When Blue Peter formed in 1978 dinosaurs still ruled the earth. Monster rock bands in tight spandex, long scarves and shaggy hair, controlled the airwaves and the clubs. Unless you were a ‘cover’ or ‘tribute’ band, there was simply no place to play - no way to get your music out there. There was no Indie scene then, only giant record companies in high towers with barred iron gates.
But around the world a musical revolution had started – a “storm-the-ramparts” movement that declared anyone could play and everyone could participate. Punk turned the world on its ear and opened the door to the New Wave. Blue Peter would become one of Canada’s most popular and influential bands of the New Wave era.
Restored and re-mastered by Peter J. Moore from the original analogue masters, these tracks follow the dramatic growth of this electrifying band with highlights ranging from it’s late-70’s punk/pop days to the sophisticated romanticism of the mid-80’s.
Signing with new Indie label Ready Records in 1979, the young band released it’s EP “Test Patterns for Living”. Recorded in one day, this album captures the explosive energy of the times. Included here is the underground hit “Factory Living”, and “Same Old Place” - a three minute bullet aimed at the old attitudes.
The band was in the studio again a year later to record their first full-length LP, “Radio Silence”. Already their sound was maturing, and the subject matter of the songs reflected a growing social conscience. Songs such as Video Verite, Take Me To War and the classic Radio Silence, married the ominous pressures of the Cold War to the politics of personal relationships.
In keeping with the thrust for independence that epitomized the New Wave, Blue Peter went on hiatus from Ready, formed their own company, the aptly named AWOL Records, and released the popular EP “Up To You’. This EP included the hit single “Chinese Graffiti’ which won the CFNY U-Know (Casby) Award for Best Single of 1981.
Returning to Ready Records for their next LP, Blue Peter’s sound now included the layered textures of keyboards, a new-found sophistication and, as always, a readiness to explore and experiment. “Falling”, produced by England’s Steve Nye (Japan, Roxy Music) was Blue Peter’s breakthrough album. Featuring the dance-hit single “Don’t Walk Past” and accompanied by the song’s Blade Runner-inspired video, “Falling” exploded onto the Canadian music scene and brought the band a vast new audience.
Then, in January of 1985, just as the band seemed poised for international recognition, Blue Peter split up. Seven years of non-stop output - including remixes, dub-mixes and club mixes - and a rigorous touring schedule had left the band drained and exhausted. Included here are demos from Blue Peter’s final sessions, songs being prepared for what would have been their follow-up album: “Vertigo”. The exuberant energy of “Water Off the Moon” and “Equalizer” show a band in its creative prime.
Blue Peter summarizes the ground-breaking spirit of a remarkable era in Canadian music. Today’s vital Indie scene owes a debt to the vanguard bands that came before them, broke down the walls and stormed the gates.
Led by key members Paul Humphrey (lead vocals) and Chris Wardman (guitar), and augmented by Jason Sniderman (keyboards) and the rhythm section Rick Joudrey on bass and Owen Tennyson on drums, Blue Peter were one of the most innovative and influential acts to emerge from the Toronto underground environment, and their brand of cutting edge pop, rhythm, and dance stands the test of time today.
The Blue Peter story started in the mid to late 70's when Chris Wardman and Paul Humphrey, who became the nucleus of the band, began practising and writing material. As the band developed, and began to secure gigs, Humphrey remembers that the era was one in which many new bands faced certain challenges that made the going difficult.
"In those early days, there were no places for a band who did original material to play. In a lot of bars, you had to play cover tunes, so we came up with our own treatments of the Stones, Iggy Pop, Led Zep, and the like, but we really wanted to have a way of exposing our songs. Besides," Paul continues, "we really couldn't play a lot of those covers 'cause we found it just didn't work that well with our energy."
