It seems oddly Canadian that a band dubbed by the Canadian press as our country's Beatles have never played a single concert in their homeland, but that's the story of The Great Scots---often strange and seeming like the stuff of legend. Unravel The Great Scots' story and it's easy to understand why their recordings are still in demand and discussed in revered tones over 40 years after their demise.
Clad in matching Nova Scotia tartan kilts, The Great Scots played British Invasion-style rock 'n' roll from early 1965 to 1967. The Great Scots were borne out of The Beavers, who in turn were borne out of The Shadows, a Mohawk-sporting garage act. That band enjoyed a decent Canadian following, released a 45 single of "Chantilly Lace" and employed Mike Duffy (yes, senator Mike Duffy) as their road manager.
Merely teenagers, The Great Scots realized the big prize in the music business lay to the south, so they left Canada to pursue their music dreams in the US. Arriving at the New York offices of April Blackwood (the publishing arm of Columbia Records) without an appointment, they bluffed their way past a secretary and into the 10-foot by 10-foot office of an executive, where they set up their gear---three amps and a full drum kit---for an unannounced audition.
Dick Byrne of The Halifax Three was working with The Great Scots and advised lead singer Rick MacNeil to his cup his hands around his mouth and sing as close to the exec's ear as possible in order to be heard. MacNeil followed through and the direct approach paid off for The Great Scots.
Sitting at the Second Cup on Spring Garden, along with guitarist Bill Schnare, bass player Dave Isner recalls the executive urgently repeating, "Don't touch a thing! Don't touch a thing!"
While the label executive tried to decide which subsidiary of Columbia Records the group was going to record for, The Great Scots, fully attired and having nowhere to go, headed to the movies where they tried to avoid getting popcorn grease all over their outfits. When they came back they were informed that they were now on Epic Records. Sponsored by Columbia Records for visas, The Great Scots made the move to the US.
The five Nova Scotia teens soon found themselves caught up in rock 'n' roll mania and playing the largest TV variety programs like Shindig! and American Bandstand.
Schnare counts playing at the Rose Bowl with Herman's Hermits---described as "one of the greatest shows presented in Southern California"---as one of his favourite memories: "To have 100,000 people screaming and then you realize they're screaming for you, it's a hard thing to describe, that...was the highlight of my life."
In a similar vein, Isner recalls hearing the band's single, "Don't Want Your Love" for the first time on the radio while driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and realizing that all the years of hard work and "salt and pepper sandwiches" had finally paid off.
The payoff was short-lived as Isner, eligible for the draft due to his visa, was conscripted into the US Armed Forces for the Vietnam War in 1967. The end of The Great Scots soon followed. If there was any disappointment with the premature end of the band, it has long since faded as both Schnare and Isner express only pride for what they were able to do and not a single regret is uttered.
Though they've managed to stay close and still get together every Labour Day, May 8 at The Seahorse Tavern will be the first time The Great Scots, who all live in Nova Scotia, have played live since 1967. The show is a part of the fifth annual Guitar-Fest organized by Mike Diabo and will also feature the 9th Wave, The Fabulous Venturamas, Brad Conrad and Diabo's Urban Surf Kings.
Oddly enough, this Halifax show is also The Great Scot's first-ever Canadian gig. Though the line-up of The Great Scots: Rick McNeil, Bill Schnare, Dave Isner, Wayne Forrest (guitar) and Gerry Archer (drums) had played together in Canada as The Beavers, all of The Great Scots' creative output was in the United States. Do not miss the chance to see The Great Scots' first show.
Guitar-Fest V w/The Great Scots, the 9th Wave, The Fabulous Venturamas, Brad Conrad and Urban Surf Kings, Friday, May 8 at The Seahorse Tavern, 1665 Argyle, 9pm, $10.