Marc Connors memorial
Arguably one of the most unique acts in the world of music is acapella, and out of Toronto emerged one of the world’s best. Formed by Marc Connors, Paul Cooper, Dennis Simpson & Claude Morrison, The Nylons name was both an inside joke and a tribute to the groups from the 50s and early 60s that were named after fabrics – like the Chiffons, the Orlons and the Hollywood Argyles, whose music The Nylons often performed. Their humble roots go back to getting together after acting classes & jamming for kicks in 1979. Starting out playing for free in the back room of a Toronto deli, their first paid gig came in April of that year in an unlicensed club across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. From there, they found occasional work doing small after-hours gigs and benefit performances, all the while gaining a reputation as something fresh – and with substance. At one point, originally only booked for two weeks at Toronto’s Basin Club, that got extended to an unprecedented 17 week run, and the band became instant media darlings.
By the time they were signed to Attic Records in 1981, the group had already gone through some personnel changes. Simpson left to pursue his musical theatre passion, and was replaced by Ralph Cole, who in turn was replaced by Arnold Robinson – who’d previously written and worked with The Platters. Their self-titled debut was released in ’82 under a CBS distribution deal and instantly won the praise of critics. Dazzling harmonies and smooth arrangements made up the album’s songs, which the majority were masterful versions of some of rock and roll’s true classics. With veteran Peter Mann behind the controls, from the lead track, a wonderful impresario of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, it was quickly realized the album, and the group, was something special. Renditions of “Love Potion #9” and “Duke Of Earl,” recorded in front of an outdoor audience in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, and a version of the Gospel “Scandalize My Name” helped shoot the debut up the charts, going gold in only two weeks and eventually earning platinum in Canada by selling over 100,000 units.
The band was picked up an American distributor, and ONE SIZE FITS ALL was released later the same year. The added exposure meant the band soon found itself promoting it in Japan, Holland, and Australia. Once again Mann oversaw the production, along with Steve Negus from Saga to assist in prgramming the electronic perscussion. “That Kind Of Man” was the lead single and was featured in the Disney film The Tin Man. “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, which was used in the movie Made In Heaven, “Silhouettes” and “Bop Til You Drop” helped make it their second straight platinum record. They also received the equivelant of a Dutch Grammy in a ceremony in Amsterdam the following year.
1984’s SEAMLESS followed the path laid forth by the its predecssors. Tight harmonies and superb arrangements were the groundwork for the group’s third consecutive gold album, bolstered by the success of the singles “Take Me To Your Heart”, a cover of the ’83 song by the Eurythmics, “Perpetual Motion,” “Combat Zone,” and “Stepping Stone. The band’s Motown roots also shone through with a cover of “Remember (Walking In The Sand).”
The band landed a pair of television appearances in 1986 – appearing in a Sharon, Lois and Bram’s Elephant Show episode where they sang “Lion Sleeps Tonight,” as well as performing the theme song to the short lived sitcom, Throb with the show’s star, Diana Canova. In 1987 Disney used their song “That Kind Of Man” in their feature The Tin Man, just prior to their version of “Up The Ladder To The Roof” was used in the movie Made In Heaven. They also reached the pinnacle of live shows, headlining a concert at Carnegie Hall.
Following more tours in North America and abroad, nearly three full years would pass before HAPPY TOGETHER surfaced, considered by many to be the group’s finest album. Produced by Juno-Award winner Bill Henderson of The Collectors, Chilliwack and UHF fame, also contributing was mainstay Peter Mann, as well as Brian Allen of Rose and Toronto, who also wrote the song, “A Touch of Your Hand.” The band’s trademark renditions of rock & soul classics again made their mark, with the lead-off title track originally by The Turtles, the Sam cooke classic “Chain Gang” and what would become a swan-song for the group, the rehashed 1969 Steam classic, “(Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye,” whic reached Billboard’s top 10 list. As well, the group also gained critical reviews for their originals, “Grown Man Cry” and the moody “Dance Of Love.” They also picked up the Best Singer Award at 1986’s Tokyo Music Festival for “Up The Ladder To The Roof.”
