Greenway says. “And when you’re having fun doing something, you never really want to stop. Even when things could be at their worst, you get up on that stage and you don’t think about the negative, you only remember the good times. I think that’s all that really matters.”

Article published in August 19, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript