Not to be confused with the techno artist from Quebec that appeared on the scene a quarter of a century later or the British reality show contestant after that, the band Octavian hailed from the nation’s capital. The core of vocalist John Pulkkinen, guitarists Warren Barbour and Bill Gauvrea, Ray Lessard on bass and Kirk Dorrow on drums was together since high school in the late ’60s. Going by the name of Octavius, their first paid gig was in a bar in rural Quebec, where the audience was made up mostly of Satan’s Choice bikers. They became regulars on the Ontario and Quebec ‘b’ circuit not long after their high school days were behind them, and were soon playing the east coast and doing some shows in the US.
On one auspicious evening in Woodstock, Ontario, the band’s name was on the posters as ‘Octavian.’ Deciding they liked it better than ‘Octavius,’ they stuck with the change permanently. It took over five years up and down the roads in eastern Canada before landing a deal with MCA Records, where by this time they’d added Darryl Alguire as a second vocalist and Rob McDonald on keyboards.
They went to Eastern Sound Studios in Toronto with producer John Stewart, and their first single, “Good Feeling (To Know)” was released in the fall of ’74. It gradually climbed the charts and cracked the Top 10 in several major markets across the country, including Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Although it failed to make the Top 40 Stateside, the single was voted as a ‘pick of the week’ with Billboard, and received favourable reviews in several magazines.
Their debut album SIMPLE KINDA PEOPLE was released in the spring of ’75, and the first single, “Round and Round,” a mellow ‘I love you the sky is blue’ number made its way up the charts. It was soon followed that summer while the band was on tour by “Hold Me Touch Me.” Although neither single made the band a household name, the album, mostly written by Barbour and Gauvrea, was a catch 22 of several genres popular at the time, and had a mix of hammering piano melodies, tight guitar hooks and well placed harmonies in light, uncomplicated arrangements – with horn arrangements sprinkled throughout. Twelve songs in total, other tracks included “Sun In Your Eyes,” “Tell Me Why” and “Johnny Lightning.” The funky title track became the album’s third single, but like the two that preceded it, it failed to crack Billboard’s chart or have any staying power on the Canadian charts.
In between mini tours, they found time to return to Eastern Sound, where they continued to write and record. They released “You Can’t Do That” in ’76 and “Can’t Stop Myself From Lovin’ You” early the next year, but were still having little luck making an indelible impression. Still, they landed an opening slot with Tanya Tucker on her cross-Canada tour in ’77, but internal dissension caused Gauvreau and Alguire to both leave the group following the tour, both replaced by guitarist Bob Deeks.
Now barely making the part-time rounds of the Ontario circuit in ’78, they found themselves without a recording deal. More personnel changes were underway, and Michael Hicks replaced McDonald on keyboards, and John Livingstone replaced Dorrow behind the drum kit. By the spring of ’79, the band’s internal issues were so great that they packed it in for good. Livingstone, Barbour, and Lessard formed Chain Reaction a year later. Pulkkenin became a school teacher in Ottawa, then changed his name to John Alexander and got a job with MCA. His biggest attribute there was signing Alanis Morissette to the label. After moving to the US, he later went on to become the Senior Vice President of Membership for ASCAP. After doing session work and working with independent artists for a few years, Deeks became a professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa.