The group left its Moncton home base early in its career, relocating to Halifax before eventually moving to Toronto to realize a dream of making music a full-time occupation.
Though the band’s success was perhaps a little on the modest side, the impression its members left upon audiences and fans is one that endures more than 25 years later.
In a rare Moncton appearance, Basic English performs at the Old Triangle (751 Main Street), on Monday evening. Admission to the show is free.
The origins of Basic English date back to the early ’70s when the group’s songwriters John Davis and Tim Armour met up with drummer Roger LeBlanc. Though they wouldn’t gain possession of their first instruments until 1978, they adopted the name Basic English in 1980, adding bassist Dave Potter into the band.
The mid 1980s saw the group dividing its time between Moncton and Halifax, where some of the members were enrolled in school. Potter exited the band to be replaced by John Graham in 1984. In 1986, LeBlanc, Armour and Davis decided to relocate to Toronto to increase their chances of success. Graham stayed behind in Halifax, leaving the group to recruit bassist Sean Ryan approximately one year after their arrival in the Big Smoke.
“We moved to Toronto to follow our dreams,” Armour tells the Times & Transcript. “It was the logical place for us to be in order to pursue music as a career.”
Not long after their arrival in Toronto, the group entered Toronto radio station Q107’s Homegrown Contest and emerged victorious, almost instantly giving the band a higher profile.
“Thanks to the contest, we got to record a 7-inch single at Metalworks Studio and also got some gear, some money and a video for our song Images of Love.
“It was then that interest really started growing in the band. The Q107 contest, in conjunction with a CASBY (Canadian Artists Selected By You) Award nomination for Best Non-Recording Act definitely helped. It was a great one-two punch that helped us create some buzz about the band.”
On the recommendation of former Blue Rodeo keyboardist Bob Wiseman, Basic English hired the same management company as Blue Rodeo which resulted in their affiliation with the label Risque Disque, which also released the first two Blue Rodeo albums.
Basic English’s full-length debut effort Sweet Panic hit store shelves in 1990. The band released a video for the track Sentimental Highway, complete with backing vocals from Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy.
The good times wouldn’t last , however. Before any sort of momentum could be thrown behind the band, the band’s management company folded, which also resulted in the Risque Disque label folding. That brought promotional efforts behind Sweet Panic screeching to a halt.
“The bottom totally fell out on the band,” Armour says. “We were more or less orphaned at that point in our careers. We were kind of left to scratch our heads and absorb the impact that these events had upon us.
“Within the first year of our label shutting down, we started internalizing how we felt about the situation. It especially affected John and I as songwriters and the direction that we were taking the band. The sound of the group started to thicken up and was definitely darker than it had been in the past. Before the end of 1991, Sean and Roger left the band, leaving only John and I standing.”
Armour says that despite the band’s trajectory not going as smoothly as any of them would have liked, the group’s members stayed in touch. He and Davis continued performing together in groups after the demise of Basic English.
In 2005, in the band Train Wreck, Armour and Davis were joined by former Basic English bassist Sean Ryan. Realizing that Train Wreck’s sound closely mirrored that of Basic English and with the group’s then 25th anniversary right around the corner, they decided to re-christen themselves Basic English with drummer Dino Naccarato sitting in for Roger LeBlanc, who currently calls the United States home .
Armour says that while Basic English has continued to perform throughout Toronto, this will be its first Moncton show since a similar show that they put on last summer. Though bassist Sean Ryan is not able to come down to perform (Phil McNally will be subbing in for him), the group will be joined by Roger LeBlanc, marking a reunion of sorts for the three individuals who originally comprised the band and performed together through its heyday.
Promising a helping of old songs in addition to some new songs that the band has written, Armour is greatly anticipating the band’s return to its old stomping grounds.
“It really is special to bring us all back together again. We launch into playing songs like Birds Fly By and Images of Love and you feel a shot of adrenaline shoot up your spine. There’s nothing like it.”
Article published in August 11, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript