Dave Edmunds - guitars, vocals; Nick Lowe - bass, vocals; Billy Bremner - guitars, vocals; Terry Williams - drums
Canada's legendary 1980 Heatwave Festival was the brainchild of concert promoter John Brower, who was based in Toronto. Brower established his reputation a decade prior, as the man behind the 1969 Rock and Roll Revival concert at Varsity Stadium (AKA "Live Peace In Toronto," which featured John Lennon's debut live performance outside The Beatles) and the three-day Woodstock-esque Strawberry Fields Festival held at Ontario's Mosport Park the following summer. For Canadians, as well as thousands of Americans and Europeans who traveled to this event, Brower's Heatwave Festival would become one of Canada's most memorable musical events.
Held at Mosport Park, a 500 acre auto racing facility located approximately 100 kilometers east of Toronto, the aptly named Heatwave Festival took place on a hot August Saturday and presented the cream of the crop of post-punk new wave bands, just as many were breaking big internationally. Promoted as the "New Wave Woodstock" or as the poster for the event proclaimed, "The 1980s Big Beat Rock And Roll Party," nearly 100, 000 fans would converge that day to witness some of the greatest American, British and Canadian bands to emerge in recent years all on the same stage.
The first major outdoor new wave musical event to be held anywhere, nearly 85,000 fans would purchase the $20 tickets to hear the likes of Rockpile with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, The B-52s, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and The Clash, along with Canada's own Teenage Head and The Kings and with lesser known groups like Holly and the Italians and The Rumour (Graham Parker's former group) also performing that day.
Like the original Woodstock Festival, Heatwave presented an incredible roster for that moment in time, but was likewise fraught with logistical and legal problems and would end in financial failure. When headliners, The Clash, pulled out at the last minute, rumors began spreading about the integrity of the festival. During this pre-Internet era, mass communication was difficult at best and wild speculation was running rampant about who else might cancel or who might replace The Clash. Lines were also being drawn, with the inevitable cries of "sellout" being aimed at some of the bands on the bill. On the plus side, unlike Woodstock, Mother Nature was quite cooperative and the festival took place under sunny blue skies on a hot summer Saturday, with thousands camping out the night before and already settled in by sunrise on the day of the concert. Other than the heat, for the audience it was a relatively comfortable experience for most of the day, until Brower himself became responsible for one of the logistical issues. During a backstage radio interview with his friend, Dan Aykroyd (in character as Elwood Blues), Aykroyd humorously encouraged Brower to put all the radio listeners on the guest list. Going with the flow, Brower laughingly agreed that it was a bright idea and within 90 minutes, another 15,000 ticketless fans turned up, swelling the crowd to estimates of 100,000 by sundown, just as the Talking Heads were taking the stage.
During the late 1970s, many of these bands had developed and diversified considerably. Another generation of serious talent was emerging, but they were still experiencing only modest commercial impact. Prior to 1980, most of these groups were heard only on college radio stations and had little experience performing beyond the college and club circuit. Few had ever performed before a crowd of this magnitude and several had never even played outdoors. Much had changed in the past several months; The Pretenders were now scoring Top 10 singles and Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The B-52s and Teenage Head also had albums and singles charting. Within the next year, MTV would also begin championing videos by many of these groups while significantly altering the music industry landscape. The Heatwave Festival captured the zeitgeist during this transitional moment in music history and presented inspired performances by all of these groups, several of which remain career highlights to the present day.
This newly transferred and mastered recording presents one of the early afternoon highlights of the Heatwave Festival, Rockpile. The group was initially founded by Welsh guitarist Dave Edmunds as the touring unit for his first solo album, Rockpile. In 1974, Edmunds and drummer Terry Williams would connect with Brinsley Schwartz's singer and songwriter, Nick Lowe. Both Lowe and Williams would become key players on Edmunds' 1977 solo album, Get It, and along with guitarist Billy Bremner would complete the Rockpile lineup. At the time of this performance, the group had yet to release their sole album under the Rockpile name, but in reality had already released three impressive albums. Two had been issued as Edmunds albums (Tracks on Wax 4 in 1978 and Repeat When Necessary in 1979) and the third, 1979's Labour of Lust was issued under Nick Lowe's name. Over the course of the previous three years, these musicians enjoyed an unusual business and creative arrangement, with Edmunds and Lowe producing tracks for each other and playing on each other's solo albums. Rockpile was responsible for each of these albums and became a leading light on the U.K. pub band scene.
