Art live onstage sometime in 1993 (or maybe it was 1992).

Colin James at the Boardwalk, Kelowna, November 1992. Captain Maniac, with arms folded, can be seen in the centre of the picture. Photo by Kevin Swain

Sparkling Apple in concert, 1993.

Back in the fall of 1992, we were approached by some “showbiz genties with ideas aplenty” (thanks to Andrew Loog Oldham for that one), concerning a BC tour with then up & coming blues guitarist-turned-rock star Colin James. Colin James required an opening act for a few BC dates, and somehow was convinced that a local band playing rock n roll cover tunes — namely Sparkling Apple — would be just the ticket! Having already played an opening slot with Colin at the Breakers in Point Roberts, we were familiar with the drill as well as some of their crew. Rumour has it that the Breakers show was where “your old friend Jerry” helped himself to our dressing-room stash of beer. (The same Jerry who borrowed Art’s amp and blew it up at Angel Acres in Nanaimo!)

(Several years later I weasled my way into a Colin James concert at the Commodore by claiming “oh yeah, Mike Frelone the soundman left my name on the guest list”, which of course he hadn’t done, but the doorman wasn’t aware that I could read album jacket credits and drop names as well as anyone. Mike himself met me after the show and said, “I heard about your little stunt. Good for you! Come on backstage for the after-show party”!)

Anyway, back to the tour: the plan was for both bands to fulfill 3 dates: Castlegar, Kelowna and Prince George, with CJ’s crew transporting all our stage gear in their truck. They would supply lights and PA, the promoters would furnish accommodation, both bands would be paid handsomely for the privilege of creating harmful sound waves for audiences to absorb, and all we would have to do was to show up, which we did courtesy of my dad’s car. Dad had a silver 86 Honda Civic, which he graciously (but foolishly) lent us for our trip into the hinterlands, so with no need of any personal valets or roadies, the three Sparkling Apple members piled into the Civic and headed east.

The first gig on the tour was set to be at a huge hockey arena in Castlegar, BC. This may well have been what is now known as the Castlegar & District Community Complex Ice Skating Rink, but correct me if I’m wrong (and I might be). This facility hosted several hockey games the week we were due to appear, and rather than remove all the ice just for one silly little rock concert, it was considered appropriate to merely cover the ice surface with plywood on that particular night! As a result, anyone connected with the stage set up literally froze solid, as did the audience and bands. I recall our opening set went by in a flash, as we were more interested in merely completing the show so we could warm ourselves by a roaring promoter... er, fire! The sad state of affairs was that because the concert was poorly advertised, there was therefore a very small audience, hardly worth opening the doors for. Consequently the promoters literally lost their shirts! But we had a blast.

The next day, both bands pressed on to Kelowna, BC for the next show at the Boardwalk, not far from Flintstones Park in beautiful downtown Rutland. Formerly a local roller rink, the Boardwalk was now a fully-fledged party-hearty concert venue. Similar in setup to the Breakers, there were numerous rows of tables and a monster dance floor -- and no hockey ice was to be seen! After a brief soundcheck featuring monitors Louder Than Everything Else, we were greeted by an impaired but highly enthusiastic crowd who wanted desperately to release their inhibitions and rawk out like there was no tomorrow. As it was such a highly-charged and electric atmosphere right from the start, we came to the conclusion that this was a party worthy of enhancement, and before our show, augmented our performance with the same recreational pharmaceuticals detailed in our earlier blog entry, The Blues in Technicolor. A night of enjoyable jollification, and all the stories of “the opening act gets booed off the stage by an impatient & surly mob” couldn’t have been further from the truth. A classic night and good times — a huge contrast between the previous night with a sporadic crowd to this evening with a packed house!

