This is Part 2 of “The Cameron House and The Leslie Spit Treeo”. Part one can be read here.
“I am an old womannnnnnnnnnnn…named after my mother!……….”
Thus Laura Hubert announced herself upon the world three songs into “Don’t Cry Too Hard”, the brilliant 1990 debut CD of Toronto’s Leslie Spit Treeo. It’s a moment that almost recalls the beginning of Helter Skelter from the Beatles’ White Album. One of those ‘Just who…in the hell…….is that?” moments. A solid twenty years later and the moment still holds it’s thrill. In this thing called rock and roll, it’s all one could really wish for. Like their own individual musical heroes, The Leslie Spit Treeo are now immortal, too. The harmonies are too good, the songs so classic and different and genuine. As will occur with brilliant debut’s, things came fast and furious with the release of “Don’t Cry”. Buoyed by The Leslie Spits own self-penned songs (the memorable “UFO (Catch The Highway)” and “Heat”), the next surprise served on their plates came in the way of a 1990 Juno Award for Most Promising Group. Heady stuff. But well deserved. This album of songs stands up to that all important test…time. They stood out dramatically, the right combination of everything that creates great music. On top of it all, they were our friends. We could even see them anytime, just walking down the street.
“Now I’m standin’ here at the edge of the dock…one thing to do…turn around and walk…”
Laura Hubert grew up and attended high school in Toronto, excelling at soccer. One day, she found herself offered a part in the school’s presentation of “The Pirates of Penzance”, perhaps her first experience performing before a live audience. After high school she continued to play semi-pro soccer tournaments, but also found herself drawn to the experience of live theatre. She settled into Theatre Direct, where Pat Langner and his acting/production friend Jack Nicholsen were already writing, practicing their craft and imagining their own company.
Meanwhile, high school for Pat Langner meant football. On his way to practice, a teacher, somehow knowing Pat had once sung choir, asked if he would like a part in the school’s version of ‘Grease’. He took the part and found a niche for himself within a new environment, the drama class. Eventually Pat started to imagine writing his own musicals, actually planning and penning songs in his head while traversing hometown Edmonton. After completing a first musical, “1984!”, Pat took a lengthy trip to New York City. The majority of his time was spent hanging out in the city’s numerous music stores. Eventually, he bought a small Casio keyboard. “I thought, if I want to write all of these songs that I’m hearing, I’d better learn to play an instrument”, he tells me, ” guitar came later”.
“Howling for the moon…in the middle of the afternoon”
Tag After moving with Jack Nicholsen to Toronto in the mid 80’s, they meet Laura and, after a few successful gigs, decide that making music together would be the direction all three needed to focus on. A rehearsal space soon becomes the main concern.
From a very early age, Pat Langner found himself a kindred soul to all things canine.Weeks after the band was formed, a puppy was brought home from the Toronto Humane Society. “He cost $60”, Pat tells me, “and I kinda had to ease him into the household…I hadn’t exactly discussed it with Jack or Laura, and we were all sharing the same space at the time. He was kind of whiny for about 6 months, but proved his merit once and for all one night. An inebriated person who lived four doors down entered our place by mistake. The racket woke us all up…when we flicked on the lights, there was Tag, snarling at the mistaken intruder, holding him against the wall. Well, from then on, Tag basically came first. The only time we were ever separated from Tag was on a plane, and once only. We even had him brought out of a hold from some maritime ferry trip we were taking on one of the tours. People had recognized us, and asked us to sing. We said ‘Okay, but not until we have our dog here beside us’. They went and got him for us, and we performed”..
Tag and the gang frequently trouped to the end of the spit off of Toronto’s Leslie Street, to rehearse undisturbed, looking out onto Lake Ontario as they sang. Back in the city, groceries were attained through street busking. The hours singing and playing together started to cohere their special sound, and Tag kept watch for more aggressive passers-by, courageously and firmly protecting the newly formed LST from possible rowdies amongst the crowds that grew larger each evening. Of those times, Pat remembers that “I had a song called ‘Swimming’. It was one of the big money makers in our street- busking days…eleven minutes long. Perfect!”
