The Northern Pikes

On November 1 and 2 I attended two concerts by the Northern Pikes at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I have been a fan of the Pikes for 33 years, since I saw my first gig at the Horseshoe on 27 September 1986. I had seen the group profiled on TV–likely “The New Music”–yet at that time could not see them in concert until that late date in September. I kept a daily diary back then and my entry for my first Pikes show refers to two other Pikes appearances in Toronto that I could not see. I did not elaborate why I could not see them in concert then, but chances are I was scheduled to work till 9 p.m. those concert nights and as a student putting myself through university without any loans whatsoever I needed to work all the hours I could. I was thus excited, as my diary entry shows, to finally have the chance to see the Northern Pikes in concert: 

At the time of my first Pikes gig in September 1986, the group had released two independent albums, and had not yet secured a deal with Virgin Records. They were still paying their dues with a heavy touring roster and were selling their indie albums from the club. In those early days I enjoyed dancing to their music in front of the stage on the checkerboard Horseshoe floor. Often I was the first one dancing, and the only one for a while–and I didn’t care if I was alone or if anyone was looking (or even laughing) at me. I loved the Pikes’ music and it was hard to keep still. Scrawny me flailed to their music and I learned their songs from their indie albums and their new unreleased songs from repeated concert visits. I even choreographed my own routines. As the band gained popularity with their first major-label release “Teenland” from the album Big Blue Sky, available dance floor space disappeared as new fans discovered the group and clubs began to fill up. 

I saw the band regularly from 1986 to 2000. I got to know them as friends and would often find myself on the guest list. I have seen the Pikes in concert over thirty times yet have only a minimal number of ticket stubs to show for it. One of the members of the band’s crew lived in Mississauga in the mid-eighties. Dave offered me lifts home after every local gig which allowed me time to spend with the band long after the last subway and bus had finished running. 

There was a period of six years where they had broken up but by 1999 had reunited and chose the Horseshoe for their reunion concert. I was there. They stopped recording new material in 2003 yet rereleased their first Virgin album Big Blue Sky on its thirtieth anniversary as a triple-LP with unreleased tracks plus a bonus live album. The bonus concert recording had personal significance since it was my first ever Pikes gig. I relive the first time I saw the Pikes on stage whenever I play that disc.

The group returned with a new album this past summer called Forest of Love. It was their first album of new material in sixteen years. The Pikes were back–and I knew that they would be on tour again. I had to see them. I was so excited that I would be back at a Pikes concert. My last concert was on 20 May 2000 in Bala. 

I was bringing a special guest to the Friday concert: none other than the young woman who had appeared as the stunning bob-haired model in the red dress in the “Teenland” video. How do I know this person? I work with her. Whenever the Pikes were appearing in Toronto again, I wanted to go to a concert with her. I let Don know that I was bringing a special guest, and told him who it was. He and the band were excited about meeting her. Although they appeared in the same music video, they never crossed paths. Thirty-two years after the video was made, the musicians would meet the model. I introduced them all to my colleague Cate and they were delighted to finally meet. Since Cate was driving me home there was no urgent need to rush–barring of course the prerogative of the driver to leave whenever she wanted–and Cate was happy to hang around to have time to speak with Don, Jay and Bryan.

The Pikes always come out to greet the audience after their gigs and they spend barely two minutes in the dressing room towelling off before they’re out among the crowd posing for photos and signing autographs. I had lengthy time on Friday catching up with each band member and Jay told me something that I was never aware of. This goes back to the days when I was the sole dancer to their music. A spindly solo male dancer might be a target for those whose idea of fun might be to use me for moshpit practice. Jay told me that he had asked his crew to “look out for” me in case anybody had any bullying intentions. That was so touching to hear! Five days after the concert and it still resonates within me, knowing that the band had my back all those years ago. Jay also remembered what our last conversation was about: I was moving to Finland in early June 2000 and he remembered this fact. In the spring of 2000 the Pikes were in concert promoting their first greatest hits album, hits and assorted secrets 1984-1993. While in Peterborough on 30 April Merl and I had been talking before the show and I told him that I was moving in a matter of weeks. He then dedicated a song to me “to Craig, who is moving to Finland”. I would see them in Bala three weeks later shortly before my big move.

On each night I took the opportunity to thank Jay on Friday and then Don on Saturday for giving me 33 years of happiness. As I get older and reflect on my life I like to acknowledge those who have had a profound impact on me; those who have inspired me and made me a better person; and those who have through their music or books or films given me such pleasure. Sure, attending Pikes shows and supporting the band by buying their music and singing and cheering along is welcome acknowledgement, but sometimes it’s good to tell these people how much their work has meant. I never got the chance to tell Bryan, but I hope he will know now. The smiles that still come over my face from listening to your first independent albums and then seeing you in concert dozens of times up to now, where I danced and cheered at two back-to-back Horseshoe shows deserves a heartfelt thank-you for giving me some of the happiest moments in my life. Are you happy with your life? Yes!

On my transit trip home on Saturday night I used my last ever TTC token at Osgoode station. It was a touching end to one part of my life as a TTC customer in that I will never again put a token into a TTC box. 

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