A Brief History
Another band to see the light of day due to the persistence of various band members to retain various home and demo recordings of the band is Canadian group First Aid. This Vancouver based band started in early 1982 with Scott Jacks (keyboards), Dave Coupland (drums), Bruce Goertazen (guitar) and Jamey Koch (bass). All musicians shared a love for progressive rock music with bands like Gentle Giant, Yes and Brand X mentioned as foremost inspiration to the members.
The band toured clubs in the Vancouver area whilst rehearsing and writing out new material most of which was instrumental though some music was written with a vocalist in mind. This position (vocalist) within the lineup changed frequently. By spring 1984 their lead singer was Gary Durban (having replaced Chris Catalano) and with him as lead vocalist the band went into the studio to record a four song EP in North Vancouver. Unfortunately the EP was never officially released, though copies were released to college radio CTR and given exposure on campus.
By January 1985, two founder members, Jamey Koch and Bruce Goertzen, left the band. Koch would later front Madeline Morris and producer Bob Rock's Rockhead. The position of guitarist was taken up by Derek Mason, though a permanent bassist would not be found with various musicians such as John Miller, Doug Elliot (currently with The Odds), Tom Christiansen and Brent Borrowman filling in the spot. Notwithstanding all these set backs the band were still trying to get something going and recordings were still being made.
By the Fall of 1985 Gray Durban left the band to be replaced one year later by Janyse Jaud and for some time the future started to look brighter for this Canadian band. A six song demo was recorded and there was the prospect of landing a much waited and worked for record deal. However the deal which was to take place in the Bahamas fell through and this could be considered to be the final straw for the band which fell apart in 1988.
However in December 1989, Scott Jacks, Dave Coupland and Derek Mason reformed First Aid and started to play various clubs as a trio. The band even went so far as to record material and release it as an album titled Stumbling Boldly Forward which was released in 1991. However by the time of its release the band had already disintegrated due to typical band problems!
The man responsible for the resurrection of First Aid's name, Scot Jacks started off a solo career
resulting in the release of his first solo album, simply titled Scott Jacks in 1995. In 1999, Jacks released
an album's worth of material related to First Aid including a collection of demo, home and live
Band Members: Derek Mason (Guitars and sequencing), Scott Jacks (Keyboards, vocals and acoustic guitar), Dave Coupland (Percussion), Jamey Koch (bass on tracks 2, 4, 5, 8, 9)
All songs written, produced and arranged by First Aid except Hockey Night in Tarkus written by
Recorded, engineered and mastered by Paul Siczek at Venture Studios, Sierra Studios, Ocean Studios, Downtown Sound, and ICA Studios
The sound of First Aid on this, their debut album was quite different from what the band was originally all about. By the time of recording this album, the band had been whittled down to a trio of musicians without a permanent vocalist within the line-up. This resulted in the majority of the album being instrumental and the few vocal duties present taken up by Scott Jacks.
The album opens with Fallen Czar, a track that sounds straight out of the eighties, reminding me of the production bands such as Graham Bonnet's Alcatrazz used to possess on their albums. The track in itself is pretty straight forward easy listening radio friendly rock, a style also used on Is Bigger Better? At times the band do sound remotely similar to GTR, and we are talking of relatively the same musical period. Thus the guitars seem to have that synthesised sound associated with them while the music itself tends to draw less from the overdrawn influences that dominated seventies bands.
Most of the tracks such as Is Bigger Better? share a similar style, that one could almost compare to much of the solo work Steve Vai and Joe Satriani have composed in the past. Many tracks are characterised by various interesting introductory sequences, which are occasionally interjected in the tracks. At times there are samples taken from strip joints, at others one hears TV evangelists, all of which help create an atmosphere within the track and help break the sometimes monotonous music. In fact one of the drawbacks of some tracks, such as The Church Of Cash, is the slow pace at which musical development takes place.
When vocals are used one tends to feel that they are more of a Scott Jacks solo composition rather than a collective effort. Everywhere I Learn features just an acoustic guitar, his voice and the occasional keyboard filler effect.
