As is usual, I don’t remember how I came to drum for Close Quarters or exactly how the end came.
The person who probably knows best is Alan Twigg.
He did some writing for the Georgia Straight around the same time as me, from Spring 1974 to Fall 1978, so Twigg would know that I drummed for the Straight house band, The Explosions. There might also have been an element of destiny, if that isn’t too lofty a word.
After all, Bob Geldof quit the Straight, went home to Ireland and formed the Boomtown Rats.
Doug Bennett quit the Straight and got busy with Doug And The Slugs.
The Explosions were still at the Straight but were getting a little attention and a few noteworthy gigs.
So why not Alan? Destiny probably wasn’t on his mind when he formed Close Quarters but he was following a recent tradition.
Close Quarters were friends Alan had played with in school in the Okanagan: Jim Shoning, Dale Banno and, later and not from the Okanagan, Ray Torchinsky. A columnist, a postman, a property lawyer, a teacher at the University of British Columbia. I was the only one involved in the rock and roll community but mostly as a writer not as a musician.
The Explosions were finished by late 1978, partly due to The Straight’s short lived attempt to become The Vancouver Express. I was let go and, I think, so was Alan.
He formed Close Quarters not long after. Around the same time, 1979, I joined some North Vancouver friends as drummer for The Potatoes. The Potatoes’ first gig was at The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret in February 1980 opening for DOA. I mention this because The Potatoes were fast and raw. Middle class maybe but punk rock sympathizers. By comparison, Close Quarters was gentlemanly. I was thinking wimpy, but that might be too harsh. We were lightweight and gormless, although we had our moments. This disparity became a source of conflict. I found myself defending The Potatoes to Close Quarters or defending Close Quarters to The Potatoes. In my mind anyway. Occasionally, I’d bear my teeth and attack Close Quarters’ music values. Alan seemed to look down his nose when The Potatoes morphed into Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion. From my perspective, BGM was a real band and Close Quarters was a hobby.
I liked all the guys and the wide range of music made drumming fun. I regarded Close Quarters, though, as white bread. My hang up and not healthy.
We played weddings and parties mainly, with an occasional booking such as for CFRO community radio at the Waterfront Corral or the Brackendale art gallery near Squamish. The latter is my least favourite gig. We were loose that night and Thor, the owner, who booked us, didn’t like the band, figured he’d made a mistake.
I don’t know what he was expecting as we’d made it clear we weren’t a career band. We had no aspirations, no pretensions We just liked each other and to play. Close Quarters was a sideline, I repeat, a hobby.
Alan made most of the decisions and probably built our repertoire with Dale. We did Pretenders, Police, Springsteen, Cockburn, but also a lot of 60s material from the obvious (Beatles, Dylan) to the less remembered (Syndicate Of Sound, The Outsiders) and some soul (My Girl, More Than I Can Say, Knock On Wood). That only touches on our diversity. Oddly for me, as I’m not an Eagles fan, one of my favorite numbers is I Can’t Tell You Why. I think The Eagles were trying to salute (or copy) Al Green and were emulating Willie Mitchell’s production. Alan sang it beautifully in falsetto and Dale mastered the guitar line and sound. I rose to the challenge of drumming as simply but forcefully as Al Jackson Jr.
I’ve been listening on my Walkman to Close Quarters tapes and have to revise my opinion, a least of Dale. The CFRO broadcast is alright. We were a little sloppy, especially when we chimed in enthusiastically on background vocals, but Jim is solid, Ray adds jazz colour. Al is a little distracted by a few smart ass comments from me to the point I wish the drummer would shut up. Dale not only had to learn a huge repertoire – the licks, the tones, the arrangements – but he also supported Al’s originals and was impressive. I’d always played with great guitarists – Don Harrison, Ron Scott, Jimmy Walker, Ron Hyslop – some of whom made their living playing guitar. Dale was a lawyer first. Playing guitar wasn’t a priority.
Alan’s few originals had interesting arrangements and some had potential. I arranged a night at Little Mountain Sound, the premiere recording studio at the time, and we recorded two of Al’s songs. How Did I Get Into This was almost funky and could have been developed while Number One Girl might have had a hokey, unbelievable lyric but had loads of pop-rock hooks that I loved.
