Music News Digest, Dec. 13, 2021

Toronto's Glenn Gould School joins the new Sir Elton John Global Exchange Programme, Alicia Toner leads the 2022 Music PEI Award nominees, and the CP Holiday Train goes online. Also in the news are Arkells, Greg Godovitz, Air Canada, Frank Davies, Sakamoto Agency, River Town Saints, Art Napoleon, Cue-Sheet-Palooza Hackathon, FAI, Aline Morales, Bryan Adams, and farewell Les Emmerson (pictured), Peter Mann, David Bigham, Steve Bronski, Barry Harris, David Lasley, Mensi, Mike Nesmith, and Ralph Tavares.

Music News Digest, Dec. 13, 2021

By Kerry Doole

In a just-announced new initiative, Toronto's Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School has been named among the 12 leading music education institutions in the world invited to participate in the new Sir Elton John Global Exchange Programme, launched today by the Royal Academy of Music and endorsed by Sir Elton John. The program, developed by the RAM in London, England, goes live in Sept. 2022 and will enable students from these top music conservatories in the world to take part in educational exchanges with the Academy.  

Said Sir Elton John, a RAM alumnus: “My passion is to help nurture the next generation of global artists. Music can and should transcend borders, and I am delighted to be supporting a scheme which offers high-level, tangible opportunities to talented young musicians coming together from many different countries.” Other exchange institutions include The Juilliard School (New York), Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. Up to 20 participants a year from the Royal Academy and its partner conservatories will benefit from short, collaborative projects, a single term, or a full year of tuition at their host institution. 


– Heading the list of recently announced 2022 Music PEI Award nominees is singer/songwriter Alicia Toner, with seven nods. Other leading nominees include Andrew Waite (6), Dylan Menzie (5), and Logan Richard, Joce Reyome, Brandon Howard Roy, Dennis Ellsworth, and Sarah Hagen, with 4 apiece. A complete list of nominations here. Music PEI Week 2022, combining concerts and an industry awards presentation, takes place from March 2-6. 

– Hamilton’s beloved Tiger-Cats may have lost the Grey Cup to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a nail-biter last night, but hometown heroes Arkells came out on top with a high-energy halftime show at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field  that surely won them even more fans. Accompanied by The Lumineers and K-Flay on some tunes, plus a horn section and backing vocalists, they ripped through their rock radio favourites with real verve.


– Greg Godovitz' BC flood victims auction raised $28,765 with the proceeds being paid out by charitable org. GlobalMedic. The goodhearted Mr. Goddo took it upon himself to do something for our western friends and called out to friends to sign a Fender F36 guitar he owned. Contributing signatures on the body were Ronnie Hawkins, Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLauchlan, David Clayton Thomas, (Larry) Gowan, (Gil Moore, Mike Levine and Rik Emmett) Triumph, Kris Kristofferson, Alex Lifeson, Eddie Kramer, (members of) Blue Rodeo, Geddy Lee, and Kim Mitchell. A small token with a big heart and hats off to Mr. Godovitz.

– Started in 1999, the CP Holiday Train has become a very popular Christmas season event. The 2021 Holiday Train at Home' edition has to be virtual, given the covid situation, and it features Steven Page, The Strumbellas, and more. The concert will be streamed on Facebook, YouTube and this webpage on Dec. 18, at 6 p.m. MT/8 p.m. ET. CP's 2021 corporate donation will bring the total amount of money raised at CP Holiday Train stops to $20.64M since the train's inception in 1999. Food banks have also collected 4.9M pounds of food donations at local Holiday Train events.


– Air Canada has just released a video that shares a message of togetherness for the first Dec. holiday season many Canadians will spend together in two years. This year’s spot is a mix of live action and animation, and the soundtrack features Canadian music by Forest Blakk ( I Saw Love) and Cœur de pirate  (Comme des enfants) for the English and French versions respectively.

– Famed Canadian music publisher Frank Davies recently alerted us to a fascinating story behind a new Christmas song.  He explains that "David Tyson and Eddie Schwartz wrote a song in the 1980s for the New Monkees TV show and film called What I Want (You Ain't Got). 40 years later, David and I [we co-publish his share of the song] got a call from a founding member of seminal California band Spirit (Jay Ferguson) and his current writing partner (Brad Sevy), a noted music supervisor who has his own band Living Love.


“They had remembered the song from the 80s and loved it and wanted to create their own Christmas version of it for release as a single in the US, now titled What I Want for Christmas (Peace On Earth) a new adaption we have authorised that was released in the US on Nov. 17."

– On Dec. 19, Vesuvius Music and Jaymz Bee present - A Very Untraditional Christmas LIVE at the Paradise on Bloor in Toronto. Expect great music plus raffles, with proceeds in support  of the Unison Fund. 

– Sakamoto Agency, fresh from a second win at the CCMA Awards for Booking Agency of the Year, has added two bands to its Canadian roster, River Town Saints, and newcomers to Canadian country music, Lemon Cash. Sakamoto's Carla Hackman will be the Responsible Agent for both bands, who are managed by Tina Simpkin. 

– Indigenous country/folk singer/songwriter Art Napoleon first came to my attention as co-host of a lovely TVO food-themed series, Moosemeat & Marmalade, but it turns out he's a highly accomplished musician and songwriter too. He acknowledges being inspired by Texan songwriters, and on new single Avalene he does that tradition proud. More info here

– The Screen Composers Guild of Canada and SOCAN have partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts, Songwriters Association of Canada, the Société professionelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec, the SOCAN Foundation, Music Publishers Canada, the Canadian Guild of Music Supervisors, and Devpost to host the Cue-Sheet-Palooza Hackathon. To be held in-person in Toronto, Feb. 26-27, the event “will offer a unique opportunity to revolutionize the process of paying royalties to music stakeholders.” More info here.


– Acclaimed Brazilian-Canadian artist Aline Morales recently released her sophomore album, Toadas de Norte, featuring elements of  psychedelia, tropicalia, cumbia and other Afro-Latin forms. It was launched with a performance at Toronto’s world music hub, Lula Lounge, on Nov. 25.

– Folk Alliance International  (FAI) has announced the results of its 2021 FAI Board Election. One of two new members is Toronto music producer Guillermo Subauste, while Sara Leishman of the Calgary Folk Festival has been re-elected. Each director serves a three-year term, beginning at the AGM on Feb. 10. Info on the AGM here.

– Bryan Adams has released a new single, Kick Ass, taken from a new album, So Happy It Hurts, due out on March 11, via BMG. The track (link to lyric video here) features the great John Cleese doing an intro. Another track, On The Road, came out two weeks ago.



Les (Robert Leslie) Emmerson, the lead vocalist and guitarist for the noted Ottawa group Five Man Electrical Band, died on Dec 10, age 77, reportedly of Covid-19 complications.

Emmerson and his group are best remembered for the international 1971 hit, Signs. The tune, written by Emmerson, went on to sell 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classic rock radio.

US band Tesla recorded a hit version in 1990, and Fat Boy Slim sampled it in his track Don’t Let The Man Get You Down, with generous royalties flowing Emmerson's way.

In 1964, Emmerson joined Ottawa band The Staccatos, as co-vocalist and prime songwriter. The group signed to Capitol Records  and their second single, Small Town Girl, made it into the Canadian top 20. Several follow-ups also cracked the top 40, and a debut album, Initially, came out in 1966, That year, the group had its biggest hit to date with Emmerson composition Half Past Midnight, which reached No. 8 on the Canadian charts.

After a couple of lineup changes, the group changed its name to Five Man Electrical Band, releasing a self-titled album in early 1969.

Early singles did not fare well, and the group switched labels to MGM in 1970. They broke through the following year when their label reissued the second MGM single Hello Melinda, Goodbye/Signs", originally recorded in Los Angeles, with the sides reversed.

Disc jockeys and the public immediately took to Signs. It reached No. 4 in Canada, No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and went to No. 1 in Australia for nearly two months. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in August 1971.

In the next few years a number of charting singles were released: Absolutely Right, Money Back Guarantee, Werewolf, I'm A Stranger Here, and a few others, all written by Emmerson. Outside of Canada, most were minor hits, but the band continued with a steady flow of releases and concert dates. In 1972, the band issued Coming Of Age, their third album, and it produced several hit singles, including I'm A Stranger Here, but subsequent singles did not sustain that success, and the group disbanded in 1975.

Emmerson started his solo career while still a member of Five Man Electrical Band. His first solo hit, 1972's Control Of Me, peaked at #5 in early 1973. Follow-up single Cry Your Eyes Out reached  #18 on RPM Weekly's Top Singles chart in September 1973. Emmerson released two more charting solo singles in 1974 and '75 while still with the Five Man Electrical Band, but his only release after the band broke up was the non-charting single Borderline in 1977. 

In 2007, Emmerson's The Sound City Sessions album was released, comprising material recorded in 1976 and '77, including Borderline. This remains Emmerson's only solo album; his other solo singles have never been released on LP or CD.

In 1986, Emmerson reformed Five Man Electrical Band for a series of concert and festival appearances, and continued to tour with them over the following decades. He also retained the rights to the band's recordings, and licensed several best-of compilations on CD.

In 2008, Les Emmerson was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In the Ottawa area, he was known to donate his time and his musical talents for countless charities and fundraisers. Sources: CTV News Ottawa, Wikipedia

Peter Mann, a Toronto-based musician, composer, arranger and producer, died on Dec. 7, age 81.

Mann, along with Victor Garber, Laurie Hood and Lee Harris, formed a group called The Sugar Shoppe (1967). The group performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson.

Once the group disbanded, Mann co-produced and arranged vocals on the Canadian Rock Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar Zone (1972). With his lengthy career at the CBC, he created many memorable musical moments and arranged, produced, composed and engineered with the likes of Isaac Hayes, Donovan, The Nylons, Raffi, Fred Penner, Louise Pitre, Rita MacNeil, Anne Murray, K.D. Lang, Pukka Orchestra, and Elton John among others.

Television specials included The 29th Annual Juno Awards, Back to the Bean Stock, The Trial of Red Riding Hood, and Jack: A Flash Fantasy.

Mann was nominated for a Juno Award in 1983 for producer of the year with The Nylons and he won three Gemini Awards. Sources: Toronto Star, AllMusic


– David Bigham, a vocalist who sang with Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Buddy Knox on multiple hit records, died on Dec. 8, of pneumonia, age 84.

He provided backup vocals at Norman Petty’s studio from 1957 to 1959 when it produced 12 Billboard magazine Top-40 singles. In December 2000, he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for his career as a member of The Roses trio.

For the past 25 years he lived on the grounds of the Norman Petty Studio in New Mexico and welcomed visitors from around the world, conducting tours of the studio. Sources: Eastern New Mexico News, Ron Skinner

– Steve Bronski (born Steven Forrest), a founding member of the influential British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, has died, age 61.  No cause of death was given.

Bronski formed the band alongside Jimmy Somerville and Larry Steinbachek in 1983. All three members of the band were out as gay and sought to counter what they perceived as the inoffensive nature of the era’s gay performers by embracing explicitly political themes in their music. Spin described them as “perhaps the first real gay group in the history of pop”.

Born in Glasgow, Bronski moved to London in 1983. Bronski Beat’s debut single, 1984’s gay-themed Smalltown Boy, peaked at No 3 in the UK singles chart and has become one of the era’s defining hits and a canonical queer pop song. The trio’s debut album The Age of Consent, also released in 1984, reached No 4 in the UK.

Somerville left the band in summer 1985 owing to tensions within the group. He went on to have a successful career with the Communards and as a solo artist. Bronski Beat continued with new frontmen. They released two more albums, Truthdare Doubledare (1986) and Out & About (1987), and then paused until 1995’s Rainbow Nation

Bronski continued to produce and record, including collaborations with Jayne County and members of Strawberry Switchblade. He spent much of the 2000s living in Thailand. In 2017, Bronski Beat released their first new album for 22 years, with Bronski as the only remaining original member. Sources: The GuardianBBC

Barry Harris, a noted jazz pianist and educator, died on Dec. 8, age 91, of complications from covid.

JazzTimes wrote that "the master pianist and teacher proselytized tirelessly for bebop, and was one of its finest practitioners."

NPR reported that “at a time when the traditional apprentice system all but collapsed in jazz, Harris represented a direct link to the pantheon. His authority descended from a lifetime of bandstand and recording experience with countless iconic figures.”

“The fundamentals Harris devised in the '50s remained the backbone of his teaching. Aspects of his method eventually seeped into the mainstream of jazz education, though Harris never held a formal position in any academy beyond temporary residencies. His workshops were a fixture in New York beginning in the '70s, including a five-year period from 1982-87 at the Jazz Cultural Theater, which he co-founded."

The Detroit-born Harris made his first record in 1950. In the ‘50s, Harris backed stars like Miles Davis, Wardell Gray, Roy Eldridge, Lee Konitz, Lester Young,Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Cannonball Adderley.

Harris came to be recognized as one of the preeminent interpreters of Thelonious Monk's music. NPR states that "Harris' essential recordings as a leader include the trio LPs he made in the 1960s and '70s, especially At the Jazz Workshop, Chasin' the Bird, Preminado, Magnificent!, Vicissitudes and Live in Tokyo. His finest solo piano recordings are 1979's The Bird of Red and Gold and 1990's Solo. "Sources: JazzTimes, NPR

– David Lasley, a singer/songwriter and backing vocalist for James Taylor, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and more, passed away on Dec. 9 at the age of 74.

