Sunday 16 May 2010

Blowing The Pipes and Banging The Drums

For numerous years, the Moncton-based Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums Band has entertained audiences.

The local group, which was the first of seven presently in the nation, has an origin that can be traced back to the early 1990s, years before the Moncton Police Force was decommissioned in favor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“It was the Centennial Anniversary of the City of Moncton”, reflects Pat Fox. A retired member of the RCMP and former member of the Moncton Police Force, she’s the group’s Quartermaster. “Back then, (the Chief), with the Moncton Police Force, decided that we should have a pipe band in Moncton. I remember the memo that came out. The Chief was looking for anybody that wanted to learn how to play bagpipes!”

As time progressed and the group’s reputation solidified, the band’s playing brought it to places well beyond the city limits.

In the opinion of Art Cormier, former member of the Pipe Band, inclusion in the band opens the doors to life experiences and adventures that most people don’t have the pleasure of having.

One of the highlights he had was one involving royalty.

“In order to have your kilt put in your name like the RCMP, you have to have royal decent. In our case, it was Princess Anne in Fredericton. So we went there and played for her. We also had meals with her. It was so exclusive that the only ones that were allowed in there was the band and her security, which she had five or six (people). So it was nice getting pictures of her. I got pictures of her with my daughter. She was very normal. I had thought that maybe she would be much more different because she’s royalty. Even the press was not allowed inside that room. The thing I really noticed that I thought was kind of interesting was that I would take a picture of her and a member of her security team would be taking a picture of me!”

Wayne Beattie, Band Manager, concurs with Cormier on the issue of travel and experiences.

“We perform at probably anywhere between thirty and forty events per year, including RCMP functions such as police memorials, ceremonies. We do parades, such as the “Gold Cup and Saucer” in PEI in conglomeration with the composite band of RCMP Nova Scotia from Halifax. We also have members who have attended events in England when George The RCMP Horse was presented to Her Majesty The Queen. Scott Murray, our Pipe Major, was honored to go with a composite band from the RCMP.”

“It’s a great opportunity to travel,” Beattie continues. “We travel all over the country. We’ve been to Ottawa. Some of our members have been down to Las Vegas. There’s lots of opportunity this year, there’s lots of opportunity coming up.”

Although the group’s affiliated with policing, members of the general public who are basic civilians can participate as members. With membership numbers currently in the early-twenties, the Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums are in need of new members.

“Our main objective is to draw people to come out, perform in our band, be part of it, and be proud of what we do,” says Beattie. “As Band Manager, that’s my plea to put out to anyone who is interested!”

Membership to the group is open to people of all walks of life and demographics, even children. However, potential members must pass an RCMP criminal record check and be able to afford some of the necessary cost, like those related to some of the equipment.

In the case of Cormier, who had twice of the expenses as most other members due to the enrolment of his then-adolescent daughter, he was lucky not to worry about such costs.

“At that time, I was working (for a company), doing a lot of detailing, and I had this gentleman who was a very nice customer of mine. He was a little bit older, maybe in his 80s. He used to be at my shop every week getting his car washed. We became friends over the years and always talked. (One day he asked) “Art, What’s new?”. I said, “Geez, funny you should ask. I just joined the RCMP Pipe Band.”

Cormier proceeded to tell his regular customer about wanting to be a father participating in regular bonding activities with his daughter. His customer was touched by Cormier’s approach at parenting and told him to remind him of his conversation when he’d return later in the day to pay for his car wash.

Upon his return, the customer asked about the cost of the kilts. Cormier told him that they each had a price tag of $1,100. The customer proceeded to write him a cheque for $2,200. The generous customer told Cormier “I’m paying for it (but) they’re your kilts. You get to keep your kilts! You don’t owe me anything! The only thing I want in return is that you send me a list by e-mail letting me know of all of the gigs when you’re going to play because I really want to watch and enjoy them.”

“That was always a big memory before I got in the band”, Cormier says.