Possibly the most progressive the band do get is on the E.L.P. tribute, Hockey Night In Tarkus. One could almost say that this track is a Canadian take on E.L.P. as they fuse the opening brass notes of Hockey Night, one of television's most followed shows in Canada, to the traditional progressive rock of the British band. An interesting musical document, and indeed a pity the band did not take these musical ideas to a further level.
Another track worth a mention is Instrument Departure which features a blend between the opening ethnic percussion and the subsequent Jimmy Page-ish acoustic guitar work. The ethnic touch is maintained throughout the track by means of the occasional keyboard effect or drone that evokes a Middle Eastern feel.
Considering this album as a full fledged progressive rock album might be stretching the boundaries a little too much. In fact one would be wiser in saying that this is more of an AOR/rock album with a number of instrumental works and the occasional progressive rock reference.
Musicians: Scott Jacks (all voices and instruments), Randall Stoll (drums on Voice 63), Bruce Goertzen (guitar on Big Corn and Big Corn (Revisited)), Tasmine Jacks (rap on Big Corn), Sacha Fassaert (fretless bass on Open Letter to Someone, harmonies on A Hard Road to Peace, guitar, bass & harmonies on Voice 63)
Produced by Scott Jacks
All songs written and arranged by Scott Jacks, except Voice 63 by Sacha Fassaert and Big Corn by Scott Jacks/Tasmine Jacks/Paul Siczek
Engineered and co-produced by Paul Siczek and Jack Garret
Scott Jacks' first solo album is an interesting work, though admittedly there is little of a progressive nature present on the album. With most of the work carried out by Jacks himself, one must expect the brunt of the work to be borne by the keyboards with little in terms of guitar work and drums. In fact most of the album has little of any progressive rock value.
The opening track, Another Time, Another Place, starts off with Paul Simon-like bass run with eighties backing keyboards while Big Corn is a synth-driven track with various vocal effects, along the lines of Yello. Tracks like Creative Arrogant Parasites and Open Letter to Someone show the musical nature of Jacks, which however is very different to what was being played with First Aid. Even the only really true collective effort on the album, Voice 63 has a commercial trait to it. Almost All The Time lends more to bands such as REO Speedwagon than prog-rock
Having said that, there are a few pieces here and there that would probably prove popular with some progressive rock listeners as happens on tracks like A Hard Road To Peace with its multi layered keyboards and Blend with its cosmic effects merged with acoustic guitar, almost Ash Ra Tempel like in nature. As oft happens, the most progressive sounding tracks tend to be the longest tracks and this album proves to be no exception. Sparkies is the brightest track (from a progressive point of view) that shows a sense of variety as well as an indication to creating something new.
Creatively there are a number of interesting ideas which would show a progressive flair, yet the overall sound does tend to become slightly bland after some time. Furthermore the abrupt ending to various themes seems to suggest that many of the tracks laid down are half-baked ideas that had been around in Jacks' head during his First Aid years, yet were never been fully expanded on.
Tracklist: Fraternizing With the Enemy* (1:07), Dedrock+ (3:26), Stop Trying to Be Important° (5:19), The Clean Forest* (0:35/6:45), City Lights+ (3:58), Rut of Information+ (3:13), Take It on the Amber* (5:14), Unique New York+ (5:56), Who Killed Janet Smith?° (2:19), Wasting Away+ (4:26), The S.S. Song+ (4:04), R.P.R.S.S.+ (5:22), Because You Need Me* (0:12/4:32), Ice Age* (5:01), The Eight* (3:31), Murray's Stolen Board+ (9:02)
1st Line-Up 1984-85*: Dave Coupland (Percussion), Bruce Goertzen (Guitar), Scott Jacks (Keyboards), Jamey Koch, Gary Durban (Vocals on Take It on the Amber)
2nd Line-Up 1986-91+: Derek Mason (Guitar and sequencing), Scott Jacks (Keyboards), Dave Coupland (Percussion), Brent Borrowman (Bass on R.P.R.S.S.), Tom Christiansen (Vocals on City Lights, Vocals & Bass on Wasting Away)
3rd Line-Up/ Solo 1999° Scott Jacks, Sascha Fassaert
This compilation album released by Scott Jacks features a collection of recordings he still possessed from the days of First Aid. In actual fact the album shows the variations both within the line-ups as well as in style that First Aid went through during their fifteen year history until the early days of Scott Jack's solo career. Personally this compilation is the main album of all the three reviewed on this Forgotten Sons issue that really incudes a substantial amount of progressive rock.
