By Doug Gallant
You might say Haywire had it all. Between 1986 and 1993, the Charlottetown group placed more than a dozen singles in the upper reaches of the Canadian music charts, scoring big with songs like Bad Bad Boy, Standing In Line, Black and Blue, Dance Desire and Buzz.
In 1986, they were voted best new group by the readers of Canada¹s national music tab Music Express. A year later, they represented Canada at the World Popular Song Festival in Japan where they won gold for Dance Desire. Their albums have been certified double platium.
But in 1993 they decided to take a break. They were still selling records, still playing to big houses, still commercially viable. But it was time for a rest. "The reason we stopped playing is we felt, as a band, we didn't have anything new to offer," says keyboard player David Rashed. "We'd finished touring our last album and wanted some time to ourselves. We've only done a few key gigs since then because we don¹t have a new release and we're not promoting anything. So to go out and do a tour across Canada so people can hear the songs they knew 10 years ago is not really what we wanted. To do the occasional show together, that's just fun for us and keeps us together as a band."
And that's the way it was this week when they took to the stage at Peake's Quay for their first show together in two years. The motivation for Wednesday night's show at Peake's Quay had nothing to do with money or a desire to test the waters for a more permanent arrangement. It was simply a case of wanting to play together. The instigator, if you can call him that, was drummer Sean Kilbride. Kilbride, a busy session musician in Toronto, called Rashed, said he was coming to the Island for a vacation and wanted the rest of the band to drop out to the cottage and hang out. "I put down the phone, called the rest of the guys said, 'what do you think, do you want to try and co-ordinate a gig somewhere?' Everybody was on board for it, so I called Sean back and he was into it. So we jumped right in."
Band members spent a couple of weeks prior to Wednesday night's show going over the material on their own and then rehearsed as a full band the night before. "You have to remember we played these songs a lot, so it was really just a matter of refreshing things," Rashed said. "And we all still play, so it's not like we haven't touched our instruments and have to learn how to play again," guitarist Marvin Birt added. "But I will say that I had to do a lot of practice, because to play all that '80s type guitar, the stuff I did on those records, it takes a lot of strength. I worked my ass off to get the strength back up. When I'm just playing around I don't use those muscles anymore."
Rashed said that's typical Birt. He recalled that when the band was at its peak, even before that, Birt and his guitar were almost inseparable. "It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Marvin at the end of a gig to lock himself in the bathroom with an ashtray and a cigarette and play guitar lines until six in the morning," Rashed said. "That was his routine. You got up, you do the gig, you come home. You practice until dawn. And the style of guitarist Marvin was, he really needed a lot of strength to do what he needed to do."
The band rehearsal for the Wednesday night show was expected to be a blast. "It takes us forever to rehearse because we play a song and than everyone talks for a half-hour before we play another one," Birt said. And they do forget some of the stuff they used to play together. "We all remember the songs, but sometimes somebody will want to play a particular version of a song that we played on one of the tours and it's like 'oh, I forgot about that part'". But we do have live versions of songs on different tapes so we can check them out." But there's not a lot to relearn because they've done their homework.
Birt said even when they were just a cover band they were always serious about their shows."It was always a case of 'don't waste my time, know your parts when you get to practice.' We've all been doing our homework." Rashed said the band got together last week without Kilbride just to run through a few songs and they came out exactly the way they did 10 years ago. "I don't have to play the keyboard parts to Standing In Line anymore, I know how it goes and I know that everybody else knows their parts. There's just a real connection there. It's still there after all these years." And after all these years it's still fun.
"If there had not been a place to accommodate the gig, we probably would have just done it at the cottage anyway. It was for us to get together and just catch up on things" Rashed said. Word they were going to play at Peake's Quay sparked no small amount of buzz, and not just among older fans. "A buddy of mine who works at Future Shop was telling me a lot of the younger guys who were out there were saying they couldn¹t believe they were finally going to see Haywire because they were too young to go to the shows when the band was around." They tried to co-ordinate an alcohol-free show for the under-age set, but there just wasn't time.
