Segragated from the mainstream machine in Toronto, Edmonton during the early 1980s was a breeding ground for some of the country’s most innovative music, including the new wave movement sweeping the nation.
Frontman Jim Gray and guitarist Alan Marks had previously left the bands they were in and formed Darkroom. With the additions of Wolf Radke on guitars and keyboards, bassist Garry Law and Tim Palmar on drums, they toured the local area circuit and Robert Montgomery soon agreed to manage them.
They went to Sundown Recorders in Edmonton in ’82, and with Ron Vaugeois (One Horse Blue) producing, released a four-track EP called PRESSURE on Vera Cruz Records. Still making their rounds on the circuit, the edgy guitar work coupled with the underlying new wave/pop of the keyboards eventually caught the attention of WEA Canada’s Howard Steele.
He signed them to a deal in the spring of ’83 (one of the first Edmonton groups to be linked to a major label) and immediately shipped them back to Sundown to work with owner Wes Dakus. With new bassist Jeff Schmidt, they re-worked three of the four tracks from the EP, as well as a dozen or so other original tunes. The result was SAN PAKU, a record that managed to combine elements of new wave with hard-edged guitars and featured tight hooks and strong melodies. “In Dim Light” and the title track made their way onto the charts. Although both failed to crack the Top 40, the label only gave the record minimal push, and yet still gained critical praise, and at one time were actually mistaken as an English import. The title track found its way onto a 12″ EP early the next year, which featured an extended remix and the unreleased “Fixing Pieces.”
Following a cross Canada tour and some dates in the US, Radke left in late ’84, while the band took some much deserved time off, around the same time Gray landed a role in the Canadian production of “The Little Vampire,” a TV series adaptation of German author Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s books of the same name, which was shown in Germany.
They ventured off to Toronto to record their sophomore album at Phase One Studios. With the addition of Barry Lindal taking over on keyboards and Tom Treumuth as producer, an additional recording was done at Farmyard Studio in Buckinghamshire, England and in Thunder Road Studio in Calgary. A TEST OF TIME was in the stores by the summer of ’85, and featured a more predominantly keyboard-oriented sound. “Don’t Play With Broken Hearts” was the first single, but again failed to make a dent in the charts. Other notable cuts included a cover of Marianne Faithful’s “Broken English” and “Lions Made of Stone” and “Put Away Your Toys,” both written by Gord and Hugh Leggat (Foot In Cold Water, Leggat, Mississippi Hippies).
They were back on the road for the better part of the next year around the continent and played their Edmonton hometown’s Coliseum another couple of times, once as a headliner. They toured North America and were given the full rock star treatment, even playing a special show with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. But reps had grown impatient waiting for them to be their next breakout star group and dropped them from the label in the spring of ’85.
After the band packed it in before the end of the decade, they all went on to other projects. Gray started Cheatin’ ‘n’ Hurtin’, a Hank William Sr revival group that released one album. He then moved to California, then Toronto, where he continued doing session work while working on a solo career. He eventually moved back to Edmonton, reforming Darkroom now and again for some shows while working on other projects.