The invigorating sound of Rockpile was based on the strengths of Lowe and Edmunds, who shared a love of late 1950s/early 1960s pop and rock & roll, but who had distinctively different approaches. Edmunds was clearly a retro-rocker, obsessed with the sound of Sun Studios and Phil Spector. His early solo albums reflected this obsession and conveyed a meticulous attention to detail. Lowe, on the other hand, preferred things loose and ragged and was primarily interested in capturing raw energy and passion. It is this approach that connected Lowe to the punk and new wave scene in England. As a producer, Lowe emphasized grit and passion and effectively translated it in the studio for a litany of angry British musicians, including Elvis Costello, the Damned, Graham Parker & the Rumour, and the Pretenders. The allure of Rockpile (and the various solo projects recorded by Rockpile) was the unique balance achieved between the two approaches, with Edmunds contributing focus and polish to Lowe's charmingly ragged pop songs and Lowe contributing a raw, yet savvy pop sensibility to Edmunds' retro-rock numbers. With Terry Williams' straightforward power drumming and Billy Bremner's tasteful lead guitar complementing the strong melodic sensibilities of Edmunds and Lowe, Rockpile created an immediate and robust sound that had a wide-ranging appeal.
As a band, Rockpile had the most experience of any of the Heatwave Festival performers and a collective wealth of strong material both old and new. Comfortable and confident, they deliver an inspired performance, not just before the huge Heatwave audience, but with many of their friends (The Pretenders, The Rumour, Elvis Costello & The Attractions) looking on. Rockpile waste no time getting things rockin' by delivering three extremely catchy songs right off the bat, beginning with Edmunds' "Sweet Little Lisa," one of the strongest tracks from his latest album at the time, Repeat When Necessary. Lowe next fronts the rollicking "So It Goes" from his highly acclaimed 1978 album Pure Pop For Now People album (originally issued under the title Jesus Of Cool in the UK), which is followed by the 1977 retro-rock classic "I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock & Roll)," a song so infectious both Lowe and Edmunds each issued recordings.
Each of the frontline musicians take a turn next, with Edmunds going first on "Queen Of Hearts," another tune from his latest album, followed by Lowe's Mickey Jupp cover, "Switchboard Susan," featured on his latest album, Labour Of Lust. After these, Billy Bremner takes an impressive turn on "Trouble Boys," a Bremner original that Rockpile recorded for Edmunds' Trax On Wax 4 album two years prior.
From here on out the set really takes off, beginning with another highlight from Edmunds' latest album, "Girls Talk," a song penned by Heatwave headliner Elvis Costello. Two numbers yet to be issued turn up next, beginning with a great Don Covay and Ron Miller cover, "Three Time Loser," which Edmunds would issue on his Twangin' album the following year. With Bremner again taking lead vocals, Rockpile treat the audience to another sneak preview with "You Ain't Nothin' But Fine," which would surface on the only album issued under the Rockpile name, Seconds Of Pleasure several months after this performance.
By the time Rockpile tackle Graham Parker's "Crawling From The Wreckage," another highlight from Edmunds' latest, the Heatwave audience is firmly under their spell. They seem to sense they've enamored one of the largest audiences of their career (if not the largest) and the set takes on a more relaxed and raw sensibility from here on out, beginning with Chuck Berry's classic "Let It Rock." Lowe then briefly goofs around with a humorous nod to Tony Bennett's "Oh The Good Life," before Rockpile deliver Edmunds' latest single, "Singing The Blues."
The set approaches its conclusion with another triple whammy that is sure to delight all listeners, beginning with a pairing of Edmunds' deliciously raunchy arrangement of "I Hear You Knockin'" segueing directly into the band collaboration "They Call It Rock," which Lowe had issued on Pure Pop For Now People. They drive things home with a compelling cover of "Ju Ju Man," which was originally issued as a single by Edmunds back in 1977.
The Heatwave Festival audience immediately responds with a barrage of encore applause and Rockpile return to the stage for a rollicking "Down Down Down" that only increases the audience's appetite for more. Audibly surprised at such an exuberant reaction, Rockpile return to the stage again, thank the audience and then tear into Otis Blackwell's "Let's Talk About Us" to conclude the set.
Clearly at their peak as a performing unit, this set is a must-hear for anyone interested in Edmunds or Lowe and is sure to delight all Rockpile fans. Despite finally issuing an album under their own name a few months after this performance, the friction between Edmunds and Lowe would soon take its toll. The same friction that created such great chemistry here would soon lead to Rockpile's demise and they would split up early in the next year. This Heatwave Festival recording serves as a testament to Rockpile's prowess onstage and clearly captures one of the monumental moments in the band's career.
-Written by Alan Bershaw