Times did change, however, and the live venue scene in Toronto started to open up, providing more opportunities for young, up-and-coming bands to get a shot at playing gigs. "It was an exciting time," recalls Humphrey. "Clubs like The Edge and Larry's Hideaway opened up and a lot of good bands with original music got a chance. There's a certain musical historical element to those days, and we were part of it."
As Blue Peter released singles, albums and EP's on Ready Records, and toured Canada regularly, the bands' popularity grew dramatically. And with success, came the inevitable comparisons to other acts of the day. "Yeah, that's something that's just going to happen," says Humphrey philosophically. "I've heard them all... Bowie, Roxy Music... it's unavoidable, but with those bands, at least you can say we were in good company. I really think that the comparisons weren't based so much on a musical level, but rather a visual one... the way I dressed on stage, the somewhat flamboyant presentation... they were all contributing factors."
When the video for “Don’t Walk Past” was released it won two important awards in Canada in 1983: "Best Video of 1983" from the prestigious Canadian Film and Television Association; and "Most Popular Video" at Sony's Video Culture Festival. It also received airplay at various U.S. outlets including MTV.
Looking back on Blue Peter's career, Chris Wardman recalls several key shows with a great deal of fondness. "The Police Picnic in 1983 at the C.N.E. in Toronto was an experience we'll never forget. It was the largest show we'd ever done in terms of audience and venue size, and it was extremely flattering to be included on the bill. The show itself wasn't easy... we couldn't hear that well. But the thing I remember most," he continues, "was the whole backstage thing... hanging out with The Fixx, using James Brown's dressing room (and actually getting kicked out of it!), just being part of such an amazing line up... it was great."
Opening two shows for the Boomtown Rats at Toronto's El Mocambo was one of the first major breakthroughs for Blue Peter. "We really liked the band," remembers Wardman, "but the thing that really sticks in my memory is that one of the songs they did at soundcheck was a new one called `I Don't Like Mondays'... this was before they had even recorded it. So considering that it turned out to be such a career song for them, in retrospect it kind of felt like we were privy to history in the making."
Humphrey recalls opening for The Jam two nights in Toronto and one night in Ottawa. "Some of the guys in the audience starting spitting at me during our set. I really didn't know if this was sending a message that they liked us, or wanted us to get the hell outta there. But when the same thing happened to The Jam, I took it as more a show of approval."
Two other gigs that especially stand out in their collective memories were opening for Simple Minds in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal and headlining a sold out Ontario Place Forum show in 1984. Although the band split up in 1985, Humphrey says that to this day, he gets stopped in the street by Blue Peter fans, who tell him what a great band they were. "While we were fairly successful in our day, I'm admittedly a little baffled when this happens. It strikes me that there's this kind of `mythology' about Blue Peter that still lives on. Maybe it's more like harkening back to those days, which in my mind was a time of hopefulness. So maybe it's an emotional rapport that lives on in people's imagination."
Paul Humphrey - vocals
Chris Wardman - Guitar/Songwriter
Owen Tennyson - Drums
Jason Sniderman - Keyboards
Rick Joudrey - Bass
Geoff McOuat - Bass (1978-1980)
Mike Bambrick - Drums (1978, 1980-1982)
Ron Tomlinson - Drums (1979)
1981 "Best New Artist" CFNY U-Know awards
[original award which was a vinyl album painted silver with a broken CN Tower souvenir in the shape of a needle.]
1982 Chinese Graffiti "Single of the Year" CFNY U-Know awards
1982 Best Male Vocalist CFNY U-Know awards
CFNY Grows Up: Campfire Stories of Renegade Radio
"At one point, it became apparent that dayglo zebra stripes, short hair and sleazy production did not automatically cut it. New wave was developing its own cliches. Duran Duran, 'discovered' by CFNY is hardly heard today in their megastar status. And if CFNY was playing al these hot young Canadian bands like multiple U-Know winner Blue Peter, how come very few of them were actually going on to any national fame? The phenomenon seemed local. The vibe just wasn't translating to Calgary and Halifas in such penetrating proportions."