What: Salt Spring Island Music and Garlic Festival featuring the Odds, Valdy and the Hometown Band, Jesse Roper, Jon and Roy, Carmanah, Daniel Lapp and more
When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 6-7
Where: Paradise Within Farm, 255 Musgrave Rd., Salt Spring Island
There’s a possibility that Valdy and the Hometown Band will play the final date of their brief reunion tour this weekend. Then again, it could be the beginning of another wild trip around the sun for one of the most-loved bands in B.C. during the mid-1970s.
The loose, shambling nature of the reunion is fitting, given the busy schedules of all involved. Not that the group behind the hits Flying and I’m Ready isn’t well-prepared for its gig with Valdy on Sunday at the Salt Spring Island Music and Garlic Festival.
According to singer Shari Ulrich, the Hometown Band is playing better now than it ever did during its heyday. But during its short two-year run together, the Hometown Band endured numerous stops and starts, and struggled with its record label, A&M.
Membership changed from one album to the next, and when the group broke up in 1978, it was thought to be forever.
“We were an assembled band as opposed to a group that had been playing together,” Ulrich said. “I was so stupidly young. I didn’t know how to be the frontperson for a band. I didn’t have a personality yet.”
She would develop one soon enough, but only after the Hometown Band was dropped by its label in one of the most ironic music industry moves of the era.
“I remember the exact day, because we were on the road in the States on our way to Ontario for a tour,” Ulrich said. “The record company called and said they were cancelling the tour. The Junos were that same night, and that was the night we won Most Promising Group.”
Hometown Band was originally put together as the backup group for Valdy, the Canadian singer-songwriter whose 1972 hit Rock and Roll Song remains a folk favourite. He was looking for a new direction when he came across the players who would go on to form the band that appeared on their only album together, 1976’s Valdy and the Hometown Band.
Of those founding members, several key players — in addition to Valdy and Ulrich — are in place for the Sunday show, including drummer Geoff Eyre and saxophonist Claire Lawrence.
The late Robbie King has been replaced on organ and piano by Michael Creber, while Connie Lebeau (bass) and Norm McPherson (guitar) are subbing in for Doug Edwards, who is sitting out the reunion due to illness.
Valdy was the impetus behind the reunion. He had suggested similar reunions on the band’s 25th and the 30th anniversaries, but neither were possible due to the busy schedules of its members, all of whom continue to make music. No one in the group is getting any younger, Valdy joked, so he had the band’s 40th anniversary on his radar early.
“I mentioned this [reunion] a year out so we could take a good run at it.”
It was originally set to be a one-off for the Music and Garlic Festival on Salt Spring Island, where Valdy has lived since 1966. Once rehearsals got underway, however, all agreed that the band was sounding too good to play just one show.
“[Salt Spring] was the only gig we were going to do,” Ulrich said. “Then we thought: ‘God, this is a lot of work. We should do more.’ ”
The band played two shows at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios in early July, followed by an appearance on July 10 at Courtenay’s Vancouver Island Music Festival. The results were impressive, Valdy said.
“They are the ones who have taken up the banner of creative fun and pushed it ahead. They were a fantastic band. I got pasted on as the singer — I am an addition to the Hometown Band. They are a fantastic entity on their own.”
Ulrich also felt the renewed energy in the group.
“I certainly appreciate now how adventurous we were then,” she said. “When I went back to the music in preparation, I realized we were out there, but within the pop framework. The players were monsters, all of them. They were so, so good. It was exciting to bring that back.”
Talk has already turned to the possibility of future dates for Valdy and the Hometown Band. The response to recent shows by the group has certainly helped bring some members around to the idea, Ulrich said.
“Claire was resistant up until now. And when Robbie [King] died [in 2003], we knew we couldn’t possibly be the Hometown Band without him. But with Claire coming back to the music that was a big part of his life, it started to feel fun again. At that moment, Claire said: ‘Now, maybe it is the time.’ ”
Valdy said there is a band meeting scheduled for Monday, the day after the Salt Spring Island appearance. That’s when their future will be decided, he said.
“They are all staying on Salt Spring and we’re going to have breakfast together. If our lives have room for something like this, and there is a market for it, we’ll do it. Those things all figure into it. But the idea of planning the 40th and doing it successfully has been hugely rewarding.”