It was an era that existed sometime after the Beatles and before video killed the radio star. One that had flash pots, fog machines, strobe lights, tight pants, plenty of hair, guitars turned up to eleven, bone-rattling bass, drum solo madness, and the proverbial rock god lead singer. I’m talking about the big, bold, and brazen days of 70’s and early 80’s rock bands, and the Ottawa scene oozed with them.
In and around the capital, loud and proud bands blazed the stages and filled up many a venue with high decibel delights that filled the spirited angst of the day and had you leaving at the end of the night with eyes stinging and ears ringing. It was sheer heaven. It was a time before technology would dig its hooks into changing our way of life, where much of the social landscape dwelt in the form of the live music scene and created a thriving existence for bands and venues alike. Those, as they say, were the days.
One such band that left its mark during this time are the Ottawa heavy rockers known as Galleon. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Galleon’s current bassist, Fred Nesrallah, and founding member, Rob Labarge to talk about the band…then and now.
In 1974, a very young Rob Labarge (vocals/guitar) would put together a power trio, which included his brother Mike Labarge (drums), and Dennis Girard (bass). The idea was to create a real rock show, with the biggest sound possible, along with plenty of stage lighting and pyro effects. It was pure heavy guitar riffing, power-packed vocals and harmonies, booming bass lines, and thunderous drums with plenty of solos all around.
The three started out playing high schools and the local clubs, originally churning out heavy rock covers of Rush, Triumph, Frank Marino, and Iron Maiden, among others that influenced them at the time. It didn’t take long before their popularity began to soar, and they expanded their borders to include trips across Ontario, Quebec, and as far west as Alberta, playing over 200 gigs annually. The band would undergo some changes to the line-up over time, with the departure of founding members Mike Labarge and Dennis Girard, and the addition of second guitarist, Rick Tremblay, drummer, Rick Vatour, and bassist, Fred Nesrallah, turning Galleon into a powerful foursome.
During this time, they began writing and recording their own material, which was soon implemented into their sets. Songs like, “Rock The Night Away“, “What D‘ya Want“, and “Take It Off“, encapsulated the relentless, fast-paced energy of the rock bands that influenced them. Maidenesque duelling guitars, flowing melodic verses, rich vocal harmonies, and steady hard-rocking rhythms, became their typical rock anthem formula.
“Both myself and Rick (Tremblay) wrote the main parts for the songs“, Labarge reflected, “but they would have been nothing without the contribution of the other guys that really brought them to life.“
Their music was very well received by fans, and by radio stations such as Montreal’s CHOM FM, and Toronto’s Q107, who started spinning some of their singles over the airwaves. In 1985, Galleon‘s “Wasting Time”, appeared on EMI/Capitol Records Moose Molten Metal Volume 1 compilation album. The same year also saw their single, “What D’ya Want” appear on Viper Records Maple Metal compilation album. They were on the threshold of cementing a record deal with Solid Gold Records, when the label suffered bankruptcy.
Other offers would ensue, but by the mid-eighties, they were faced with the expectations from many labels who sought music that was more commercially viable. It seemed that taking the step “up” from the simpler and happier life on the road, had forced them into changing the very fabric of their sound, all in the name of dollars and cents. Frustrations arose, and the band decided to call it quits, leaving the rock ’n roll life behind to head back to school and into “real” jobs.
Today, the sleeping giant of rock ‘n roll has returned in the form of a growing surge of young bands that are now heavily influenced by the classic rock and metal bands of the 70’s and 80’s. In turn, we find many of these retired bands returning to the scene decades later, to reunite and reignite the music once again. And so, after nearly 30 years, it would be a gathering at Rick Vatour’s son’s soccer game that would spurn into talks of getting the band back together. Word began to sprout over the social network waves of a possible reunion. It also felt like just the perfect time and a calling back to arms seemed imminent. Over the years, each had kept up their chops with musical projects of their own, but there was now this fresh sense of excitement brewing in the prospect of reuniting their talents as Galleon.
They planned their first reunion show in August of this year, with only one 4-hr. rehearsal the night before. During that rehearsal, the reconnect felt completely natural, and everything fell into place with ease. Both Labarge and Nesrallah conveyed to me that they simply picked up where they left off. The success, talent, and unique sound they had achieved as a band was due to the fact that they had always played off each other so well, and it seemed that no amount of time had changed or affected this in any way. The once gypsy-like lifestyle of life on the road was always fresh with new experiences, new faces, and new places. The thing that’s different this time around is the warmth in the familiarity of it all. What hasn’t changed is the thrill of performing, the challenge to make it their best, the musical chemistry amongst themselves, and the pure joy of the give and take between the audience and the artists.
The reunion gig was played at Greenfield’s Pub, a great live venue located in Ottawa’s west end, known for its stellar stage sound and lighting. They were welcomed back by an army of fans, (or rather, friends, as the band prefers to call them) and were amazed by the following that has remained to this day. Since the band’s reformation, the songwriting juices have been flowing at a rapid pace, with already an album’s worth of new material ready to go. There is also talk of a well-deserved remixing of their earlier work. Upcoming shows in Montreal and Toronto are also in the plans.
Galleon sets sail again, with an upcoming performance this Saturday. Come relive the excitement of an era that is experiencing a re-awakening before our very eyes and ears.