“Give me…coloured lights…shining on black roads…”
To follow the antics of The Leslie Spit Treeo’s rise is almost an impossibility without serious cross referencing and, perhaps, cross-examining. All of the new music coming out of the 90’s simply started to flow into lives like water, there was so much of it. The numerous important local figures from the downtown Queen Street core experienced something akin to perhaps England’s Carnaby Street during the 1960’s. The Leslie Spits History weaves within us and without us, so let’s summarize a bit until the big story is finally told, supposedly in 2013, with a proper documentary and (probably a) 23 volume LST opus. Pat reveals. “All three of us are keen for a reunion of sorts, we just haven’t planned quite how we wish to achieve that, yet”.
History lesson, Leslie Spit Treeo 101
“Sometimes I wish we were never together, and we were meeting for the first time today”
After the popularity of ‘Don’t Cry Too Loud’, an ill fated contract was signed with a certain record company (we’ll keep them nameless. However…they were evil and wicked to our hometown heroes, okay?). These record execs wished to turn LST’s image into one they never desired. Always noted for being a socially aware and roots oriented band, The Leslie Spits were also told not to plan any appearances at folk festivals, a favourite venue of the band. Then a manager informed them that there was only one place for a rock band in Canada, and that was The Tragically Hip. Oh, really? Wonder where Mr. Manager is today? Their second release, “Book Of Rejection”, became a lesson in what not to do, or expect, with syncophants that think they can properly guide a creative career. Pat: “It was kinda like they sign the artist, and then they want to be the artist…at least, this was so in our case with them”.
It all just became too much. So…they sent their beloved dog, Tag, to speak for the group. Makes sense. “It’s hard to talk about art, it’s just plain hard to talk, sometimes. I’m sort of kidding when I say this but, that’s almost why Tag came along… he never once doubted if he should say one thing or the other, or how to say it, what tone to use…somehow he could always manage to say exactly what needed to be said, no more, no less…unless we weren’t listening, in which case he’d say it over and over again until we did”. Tag was probably the only member of LST besides Laura and Pat to be on each album. His bark, his image, his paw prints and name… a huge part of Leslie Spit lore. RIP Tag. You were loved more than you might ever know. You probably had a pretty good idea, though.
“They say that saviors are endless….but I’ve yet to be saved…”
After the Book of Rejection fiasco, The Leslie Spits began to plot a Vancouver move, licking their wounds and wondering if a change of scenery might be just the thing. Fate intervened in the presence of ZZ Top producer Joe Hardy. After meeting Joe during the recording of Book Of Rejection, Pat chose to send 15 songs directly to Hardy’s adobe home in Memphis. Hardy replied with an enthusiastic “Dude, these are the best songs you’ve ever written. It sounds like an album to me!” With no further contact or obligation to the aforementioned nameless record company, The Leslie Spit Treeo got into a vehicle and headed for Memphis to record. “Hell’s Kitchen was, in many ways, my favourite album”, Pat tells me, ” maybe, probably, because of how it came about, the things we had to overcome to make it, and what we ultimately achieved with it. It was a reaction to our manager saying to us “no more rock songs. there’s only room for one rock band in Canada, and that’s The Hip, you’re not The Hip.” Can you imagine? I mean…this wasn’t The Hip’s manager…this was our manager!”.
Hell’s Kitchen was pieced together quickly. “In the first 2 days we recorded 11 bed tracks of the new songs, destined to be on this as-yet unnamed 3rd release. The drummer and bass player squeezed into their Toyota and headed back to Toronto, while Laura and I got fast to work with Joe. In just the four days that we had left, we finished and mixed 6 songs at Ardent studios, the same famous rock & roll joint where, just two years earlier, we’d spent almost an entire month mixing all of Book Of Rejection. It was a whirlwind rock & roll blast and then, bam, it was over! Just a suddenly, it occurred to us that it no longer seemed necessary to uproot ourselves with the move to Vancouver. We found a place in Kensington Market and before long had aligned ourselves with a new cafe at the end of our street, Hell’s Kitchen”.
This is Part Two of “The Cameron House and The Leslie Spit Treeo. Part Three will be published later this week.