Nothing came of that recording. I don’t think any of us were committed to it beyond a curiosity to know what we could do in a proper studio.
I, on the other hand, recorded Close Quarters frequently, usually crudely.
I taped our first rehearsal, in my garage, on Mount Royal, on a borrowed four track with a handful of very cheap microphones that were masking taped to amps and stands, and a p.a. for vocals. A primitive beginning that nonetheless indicated the future – Buffalo Springfield’s Sad Memory, Johnny Horton’s North To Alaska. Close Quarters was not going to be a standard bar band.
Rehearsal rooms included North Van’s Cable Four studio and an office in the Pacific Press Building. My recording equipment improved but still was cheap. The guys tolerated my tinkering and often the results were instructive.
I learned, for instance, to bring under control my kick drum. At first it was chattering like a machine gun. Hearing the tapes, I knew I had a problem and made an effort to be more syncopated. One song that symbolized this for me was The Police’s Every Breath You Take. All but the bridge features the bass drum and the snare, requiring the drummer to be simple but fluid. It’s not easy because there is a temptation to throw in fills or rolls and play conventionally. You need discipline.
The other good thing about taping the rehearsals and gigs became apparent later. Kerry and I lived in London, England, from March until November 1983. I’d brought along a recording of a Close Quarters gig. On the Walkman I kept hearing the same fill every so many bars. Not every song but just often enough to be predictable. I decided to simplify. More discipline.
I came home to Vancouver and put my drums into a room Alan was renting cheaply from Burlington Northern. He had established a desk top publishing magazine, B.C. Bookworld, that operated out of there. By this time, my North Van friends had launched Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion while Close Quarters had kept going with another drummer, who also was a writer.
We practiced in this room for a few years, Alan and I alternating the rent payment, as the cockroach population grew and the place fell apart. We always had heat, even in the summertime, but the toilets were failing, crumbling. There were other tenants but eventually they all had left and inevitably we got the boot.
Kerry and I had married, bought a house in Burnaby in 1988 and I developed a music room in the basement. Jammed regularly.
For some reason, Close Quarters had a gig the other drummer couldn’t attend, so I was asked back to fill in. We rehearsed in my basement and the rehearsal tapes sound good. My one complaint is my suspicion that I mixed the drums too far out front. To my ears, the drumming sounds a little mechanical, lacking in swing. Perhaps if the guitars were a little louder there’d be more of a blend.
Anyway, by the time of the gig, I was ready for anything as what we’d rehearsed was widespread. The other drummer showed up, suddenly free, so I split the sets with him. We were good, maybe the best we’d ever been. Or that’s how I remember it.
This turned out to be Close Quarters’ last gig.
I think from the band’s point of view it was time to do something else. For one thing, Alan wanted to spend more time developing B.C. Bookworld.
It was weird for me because I’d spent so much effort in distancing myself from the band, thinking I was hip, whatever that means. I listened to the taped broadcast for Co-op Radio. For some reason my pseudonym was Jack Klugman and you can hear me yapping between songs. Fortunately, I’m inaudible. I’d hoped that if I was difficult, Close Quarters would kick me out. In avoiding confrontation, I showed I didn’t have the guts to quit. Now, here I was, five years after England, suddenly feeling positive and hearing complaints from the others that the drummer who replaced me constantly whined and bitched. I might be asked back, I thought, but Close Quarters was no more.
I really don’t know where we would have gone. Close Quarters played parties, little more. We’d done that.
We all had strengths and weaknesses. I was a basher, Jim was sweetly sensitive, Alan knew a lot of songs. He’d often forget lyrics but, when I became a singer, I learned that this didn’t matter. Audiences barely hear the singer above the volume of the band. As long as you’re filling in the space and on key. As I’ve mentioned, Dale played guitar more as a dabbler than a serious pursuit. My other bands had guitarists who were musicians first. Dale never had a chance. Ray had a grounding in free jazz. When he attached a pick up to his sax and ran it through my p.a. the result sounded like a kazoo. We had to figure out how to amplify him.
We weren’t great but we could be good.