Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pride Parade and PS Kensington

Sunday June 25th, what a day! Not only was it Toronto Pride, but also week 2 of PS Kensington, the best little street festival in the land. I had quite a choice before me but managed to have my cake and eat it too (and a large helping, I might add).

The reason I had to make a choice in the first place is that, although I would usually play Kensington Market on a PS Sunday, I was invited to play in the Pride Parade with the Kensington horns by the crazy Samba Elegua kidz who were marching as part of the UofT Gforce float. Samba Elegua and the Kensington Horns have been teaming up to play great, loose, funky free music together since the beginning of PS Kensington 3 years ago, and have performed on the streets of Kensington, in car free parades, anti war marches and just about any hip community gathering that needs some musical spice.

Usually I’m out of town playing Jazz festivals during Pride, but being quasi-gigless this year because of scheduling madness, I was actually in town. And, having never even seen the parade (for shame, straight boy) I really didn’t want to miss an opportunity to check it out. Raph from Samba Elegua put up a convincing argument that finally convinced me to miss part of PS Kensington…e.g., when do you ever get to perform for 1 million people!

On Sunday at 1:30ish, 5 valiant Kensington Horns arrived at Rosedale valley road equipped with horns and costumes. The theme of this year’s Pride Parade was Fearless and so most marchers sported dandy superhero costumes. As I didn’t have any Batman garb lying around the house, I cobbled together a costume based on what I had in the Halloween closet.

‘Superhero, hmmm, I’ll need a cape,’ I thought. Unfortunately, the only thing that I own that resembles a cape is a flag from the former Soviet Union that I acquired for some 2000 rubles while on tour with the Shuffle Demons in 1992. We were paid the outrageous sum of 100,000 rubles for 2 shows in Estonia. Even more outrageous was the fact that the money was paid in 5 and 10 ruble notes, meaning that we all strutted about with shopping bags literally full of money…quite a sight! And as the money was useless in the west, and as Estonia was changing over to their own currency the day we left, we went on a 1-week shopping spree, buying, well, whatever we could find. 20,000 cups of tea was an option that wouldn’t travel well, but Soviet paraphernalia seemed like a better bet. So I got my commie flag with a beautiful rendering of Lenin on one side and the coats of arms of former Soviet Republics on the other.

Combined with my Soviet Army captains hat, my Mickey Mao watch (Mao counts down the seconds by waving a stoic hand – it’s 20 minutes to the revolution, get cracking) and a t-shirt bought on my recent trip to China with a famous revolutionary leader marching large faced amongst a crowd of the people, I became…. ‘Captain Communist.’ I know what you’re thinking, a bit of a stretch at the Pride Parade. What the hell, it got me out of wearing pink, and if pressed for an explanation, I planned to deliver an eloquent speech about the intolerance towards gays in oppressive totalitarian regimes…Perfect.

Band assembled, we rehearsed a brief moment, adjusted our capes and then we were off up the hill towards Bloor and Church, playing a Samba version of Batman for no one in particular. The truck carrying the large drums made a sprint up the hill, so our first test was jogging and playing. We started to have second thoughts as we huffed and puffed up the road to the staging area at the top of the street. Finally the truck stopped, we caught our breath, got into formation and then we were off to the races.

We rounded the corner from Church to Bloor belting out our hit Samba version of Spiderman and Wham we were suddenly in the crowd. What a sight! It was packed!! Absolutely unbelievable, a sea of people, almost all of whom was packing cameras of all descriptions. ‘Captain Communist’s’ crappy costume was in at least 1000 photos that day and occupied miles of video footage both professional and amateur. Now that’s a digital footprint!

Suddenly the parade stopped and we were stuck right in the pack of ravenous Pride hounds playing for the longest time. It was fun but overwhelming, 100,000 people staring, cheering and taking snaps and video. Just crazy the amount of souls that were stolen that day!! And what fun, to be the star of a thousand videos. Better, of course, if everyone was participating and not just spectating (see PS Kensington), as it feels a lot better to actually be part of the action.

We finally rounded the corner onto Yonge and were slammed by a wall of water from a 1000 super soakers. Water was coming from rooftops, guys had hoses connected to their sinks, little kids had squirt bazooka of all shapes and sizes. A water warrior in the parade shielded us from the spray while his accomplish applied a thick coating of payback on the assembled multitudes. It was what I imagine the water festival to be like in Thailand. A water ejaculation festival is a more apt title.

It was fine actually, we needed to get wet, I didn’t mind at all, I was quite covered up from the blazing sun, and ‘Captain Communist’ can withstand greater challenges than a little water on his long march!

