By: Juliette Jagger (@juliettejagger)
When the Northern Pikes got their start in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1984, the city wasn’t exactly the hotbed of Canadian musical culture. For a group of hungry, young musicians who were hoping to combat hair metal and new wave with a guitar rock sound of their own, theirs was an isolated existence.
“This is not a dig because it was just the reality of the time,” says Pikes singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bryan Potvin, “but musically speaking, Saskatoon was a relatively sheltered place in those days. Frankly, there was a lot of bush around us,” he adds with a laugh. “Growing up in a place like that you relied on certain lifelines like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which aired Friday evenings at 11:30 pm, and on places like Records On Wheels, where we’d go to pick up month old copies of NME magazine. Of course, they were out of date, but we read them because it gave us an idea of what was going on not only in places like Toronto, Vancouver, and the rest of Canada, but across the ocean and in the U.S. as well.”
Luckily, as is often the case in small, rural towns, a fledgling local rock scene emerged in Saskatoon. This gave Potvin and fellow bandmates Jay Semko, Merl Bryck, and Don Schmid––who first met while they were members of various other local acts including The Idols, Doris Daye, and 17 Envelope––the opportunity to develop themselves into a well rounded live act.
The only problem was there really wasn’t much work around town for bands that wanted to play their own tunes.
“When Jay and I decided to put the band together,” says Potvin, “we thought, ‘Okay, why don’t we learn some cover songs? Why don’t we go out there and actually work?’”
In those days, weeklong residencies at local bars were common. Most venues would host a house band Monday through Friday, and the expectation was that they’d play popular songs and do three to four sets a night.
“We did countless engagements like that all over Saskatchewan in these small, bizarre, backwater towns like Weyburn and Fort Capel. We’d stay in these really, really unattractive places,” says Potvin with a laugh, “but it worked. You’d play four 45s a night, and then at the end of the evening around last call, you’d get to play your three rowdiest tunes.
“We’d go out there and play a bunch of songs by the Stones, the Beatles, and the Kinks, and then we’d just blend our own stuff into the mix. Every so often we’d tell the crowd, ‘Hey! Here’s a new one by so-and-so!’ And we’d just make up some fake song title by some fake artist only it would be one of our own. Nobody had a clue.
“We knew pretty early on that if we wanted to be the real deal, we were going to have to figure out how to be a good live band, how to write good songs, and how to record,” adds Potvin. “I think we turned ourselves into a real band that first year.”
Continue reading via the National Music Centre.