A lot of people talk about their first love, or the first record they owned, or perhaps their first job. Today I think it’s time to pay an homage to the first artist I ever worked with: Cuff the Duke.
I first saw them play at The Raven in Hamilton, sometime in 2001 or 2002. I became known to the band as uber-fan as I ended up going to every show I could, often drinking enough to make a bit of a fool of myself. Thankfully there’s no video evidence showing me dancing on stage with them in my Constantines lion shirt, sometime in 2003.
I ran into Wayne from Cuff at a festival in Sudbury in July 2004. I was working on my second outdoor festival with Band World – a production company I had just started working with fresh out of college. He and I chatted and I offered to mix them if they ever wanted me to. I did my first show with them in August 2004 at the Underground in Hamilton.
I continued to work with them for six more years. I cut my teeth with them as a sound engineer, and later in 2007 as a tour manager. This obviously led me to where I am these days.
On April 7, 2006 we were on a tour with The Fembots and The Hylozoists. We were booked to play at SAIT which is a college in Calgary, Alberta. It was a pretty great show off the top – the rider was well provided, and the sound system wasn’t bad. I do remember the audio tech being really chatty and talking to me non-stop during the set while I mixed the show.
About half-way through the show, I started to hear this strange high-pitched sound that I couldn’t quite identify. In addition to the 4-piece band, we had Paul Aucoin from Hylozoists playing vibraphones. I immediately started going through each channel with my headphones, but could not find the culprit. I then started to look around the room, when I immediately noticed a strobe light going off. That strobe light was the fire alarm. The boys were mid-song, and rocking out, and suddenly the bar manager ran up to me and told me to mute the band. My initial reaction to him was: “Really?”
And so I did. If you ever want to feel awkward as a sound engineer, take a really good band, 400-500 of their fans who are having a great time, and then mute the band. I’ve never seen so many people turn and stare at me at once in my life. I immediately gave the talkback microphone to the bar manager, who told everyone that there is a fire alarm and the entire building had to be evacuated. Shit.
So they did, and were led outside the building. We hung back trying to figure out what we could do to prevent this from becoming a disaster. We were then told we had to leave, and I had a brilliant idea and bounced it off Wayne and he was into it. I ran into the dressing room and grabbed Wayne’s acoustic guitar and joined the guys as we headed out. We were waiting to see what the situation was and how long it would take to get us back in. Wayne finally hopped up on a concrete wall with his guitar and started to address the crowd. Sarah Harmer and her band were in the audience as they had an earlier show in town, and he wanted to sing Alberta Bound with the crowd outside, with Sarah’s help.
Just as he was about to hit the first chord, we got word we could go back in, so Wayne immediately said “OK WE CAN GO BACK IN!” .. it was hilarious. We ran back in, got the show started back up, and they did indeed start with Alberta Bound.
The crowd wasn’t as crazy as it was before we all got kicked out, but it was fun nonetheless.
Here’s a video of the band playing ‘The Ballad of A Lonely Construction Worker’ from that very show, probably one of the first YouTube videos of the band.
Most crowds never did get that sing-along right at the end of the song.