After scoring the moderate hit, “Love is Coming Running” with Popcorn, and touring across Europe with The Merseybeats and The Tremoloes, guitarist Mark Prickett moved to Toronto in the early ’70s, where he met fellow transplanted Brit bassist and vocalist Chris Gibb.
They formed Wanka with guitarist Howard Samuel, Doug Paul Smith on keyboards, and drummer Mike McConnell. They played mostly British covers (Kinks, Who, Bad Company) and worked the Toronto bar scene for a year or so. They also took up several week-long residencies at the Atherley Arms Hotel, and hosted a number of their own Christmas and other holiday parties.
Eventually their hard work led to signing a deal with Axe Records in late 1976. For close to the next nine months they were in and out of Toronto Sound Studios with future Juno Award winning producer Terry Brown (Rush, Klaatu, Max Webster, among others), and John Bojicic.
Heavy on the keyboards and fuzz guitar experimentation, THE ORANGE ALBUM was on the store shelves that fall. All five members contributed to the writing, and with tracks like the lead off “Make Up Your Mind (You Can’t Have Both),” the early Pink Floydish “Same Way,” and the straight out rocker with a wry sense of humour “Wrong Door,” it was an early progressive rock melting pot with several elements spicing it up.
But the label did little to promote it, and It eventually sold just over 1,200 copies, despite the songs being too long and too experimental for radio exposure. They toured the b-circuit extensively, but the venues were drying up, due partially to many being turned into discotheques. They also found the major booking agencies were leaning away from newer low-key local talent. For the next few months to get attention they booked themselves into the clubs with other local groups in the same predicament like Nighthawk (featuring Rick Santers) and Thundermug, and called it the ‘Let ‘Em Eat Cake Tour,’ and even got some exposure in Billboard Magazine.
But by the time 1978 ended, McConnell left and was replaced behind the drumkit by John Cairns, who’d done some percussion work on the album. By mid ’79 the group had split up, and Gibb was gone to join Lovesin for one album. He then later went on to join The Suspects, which evolved intoThe Deserters. Doug Smith released a solo CD called GOODBYE CARRIAGE ROAD in late 2004.
Samuel secured the rights to the material 30 years after its original release, and in 2007 re-released the band’s only album, complete with live recordings of five of the seven digitally remastered tracks, taped live during one of the band’s shows at The Warehouse in Toronto.