 His solo career that netted him the 1982 top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit If I Had My Wish Tonight. Lasley’s four octave vocal range made him a coveted backup singer, especially with his falsetto voice. Over the course of his career, he also worked behind Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler and Ringo Starr.

Lasley co-wrote Bonnie Raitt’s I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again and Got You On My Mind. Raitt posted on social media, stating “I am so sorry to hear of the passing of yet another beautiful friend and bright light in our music world, golden voiced David Lasley.”

Lasley grew up near Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he formed a band called The Utopias that made four records together. After the group disbanded, Lasley went on to join the touring production of Hair! from 1972-1974. He then formed a vocal group called Rosie, which released two albums on RCA records in 1976 and 1977. 

In the early 1980s, Lasley was signed to Geffen Records but bought his way out of his contract when he became dissatisfied with the label asking him to “copy other artists."

Between 1981 and 2006, Lasley released eight solo albums and served as a co-writer on countless singles for Raitt, LaBelle, Arnold McCuller, Whitney Houston, Dusty Springfield, Anita Baker and more.

Lasley also appeared in 20 Feet From Stardom, the 2013 documentary about backup singers that won Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards. Sources: Billboard

– Mensi (Thomas Mensworth), lead singer of English punk band Angelic Upstarts, died last week of Covid-19, age 65.

Angelic Upstarts formed in 1977 in South Shields. The band took on a working class philosophy, with their official Facebook page declaring them ‘an anti fascist punk band.’ The group was strident in its opposition to the racist National Front.

LoudHacker states that "Mensi and The Angelic Upstarts punctuated punk’s second wave with a series of classic singles such as The Murder Of Liddle Towers, I’m An Upstart, and Teenage Warning. The band continued to tour and release new music."

John Robb of LouderThanSound reminisced that "Mensi had the conviction and the charisma and a genuine heart that made him a great on stage presence but also a total diamond off stage. I have many memories of great gigs but also a totally warm and kind hearted person who was a joy to share festival stage with and helped to contribute to his folk hero status." Sources: LouderThanSound, LoudHacker, Metro

Mike (Robert Michael) Nesmith, an American musician, songwriter, actor, producer, and novelist best known as a member of the pop rock band The Monkees, died on Dec. 10, age 78.

His songwriting credits include Different Drum, which became a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.

After the break-up of the Monkees, Nesmith continued his successful songwriting and performing career, first with the seminal country rock group the First National Band, with whom he had a top-40 hit, Joanne, and then as a solo artist.

In the early 1980s, he was asked to help produce and create MTV, but had prior commitments with his production company. In 1981, he won the first Grammy Award for Video of the Year for his hour-long television show, Elephant Parts. He was also an executive producer of the film Repo Man (1984).

Read detailed obituaries in Variety, Rolling Stone, and New York Times

– Ralph Tavares, a member of the Grammy-winning soul group Tavares, died on Dec. 8, just two days before he’d have turned 80. His cause of death has not yet been released. 

Ralph Tavares was the eldest of the five brothers in Tavares. In 1975, the brothers released their smash hit It Only Takes a Minute. A string of hits followed including Heaven Must be Missing an Angel and More Than a Woman.

Hailing from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Ralph Tavares worked at the New Bedford and Fall River courts in for over 30 years, retiring in 2015. 

Tavares won a Grammy in 1978 for More Than a Woman on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which won Album of the Year. 

The group was nominated for a Grammy in 1982 for their hit single A Penny for Your Thoughts. They had six gold and two platinum albums, a Grammy Award and fans around the world when, in 1984, Ralph Tavares quit. He reunited with the group in 2014 and continued performing with his brothers until his death. Source: USAToday

Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award
Marc Thususka Photography

Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award

Music News

Allison Russell Named Billboard Canada Women In Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year

The Nashville-based musician from Montreal has been having a huge year, including her first Grammy and her first Hot 100 appearance. Accepting the award on June 19 at the iHeartRadio Canada studio, she talked about her LGBTQ+ advocacy work and the importance of playing with underrepresented musicians.

It was a special Juneteenth for Allison Russell.

Not only did she serve as the special Toronto opener for Sarah McLachlan on the Canadian icon’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 30th anniversary tour, but she earned another big honour: Billboard Canada Women In Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year.

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