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New Creation: Vancouver Sun

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  • Irwin Chusid
    60s Godcore album finds itself born again 30 years ago, a Jesus People band cut a disc that went nowhere, until now Dan Rowe Vancouver Sun Monday, July 14,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2003
      '60s Godcore album finds itself born again
      30 years ago, a Jesus People band cut a disc that went nowhere, until now

      Dan Rowe
      Vancouver Sun

      Monday, July 14, 2003

      While the rest of Kitsilano in 1967 was turning on, tuning in and dropping
      out, Lorna Towers and her son Chris immersed themselves in a different kind
      of counterculture.

      They were known in the parlance of the day as Jesus People, and they fell
      somewhere outside the Hegelian struggle between the hippies and the
      Establishment. Jesus People were, in a sense,
      counter-counter-revolutionaries, people who wanted to end the turbulent
      dawning of the Age of Aquarius by turning people on to Jesus Christ. They
      used techniques that even their own churches did not approve of, including,
      in the rarest cases, really, really good rock music.

      Lorna and Chris Towers were on the fringes of even this. Lorna, a devout
      Christian, and her son wrote a Christian play in 1967 which they entered in
      a contest sponsored by CBC Radio. Needless to say their play did not win,
      but the mother-son combo kept writing. Poems evolved into songs.

      Some of those songs, after languishing in almost complete obscurity for 30
      years have recently come to light. The story of how a botany professor's
      wife and son earned a niche for themselves in West Coast music history is
      one of the most bizarre and compelling tales to come down the pike since,
      well, the hippies owned West Fourth Avenue.

      - - -

      Lorna Towers had always loved to sing, but had never done so professionally.
      Chris had just started to pick up the guitar. He couldn't take his eyes off
      Jimi Hendrix, and was fascinated by Cream (and what nascent guitarist in
      1967 wasn't?) Gimme Shelter was his favourite song.

      "The devil has the best music," Chris Towers says now. "It was very hard to
      reconcile."

      The Towers and a 21-year-old acquaintance, Janet Tiessen, formed a band, and
      for more than a year, the trio practised one evening a week in a
      wood-panelled rumpus room in Coquitlam.

      The called themselves The New Creation. Their practice sessions were long
      and intense.

      By 1969 Chris and Lorna, but mostly Lorna, were responsible for a catalogue
      of about 50 songs.

      The New Creation seemed to be building towards something. The starkly
      messianic quality of the lyrics may have contributed to this sense of
      momentum. It certainly wasn't the group's few public performances. They
      received "polite" response at a show in a Gastown cafe. A performance for a
      suburban church group saw much of the audience watch in stunned silence or
      get up and leave early. The New Creation's only television appearance, on a
      cable access show, ended in an argument with the show's highly critical
      host.

      Unbowed, the trio pooled their resources -- $1,000, no small sum at the time
      -- to get six hours in the middle of the night at Studio Three to record
      their album, Troubled, and have 100 copies pressed.

      It was not uncommon in the summer of 1970 for bands that practised in
      basements and garages around the Lower Mainland to book recording time at
      the studio at the corner of Arbutus and 12th. But it probably was uncommon
      for any of those bands or even individual members of those bands to feel
      that the recording session needed to happen for reasons other than the dream
      of rock 'n' roll superstardom.

      Tiessen can remember that warm summer night, but not all that well. She was
      in a fog. It was like a dream going into that big, airy studio. Again, not
      uncommon for a lot of the bands that recorded there, but for a different
      reason.

      The New Creation had a message to deliver. They brought a cake to share when
      they finished recording -- which is probably not how the Rolling Stones
      celebrated the completion of Let It Bleed.

      Tiessen likens the whole experience to white water canoeing. There's a
      difficult bend that you have to negotiate, with lots of rapids. It might end
      with the canoe tipping. It could just knock you around. Avoiding it is not
      an option. Hell or high water.

      "Picture a bunch of kinda goofy, geeky guys, who have no flippin' idea . . .
      . You're doing it. You're scared. You just do it because there is some sense
      of need or urgency to do it," Tiessen said.

      "That drug culture was so overwhelming, more than it was now. It was
      continuous. People were wearing long hair, nobody had short hair. It was
      just like open rebellion."

      Six hours later, The New Creation had an album -- 41 minutes, 12 songs, one
      message. Piece of cake.

      By the time, the album was off the presses, The New Creation was all but
      done. Chris was feverishly trying to get it played on Christian radio shows
      around North America. To his knowledge, the only play it got was on a
      Vancouver show whose host he cajoled into spinning it once in the middle of
      the night.

      He has also heard a tale, quite possibly apocryphal, of a smitten DJ in
      Hawaii, which was, along with San Francisco, one of the major centres of the
      Jesus People movement, who played the album front to back for three straight
      hours. Then he was fired.

      Tiessen was as unimpressed as most of the radio people who found copies of
      this strange album in an off-white sleeve with 'Troubled' scrawled across
      the front on their desks. "I thought, 'My gosh, I can't stand this album,
      it's awful,' " she said.

      Soon after, she moved back to the Toronto area. She wanted out of Vancouver.
      The New Creation was not just a big disappointment, it was dead. The Towers'
      marriage, which had been in trouble for years, finally disintegrated.
      Troubled, which was only played once in the Towers household, may well have
      contributed.

      Lorna needed space. She moved to Hawaii. Chris, then 24, stayed in
      Vancouver.

      - - -

      In the mid-1970s, a Boston radio station started to play a few tracks from
      an obscure album, Philosophy of the World, by an obscure group of young
      women, the Shaggs, from an out-of-the-way New Hampshire village. The songs
      divided those who heard them. Some, like Frank Zappa and Lester Bangs,
      thought the Shaggs were better than the Beatles. Others were repulsed by
      their naive sound. Either way it was the first big find, probably still the
      biggest, in the history of outsider music.

      Quixotic is a great word. It looks good on paper, it rolls off the tongue
      and has obvious literary allusions. Because of this it is over used. But
      using the strictest definition of the word -- "caught up in the romance of
      noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; foolishly impractical
      especially in the pursuit of ideals" -- the strange souls who dedicate so
      much of their time to finding the next Philosophy of the World or the most
      recent outsider hit, the Langley Schools Music Project, which was also a
      Vancouver find, are absolutely, undeniably quixotic.

      James Brouwer, originally from B.C., moved to Guelph, Ont., to study
      philosophy at the university there, which is better known for its heavy
      focus on agriculture. He was able to get a slot at the university's radio
      station about five years ago to indulge his interest in strange, esoteric
      music. On that show, Brouwer became the first person to play a song by The
      New Creation over public airwaves in nearly 30 years.

      Chris Towers, who works for Canada Post and lives with his wife in south
      Vancouver, had no idea that his long-abandoned hopes of finding someone who
      liked his music had finally been answered.

      Neither did Lorna Towers, back in Vancouver and still working part-time as
      the manager of an apartment building near the Burrard Street Bridge.

      Janet Tiessen, coincidentally, now a letter carrier for Canada Post in
      Toronto, was probably just out of the listening range of CFRU, but had no
      idea that the disappointment she had contributed to had suddenly found an
      audience, albeit a marginal one.

      Brouwer got the album from an old friend, Ty Scammell, a long-time
      record-dealing fixture at Vancouver flea markets. He had found it in the
      basement of a Vancouver thrift shop in the late 1980s. More of a fan of
      psychedelic music then outsider music, Scammell understood its brilliance
      and would play it for serious collectors, but he wouldn't sell it. He
      offered to burn a CD-R version for Brouwer, who could not believe his ears.
      "I just loved it. I thought it was an amazing record," he said.

      Brouwer gets up early every Saturday just to go to yard sales to search
      through musty boxes of albums hoping against hope to find something
      interesting. He should know by now that it is highly unlikely. In the 10
      years or so that has been a hobby, along with seeking other "naive art" like
      paintings, Brouwer has considered himself lucky if he came across one truly
      great outsider album each year.

      Things like the Internet and improved CD burning technology have helped make
      the small world of outsider music a bit less isolated. Online, Brouwer found
      a Web site operated by Berkeley, Calif. resident Will Louviere, who was
      hoping to take his hobby to the next level and reissue some of the best
      finds with a few of his like-minded friends. They got in touch and worked
      out a trade that saw a copy of The New Creation's Troubled going to northern
      California.

      "Once, we heard it we knew it was going to be our first release," Louviere
      said. "It was just so strong."

      After hearing the first track on the album, Welcome to Revolution, it is
      hard not feel that way. Although, as Louviere points our, plenty of people
      think Troubled, like Philosophy of the World, might be the worst thing
      committed to vinyl.

      The band came up with the song just a few days before the recording session
      and were still working on it as they went into the studio. It features
      five-and-a-half minutes of the three band members uttering phrases, like
      "might is right" and He's got the whole world in his hands," which the sound
      technician, whose name has been forgotten but not his skill, laid over a bed
      of sound effects crudely recreating gunfire. Eventually, it flows into a
      two-minute tune with lyrics that talk unflinchingly of a revolution brought
      about by Jesus, setting up the next 11 tracks. It ends with the sound of a
      bomb falling and exploding.

      Over-all, the musicianship is a bit rough, a confession the band members
      will make themselves, but the earnestness and garage band ethos would lead
      the top reissuer of outsider music, Irwin Chusid, to dub it "Sixties Garage
      Godcore." Brouwer describes it as a cross between the Shaggs and an early,
      untrained Velvet Underground.

      A couple of the more compelling and more traditional tracks are Wind, a
      haunting piece that was written and sung by Chris, and Yet Still Time, a
      piece about a troubled 21-year old who gets into trouble with drugs and the
      law. The 10th track on the album, it best reflects the problem the band had
      in keeping time on the second side of the album when they were hurrying to
      get all 12 tracks in the can before their six hours of studio time expired.
      Urgent.

      Louviere began his hunt for the band members with Tiessen because her name
      was more unusual than Towers. He got in touch with her and the others, and
      told them of his intentions. They thought it was a joke. "No one had ever
      mentioned the record to them in 30 years. It was truly and completely lost,"
      Louviere said. Tiessen had not even been in contact with the Towers' in that
      time.

      During the 10 months it took to package the liner notes and complete the
      process of reissuing the album on Louviere's new label, Companion Records,
      he won the trust of the band.

      They regained confidence in their own abilities, too. Chris cringes at the
      rough spots, but he listens to the CD in his car on his way to and from
      work. Tiessen, halfway across the country, is looking for a drumset. She
      will be back in Vancouver this October and, if all goes well, The New
      Creation will reunite -- Sixties Garage Godcore lives!

      Still, The New Creation is on the outside looking in. They won't be rock
      stars and the naive message of their music is more out of place now than in
      1970. But they have finally found a place where they and their music are
      appreciated, proving that there is, after all, yet still time.

      drowe@...

      © Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun


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