ROCKAPELLA was next for the band, released in ’89. The lead single was an original number written for the group, “Wild Fire”. Again the band payed homage to their roots by releasing versions of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” and The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” as well showing their diversity by covering The Parachute Club‘s “Rise Up”. Several experienced hands helped Mann in the making of the record, including Hank Medress, John Morales and David Foster all contributing to the production. This made it five straight gold or better albums for the group.
Cooper retired from the business the following year and was replaced by Micah Barnes, and after CBS released BEST OF THE NYLONS, they released FOUR ON THE FLOOR in 1991. It featured “Kiss Him Goodbye” and “Drift Away,” as well as the singles “Call My Name” and a version of the Motown classic “One Fine Day”. The record was released just prior to Marc Connors leaving the group to spend time with family after being diagnosed with AIDS. He succumbed to the disease later that spring.
With newcomer Billy Newton Davis, LIVE TO LOVE was released in ’92. “Don’t Look Any Further” was the first single, but some critics observed the chemistry just wasn’t thesame and the label didn’t give the album much of a push either. Other noteable tracks included the Prince song “Little Red Corvette,” as well as several original compositions and songs written for the band. They also found themselves singing the national anthem prior to game 6 of the ’92 World Series.
CBS released another greatest hits package in ’93 called ILLUSTRIOUS, featuring material from the first five albums, all the while the group itself underwent more personnel changes. Barnes and Newton Davis were replaced by Garth Mosbaugh and Gavin Hope in late ’93. The next year, two new records were released – HARMONY – THE CHRISTMAS SONGS, their first yuletide record which featured the original “What Does Christmas Mean To Me,” and BECAUSE, which featured remakes of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”
RUN FOR COVER was next, in 1996. Mostly original compositions, it also featured the band’s rendition of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name,” and the Motown classic, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In Her Kiss)”. BMG released PERFECT FIT, another ‘best of’ later that year. Now with Shoreline Records, HITS OF THE 60s – ACAPALLEA STYLE, another greatest hits compilation, hit the stores in ’97, just before FABRIC OF LIFE. It again featured several original numbers co-written by producer Ian Prince, as well as “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall & Oates (featuring a violin solo), George Michael’s “Monkey,” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (featuring Caribbean and Gospel undertones), among other covers.
By the time their second holiday album, A WISH FOR YOU was in the stores in time for the ’98 Christmas rush, the band was welcoming Mark Cassius to the fold, following Hope’s departure to pursue a solo career. Produced by Ian Prince, half of the ten tracks were written by the group, and Wes Carroll of the House Jacks guested on two of the album’s songs. Later that year PERFECT FIT was released. Another greatest hits package, its contents were the same as ILLUSTRIOUS, but with a different track order and jacket.
The appropriately named LOST AND FOUND, a collection of previously unreleased songs, as well as out-takes and alternate arrangements of some of the band’s biggest hits followed a year later. “The Human Family” was recorded January of ’91 for an AIDS benefit project that was never released; the last recording with Marc Conners. A repackaged and re-released FABRIC OF LIFE from Hot Lips Records then followed in 2000, featuring vocal remixes from some of the band’s friends and the industry’s best.
In 2002, PLAY ON was released, considered to be the pinnacle of the band’s soul and jazz influences. It featured renditions of The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening,” and Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love.” FOUR ON THE FLOOR was also re-released that year with a different jacket. Windham Hill Records released their own ‘best of’ compilation a year later. Unlike the 1991 release of the same name, the cover of BEST OF THE NYLONS were different, and a few songs were different than from the original release.
After several years on the road during various tours, and in between separate projects, they released STERLING in 2006, a double album greatest hits package – a 25-year retrospective featuring many of their hits plus unreleased tracks, rehearsal tapes and two new bonus tracks – “Secret Part of Me” and “Eli’s Coming”. That same year, the band entered the DVD age, releasing LIVE IN TOKYO. Captured during their 1985 world tour, it featured the original band of Marc Connors, Claude Morrison, Paul Cooper and Arnold Robinson. Also included were half a dozen bonus videos of performances taken around the world over the years during various concerts. Robinson, a mainstay for a quarter of a century, called it quits near year’s end.
In 2009, FOUR ON THE FLOOR, the band’s 1991 live lp, was released for the third time with a third jacket, but with no bonus material.