The first set of recordings are from the first First Aid line-up that lasted between 1984 and 1985. From the opening track, Fraternizing With The Enemy, one can see a certain similarity between the 1984 lineup and that which went on to record the only official First Aid album, Stumbling Boldly Forward in 1991. The music has a strong rock approach with a definite commercial streak and some delightful guitar work from Bruce Goertzen. However, the music seems to have a more adventurous twist then than they would acquire (or lose!) later on and this is further evident on tracks like The Clean Forest. This time round it is not just the guitar work that is creating the under currents but also the rhythm section together with some Yes-like keyboard work. Of particular notice is the great bass work and solo on this track.
During this period the band also had a permanent vocalist within the line up, Gary Durban, and Take It On The Amber is one such track that showcases his talents. Tracks like this tend to suffer on compilations like this as the sound quality is definitely poor to say the least. On the other hand it is worth having as one can easily see the band playing out a style extremely similar to GTR meets eighties Yes. The same can be said about most songs from this period. The remaining tracks that feature this lineup are Because You Need Me, Ice Age and The Eight. At times there are hints of a neo-progressive style, though one feels that the progressive features of bands from across the Atlantic were never the same as those in America and Canada. In fact the eighties scene, instead of seeing bands that would move in a vein that would re-evoke memories of past bands such as Genesis, the Canadian/American scene had bands playing out to styles that would more likely be resembled to bands such as Saga and occasionally Rush.
The second recording line-up to feature on this album lasted from 1986 till 1991. Apart from Dave Coupland and Scott Jacks, the whole band had been reshuffled, certain position various times over, and unfortunately it can be felt in the nature of the music the band was playing. This might not be too obvious in Deadrock, but one could definitely feel that the band seemed to loose a bit of their inventiveness and had become rather stagnated, Whereas before, the instrumental tracks would have an element of improvisation and flair, the tracks start to become rather predictable. This is a fact that is also admitted by Jacks in the liner notes to City Lights and Wasting Away, as the band attempted to reach a wider audience in their bid to acquire a recording deal. City Lights, however sees the band in a different light, at times sounding very Alan Parsons Project-like and managing to retain an element of progressive rock within their new approach.
Though not entirely evident in their music, the band still were listening to the musicians who inspired their music and Rut of Information was in fact inspired by Bill Bruford's Age Of Information, while Unique New York has elements of Zappa infused in it.
The final recordings come from Scott Jacks' home recordings and though composed when the group was still around, they are more or less solo works. As happens on his solo album, the music tends to lose out on improvisation and impetus. The progressive edge is lost with the passage of time as the music moves more towards the lounge room, laid back keyboard playing. Sometimes his progressive tastes do resurface, as happens on Who Killed Janet Smith?, which features some ELP styled keyboards with some exciting shifts in time signature. What is lacking here is that full band sound.
The album has an interesting array of styles and is of interest to those who would want to see how this band progressed through the years. Of all the three albums, this is the one that features the largest selection of material that has a definite progressive rock influence an should be the one that progressive rock lovers should first try out. Unfortunately there are times when the sound is hampered by poor production, due to the fact that many tracks were taken from the sound board during live concerts, however this does not happen too often and the overall sound quality is quite good.
The First Aid website is run by Scott Jacks and provides information about the band as well as how to purchase all the albums reviewed above. However, should you have any further information regarding First Aid that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.