Chapter 2: From our archives

Dusting off the pages of the Hip's early days

In The Tragically Hip's earliest days as a campus band, The Queen's Journal documented the group's shows and music. These decades-old articles form an often overlooked part of the Hip's story, one its writers never could have anticipated would end this way.

Vol. 112 - 1984-85

Jan. 25, 1985 – High energy dance music: It’s Tragic

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In the first known profile of The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie describes the band’s line-up of covers as "high energy dancing music."

According to the article, the original group came together in October 1984, consisting of Gord Downie, Arts ’87; Rob Baker, Fine Arts ’86; John Fay, Arts ’88; and Gord Sinclair, Arts ’85.

A later article reports that John Fay was actually still in high school at Kingston Collegiate & Vocational Institute (KCVI, the high school they all graduated from) when the band started playing together.

Whether Davis Manning was playing saxophone with the Hip at this point is unclear, as there’s no mention of him in this article.

Sinclair and Baker graduated Queen’s in ‘86, while Downie graduated in ‘88.

"Everywhere you go you seem to see the same bands," says the group's lead singer, Gord Downie, adding that Queen's "can use an injection of something new and different."

Downie and Baker were also playing together in another band called The Filters. The Hip was playing small venues like the Lakeside Manor (a legendary Kingston venue that no longer exists) and the campus bar, Alfie’s (now The Underground).

"It's very danceable're not hit over the head with it' Baker said.

"A lot of tunes are overdosed around campus pubs," added Fay.

The article discusses the inspiration for the name “Tragically Hip”, which comes from a Mike Nesmith video of The Monkees.

The guys said they didn’t take themselves too seriously, forming mostly for “fun and profit”, and playing 50s and 60s covers of the Yardbirds, The Monkees, and Elvis Presley.

Vol. 113 - 1985-86

Oct. 1, 1985 – