The culmination as so many prairie bands always are, Saskatoon highschool friends Bryan Potvin and Jay Semko bounced around in a number of bands including Seventeen Envelope, The Idols and Doris Daye. By 1984 they settled on naming themselves after a fish (closely resembling a jackfish) and added Meryl Bryck on guitars with Potvin. Drummer Rob Esch joined and together they did the circuit’s top 40 clubs while developing a modest cult following across the prairies.
Later that year they’d replaced Esch with Glenn Hollingshead and paid for some studio time at Toontown’s Studio West, releasing their independent self-titled debut EP before year’s end. “Dancing In A Dance Club” and “Don’t You Worry (Just Dance)” pretty much summed up the group’s flippant, carefree attitude. Gaining a modest reputation they carried on, doing mostly covers but trying to hone their style along the way. They replaced Hollingshead with John Nigs on drums during the recording of their second release, SCENE IN NORTH AMERICA, which contained the original version of “Teenland”. The extra exposure from playing every place that would have them got the attention of Virgin Records, who lured them into a major 6-album deal in 1985. They also received their first of eventually 7 Juno nominations the next spring for ‘best new group’
Their first release with proper backing came in the form of BIG BLUE SKY in 1987, recorded at The Metal Works in Toronto. Virgin saw something cute but raw in the band, and had them re-do 4 tracks from the first two records and the revamped “Teenland” became an instant hit. It was followed soon after with “The Things I Do For Money”, both getting much needed video play as well. Other tracks included the title-song, “Never Again” and “You Sold The Farm” They found themselves garnering rave reviews, opening for the likes of The Fixx and Duran Duran.
Following a successful support gig with David Bowie with their fourth drummer, Don Schmidt, they returned to Canada and quickly returned to the studios, this time to Bearspaw in Woodstock, NY and Le Morin Heights in Quebec and released SECRETS OF THE ALIBI in the summer of ’88. Though following the same slick formula as its predecessor, the album made little impression on the critics, despite the catchy hooks in the lead-off track “Place That’s Insane”, “Walk Away”, or the two singles “Wait For Me” and “One Good Reason”. Still good enough for their second straight gold record, the band caught the attention of Robert Palmer, offering them an opening gig on the North American leg of his world tour.
The band’s next effort would be their biggest. Nearly six months at Bearspaw paid off with 1990’s double platinum SNOW IN JUNE. The singles “She Ain’t Pretty” and “Girl With A Problem” scored huge on the airwaves and the subsequent videos became staples on MuchMusic. The album featured Bob Clearmountain (Bryan Adams, Pretenders, The Who) and Hugh Padgham (Sting, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins) on production duties. A myriad of guest performers came in on the sessions, including John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and Garth Hudson of The Band. Despite Virgin’s American division passing up on the record, Scotti Brothers picked it up the next year.
1992 saw the release of NEPTUNE and its first single “Worlds Away”, one of two duets with Cowboy Junkies‘ Margo Timmins, found its way to an episode of the TV program “Due South. Also featured were the other singles “Twister”, “Believe” and“Everything”, sparking a whirlwind tour across Canada and back into the States. By the spring of ’93 the Pikes were burned out and ready to try something new. The Montreal and Toronto concerts were assembled as GIG, their first live record. Showcasing their trademark raw energy on stage, it featured 13 of their biggest hits and was released that summer. The band’s last recording session took place shortly thereafter, when they penned the theme song to “Due South”.
By this time Virgin was growing enchanted with the group’s inability to break the American market, and dropped them from the label. Originally intended to just be a ‘break from the band’, Semko quit soon after and released a solo record called MOUSE in 1995 to little interest from the critics or the public. His ties to “Due South” continued, contributing a number of tracks to the show. Schmidt also tried it on his own, forming The Non-Happners and released their self-titled album in ’95 as well, with similar results. Potvin also kept busy, becoming an A&R person for Polygram.
The release of the group’s 1999 ‘best of’ package called HITS & ASSORTED SECRETS showcased the band’s entire career, including the independent years, and sparked enough interest that they reunited for a series of shows, culminating in LIVE a year later on the independent Outside Music label, which included the new cuts “Jackie T” and “Out of Love”. Potvin’s first solo effort called HEARTBREAKTHROUGH followed shortly thereafter. But realizing the sum was bigger than the individual parts, he reunited with Semko, Schmidt and Bryck hit the studios again and came out with TRUEST INSPIRATION in 2001. The lead track “Echo Off The Beach”, “Swirl”, “Head First” and “Beautiful Music” all proved that the world still needed tightly-arranged pop with an attitude. A fairly extensive Canadian tour ensued was followed by the release of IT’S A GOOD LIFE in late 2003.
In 2012, the band was inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
CD Review: Hits & Assorted Secrets 1984-1993
Submitted by: Sherri Paterson
The Northern Pikes (Jay Semko, Merl Bryck, Bryan Potvin and Don Schmid) were radio and MuchMusic favourites in the mid 1980s to early 1990s. The band, hailing from Saskatoon, delighted their audiences with a fresh, unique sound that appealed to a wide range of tastes, from danceable pop to country-rock to soft, heart-wrenching ballads. When they parted ways in 1993, fans of the band thought they were witnessing the end of an era. They were wrong.
It’s seven long years later and The Pikes are back, and promoting their 1999 compilation Hits & Assorted Secrets 1984-1993. The disc is the culmination of the band’s long-standing relationship with Virgin Records Canada, who pressed all four Pikes’ studio releases. This CD has everything a die-hard fan or a new convert craves. It’s a testament to The Pikes’ hard work, featuring all their hits, from the boppy 1987 single Teenland to the massive success She Ain’t Pretty to later songs like Believe and Worlds Away, a heartbreaking duet performed by Jay Semko and Cowboy Junkies’ vocalist Margo Timmins.
But, there are a few surprises too, in the form of never-before-released gems like Wasting Away, a mournful ballad by Jay Semko and All She Wants, a realistic slice-of-life written and sung by Merl Bryck in an almost jazz-like style. You’ll also find the Bryan Potvin dazzler Beautiful Summer here, complete with Gene Autry-like harmonies. I dare you not to yodel with this one!
Fans of the band’s studio CDs, Big Blue Sky (1987), Secrets of the Alibi (1989), Snow in June (1990) and Neptune (1993) will be thrilled at the raucous live rendition of the normally-placid Unimportant, the re-mix of Dream Away and the energy of Dancing In A Danceclub. I fell in love with this CD instantly. With a band that boasts three vocalists and four talented songwriters, there’s something here for everyone. Guaranteed NOT to disappoint!