The onlookers on rooftops, who let out uproarious cheers as we marched by seemed really happy to see a live band mixed in with all the sterile commercial floats. And damn, it was corporate…Grrlz, make some noize for the TD Canada Trust dancers

Ummm, OK. Now that’s mainstream acceptance…if that’s what you want.
But then there was the South asian float...ahh who can resist a Lady Man?

or Elton John, superhero!

And where would we be without the heroics of Gimpus Maximus

Marching for Medieval Gays and Lesbians everywhere

The next hour flew by in a blur of water and colour, penis shaped freezies and bikinied men in their nylon disgustings dancing on rooftops, gimped out parade people, and camera after plastic bag covered camera.

Less than 2 hours after it began, it was over, and we were headed back to Kensington, getting ready for 3 hours of non commercial, sponsored by no one fun on the car(e)free streets of my beloved market…First set at 7pm with Aininke, a great Malinke drum group, next set at 8:20 with Samba Elegua and then a closing set around 9pm with the Alchemy Society… a beautiful day all round!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shuffle Demons just back from tour of China!

The Shuffle Demons just back from China

Yes, the Shuffle Demons just completed a 6 city 3 week tour of China. What an amazing experience. I will have more detailed blog emtries soon, but here's a little sampling of my impressions of the place. Had a wonderful time, ate some great food, played for some bewildered Chinese peasants come city dwellers...the whole trip was drenched in irony, as on May Day, May Day, the holiest of holy days for communism, we were shilling for condo developers in front of a half finished mall that was chalk full of condo demonstration booths. Audience members had to navigate through a phalanx of pamphlet pushers, stuffing ads for condos with names like crystal hills and cool mountain and prideful village into the rusty baskets of their heavy Chinese bicycles, dreaming of the day when they could afford a concrete box in the sky. I'd definitely rather live in the village at street level, seems a lot more fun to me, but I haven't done it all my life, farming the hard soil, fishing the increasingly polluted rivers , breathing the toxic air while dragging the mule out to the fields.

These are the days of the neon revolution, a revolution fired with cheap coal and cheap labour, a revolution built on the backs of a steady stream of cloth shoed workers, digging day and night, 1 floor every 24 hours. They are the Yellow Army, their hard hats gleaming in the night work lights, their wives cooking in the portable labour camps that are set up right next to the job site, cubicles stacked 5 stories high, plumbing on the outside, a stones throw from the every present cranes. This is the Yellow Army on the vertical march of progress, leading to mutually assured destruction of heritage and homesteads, the antiseptic Singapore-designed industrial cities rising on the ashes of a nearby town where the kids chased pigs through the cool mud and old men fished by the river as they always had. Now gleaming towers stand amid gardens of show plants and odd sculptures, a Disneyland with the death penalty for expats and the few Chinese who have the connections, balls or education to afford...the good life. Was it such a bad life before? When the kids ran around with slits in their pants, no need for diapers. Now advertisers jump on this vast, emerging market and peddle a whole host of Western vices to a burgeoning middle class. Diapers, so your baby can be like an American baby and be resposible for the death of several trees and the filling of a landfill with kiddie waste and fibre. Whitening cream, so your skin will be a ghastly ghostly pale, more like the white expats here to sell you junk and party with the daughters of the revolution. And for those aspiring daughters, breast enlargement ensured by pill and cream, the little fat molecules driven to the breasts if by magic. And, from a basement warehouse in LA, 70's deadstock fat jigglers, the revolutionary burning belts that were all the rage at one time or another....ahhh, impressions of China.

The air in Beijing thick enough to block the sun, so on a cloudless day it is reduced to an amorphous glow somewhere in the sky. It's impossible to navigate by sun moon or stars because they just aren't visible. climbed the great wall and boy were my lungs sore, let alone my legs! I eventually dubbed Beijing Etobeijing, riffing on the name of a hapless Toronto suburb, it felt so similar, travelling down shapeless freeways past rows and rows and rows of condos and sprawl. We finally rented bikes in Beijing so that we could get downtown and explore the Hutongs, the little backstreets that give the city so much character. Dumplings 8 for 40¢, beer for $1.20, why bother cooking, good food is everywhere!

Shanghai. Not a bad flight over....why it was only 12 hours from Vancouver, 5 from Toronto, only 18 or 19 hours in total, a piece of cake. Childs play. The ozone will recover in weeks, no big one. When we went to India we actually flew 1/2 way around the world and on the way back, the rest of the way around the world. We had the audacity and apparently a storehouse of carbon credits (and I ride my bike every damn day but even I didn't have that many carbon credits) to actually fly over Europe AND over India to Singapore, 18 torturous hours on 1 flight, followed by a 4 hour lay over and 6 hours back to Mumbai, absolutely incredible. On the way back we flew from Calcutta to Singapore then over the Bering straight on the way back to New York...we actually flew around the world and a bit more...a horror show. So this flight was easy, just 19 hours to Shanghai.

