What: The Royal City Music Project: Archives and the Golden Age of Rock & Roll in Victoria
Where: Newcombe Conference Hall at the Royal B.C. Museum, 675 Belleville St.
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Admission: $5, free for Friends of the B.C. Archives
Local historian Glenn Parfitt was determined to create a website chronicling the early days of rock ’n’ roll in Victoria — despite the challenges involved in tracking down material.
“I wanted to leave a legacy behind,” he said. “I realized no one had ever written all this stuff down, especially the 1960s stuff.”
Over the past 15 years, Parfitt has assembled the definitive record of local rock and pop music via his website, the Royal City Music Project — a voluminous historical database of Vancouver Island bands and clubs, primarily those from the 1960s and ’70s.
If the Victoria native had not put in the time to document this chapter of Victoria’s past, much of the content would not have been made public. But word got out that Parfitt was looking for material, and people began sending scanned images of their posters, pictures and ticket stubs. Now, thanks to Parfitt and his fellow collaborators, fans can find an exhaustive amount of information on not only well-knowns such as David Foster, but key players such as drummer Jerry Adolphe (who played with Roberta Flack, among others) and guitar legend Norm MacPherson of The Poppy Family.
Two of the most popular groups on the site were at one point huge in the Victoria area, but have since faded into semi-obscurity. “The most searched bands are Blues X Five and Holy Smoke,” Parfitt said. “They are always No. 1 and No. 2 on our site.”
Parfitt was asked two months ago by the B.C. Archives to speak at the Friends of B.C. Archives series, in honour of his website’s 15th anniversary. His talk Sunday at the Newcombe Conference Hall in the Royal B.C. Museum will cover a multitude of topics, including the genesis of his website and its future. Parfitt will be giving another, more elaborate presentation on April 25 at the Alix Golden Performance Hall.
The Royal City Music project started with a focus on rock acts, but has grown to include country, blues and classical music as well. Parfitt — who has been a concert booking agent, radio ad salesman, band manager and concert promoter — said he has no off switch when it comes to archiving, so he will spend the time required to chronicle even the most obscure aspects of a band.
For example, all 13 musicians who passed through Blues X Five during its five-year run are listed. That was an important distinction to make, said Parfitt, who is concerned with being historically accurate. “My philosophy since the beginning has been all or nothing. You can’t write down three guys in the band if five guys played in it. You’ve got to put them all in, or none of them.”
His website filled a void in 2002. People were looking for a place to find historical or forgotten information, and the Royal City Music Project arrived at precisely the right time. The site, which contains hundreds of videos and audio files, along with more than 10,000 images, now attracts 100,000 unique visitors a month, according to Parfitt.
“Now that it has been 50 years since the Summer of Love, people are scrambling around wondering: ‘What happened in Victoria? Where are the pictures of it?’ There’s only one place to find it. And that is me, the guy who had the foresight 15 years ago to find it, catalogue it and archive it to make sure it is always available when these anniversary things come up.”
The site has always been something of a hobby for Parfitt, but he began to take it more seriously a few years ago, following a health scare. “I had a big jammer. I went down like a ton of bricks, and now have a pacemaker and a couple of arterial stents in my chest.”
The project continues to grow — the site was revamped last year so that it could become smart-phone capable. A strong social-media component was also added, with links to band Facebook pages and upcoming gigs. Parfitt has been forced to adapt his business model on the fly, having never anticipated such demand for the material on his site.
What started out as the history of Vancouver Island rock ’n’ roll from 1950 to 1980 now goes back more than a century to 1889, according to Parfitt. He’s particularly proud of those early entries, especially the 20 musicians on the site who bear the last name of Parfitt. “My family showed up in Victoria with two violins and a cello, and started the city’s earliest choirs and orchestras.”
Even bits of Vancouver music history can be found on the Royal City Music Project. “I had all this artist booking stuff from Vancouver, so I figured I would go regional,” he said with a laugh.
Parfitt’s site shares a database with Nev Gibson of LiveVictoria, another local music site that chronicles the Vancouver Island rock, folk, and punk scene from 2000 onward. The sites complement each other, Parfitt said, and collectively cover every corner of the music scene in Victoria.
That said, stories like that of Rudy Thompkins reinforce the need to have work continue on the Royal City Music Project, Parfitt said.
Thompkins, a soul singer from Surrey who was active in Victoria during the 1970s, was added to the site in 2009, more than a decade after he died. Parfitt noticed that there was an unusual amount of traffic regarding Thompkins one day, only to discover that family members who had lost contact with the singer were asking questions about him in the site’s guestbook section.
“A bunch of other family members showed up looking for him,” he said. “They wound up having a giant family reunion with brothers and sisters who had never met before.”
To learn more about Victoria’s musical history, visit rcmpsite.com.