Time flies when you’re having fun, so before long we had exited stage left into our dressing room, where a feast of provisions and alcohol were set before us. We stumbled in to Colin’s band’s dressing room, and heartily participated in the before-show festivities. Colin was being met by some radio contest winners (I imagine the prize was a meet & greet backstage), and I presume they wondered just what the heck we were giggling at — yes, by this time it was “better living through chemistry”.

by Captain Maniac

It was at this point that the concert promoters as well as the venue staff came to the realization that the show was oversold, meaning that they had underestimated the amount of security they would need. There were no barriers at the front of the stage, so venue staff would be required to link arms in order to keep back the crowd. However, as there weren’t enough staff to do this, the promoters begged for volunteers. As our set was finished and we were now stratospheric, I immediately offered my services. “Hell, I’ll do it,” I exclaimed. Colin’s set had just begun, so I linked arms with several other volunteers to prevent excited revellers from gettin’ onstage and giggin’ with the band. (I can be seen implementing this procedure in the photo at the top of this page.) It goes without saying that Art remained backstage to eagerly sample the adult beverages — more on this situation later.

Colin’s band lived up to their reputation as a star attraction, which prompted the fanatical crowd to not only demand an encore, but to rush the stage. Several security personnel, in attempt to fend off a mob scene, mounted the stage & crouched down as a human barrier. I joined them, and thereby became a shield against hordes of fervent admirers! Several female audience members — and at CJ concert, the majority of the audience are usually stunning specimens of babeage —  assuming I was part of the Colin James band, started pawing me whilst I vainly tried to look disinterested throughout the final song of the night. A messy job, but someone had to do it.

At the close of the evening, we received some shattering news: because some cost-cutting measures were inevitable on account of the Castlegar fiasco, it was decided that Colin James and band would soldier on to Prince George without the benefit of Sparkling Apple as a warmup band. Despite becoming fast friends with Colin and his crew, we were unceremoniously dropped from the tour, and our band equipment could be retrieved once the headliners had returned to Vancouver.

We thought it expedient to retire to our motel. By this time, Art (who had his fair share of adult beverages by then and was now righteously hammered beyond recognition) had to be carried to the car. When we arrived back at the Sandman Inn, it required such a superhuman effort to extricate him from our vehicle, that we determined Art should just sleep it off in the back seat of the car, while Kevin and I called it a day & retreated to our room.    

 And here’s where the adventure begins:
Overnight, Kelowna was hit heavily by a humungous dump of snow, such as had never before been seen in the Okanagan, especially in November. We remembered Art asleep in the car, and had to dig him out lest he iced over and solidified! We beat a hasty exit from K-town, and by the time we got to Westbank’s steep hill on Highway 97, the snow was now a blizzard and about 3 feet deep, with cars and 18-wheelers alike skidding and sliding all over the road! We were fortunate in that we had a small car with three men providing added weight, but highway driving in treacherous winter conditions proved to be a major pain in the posterior. But all rested easy with the knowledge that Captain Maniac was behind the wheel on the Highway to Hell!

We did, however, make it safely to the Coquihalla Highway (known by musicians as the Kokanee Highway), but as it appeared we were making decent progress, I became a tad over-confident: I took my eyes off the road for a millisecond while adjusting the volume on the car stereo, which was all that was required on an icy road to send us careening off the highway into a ravine! The car sailed down a long embankment, thankfully avoiding any trees or big rocks, and settled in a muddy lake bed. There was no water in the lake, but there WAS about 2 feet of mud, which hindered our attempts to make an escape from the car. Yikes! By good fortune, all of us were unharmed & unhurt, and immediately broke into howls of derisive laughter, probably knowing full well that Art’s recent song about Costa Rica was in this case appropriate: “we was f*cked”!

Somehow we managed to climb out of the vehicle and limp back up to the highway, where the plan was to flag down any passing motorists who would be kind enough to summon a tow truck for us. As it turned out, we were only a kilometre away from the then-existing Coquihalla Highway toll booth, so it was a relatively easy matter to get word to BCAA that a carful of frightened rockers was in need of roadside assistance. Regrettably, the sudden snowfall caused 90% of the highway traffic to ALSO leave the road/have accidents, so we were summarily informed that a 3-hour wait would be necessary!

Finally, a local tow truck arrived on the scene and winched a slightly battered Civic out of the lakebed for a now-chilled but instantly approving Sparkling Apple. Shortly after rejoining the highway, we stopped in the pub at Hope, and each had the biggest brandy known to Man or Beast!

Backstage pass on Colin James tour.

Newspaper ad for Castlegar show.