And landing in Shanghai was nothing big. Out in a field somewhere, no great production, modern, clean, efficient, disorganized, an airport of international calibre, we've seen them all before. None quite so filthy as Charles de Gaulle in Paris, a 60's concrete experiment gone horribly wrong, a labyrinth of escalators to nowhere and chalkboard signs, bored employees and inch thick dust on the top of washroom concrete dividers (it really doesn't pay to be tall). Having suffered throught, the Shanghai airport was nothing major. But when you got downtown, total bladerunner! as you can see from the skyline shot above, it is a neon future dream gone mad.

We'd been noticing band-like structures on the plane, had connected with the Rheostatics in Toronto and Vancouver, and were off together on some adventure to the other side of the world. When we arrived, we had a press conference and got a chance to meet the other bands. Good bunch, really, nice guys all.

And what a collection of bands. Where the hell did they find these guys?? A legendary aging jazz, funk hip hop band in crazy costumes with a mad dancing drummer, an equally respected poetic Canadian band minus most of it's front men, but with character still intact, a Journey cover band, a young guitar hero, a couple of rockin' bar bands.... The best Canada had to offer...All aboard the Shanghai train.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Here we are, the Shuffle Demons in Delhi. Can you believe it? It was quite a stretch for me as well. Demon Stich Wynston pulled together an amazing tour of India with stops in Mumbai (Bombay), Goa, Delhi and Calcutta...what a trip. We ate like fact we were treated like kings the whole time, and basically discovered what it's like to be rich and have servants that jump to your every whim. That part's not that much fun, really, but when in Rome...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blogging on

Hi, Richard Underhill enetering cyberspace in a fluid way with the T.A.Z. blog. Shout out to Hakim Bey for creating the concept. This is my Temporary Autonomous Zone, my unmediated culture jam and general hello world. So welcome.

If you're here you probably know a bit about me, but if not, here's the goods. Sax player, bike rider, tree hugger, Kensington Market resident in the fair(ly polluted) city of Toronto in happy old Canada. Nope, nothin blowin up here, we love everyone. Why the hell not? Everyone loves us...well almost. anyway, no ranting, I'm actually pretty happy today. Yep, because yesterday I released my second jazz CD, 'Moment in Time' at the Montreal Bistro here in TO. A fine event, I must say, with tons of old friends, new friends, and people I didn't even know. The music was great (not talking about me, but about the band!) and the vibe was wonderful. I was quite amazed that so many jazzheads showed, given that God was throwin it down Kyoto style outside, with Hummer size raindrops and winds. But people made it out and I'm very grateful. Stan and Tina drove all the way from Barrie, Barbearians that they are and I love em for it....People even made it from Hamilton. Crazy!

Well it's released and in the world and available for sale, so go out and pick one up, don't just sit there. Hey, it's not 'buy nothing day' yet...That's Nov. 25th (I'm actually going to be in a march and call it buy nothing but my CD day, but that is a little crass, but I am kind of a capitalist hippy, if that makes any sense...). has info on where to buy the CD's.

Tonight I'm sitting in the studio dubbing Shuffle Demons videos...Shuffle what you's a long story, so go here to read all about it... Anyway, Demon Stich caught the booking bug this year, and has us set up to go to India on Christmas Day (my partner says thanks a lot Stich). I'm into checking out India, that's for sure. In my biz, playing around the world means free travel and an excuse to meet people. Kind of like the army without the guns and people trying to hurt you (unless you are in a boy band and the girls have gone wild). Ok, not at all like the army, to hell with the army, please, for the love of god, can we simply stop making guns? Are we so stupid as to want to kill each other off. I can't help it, just the whole idea of owning a gun...why we survived the blackout without no guns and man, it was fun.

This leads me back to my album. That night of abandoned streetcars sitting idle in the street, of neighbours having Thai style barbeques on the stoops and talking to each other, the night that Torontians saw the stars for the first time, saw the stars! We've seen the starss all of our thousands of years on this rock and to think that some crap video game is better than the stars, or it's more important to see where to park your beamer...that is just ridiculous. Give me back my stars! Blackout Thursdays, let's make it happen.

Anyway, tere is a long story here, and it will come, but needless to say, the blackout on Aug 14/03 was an amzing night. I platyed a gig by candlelight at the Rex Hotel with William Carn on trombone, Joe Poole on drums and Graig Earle on bass, a wonderful night. I was so inspired by that night that I wrote 'Where were you when the lights went out?' a great new song on my CD.

Thanks for readin gthis late night ramble, more to come tomorrow as I orient to the blogging experience.