Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Change of Heart

Change of Heart, Sunnyside, April 1994

THE BEST BANDS THAT CAME OUT OF TORONTO in the '80s and early '90s all came and went at least a decade too soon. At least that's how I see it, looking back from the world of the internet and iTunes and the "post-music industry" era. And of all the groups I used to see in that half-dozen or so clubs on Queen West and Bloor and in Kensington Market back then, this most applies to Ian Blurton and Change of Heart.

They'd release their first album, 50 Ft. Up, just as I started writing for Nerve magazine, and would release another five over the next decade. They were a quartet with a percussionist, but became a trio for their next record, Slowdance, Keyboardist Bernard Maiezza, who I'd met when he was in A Neon Rome, joined just as the drum and bass spots in the band started changing semi-regularly around Ian, who also played in a handful of other local bands.

Change of Heart live, Toronto, 1987

The band had an incredible work ethic, opening for pretty much every other band on the scene and countless other touring bands. I brought my camera along to a pair of gigs they did in 1987, opening for a Vancouver band called Oversoul Seven, just after Change of Heart had released their second album, Slowdance.

Change of Heart live, Cameron Housoe, Toronto, 1987

I was clearly on the shallow part of my learning curve shooting live music, and for both rolls I'm almost entirely focused on Blurton and bassist Rob Taylor - getting a decent shot of drummer Ron Duffy was clearly beyond my competence. As the shots above demonstrate, I was basically taking the same photo over and over, hoping I'd get it right at least once or twice.

Unlike a lot of my other favorite local acts, Ian and Change of Heart would go on the road and tour across Canada, playing the small cities and towns between the provincial capitals, working to build a reputation as a great live act and exploit whatever publicity they got when songs like "Pat's Decline," "Trigger," "Little Kingdoms," "Winter's Over" or "There You Go" got regional or national airplay.

In 1992, while still playing small local clubs, Ian decided to make a double record, live in the studio, with a cast of extra musicians including backup singers, strings and horns. Smile was an ambitious project, and it earned the band the respect of musicians in bigger acts who'd offer them support gigs all over the country. A couple of years later, as they were getting ready to release Tummysuckle, their follow-up album, Ian asked me to shoot publicity photos for the band.

Change of Heart, Parkdale & Sunnyside, April 1994

Over the course of the afternoon I tried to give Ian as many options as possible, beginning in my studio where I'd set up something basic using a white seamless and a black curtain, then walking down to the beach at Sunnyside nearby for another bunch of rolls.

I was trying to deliver a solid promo glossy, and as a result nothing really seems like it has much of whatever style I was trying to develop, though I'm fond of the shot at the top of this post today, which seems to hint at some new direction I'd discover in the next few years. I remember feeling disappointed at the time, though, that I'd never really gotten the decent portrait of Ian I'd been trying to take for years.

Tummysuckle ended up being remixed and re-released when the band won $100,000 in a radio talent search, and their last record, Steelteeth, came out on the Canadian arm of Virgin, who deleted the album just as they came home after touring to support it. This was too much for Ian, who broke up the band, finally exhausted after over a decade of trying to make it in Canada.

Ian Blurton, Sunnyside, Oct.20, 2012

Ian didn't give up, though - he formed Blurtonia and C'Mon and a few years ago, during a brief break before his latest band, Public Animal, he put together some reunion gigs for the release of There You Go, a Change of Heart anthology. After months of talking and rehearsals, he got every musician who'd played in the band to join him onstage for the shows.

I interviewed him for blogTO in advance of the Toronto gig, and took his portrait on the bridge to Sunnyside, where I'd shot the promo photos eighteen years previous, and just a few yards from where the cover of 50 Ft. Up had been photographed. I think I might finally have gotten the photo I'd always wanted to take. The reunion show was astonishing; as the musicians around him shifted and changed for over two hours, he played ferociously heavy versions of the band's old songs, and for at least one more night, Change of Heart were the best live band in the city.


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