Blue Peter’s beginnings were pretty typical – friends getting together in the basement to play rock and roll and hopefully impress the girls, and the late ’70’s had some of the freshest sounds anywhere. Disco was on its way out and punk was making a statement, leading the way for new wave. Originally formed by Markham, Ont, vocalist Paul Humphrey and guitarist Chris Wardman, the band’s lineup was solidified when Geoff McOuat came in on bass and Ron Tomlinson brought his drumkit on board.
After moving to Toronto in ’78, they quickly discovered the ‘big time’ circuit was a tough egg to crack at first, simply because of the lack of venues that were home to the new wave pop sound they were developing. Bars predominately had bands play cover tunes, and Blue Peter put their own spin on the Stones, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, but were still actively writing and trying out their own material on the crowds. Big hair and tight spandex still ruled, but once the club scene caught up with the changing musical landscape, the band found themselves in high demand. MuchMusic wasn’t on the air yet, but it was easy to see a revolution of new sounds was abound. Playing a mix of synthesizer-driven originals and their own take on the standards, they continued on the circuit and were signed to Ready Records in ’79, one of the few truly independent labels at the time.
They released their debut ep TEST PATTERNS FOR LIVING later that year after recording all seven tracks in a single day at SouthWest Studios in London, Ont. They were a hit with radio stations around Toronto who were also switching over to what would be dubbed, ‘the new music,’ including independent station CFNY. The station played “Factory Living” and “Same Old Place,” and other stations in the market soon followed suit, and the band found themselves on the road opening for Blondie and Teenage Head.
But by 1980 Tomlinson was gone and Mike Bambrick was the new drummer. They released a 45 that spring for “Video Verite,” a song about nostalgia for the future, b/w “Radio Silence.” The video for “Video Verite” was shot and edited by The New Music at The Edge. It received strong airplay from City-TV and opened the can of fans even wider. The full-fledged album RADIO SILENCE followed a few months later that summer. Recorded at Sounds Interchange Studios and produced by Wardman with Kevin Doyle and Jasper, it contained the title track and “Video Verite,” as well as the politically conscious “Take Me To War” about preparation for an imminent invasion, and “Shellshocked,” clear evidence of the band’s growth in their songwriting. They were named “Best New Band” during the very first CFNY “U-Know” awards, which were later renamed ”The Casby’s.”
Rick Joudrey became the band’s new bass player, and after forming their own AWOL Records in ’81, they released the single, “Chinese Graffiti,” which featured cameos from Sherry Huffman (Sherry Kean) of The Sharks on backing vocals and Malcom Burn (ex of Boys Brigade) on keyboards. The New Music again stepped in to shoot the video, this time at Larry’s Hideaway, and like “Video Verte,” was available only as New Music segments. The song again brought home the gold, winning “Single of the Year” in the CFNY “U-Know” Awards. They returned to Ready Records the next year, and with Wardman producing with Kevin Doyle, who’d co-produced RADIO SILENCE, the EP, UP TO YOU soon followed. Along with “Chinese Graffiti” and “Guilty Secret,” it contained two versions of the title track.
By the spring of ’83 more lineup changes ensued, with Jason Sniderman taking over on keyboards and Owen Tennyson as the new man behind the drumkit. They hooked up with Steve Nye (Roxy Music/Japan) for his production expertise, and FALLING gave them their first top 40 hit with the dance-floor filling “Don’t Walk Past.” The song scored them two awards that year – The Canadian Film and Television Associaiton’s “Best Video” award, and “Most Popular Video” during Sony’s Video Culture Festival. It was also the song that got the band’s foot in the American market door. It became the first independent Canadian video to be played on MTV. It also garnered decent airplay on several US radio stations, which led to landing the opening slot on several major tours, backing up The Police, The Fix, Peter Tosh, Boomtown Rats, Simple Minds, and The Jam. In total, the band ended up on the road for the next year and a half while gaining praise for the fresh, energetic sounds they were breaking ground with.
While still on the road, VERSION was released, which contained remixes of four tracks from FALLING – “Don’t Walk Past,” “Head Over Heels,” “Unchained Heart,” and “Reel News.” The imagery of the video for “Don’t Walk Past” was inspired by a pair of sci-fi movies at the time – “The Hunger” and “The Blade Runner” (which also served as inspiration for the “Chinese Graffiti” video). But just as it seemed the band was ready to finally break ground with a national audience, they split up in January of ’85, burned out and exhausted from the rigourous touring schedule and constant trips to the studios. The members went on to other projects, which saw Wardman become an acclaimed producer, working with the likes of Chalk Circle, Rusty, The Watchmen, Leslie Spit Treeo, Randy Bachman, Emm Gryner, Art Bergmann, Sons of Freedom, and Soho 69.
Humphrey meanwhile formed Broken Arrow. Along with Tennyson, Joudrey joined Rational Youth, then he too became got behind the studio controls for other up and coming Toronto area acts. Tennyson wouldalso later join Jeff Healey‘s band, then formed Owen Sound. Sniderman returned to the family business (Sam The Record Man).
The band saw a resurgance in the fall of 1997, when the ‘best of’ package ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT hit the shelves. Nicely summing up the career of one of the country’s most innovative groups during a time of a musical changing of the guard, it also featured the previously unfinished track “Equalizer,” begun before the band’s breakup over a decade earlier with new parts added by Humphrey and Joudrey in ’96. The band reformed to once again unleash their brand of cutting edge pop, rhythm, and dance songs.
The renewed interest in the band sparked a series of re-releases in 2007 on Universal Music Canada. RADIO SILENCE featured that album, as well as TEST PATTERNS FOR LIVING on one disc. Also included were the single version of “Video Verite,” and the previously unreleased live version of “Take Me To War.” FALLING was that album, as well as a collection of recordings that followed its original 1983 release, demos that were the core of the band’s next album which never saw the light of day, tentatively entitled VERTIGO, which included live, off the floor and raw recordings of “Water Off The Moon,” the title track, “Lap of Luxury,” and five other previously unreleased songs. BURNING BRIDGES was the re-release of UP TO YOU and VERSION, and also included previously unreleased live versions of “Pablo Picasso” and “Sweet Jane,” remixes of several tracks that made it to the initial recordings, and a few that didn’t make it off the cutting room floor.
The band saw another compilation album hit the stores in 2007, when Universal Music released THE BEST OF BLUE PETER in their 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection series, nicely summing up the band’s career with 15 previously released tracks.