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The earliest roots of The Parachute Club stem from when Lorraine Segato and Thunder Bay native Laurie Conger on keyboards joined the all-girl band Mama Quilla II, actually the second incarnation of Mama Quilla – named after an Incan war goddess. They spent the mid ’70s becoming fixtures of the Toronto club scene, weaving political messages into their music, and releasing one three-track EP, produced by Daniel Lanois. During this period, Conger had also been working with Joe Mendelson and Heather Bishop, appearing on several of her albums.
Mama Quilla II’s EP didn’t exactly set the world afire, and while the band was on hiatus, Segato was introduced to Montreal native drummer Billy Bryans. With MG and The Escorts, he’d done gigs at Expo ’67, opened for The Beach Boys, and released three singles. He’d also already worked on a number of others’ albums, including three by Downchild Blues Band.
His and Segato’s love for different rhythms and musical influences were a natural meld, which culminated in the formation of V, since Mama Quilla II was on hiatus at the time. In the summer of ’82, Bryans was offered a chance to play at Toronto’s inaugural Festival of Festivals, which later evolved into the Toronto International Film Festival. Half of V was unable to attend, so he and Segato formed a new one-off band to play at the festival. They added Conger, as well as local musicians
“Alienation” and the women’s rights number “Boys Club” soon followed, and the band was in the middle of a very successful cross-Canada tour when Webster left to join Billy Idol. He was replaced mid-tour by Russ Boswell, who subsequently also left to join
Scraps with the record label began early in their career though, starting with EMI allowing McCain Foods to use “Rise Up” in their rising crust pizza ads. The band wasn’t happy with the commercialization of their music, and sued EMI, and subsequently won back the rights to their own song.
With new bassist Keir Brownstone (ex of
Bob Segarini, the eagerly-anticipated follow-up, AT THE FEET OF THE MOON hit the stores in October of 1984. With new producer Michael Beinhorn, the band picked up where they’d left off the album before. The first single was the eclectic #11 title track – followed by a pair of other top 40 hits, “Act Of An Innocent” and “Sexual Intelligence.” Other noteable tracks included “Innuendo” and “Walls and Laws”. The group’s political and sociological messages scored them their second gold record, and they were rewarded that same year with their third Juno, this time for Group Of The Year.
After the remixes package called MOVING THROUGH THE MOONLIGHT a year earlier, 1986 saw the release of SMALL VICTORIES. The album saw the band’s collaberation with John Oates, who served as album co-producer. The first single, “Love Is Fire”, also co-featured Oates on vocals. The duet gave the album international credibility and it marked the band’s third straight gold record here at home, and third top 40 single, at #24. The video also snagged them their fourth Juno Award.
The beginning of the end for the band started after their Canadian tour in support of the album, when Masi left and was replaced for the live dates by Rebecca Jenkins. Conger followed suit in mid ’87, shortly after they’d written and performed four songs for the Canadian and American versions of the anime series, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Further session dates saw Aaron Davis of jazz-fusion band Manteca brought in as the group’s new session keyboard player.
One final single was released in the fall of ’87, “Big Big World.” But with little support from the label, the single stalled out of the gate and went nowhere. The band’s final performances were in July of ’88 at the Ontario Place Forum, in Toronto, where Conger re-joined on a temporary basis. But the rigors of having a 7-piece band touring – plus their collective musical goals having been met, the band called it quits in late ’89.
WILD ZONE – THE ESSENTIAL PARACHUTE CLUB was released in ’92. The expected greatest hits package, it spanned the run of hits the band had over the course of their three albums, as well as a remix of “Rise Up”. Renowned for their social conscience, they found a knack to make you think while making your feet want to dance, and in 2006 the band was inducted into the Canadian Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In ’05, Segato reformed the group to co-headline Toronto’s City Roots Music Festival with
Martha & The Muffins The band at this point consisted of Bryans, Gray, Brownstone, and new members Mystic and Miranda Walsh (daughters of Eric Walsh, lead singer of Toronto reggae band Messenjah) on vocals and Ashley Wey on keyboards. This version of the group continued to make occasional appearances, usually at political or cultural events in Toronto, for the rest of the decade.
They were inducted into the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame in ’06, and Segato began a successful solo career, while Conger worked for awhile in Aboriginal music after training in massage therapy in New Mexico. Following the breakup of the band, Davidson got out of the business all together, preferring to work for social causes including helping the homeless. In 2008, she died under undisclosed circumstances at the age of 50.
Segato performed “Rise Up” at the state funeral of federal NDP leader Jack Layton in August, 2011, with the choir of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. A month later, they reunited again for a free show in Toronto’s David Pecaut Square to celebrate their induction to Canada’s Walk of Fame. More one-offs took place over the years, including a show at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Niagara Co-Op Expo in St Catherines, Ontario – both in 2012. Along with Segato and Gray, Webster, Masi, and Conger also rejoined the fold. Prior to this reunion, Webster hadn’t played with the group for 27 years, Masi for 25 years and Conger for 24 years.
In 2014, the surviving band members released a contemporary dance remix of “Rise Up”, in conjunction with Toronto’s hosting of the 2014 edition of WorldPride.
Bryans meanwhile kept busy, doing session work for a number of varied artists over the years that included
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dutch Mason, George Fox, and Loketo. In 1989, he and Aaron Davis received a Genie Award nomination for Best Original Score for their work on George Mihalka’s film “Office Party.”
Two years later, he coordinated a concert series for world beat musicians at Ontario Place and produced THE GATHERING, a compilation album of Canadian world music artists which won the inaugural Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 1992. In ’97, he was one of the producers and mixers on the Disney movie “Jungle 2 Jungle,” which featured a mostly African music soundtrack.
In later years, he focused extensively on promoting Latin music in Canada, playing a prominent role in the emergence of artists such as Laura Fernandez, Aline Morales and Alex Cuba. He announced in early ’06 he had lung cancer, and in celebration of his recovery, a number of notable Toronto musicians performed a benefit in Bryans’ honour that August. Six years later, his cancer had returned and he was in palliative care. Another benefit concert was held on April 19 at Toronto’s Lula Lounge to help defray his healthcare costs. He died four days later in a Toronto hospital at the age of 64.
PARACHUTE CLUB (1983) Rise Up
Are You Hungry
Free Up Yourself
She Tell You
AT THE FEET OF THE MOON (1984) At The Feet Of The Moon
Act Of An Innocent
Walls & Laws
SMALL VICTORIES (1985) Tearing the Veil
Love Is Fire
Secret Heart (Wild Zone)
Walk to the Rhythm of You Heartbeat
Love and Compassion
Cheat the Prophecy
WILD ZONE – THE ESSENTIAL PARACHUTE CLUB (1992) Rise Up
She Tell You
Free Up Yourself
At The Feet Of The Moon
Walls & Laws
Love Is Fire
Cheat The Prophecy
Love and Compassion
Rise Up (Wild Zone Remix ’92)