Will we see Haywire again? Will they ever come together for more than just a few shows here and there. That's a possibility they've never discounted. But that's only going to happen if and when the conditions are right. "It would have to worthwhile for the band, and I'm not talking about the money," Birt said. "I'm talking about it being good for us as a band. We wouldn¹t release an album, for example, if it was going to be a dud. If we knew we had some strong material that stood a chance in today¹s market, that would make the amount of work it would take to get the machine working again worthwhile, that would be justified. Because it's all about the songs. You can have the best management, the best everything in the world, but if you have no songs, you¹ve got nothing."
And there are new songs. Now that Rashed is living on P.E.I. again, he and Birt have started to write together once more. Despite their respective workloads and other projects, they try to get together at least once a week. "As that progresses and we see what we actually have, who knows. If we think we have a strong album...But you have to look at the industry, too. The music industry is totally different today than it used to be. You'd have to look at distribution, do we want to get involved with another label, do we form our own label, do we do our own distribution. And there's the whole Internet issue."
Birt agreed that there are a lot of issues to address before they open that Pandora's box."Before you get into that you have to ask yourself whether you have the songs to make that journey worthwhile." And money is one of those issues because without a label to sign the cheques for studio time, manufacturing, distribution and promotion all those expenses are up front and out of pocket. Despite the hurdles that come with a commitment like that, nobody has ever said no to the idea of doing something of a more permanent nature. And nobody in the band has ever has turned his back on music. Rashed went back to school and studied digital applications geared to post-audio and video production work. He has worked as a producer with a number of acts and is currently engaged as the producer for Ninth Hour's next project.
Birt is still a full-time songwriter and musician. By his own estimation, he's got over 40 hours worth of songs that nobody's heard of. He plays frequently with the Roger Jones Band. He's also writing and recording with Pub Soda. Kilbride freelances with a lot of different bands in the Toronto area. Lead vocalist Paul MacAusland works with a number of musicians around Charlottetown and has a number of businesses on the side. Bass player Ron Switzer plays with Birt and Roger Jones. He's also involved in real estate.
They've all got their their music. And they've all got a head full of memories of life at the top of the game, like hearing their first single played on radio and how exhilarating that was, of playing the biggest venues in the country in front of huge crowds, of fan scenes and industry honours. There were good times and bad. Rashed recalls during the early years, when they were trying to do their own distribution, sitting at a Prairie radio station with a tape of some of their songs, hoping to convince somebody to promote their show. "We were there for hours and hours. Then somebody says 'sorry, the radio show ran behind and we can't promote the show.' It was really discouraging because you put your heart and soul into these songs and couldn't get them on air. The next time through the same town, that station promoted the tour and it was all 'great to have you here'."
He said some people they dealt with during those early years couldn't get over Birt's level of confidence. "Marvin was saying it was just a matter of time before we made it, but we were going to make it." They became one of the most successful top 40 bands in the country. And they're still, in many ways, a successful band. The royalty cheques are still there, and they're coming from more sources than just radio. Their music has been utilized on television in several different countries, in everything from teen dramas to sports broadcasts. It has also found it's way onto the soundtrack for video games and into movies. Birt recalls watching a movie one night on television and getting excited because he was going to see his name in the credits. "It wasn't a great movie, but it was a movie and I'm thinking I'm going to get my name in the end credits. So I wait for the end credits and they spelled my name wrong. They called me Marvin Brit."
And the fans have never lost touch with the band. They get a lot of e-mail, and they still get people who come up to them on the street and tell them how much they liked their music, that it meant something to them. They also hear from people who were too young to see them when they were on top but have discovered their music since then on rock radio or special cable only music stations.
And someday down the road there may well be new Haywire to program.
The door, they say, has never closed on that possibility.