Kenny MacLean memorial
Originally known as The Suspects, the band was made up of Kenny MacLean on guitars and synthesizers, drummer Donald George Mercer, and British born bassist Chris Gibb (ex of Wanka and Lovesin), trying to stand out from the crowd in a bustling punk scene emerging out of the Toronto area, where manager Joel Zuckerman took them under his wing.
They released an independent single called “Raining Over France” bw “Overexposed” in 1978 that got them some airtime on the local radio stations. Playing practically every club on the circuit, they eventually got the attention of Capitol Records who signed them to a deal the next year.
By this point Mercer had left the drum kit and was replaced by Henry DiClemente. On the suggestion from the label’s execs, they changed their name and with it they gave them a sound and looks make over as well. Gone was the angst and moderate rebellion, replaced by extra hairspray and clean leather outfits. Now they were leaning more to the new wave side of the fence, having them sparingly incorporate keyboards and synthesizers into the songs.
They continued on the circuit until they were flown to LA’s Capitol Studios in the spring of ’81 to record their first album. With Gibb and MacLean handling all the writing chores as well as sharing lead vocal duties, their self-titled debut was released later that year. With the mysterious man who only needed the last name (presumably) of Carter producing, the record was full of modern, upbeat new wave tracks that honestly required a great deal of imagination to think were anything different than a million other groups at the time.
The lead off “Alien” was the band’s first single, released as both a 45 and a 7″ single, with two different versions and two b-sides, “Innervisions” and “Protection.” “Innervisions” was later released as a 7″ single on its own in the UK.The band toured the country and made their way into the States and the UK. “Take It Away” was next up as a single, with its flipside, a reworked “Raining Over France.” Other tracks on the album included “Boys In Berlin,” “AWOL,” and “No Time For Talking.”
They returned to the studios and on the suggestion of the record execs, added Greg Stephens to round out their sound on synthesizers. With Carter returning behind the controls, they came out of Capitol’s Hollywood studios in the spring of ’82 with an album slightly more augmented, thanks in part to all four members sharing in the writing, though it was still Gibb and MacLean handling the bulk of it. SIBERIAN NIGHTLIFE was released that summer to little fanfare. The lead off “Nothing Ever Happens” was the album’s first single, soon followed by “Julie.” The band also covered Chris Spedding’s 1977 classic “Wild Wild Women.”
The band landed a couple of touring gigs across the continent, but in Canada the punk scene was all but dead, and the American scene was clinging onto life support. New wave was all the rage and although they tried to walk both sides of the fence, they actually were succeeding at neither. The band broke up early the next year. While the members went their separate ways, only MacLean gained any notoriety afterwards, joining another Toronto punkish new wave act, Platinum Blonde. Ironically while the Deserters were heckled by some for being a cheap Police imitation, his new act began its career as an actual Police tribute.