Tag Archives: Peter Cash

The Skydiggers’ Energy Warms A Wintry Night

Review by Bill Monahan of The Skydiggers at Meaford Hall Dec. 10, 2016

It was a wintry night when The Skydiggers stopped at Meaford Hall on Saturday.  That may have prevented a few from making the trip, so the audience was a little smaller than the full houses that the Opera House is getting used to lately.  But they brought a whole lot of energy to the room.  Vocal and mobile, they cheered every song, often spontaneously leaping to their feet and running into the aisles to dance.  From the opening bars of the first song Andy Maize had the audience in the palm of his hand.

They had said they were bringing their famous Horseshoe Tavern Christmas show on the road but since that longstanding tradition involved crowding the stage with friends from a quarter century career, it’s a little difficult to bring on the road.  But they did bring friends, and everybody caught the spirit.  The Skydiggers gave us a great show from end to end.

There was a solid band, with keyboards, drums and bass, accompanying singers Andy Maize and Jessy Bell Smith, and guitarist Josh Findlayson.  Their groove was locked in enough for Andy to execute some of his famous dance moves, ranging from leaping leprechaun to Chubby Checker, with some frenetic jazz hands thrown in for spice.  Michael Johnston, on keyboards, stretched out several times with some exciting solos.  Guitar leads were scarce, just hinted at when Josh briefly strapped on an electric guitar.  Mostly he played an acoustic, picking and strumming.

The most compelling aspect of The Skydiggers live show is the blend of voices.  Often everybody but the drummer was singing and it created a beautiful choral sound.  Andy Maize on lead vocals uses the full range of his voice to put across a variety of songs and when Jessy Bell Smith adds vocal harmonies things suddenly become ethereal.

She is the kind of vocalist that has you thinking as you listen “I wonder where she’s playing next.”  She’s been a member of The Skydiggers since 2013 when her version of one of their songs inspired them to release “She Comes In To The Room”, a collection of songs with female singers.  She has also released an album of her own recordings.  On stage she seems shy but relaxed.  When she takes the lead you are transported.  It’s one of those voices.

She did a version of “We Go Rambling On”, a song written by Peter Cash, one of the founding members of The Skydiggers.  She lost herself in the performance and so did the audience, which spontaneously leapt to their feet to give her an extended ovation afterward.  I think that’s what they call a show-stopper.

But the show was full of great renditions of wonderful songs.  “Remember Me” is a longing look at the years of Christmas parties at The Horseshoe.  Andy says it has become such a solid tradition, “I think they could have it without us”.  The audience disagreed and it sounded like several people promised to follow them to The Horseshoe for the big show next weekend.

Their version of The Tragically Hip’s “Are You Going Through Something?” was moving, and their take on Gene Clark’s “Eight Miles High” added some musical treats that weren’t there on the original Byrds version.

It was a show that was over too soon.  It was the kind of band you wanted to be able to listen to all night, and you got the feeling that they would be happy to play for you.  Maybe they’ll do that when they play two days next week at The Horseshoe.

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The Skydiggers’ Christmas Road Trip

On Saturday, Dec. 10th The Skydiggers are coming to play at Meaford Hall.  This Toronto based band has been woven into the tapestry of Canadian music since the 1980’s.  Early in their career they established a tradition of putting together a special Christmas show.  This year they have taken it on the road.  For their Meaford show, they promise to provide a blend of Christmas tunes and their signature songs from their catalogue.

The Spadina Hotel where The Skydiggers were born

The Spadina Hotel where The Skydiggers were born

Back in the 1980’s the Cabana Room was at the top of a steep staircase in the old Spadina Hotel in Toronto.  While the hotel at that time was well past its prime, the Cabana Room was a vibrant gathering place for the new generation of Toronto bands that was developing a kind of folk rock amalgam with socially relevant original songs.  The new phenomenon of music video produced as a promotional tool was in its infancy and Toronto’s CITY-TV was ahead of the trend with a late night show hosted by Christopher Wren that featured music videos, with occasional visits from Mike Myers playing the part of a Scarborough kid (later famous as Wayne of Wayne’s World), and videos from local bands mixed in with those from international artists.  Hal Harbour on CFNY radio gave local bands airplay and interviews.  Local music writers like Karen Gordon and Howard Druckman followed the local scene, spotlighting up and coming new talents.  It was a scene that gave birth to Blue Rodeo, The Cowboy Junkies,The Rheostatics and others.  Into that scene Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson came to create The Skydiggers

“It all started in the beverage room of the Spadina Hotel. That is essentially when the band came together.” says Josh in an interview published on Maple Music.com., “Andy and I performed there as a duo as part of Andrew Cash’s Monday night series called Acoustic Meltdown. When Andrew released his debut album and could no longer host the night, we took it over. We put an ad in Now Magazine answered by Ron Macey, and together with Wayne Stokes and Andrew’s brother Peter Cash, who was quietly writing some amazing songs, Skydiggers were born.”

“We cut our teeth there” adds Andy. “It forced us to come up with new songs every week and it prepared us for what was to come. What you hear on Spadina Hotel is a young band finding its voice and recorded from the audience with a single microphone. We have always been conscious of documenting where we were at as a band, which is why we still have so much unheard material. So a dozen years after those Monday nights at The Spadina Hotel, and after many miles on the band odometer, we revisited the idea of a live album. We recorded a number of sets at The Sidetrack Cafe in Edmonton for There & Back, but it wasn’t until we recorded our annual Christmas concerts at The Horseshoe Tavern that we felt we captured the energy that had kept us going for so long.”

Now they are bringing that energy to a Meaford audience, seasoned by years on the road, and with a few lineup changes.

Jessy Bell Smith joins Andy Maize and Josh Findlayson as today's Skydiggers

Jessy Bell Smith joins Andy Maize and Josh Findlayson as today’s Skydiggers

One of the changes was the addition of vocal support from Jessy Bell Smith, an artist originally from Guelph who, in 2014 released her first album, “The Town”.  Reviewers called it “gorgeous”, likening her to iconic vocalists like Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Etta James and EmmyLou Harris.  You may have seen her at Heartwood Hall back in October when she shared a bill with Richard Laviolette and The Country Parade.

Whether you are a transplanted Torontonian who still holds a place in your heart for The Skydiggers or a fan of harmonies and meaningful lyrics, this show is something you won’t want to miss.  We can be grateful that The Skydiggers included us on their Christmas road trip.

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