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Volume 91, Issue 18
Friday, September 26, 1997
Flying high in Londoner's hearts
By Dave McPherson
Julia Propeller is a familiar name to Londoners. The sweet harmonies of soulful songstresses Brenda McMorrow and Samantha Wells have lifted the spirits of many in the Forest City over the last five years.
Joining Wells and McMorrow, the rest of the Propeller heads are bassist Paul Brennan, drummer Steve Crew (formerly of Adam West) and Mitch Zimmer on harmonica and percussion. The band's two previous albums, Go On Back (1993) and Dance with the Living (1995) both received rave reviews and established the band as one of the premiere live acts in London. Their songs are reminiscent of a simpler time when the voice was the central instrument.
In the last couple of years, Julia Propeller has started to experiment more with its instrumentation. Wells now puts down her acoustic for half the songs and turns the noise level up with the electric guitar. However, the band still does not stray far from its roots.
"We still consider our music acoustically folk-based with a pop-rock edge to it now," says McMorrow. "People are calling it folk-pop-rock. We have more electric guitar playing, but they never tend to get too heavy sounding.
"It definitely does change the feel. We don't want to abandon the more acoustic sound because that is something that we really enjoy and it lends itself to our main focus which is the vocals and the harmonies."
The band's songs cheer up any room and the catchy harmonies get people dancing and singing along. While London has witnessed several bands like The Gandharvas and New Grand sign major label deals and move farther east along the 401, the members of Julia Propeller are still content to call London home. As McMorrow says, "we depend a lot on our audiences and fans for inspiration and motivation."
Julia Propeller has achieved moderate success going the independent route, but the time has arrived to move to the next step. While the success of fellow London musicians has been great for exposing the music scene in the city it is also sometimes disheartening.
"I've never felt too left behind," reveals McMorrow. "But, there have been times when I have said 'why not us', why are we not played on major radio stations across the country. I haven't given up hope yet, though, because of the encouragement we have had from different people in the industry."
On its next record, the band hopes to receive financial support from the industry and will hopefully be putting together a demo tape for distribution to major labels later this year. While the '90s witnessed the explosion of the do-it-yourself craze, McMorrow admits that there comes a point when a band needs the resources a major record company can provide.
"We are so used to being independent now that I think that it would be quite an adjustment having someone else telling us what to do so we are going to be careful," she says. "I think that now if we were to sit down with a record company we would be quite a bit more demanding of them than we would have five years ago because we have learned a lot. We would not hesitate to expect a lot from them."
Everyone is familiar with at least one horror story of how the corporate elite in the music industry have taken advantage of young star-struck bands who end up being a flavour of the month. It is for this reason that Julia Propeller has been hesitant about signing a deal. "We have always been wary about grabbing the first deal that came along," McMorrow says. "We have never been pushy with record companies for that reason because we have seen a lot of bands that have grabbed that deal and then fallen into obscurity."
Julia Propeller is ready to ride the wave of popularity of folk festivals and roots music. There is no chance the band will fall into musical obscurity if it continues to play the same acoustically-based music that has always marked its distinctive sound. In August the band played at the Festival of Friends in Hamilton sharing the stage with the likes of Jeff Healey and Bruce Cockburn as well as traveling to Saint John, New Brunswick for the Festival by the Sea. For an acoustically inclined journey Julia Propeller plays the Grad Club tonight.
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