Harold Lear’s Swan Song
Dr. Bob and the Disco Beaver played its last show ever at Speakeasy on March 6. It was packed like sardines, which was appropriate, since many were initiated as “Honorary Newfoundlanders” by “kissing the fish” and slamming an insane Canadian whisky named “Screech,” at the end of the night.
Also onstage was the G-Jay band, with a recently revamped line up of Tim Crawford (saxophone), Norbert Morvan (vocals and MC “Royale”), Tony Boyd (bass), Gordon MacKay (guitar), Caleb MacIvor (keys, vocals, songwriter, originator, bandleader, task master and booking agent), Ed McEntee (drums), and Carlos Gentile (percussion).
The packed bar had barely enough room for dancers to improvise. Couples were spotted doing the Mashed Potato, the Bus Stop, and the dance that has made Speakeasy famous, the “your-place-or-mine?” And who could resist a swing around the dance floor with the blues-driven, hard-driving guitar riffs of Harold Lear and his accomplished band?
You could see the emotion of playing his last gig in Korea on Harold’s face, but he scored a tenured professorship in New Brunswick, Canada, and could not resist teaching sociology, though his PhD is in Eastern Philosophy. “My masters degree is in sociology, so it’s not a big stretch,” he said with his characteristic smile. His music and merry-making will be much missed. He named the night “Saturday Mayhem,” and it was not shocking that many who knew him from his latest stint in Suncheon made the trek to bid him adieu.
Not to be outdone (except notably on drums and guitar) the G-Jay band also got our feet moving, as Norbert toasted the crowd, and the band played funk, reggae and rock numbers from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as Caleb’s soulful originals. You couldn’t be faulted for thinking this band was formed at a catholic church, what with the Macs and Mcs, and it turns out bassist Tony Boyd hails from Scotland itself, thus not one of the millions that are part of the Irish and Scottish Diaspora.
As a music critic, I’d pick Tim Crawford as the undisputed star of the G-Jay band. His sax riffs began halfway through the Disco Beaver’s first set (he was in the upstairs pool room, or precisely, in the kitchen/storage room next to it at the time). His runs, more Charlie Parker than Eric Dolphy, kept going non-stop, except for a brief breathing period to walk downstairs and set his microphone height. Did he “warm up” during the stage preparation? Yes. Did his hyperkinetic, beautiful, lyrical alto sax solos continue through everything but other solos? Indeed. Was it a distraction to Norbert’s singing? I think not. Why not? Because Crawford is good. Very good.
You can tell these guys love having a gig outside the realm of teaching English, as the pre-show banter was flowing like earth-rumbling splashes emanating from Viagra Falls. “One night we had a small crown, maybe 12 people, but all 12 were dancing. One dude fell, broke our mike stand and knocked himself out. We picked him up and he kept dancing,” McIvor said. “We’ve made it into a Korean documentary, and play just about everywhere we can find. On the originals I write the music, and Norbert writes the words…the songs grow organically.”
Many of the members are “lifers” in Korea, meaning, once they arrived here and discovered the gentle culture, sincere friendships and positive working conditions, they stayed for life. Three are married, four are Canadian, two are from the US and one is Scottish. They play out of Jeon Ju. “Being right in the middle of the peninsula is an advantage when it comes to playing gigs all over the country,” MacIvor said. He also said there were no “real leaders” in the band, and that they are “living the dream,” by being able to play so often.
“We changed a lot of songs this year, with new members. Everyone brings in ideas for cover songs and then I shoot them down,” MacIvor said, laughing. “We have an advantage because we can play sets of covers with just three members, so we’re flexible in case some people are too tied up to make a gig.”
Dr. Bob and the Disco Beaver played near-perfect renditions of classics like the James Gang’s “Funk 49,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” and, to allow a little improvisational guitar freedom, Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile.” G-Jay then kept the “Groove Thing” going with originals like “Faces,” and a memorable cover of the Specials “(a message for you ) Rudy.” The trombones were not missed, with Crawford’s sax work, and the appropriate multicultural Specials were great to hear, as it had been a while, since there is nothing like a classic rock or rock station anywhere near Gwangju. You would think GFN would cater to the tastes of the foreigners in town, with it being the Gwangju Foreigners Network, instead they play KPOP songs that are just as often from the bands managed by the director’s son than from KPOP itself. There would still be plenty of time for a genuine rock hour or two per day, but helping foreigners feel at home is apparently not the goal of the station. I like what Pete Ross does, but his show is not rock either, but 75% mamby-pamby British obscurities.
This too is why the Disco Beavers will be missed, and why we hope the G-Jay band will be back. Speakeasy impresario Derek does a great job locating Korea’s talent, and there is little doubt that new bands shall arise from the pool of English teachers. There is no way any will touch the guitar mastery of Harold Lear though, as his musical resume includes a stint with Ringo Starr, and by golly, if Harold’s good enough to be a tenured sociology professor at New Brunswick, and has the musical chops to be Ringo Starr’s guitarist, that’s one mighty hard act to follow.
First Published in the Gwangju News: http://www.gwangjunewsgic.com/