The Northern Pikes Revisit Major Label Debut With Extensive Canadian Tour

Thirty years can pass by in the blink of an eye. Just ask Northern Pikes bassist-vocalist Jay Semko.

Semko and his bandmates – guitarist-vocalist Bryan Potvin, drummer Don Schmid, and Grapes of Wrath guitarist Kevin Kane, filling in for retired Pike Merl Bryck – are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Big Blue Sky, the Northern Pikes major label debut record that gave way to hits including “Teen Land,” “Dancing In A Dance Club,” and “Things I Do For Money.”

“It’s a little surreal to see how fast the last 30 years have gone. What I found most interesting about this particular juncture of the Pikes’ history is that there seems to be a new generation of people just discovering the band and our work. I have children that are young adults that still see the band as this weird thing their father does,” Semko says, laughing.

As the group prepares to commemorate the album’s anniversary with a performance at the Riverview Arts Centre on Sunday evening, the band’s record label is preparing a deluxe release of Big Blue Sky that hits stores this Friday.

The anniversary edition of the record includes the album’s original tracks along with 10 previously unreleased songs, as well as a full-length live show recorded at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern in September 1986.

The original release of Big Blue Sky marked a national coming-out party for the Northern Pikes. Prior to signing with Virgin Records at the tail end of 1986, the group had two independent releases under its belt, and had earned a devoted following thanks to dedicated touring throughout Canada and the U.S.

While many of the band’s pop contemporaries from the mid to late 80’s – Platinum Blonde, Glass Tiger, and Honeymoon Suite, among them – hailed from Central Canada, the fact the Northern Pikes came from Saskatchewan and subsequently found national success was a unique prospect at the time.

“For four guys from Saskatchewan, touring North America and landing a record contract was beyond anything we ever could have dreamed,” Semko says. “When we first started, we had all come from other bands and had a wealth of experience under our belts, so our work ethic was never an issue. We mailed records out all over Canada and the U.S. to help spread word of the band, but I think it was touring that really helped us the most.  We loved playing live and loved being on the road. We led a bit of a nomadic, rustic lifestyle but it really helped shape the band.”

Semko notes a big part of the band’s success at home was thanks to the support they received from former video channel MuchMusic.

“Having MuchMusic throw their support behind the video for ‘Teenland’ was immeasurable in terms of the impact it had on the band’s success. We had been working hard for the years leading up to the release of that video, but that was a turning point for the band. We began landing a bunch of high-profile opening slots for bands like Duran Duran and David Bowie, among others. Looking back, it was surreal the way things changed,” Semko says.

Of course, The Northern Pikes story didn’t end with Big Blue Sky. The band’s subsequent releases – 1988’s Secrets Of The Alibi, Snow In June (1990), and 1992’s Neptune – solidified the Pikes as one of Canada’s most popular acts at the time.

In 1993, the group announced they were embarking on a hiatus, a difficult but ultimately essential decision that followed more than a decade of slugging it out on the road, night after night.

The Northern Pikes reconvened in 1999 to assemble their first hits package, Hits and Assorted Secrets. The release gave way to a new era for the group, spawning a live record in 2000, followed by studio releases in 2001 (Truest Inspiration) and 2003’s It’s A Good Life.

In 2005, the band struck up a musical collaboration with Canadian television star Les Stroud, resulting in the six-song EP Long Walk Home being released in early 2007.

Since then, The Northern Pikes have maintained a dedicated following right across Canada. Semko notes the addition of Kevin Kane into the band’s lineup has helped give a fresh perspective to not just the songs from Big Blue Sky, but their catalogue as a whole.

“Kevin has been a completely natural fit for the group. I think we all collectively and individually feel we are at a great place these days,” Semko says.

What: The Northern Pikes
When: Sunday Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Riverview Arts Centre, 400 Whitepine Road, Riverview
Tickets are $35 plus taxes. Advance tickets are available at Jean Coutu (438 Coverdale Rd., Riverview), Sobeys (1160 Findlay Blvd., Riverview) and Frank’s Music (245 Carson Dr., Moncton). Tickets are also available online at www.riverviewartscentre.ca