Occasionally, being a member of the RCMP Pipes and Drums Band can lead to strangely comedic situations, as Cormier remembers.

”We used to play for the Air Force Vets in Moncton for Remembrance Day. (One year) we went there and played for them. I remember one of the guys went up to the bar while I was sitting down at the table having a drink. There was a senior citizen, a woman (at the bar). She was probably in her 80s. As he was standing there, I saw her head tilting and tilting. I guess what she was trying to figure out the big question, you know, “Do you wear anything under the kilt?” She was trying everything to see. I remember her trying to sort of flick his kilt, trying to see if he was wearing something! That was quite funny!”

As for that popular question the old lady was trying to solve, Cormier provides an interesting answer: “The only way to know is for (a person) to actually join the band!”

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. He can be reached at: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Saturday 15 May 2010

No BBLO! Tonight; It'll Return Next Week

My radio program, "Bernard Brule Les Ondes!", will return next weekend.

Friday 14 May 2010

The Man In Black

Johnny Cash entertained generations of music lovers with his vast catalogue of recordings and television programs.

Although mostly identified as a country music singer, he was also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His impact on late-20th century and early-21st century popular culture is too significant and detailed to be summarized in a few lines.

The man in black passed away in 2003 but left behind thousands of fans, many of whom wish they had the chance to see him perform live.

For those fans, "The Man In Black" tribute show, starring Shawn Barker, aims to keep Cash's music alive on stage.

Originally, Barker, a 37-year-old actor/musician from St. Louis, Missouri, began in the tribute circuit performing as Cash's Sun Records label mate Elvis Presley. After a few years of performing as Elvis, Barker went to Hollywood to audition for a part as Presley in the play "The Million Dollar Quartet," which was set in the early days of the pioneering rock and roll record label. Instead, he got the part of Cash and has been performing as him ever since.

"I started out singing my own music and in cover bands," he says. "I kind of accidentally got into the tribute side of it and was doing Elvis tributes for a few years. That's how I got contacted for the play in Hollywood."

"It was a casting agent for the play who knew that I did Elvis and asked me to audition for (it). I originally auditioned for the part of Elvis (but) was cast as Johnny Cash in the play.

"For about a year, I was going back and forth to Hollywood working on the play. I called Kurt Brown, who's my manager now, and kind of asked him if he had any work for a tribute, maybe doing Johnny Cash, and told him what I was doing. I sent him a couple of tracks of me singing and stuff. He put me in a show he had that was multiple tribute artists doing different country singers. We came out, filmed it, and sent the film out. The whole thing just kind of snowballed from there."

Now a seasoned Cash tribute artist with six years worth of performances under his belt, Barker's stage presence continues to attract an increasing fanbase. This is especially true in Quebec.

"It's been great up there, you know. It's funny how we've done really well in the States but, for some reason, in Quebec the Johnny Cash show just went huge! It just blew-up huge!," he says with a level of excitement and awe easily transmitting over the phone.

"Last year, we did the summer (in Quebec) and we sold over 60,000 tickets. It went beyond just being a Cash tribute. Me, myself, (I) went over huge. I just did one of their big sitcom TV shows where I played "Shawn Barker"! That was my part -- me as a person and as a recording artist."

The television program Barker will appear in is L'Auberge du chien noir (2003-present). It's broadcast on SRC.

"That episode, as far as I know, won't air until October 4," Shawn says.

"I'm actually, I think, the only English-speaking character they've ever had on the show in all these years (that) it's been on!," he adds with a chuckle.

Barker is tri-lingual: he knows English, German, and French.

As a person who's always interested in self-improvement, he used his time in Quebec to improve his knowledge of the French language.

"If you don't use it, you forget it! It's like over the summer, I was getting really good at my French. I was picking up quite a bit and I spent most of my time just immersed in (French in Quebec City).

I made friends and spent my time with people who were French. I spoke French.

"After we closed in Quebec City, I lived in Montreal for three weeks, with people who were only French-speaking. I learned quite a bit but I've been gone for a year. I forgot a lot of it already!"

