Stratford & Kingston Gave Birth to The Harpies, iTunes Helps Resurrect Them
For an independent artist or band trying to make it to ‘the bigs’ in today’s music business, the road to success can be a rocky one. The days of having to book yourself into a studio for a week to record material may be gone thanks to all the gizmos and gadgetry available for artists to capture decent sounding tracks on their laptops, but getting the finished results heard can be an exhausting process. The problem with the easy accessibility of all this recording gear is also what makes it great- anyone can make a record in their own basement, which is cool. What is not cool is that everyone who makes a record tries to get it heard, whether it’s good, bad, or just plain ugly. Because of this over the last few years the independent music scene has become flooded with truly horrible music. There may be good intentions at work, but the end result has become a disaster of Red Cross-worthy proportions.
So, what does this mean? Well, bands that are deserving of a larger audience that are out there slaving away trying to get their music heard often run out of steam before they get their chance. You can only tread water for so long before your arms just don’t want to work anymore, and then down you go. What are these groups up against? If you can stomach checking out Myspace for ten minutes, have a look at the hundreds of thousands of bands, singers, and warblers who post their material in the hopes of luring in hits to their profile page. Most of it is not very good.
One of the bands that became a victim of this trend was a group that had connections to both Stratford and Kingston (both towns in Ontario, Canada for international readers out there) called The Harpies. They were a four piece that featured a fantastic two lead singer/guitarist combo, along with fretless bass and drums. And while three of the group were from the Stratford region (bassist Paul Muller, singer/guitarist Greg Ball, and singer/guitarist Alan Ferguson) it wasn’t until they all found themselves in Kingston where they met drummer Jim Sander that the band was complete.
The Harpies played some big shows around the Kingston area, gained a lot of fans, and recorded a pretty tasty album in 2004, simply titled 1. However, their fate was the same as so many other artists who slaved for a chance to get their music on a bigger stage, and after a couple years of non-stop work, they called it a day.
Being a fan of the group from the beginning I was disappointed that they had decided to split up, but I understood the reasons why. Needless to say, when I found out last month that they planned on releasing 1 on iTunes (it had previously only been available on CD), I was thrilled. I had always felt they had compiled nine great tracks, and to just have them become a distant memory seemed wrong. The songs, written by Ferguson and Ball, showcased some serious compositional skills. When combined with the backing drive of Muller and Sander (with additional percussion from Stratford’s Mike Baker) they kicked some serious ass. And that’s an official term used by music industry bigwig-types.
So, what of The Harpies now? Some of you will recognize Stratfordite Alan Ferguson’s name from his contributions to this blog, including his piece entitled Remembering John Lennon which holds the current MVTW/That’s Awesome Funky record for most page views. He continues to write and record his own material. Drummer Jim Sander lives in Toronto, and works behind the scenes for MuchMusic. Greg Ball and Paul Muller both still live in Kingston. Ball will be releasing a new solo album in April called Excessive Until August on Paul Langlois’ label, Ching Music. Muller has been busy doing session work and playing with Rueben DeGroot and Emily Fennell.
As mentioned, The Harpies are now yours for the taking. You can get their entire album for less than ten bucks, and I recommend you do exactly that. Head over to iTunes to download individual tracks or the whole thang.
In the meantime, here are a couple of my personal favourites from 1 for you to have a listen to. They’re complete tracks, but you can still get samples of all nine songs over at iTunes.
Pretty Little Monster