Idle Eyes

albums w/ jackets & lyrics
A native of Vancouver, Tad Campbell’s unconventional road to stardom began in 1980. While working on a luxury liner that was cruising the Australian coast, he was killing time while on shore leave, noticed an advertisement looking for a guitarist, and was playing with the Daydream Islanders that same night at a local resort.

Within a month Donna McConville, a chambermaid at the hotel they were staying became the lead vocalist, though she’d never sung in front of an audience before. Although it was a quartet, it was Campbell and McConville that struck a musical chord, admiring each other’s work. They fine tuned some original material they had both been working on, and found another steady gig in Australia as a duo. They cut some rough demos, and within six months Campbell came back to Vancouver, with McConville following shortly after.

They continued as a duo for a few months, but then decided to form a ska/reggae band. Naming themselves Idle Eyes, early gigs were few and far between with a revolving door lineup, and their first tour was cancelled when the drummer backed out the day before they were supposed to leave. Through an ad in a local newspaper, Campbell and McConville rounded out their first stable lineup (which lasted six full months) with Don Biggar on bass and drummer Phil Robertson. But before long, Robertson and Biggar were gone, and New Zealand natives drummer Dudley Welsh and Kevin O’Brien was the new bassist/saxophone player, after taking over for the short-lived replacement for Biggar, Mike Poulter.

But by the summer of ’82, despite travelling down every back road playing every club in the west that would have them, Campbell discovered the problem with being in a band with a bunch of foreigners – visa issues, and his entire band was soon on planes homeward bound. McConville would later become a backing vocalist for John Farnham. Scraping together every nickel he could, he recorded some demos and approached Cliff Jones, who was managing Payolas at the time. Jones used his influences to help land them a deal with WEA, even though there wasn’t actually a ‘band’ yet. Campbell persuaded Phil Robertson to come back on drums, and the new hastily put together lineup consisted of guitarist Glenn R Smith and Miles Fox Hill on bass, all BC natives.

With Red Rider keyboardist John Webster, they were whisked off to Ocean Sound Studios in Vancouver with producer Declan O’Doherty, cutting their self-titled debut album in early ’85. Their new sound was new wave/pop, and the lead single “Tokyo Rose” b/w the unreleased “Uniform” was an instant hit, and they found themselves on the undercard for Toto, and then Tears For Fears during their Canadian tours that year. After “Tokyo Rose” peaked at #1 in Canada and the video was on MuchMusic and MTV constantly, it was followed into the top 10 by “All Day.” Later tours over the next year included opening for Bryan Adams and Red Rider, and the band was awarded the Juno Award for Most Promising Band in 1985.

The next year started great, taking home four paper weights at the West Coast Music Awards – for Group of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year (for “Tokyo Rose”), and Campbell’s win for Songwriter of the Year. They were then asked to perform for British royalty at the opening ceremonies of Expo ’86 in Vancouver.

Their sophomore album, LOVE’S IMPERFECTION, was in the stores in time for the 1986 Christmas rush. Recorded at Little Mountain Sound on a $130,000 budget, and produced by Michael Beinhorn (later Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy), and featuring Scotty Hall as the new guitarist and Bruce Mackenzie as their full-time keyboards player, the album had actually been completed since the summer, but label execs chose to sit on it. But the label’s unwillingness to support it included no videos to accompany the three singles, “Sandra,” “Burning,” or the title track. Thus, the album stalled after only selling 20,000 copies. Still, they were nominated for another pair of West Coast Music Awards – for Song of the Year for “Sandra,” and Group of the Year, which they won. The band also did their first American tour that year, opening for Human League, as well as a solo four-night stand at The Ritz in New York City, which happened to have several record label executives in attendance. Their impression was apparently not great however, as the band’s next gig was in a small club in Kenora, Ont. They made their way back to the west coast to re-evaluate where they were going.

After WEA released them from their contract, with the band indebted to the tune of $400,000, they were frustrated, and took it out on Cliff Jones, firing him as their manager. Campbell decided to do things himself, and the result was the self-financed and self-produced STANDING AT THE EDGE in 1988 on Black Rose Records, which featured the modest hit single “Blue Train,” as well as the title track and the lead-off “Chains Have Fallen.”

They chalked up few airmiles for the next several years, with Campbell focusing on outside projects. He returned with a new supporting cast in 1994 for LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN, billed as ‘Tad Campbell and Idle Eyes.’ Released on the indie Spinner Records label, it consisted of nine new tracks, as well as six remakes of earlier songs.

Campbell assembled a new group called Leghold Trap, releasing a pair of albums, and then formed the Latin pop group Millions of Brazilians (not to be confused with the Detroit area group started in the late ’00s), releasing one album in 1997 that also featured Johnny Ferriera (Colin James) and Gaye Delorme. By the end of the decade, he’d formed Big Daddio, and then a few years later Karma Cops.

In 2002, he released a ‘best of’ collection called IDLE EYES BITES BACK, which also featured six tracks from the Millions of Brazilians project. In 2011 Wounded Bird Records re-released LOVE’S IMPERFECTION, without any bonus material. That same year, Campbell and Robertson teamed up for the first time in over 20 years, playing at the “Sam Project” benefit at The Venue in Vancouver.

  • With notes from Tad Campbell