BY David DeRocco
Greg Fraser and Stevie Skreebs aren’t as young as they were when their band, Brighton Rock, was ruling the Canadian metal charts during their ‘80s heyday. But they’re still wild and free, a mutual state of mind that comes with being at peace with their lives, their careers and their ongoing musical aspirations.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Fraser and Skreebs, along with vocalist Gerry McGhee, drummer Mark Cavarzan and keyboardist Johnny Rogers, released their full-length Brighton Rock debut, Young Wild and Free – a hard rocking album that spawned the Canadian hit singles “We Came to Rock” and “Can’t Wait for the Night.” That album – along with follow up releases Take a Deep Breath in ’88 and Love Machine in ’91 – marked the beginning of a rocket ride of success for the two life-long friends from the Falls, one highlighted by gold records, sold-out tours, once in a life-time Maple Leaf Gardens gigs and spots on the Canadian charts alongside Honeymoon Suite, 54.40, Sass Jordan, Platinum Blonde and their 80s’ contemporaries. Like most rocket trajectories, however, there’s a time when gravity starts pulling things back down to earth. For Brighton Rock – and in fact, the whole hair and pop metal genre – that inevitable crash landing began on September 24, 1991 – the day Nirvana released an atomic bomb on the music industry in the form of their grunge classic, Nevermind. By the time 1992 rolled in, Brighton Rock – a band three albums deep into what looked like a rock solid career – had broken up.
“The 90s were tough man,” acknowledges Fraser, whose career as a guitarist began when he quit school to join the band Pharaoh. “After Brighton broke up I joined Helix for almost four years. It wasn’t the same. A lot of people were always saying (Brighton Rock) should get back together. Back then, the guys were like, ‘I don’t know.’ And it wasn’t just us. Our style of music was just frowned upon. The grunge thing kicked in. People thought 80s bands were dinosaurs.”
If endless Jurassic Park sequels have taught us anything, it’s that dinosaurs can always be brought back to life. It’s the reason why this November 13th, the band that once proclaimed “we came to rock” will be doing just that, returning to Toronto’s legendary Rockpile nightclub for the third time since reuniting at a fundraiser for Coney Hatch frontman Carl Dixon. That gig brought the original members back together for good – albeit on a part-time basis.
“We’re not fulltime Brighton Rock anymore,” said Fraser. “We’re all so busy now, it’s hard to get us all together to do the dates. But there’s definitely a resurgence of interest in the band. People our age, once they got in their 30s, it was like they had to get their life together, have a family, act like adults. But now they’re in their late 40s and 50s, they’re like ‘we’ve had our kids, we’ve got some money in the bank, let’s go out and party like we did in the old days.’ So that’s what we’re finding now. People are rediscovering their youth.”
The fact that metal fans are flocking out to see Brighton Rock shows two decades after the initial break up is not lost on Skreebs, who has a developed a mature appreciation for the band’s resurrection.
“Back in the day, I don’t want to say it took it for granted, but you really never thought of it ending you know,” says Skreebs, who kept his bass skills active over the years playing with Fraser in side projects Fraze Gang. “Now when we play, we see fans coming out 20 years later, and they seem more passionate in a way. When we were in England for a festival, we were in Nottingham and people were walking down the street with Brighton Rock shirts on. It was freaking us out. It’s like time hasn’t moved, like we’re back in 1987.”
For a group of athletes, a twenty year hiatus would present a serious impediment to performing at peak levels upon return. Musicians, on the other hand, are like fine wine – better with age and only when fully corked. Fraser says the limited touring the band does has actually helped revitalize their stage show.
“The gig itself is better than ever,” boasts Fraser. “When we were on the road, we were playing almost nightly for over 10 years. After a while it gets a little old. It’s still fun, but it’s like, yeah, okay, I don’t feel like it tonight. I need a few days off. But when we play now, when we go on stage, it’s like aaaaaahhhh – we’re ready to pop. We want to jump off the stage and go nuts.”
Skreebs supports his guitarist’s notion that the 2015 edition of Brighton Rock is better than the group that criss-crossed the country during the 80s. The main reason is the total effort each band member puts into every gig they play.
“It’s like they say in sports, play every game like it’s your last,” said Skreebs. “Now I play every show like it’s my last. I give it my all, because I can, and I don’t know when the next show will come. And for those fans that are there, I want to give it everything I’ve got. That’s my approach; it’s a blessing we’re still able to do it and with the original band. That’s what really special. We’re all the same guys that were doing it back in the 80s.”
The rise and fall and subsequent reunion of a recording act like Brighton Rock is not a unique phenomenon in Canadian music circles. The fall of a Canadian band full of promise is usually driven by the fickle relationships artists have with their labels, while reunions are most-often driven by fans nostalgic for the artists and the music they made. Fraser said the band knew it was time to pack it in in ’92 when changes at Warner Music dropped the band way down the priority list at the label.
“By the time we released the third record, all the guys that had once supported us were gone from the company. It was all new people. They wanted to make their own mark. All of sudden we’re touring out west, and people were asking us when we were going to make a new record. Problem was, we had just released our new record a month earlier. There was no promo, no posters when you went into the stores – meanwhile it used to be racked in the front of the stores. No phoners, no interviews, no record signing; everything kind of died out.”
What hasn’t died is the ongoing appreciation both Fraser and Skreebs have for their experiences with Brighton Rock, playing live again, serving as musical ambassadors for Niagara while hanging out over the years with rock stars, porn stars and the odd super model. When asked to name a career highlight, both pointed to one magical night in Toronto that had them living the dream of every wannabe rock star.
“We played the Montreal Forum,” remembers Fraser, “the Ottawa Civic Centre, London Gardens, the Kingswood, we opened for Boston at Copps Coliseum – for their sound check they did their entire show note for note, and I’m the only guy sitting in a chair. How cool is that. But the real thrill was opening up for Triumph at Maple Leaf Gardens and getting an encore. That’s my dream come true right? I wish we had video back then. It was like going into a lion’s den, the lights go down, the heart’s pounding, you’re going on stage.”
Skreebs still gets chills when describing that experience.
“The highlight of my whole career and life of being in the music business was that night opening up for Triumph at Maple Leaf Gardens. We were backstage, the lights went down — our stage guy Danny Mellanson had the flashlight, leading us to the stage – I could feel the buzz, anticipating what was going to happen. The lighters lit, 18,000 people just buzzing. It doesn’t get any better than that. And we got an encore. For an opening band that never happens. We opened with “Young Wild and Free” and then it felt like it was over.”
See Brighton Rock live November 13th at the Rockpile, 5555a Dundas Street West, Toronto. For tickets, visit http://www.therockpile.ca/events.html