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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #20 Spirit Of The West “And if Venice is sinking”

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Three important life events happened in the fall of 1993 and they will be forever linked in my thoughts and memories. First, after taking a year off after high school, I started my first year of post-secondary education at York University in Toronto. Second, I finished my road lessons with Young Driver’s of Canada and passed my road test in the sleepy town of Port Hope, Ontario, beating the implementation of the new graduated licensing rules by a mere two and a half months. Finally, I purchased a CD copy of “Faithlift”, the sixth and most recent (at the time) album by Canadian alternative folk rock band Spirit of the West.

The reason they are linked for me is because I decided to continue living at my parent’s home in Bowmanville while attending that first year of university to save money. And after getting my driver’s license, I switched my mode of travel from the long and tiring GO transit bus voyage to a sturdy and slightly more comfortable Chevrolet Chevette borrowed from my mother. It was a trek I made three times a week and took more than an hour each way by car, so almost 20 hours of music listening time. That CD was pretty much immediately recorded to cassette tape to be played on the deck in my mother’s car and it was on many of those trips in October and November that I fell in love with “Faithlift”.

My introduction to Spirit of the West came with their previous album, 1991’s “Go figure”, an album that saw the group add a drummer and transition from a mostly folk-influenced outfit to something that blended the sound with rock. “Faithlift” completed their transition to a rock band with only some hints of the folk sound remaining. It became the group’s best selling album and this, mostly off the back of least rocking tune on the album: “And if Venice is sinking”. It is their highest charting single, is these days runner up to their best known song*, and also happened to be my fifth favourite song when I counted down my favourites by the group on these pages back in 2017.

As I mentioned in that post, “And if Venice is sinking” is a joyful tune, perfectly reflecting the elation and wonder frontman John Mann and his new wife, Jill Baum, must have felt as they explored the winding laneways and bridges of Venice for their honeymoon. I can certainly attest to this feeling, given that my wife and I also spent part of our honeymoon there, exploring that living museum and falling in love with the galleries, the churches, and the piazzas – the trifecta of art, history, and food. Just like Mann and Daum, we didn’t want to leave, believing we might never see it again.

“And if Venice is sinking
Then I’m going under”

The song is as much a carnival as its subject. It dances and prances along the cobblestone streets, a parade led by the pace-setting tuba, but followed closely behind by Linda McRae on the accordion and Hugh McMillan on the mandolin. The rest of us just gather in behind, joining our voices to that of the incomparable and unforgettable John Mann.

*At least, here in Canada.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love (revisited): Spirit of the West “Go figure”

(I started my Vinyl Love posts pretty much right after the launch of this blog to share photos of my growing vinyl collection. Over time, the photos have improved and the explanations have grown. And looking back at a handful of the original posts in this series, I found myself wanting to re-do some of them so that the posts are more worthy of those great albums. So that’s what I’ll be doing every once in a while, including today…)

Artist: Spirit Of The West
Album Title: Go figure
Year released: 1991
Details: Original German pressing, signed, numbered, includes a signed certificate from the band, band photo from their final show (also signed)

The skinny: Spirit of the West is one of my all-time favourite bands and one that has a special place in my heart, given that my wife and I got together at one of their concerts. 1991’s “Go figure” was my first introduction to the Canadian folk rock group and the CD copy I had of it followed me from high school into university and beyond. After carving out a celtic folk rock niche in the 1980s, John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly, Hugh McMillan, and Linda McRae ventured into alt-rock territory with “Go figure”, enlisting drummer Vince Ditrich to fill out their sound. I had been dying to track down any of their albums for my shelves ever since I began collecting vinyl again, so snapping up a copy of this album from the band’s website when they put it up for sale back in December 2017 was a no-brainer. It’s an original pressing that they found a few copies of left over from long past tours. The band all signed the cover, included with it a ‘certificate of authenticity’, as well as a signed photo taken at the band’s last ever concert in 2016. This is a treasure indeed.

Standout track: “D for Democracy”

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1990: #4 Spirit of the West “Home for a rest”

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Happy Friday! At spot number four on this list, we’ve got the perfect song to end off the week: “Home for a rest”, easily Spirit of the West’s best known song. And though it missed out by one song to “Political” when I ranked my top 5 songs by the band back in the spring, I’m willing to concede it’s a very, very, very close second.

I’m sure it’s funny to the band now, after its massive popularity growth over the years and the accolades heaped upon it by Canadian music media, that it was never released as a proper single and the producer for “Save this house” even had to convince its writers, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly, to record it for inclusion on the album. Imagine if he had failed? The Vancouver-based, Celtic folk rock band might have never gotten as big as they did. They would have had to find another track to close out all their shows since the early 90s. Canadian Saint Patrick’s day ceremonies across the country over the last three decades would have had a big gaping hole in their evening play lists. I would have had to have found another favourite drinking song, a song to request and dance to at weddings. And just maybe, I might not even be married to my wife Victoria, given that we got together at one of Spirit of the West’s concerts in the late 90s.

“Home for a rest” really is a rollicking good tune, regaling the stories, whether true or not, of the band’s first tour in England and their many visits to pubs across the country. It warns of the perils of too much drink and bemoans being away the comforts of home but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming so well-known as a drinking song. Indeed, the chorus is shouted along with like a badge of honour:

“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a week (month), I’ve been drunk since I left
These so called vacations will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest…”

The band incorporates the melodies of traditional folk reels into the song, fleshing out the vehemently played acoustic guitar with accordion flourishes and head-spinning flute solos. It begs to be jigged to with abandon on any dance floor anywhere and I’ve done so many times. I had gotten so proficient at it that I had proper dancers thinking I had the jig mastered and asking where I’d learnt it. It wasn’t skill, I assured everyone. It was just plain earnestness and plenty of beer.

So raise a glass with me to this iconic Canadian song, the now-defunct band who wrote and performed it so many times over the years, and to John Mann, the lead singer, who is now courageously battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Cheers!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.