Winnipeg music writer gets shout-out from Hip frontman


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It’s been 28 years since John Kendle helped out the Tragically Hip, then a young rock band that had a tough break on its first gig in a new city.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/08/2016 (2498 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s been 28 years since John Kendle helped out the Tragically Hip, then a young rock band that had a tough break on its first gig in a new city.

On Friday, the Hip were back in Winnipeg for what is likely the last time. In front of a packed house at the MTS Centre, frontman Gord Downie said a very public thank-you to the music journalist, nearly three decades after the fact.

To a roaring crowd, Downie, who has incurable brain cancer, recalled the story as he remembered it — tanking their first show, losing a string of concerts and being saved by Kendle, the music journalist who wrote the column that saved their careers.

“John Kendle, he got us our first gig. We came here, we got fired,” Downie said. “We were looking at six nights of gigs gone.

“It kept us going or we were heading back to Kingston and, you know, becoming the accountants that we always dreamed to be,” Downie said, after recalling how the article prompted Winnipeggers to rally together and hire the band for shows for the rest of their stay. “So thank you very much, sir.”

Gord Downie: gratitude
Gord Downie: gratitude

Kendle is now the managing editor of Canstar Community News, a division of FP Canadian Newspapers, which owns the Free Press. Kendle was in the audience Friday, blown away.

“I had a sense that something might happen, because he said, ‘When we were first here we got fired,’ and then he stopped,” said Kendle Sunday, remembering the moment of the shout-out. “And then he went and said what he said over the mic, and I heard it, and it was a very humbling, surreal and emotional moment.

“My partner Liz just hugged me and started sobbing,” Kendle said. “And that got me going, and then the friends we were sitting with got in on the act and I think all four of us were up there kind of crying and grinning and couldn’t quite believe it.”

Kendle said he remembers the occasion well — the way he tells it is this: Monday, March 14, 1988, the Hip were scheduled to play the Diamond Club, a hotel bar. It was the first gig of their first western Canadian tour, and it tanked. Kendle said he’d seen it coming — the Diamond Club was a “top-40 show-band bar,” and the Hip weren’t exactly the usual fare.

“Sure enough, that night, they got fired after their first set,” he said. “The stories that I’ve heard differ. Some say that it had to do with the fact that someone spit on the stage at the band. Some say that it’s because Downie performed a song while he was lying on the floor, which he was known to do.”

Either way, the Hip lost their next five gigs and the hotel rooms they’d been promised along with them.

“Tuesday, the fifteenth of March, they woke up probably thinking it was one of the blackest days of their lives,” Kendle said.

Kendle said he wasn’t at the Diamond Club show. But he knew the Hip, and when he heard about the cancellations, he started making phone calls.

Kendle said it wasn’t down to him at all. Instead, he says it was Rob Hoskin, a local booking agent, and the Hip’s own agent in Toronto who did the real work and found most of the band’s last-minute replacement gigs. They ended up staying at the Osborne Village Motor Inn and played shows at Corner Boys and university pubs. But Downie wasn’t wrong that Kendle wrote an article in the Hip’s defence.

“I wrote a column for the Sun that ran on that Friday, which would have been the 18th, basically decrying the fact that all original bands got the short end of the stick, and that it was an unconscionable thing for them to be fired from the Diamond Club, and that the Hip was a band that was on the up and up and that people would be watching them for a long time to come,” Kendle said. Turns out, he was right.

After the show Friday, Kendle said he went backstage to say hello. When he was back there, he said he corrected them on the story, wanting to clarify the details lost over nearly 30 years.

But some stories are so good it doesn’t matter if they’re true, and that’s what the Hip told Kendle.

“Gord Sinclair (the Hip’s bassist) said, ‘John, that’s the legend! John Kendle and Corner Boys,’” Kendle said. “And I said, ‘OK, I’ll stand with the legend.’”

While Kendle said the shout-out was “humbling,” it was also bittersweet.

Out of the eight shows the Hip have played on their farewell tour, Kendle said he’s seen part or all of seven of them either live or via Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming tool. He said he’ll be at the West End Cultural Centre Aug. 20 with friends and family, watching the band’s final show.

John Kendle: humbling, bittersweet
John Kendle: humbling, bittersweet
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