Despite being a tribute to Cash, "The Man In Black Show" is not affiliated with the late singer's estate or business entities.

"People from the estate, the attorneys from the Johnny Cash estate, did come to Quebec and (saw) the show. (They) enjoyed it, you know, they really enjoyed it. So, they know I'm out there and that I'm doing it. As far as like a partnership with the Cash estate, no, we don't have anything like that," he says.

Barker says people attending "The Man In Black" can expect representation from all eras of Cash's career and repertoire.

"The band is four musicians, two female back-up singers and then myself," he says.

"So, there are seven of us onstage altogether and we go through Johnny Cash's career as much as we possibly can in the two hours that we're onstage. From the stuff he did at Sun Records, Memphis, Tennessee, in the very beginning of his career, all the way up to touching base with the stuff he did before he passed away with Rick Ruben and the American Records.

"We don't really stick with one period. Like I said, we go from everything, from the '50s (onwards). We do the stuff from Folsom Prison, stuff from his TV show, all the way (upwards).

"We had a meeting. We sat and tried to pick out the songs that would best represent Johnny Cash's career. Being a fan, I pretty much knew most of the stuff already but there was stuff that I hadn't heard -- the guy recorded over 1,500 songs!"

Barker usually ends his Cash tribute with the song "Hurt," a track originally performed in the 1990s by Nine Inch Nails, years before the elder singer publicly adopted it as his own. As a fan of all sorts of rock music, Barker sometimes feels tempted to perform with a slight NIN slant.

"I actually break character on that. I want to kind of cut loose with it a little bit!" he says, laughing.

With a "non-Cash" CD due to be released during the upcoming summer months, Barker hopes his Cash performances will spin off into success for "Shawn Barker."

"That's what we're hoping for! That's what we've always hoped for! We've always tried to put my name up front. It's not different than Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (in the 2005 movie Walk The Line). That was just one part that he played in his career and that's kind of what it is for me.

"It's just one part of a bigger thing that I do: acting, singing, and (playing) music."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Saturday 8 May 2010

Melissa Auf der Maur (Madm)

Tonight (technically tomorrow) on "Bernard Brule Les Ondes!": an exclusive interview with Melissa Auf der Maur (ex-Hole, Smashing Pumpkins):

The show starts at 12 midnight AST (Toronto + 1 hour).

Sunday 2 May 2010

Enjoy Free Comics Today

(Photo: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010)

May 1 will be the 9th Annual Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) at comic book specialty stores around the world that have accounts with Diamond Comic Distributors. It happens during the first Saturday, each May. As one would expect, the event results in physical movement patterns among comic fans that are similar to that of a university freshman year pub-crawl in which participants get plastered for free.

You get the picture.

Whether you "get" it or not, you'll be able to get free comics, especially printed for the event, at most comic book stores on that day, providing that the establishment you visit is participating.

FCBD is the result of North America's comic book industry attempt to profitably rebuild itself in the late-1990s and attract new clients while keeping the ones it already had. Much to their good fortune, the modern era of comic book based movies began during the same era, which resulted in a strengthening of the industry due to the publicity that the films generated. The idea of FCBD is credited to Joe Field, owner of a Concord, California comic book store.

"Actually, the idea was the answer to a deadline!" chuckles Mr. Field from his store during a telephone interview.

"I had a column when I was writing in (Comics & Games Retailer) from a retailer's perspective. I had proposed something like a Free Comic Book Day about five years earlier but it wasn't as fleshed out or as easy a concept to deal with. So, when I sat down to write my column that month and was really short of searching for ideas, and looked outside and saw that there was a line outside of my store going next door to the ice cream store for "Free Scoop Day," I thought 'you know, if they can do that for ice cream, we can certainly do it for comics!' So, I put the whole thing together, put the column together. At the same time my column was published, industry reaction to (FCBD) was published. We were able to build up steam from there! So, yeah, (the idea) came from me as a retailer."

"When he suggested (FCBD), (he was) likening it to Baskin Robins' Free Scoop Night," recalls Brent Frankenhoff, editor of Comics Buyer's Guide. "He made the suggestion and it took about a year, maybe even two, to get all of the mechanisms in place, to get Diamond onboard to help, and to get (an advisory) panel together."

The first FCBD occurred in 2002 during the first Saturday of May, thus enabling it to piggyback on the publicity of the first Spider-Man movie, which was theatrically released on the same weekend. Nearly every FCBD has been coordinated to happen during the opening weekend of comic book-based movies. That's not the case in 2010. However, the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" will be released to theatres the previous day making it an "un-official" tie-in movie of the event.

The "Free" in Free Comic Book Day comes from the free comics that are given to people who visit participating comic book stores. Publishers usually use the occasion to print one-shots that promote either all of a given company's output or a specific series or crossover event. Although the comics come with a $0 cover price, retailers need to buy them. Many see the related wholesale expense as a cost of doing business and give the comics away until they're gone in a "first come, first served" manner others do not and opt to limit quantities that customers can receive.

"It's sort of a nice barometer to see where the (comic) industry's at, to see who's putting out what," says Paul Kaminski, an associate editor at Archie Comics who's responsible for Sonic The Hedgehog comics and was involved in the creation of Archie's first homosexual character, Kevin Keller, including this year's FCBD featuring the character. "The only Archie comics I owned prior to working there was from FCBD!," he confesses. Nothing in life is black or white, and that's true with FCBD, which has its own share of controversies. American graphic novelist and comic book enthusiast Jeffrey Brown sees FCBD from multiple angles.

"I'm always a little disappointed that a lot of the comics seem to be for kids and/or it's stuff that's not original, like it's just excerpts from somewhere or reprints. I always liked the idea that it would be something, you know, totally new and I know some publishers do that!

"This year, (FCBD) has a Fraggle Rock/Mouse Guard free comic that (has) all new stuff but that's related to my own personal benefit. So, maybe I shouldn't complain," says Brown as he refers to a comic he contributed to. "One thing I've seen more in the past couple of years has been fathers coming in with their kids, both boys and girls, which I think is interesting because a lot of times these are people that don't read comics as much anymore but they finally have a way to introduce their kids to comics."

Don Mann, Comic Book Accounts Manager at Gamezilla in Moncton, sees it in different ways, too.

"I don't think that it reached its full potential. I don't know if it's ever going to. We found that it does bring in readers but there's a lot of preaching to the choir," he says referring to those who are already regular readers.

Due to its original objective to increase sales and attract new customers for both the publishers and the participating comic book specialty stores, FCBD could be seen as analogous to a gateway activity to a shopping addiction of comics and related products. It could be said that the soap opera-esque nature of serialized superhero comics, like those of Marvel and DC, likely leads to spending of thousands of dollar over the span of a person's lifetime.

Kaminski agrees, "FCBD is so important because it gets you started."

Field objects to that analogy.

"Is someone overspending if they go to the golf course every weekend when it costs $100 for green fees? No. I haven't seen anybody who needs a 12-step program for comics."

Fellow retailer Mann sees things a bit differently.

"It's like 'here's your free sample' and hopefully they'll come back and spend some money later! That analogy is not completely false but I don't think that reading a comic is as destructive as getting your first (drugs) for free to come back and (get more)!"

Mann has witnessed some customers going through their mid-life crisis by buying comics. Along with other staff members, like store manager Craig MacArthur, he has to "manage" the customers in question.

"If (retailers) got people coming in because they're having their mid-life crisis, which usually means getting into something they enjoyed when they were a kid, like comics, (retailers have) got to make sure that they don't overstep (their budget) and, all of a sudden, it's not fun for them!"

Free Comic Book Day will take place tomorrow. Visit to find a list of participating retailers.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster and graphic novel critic. He can be reached at: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010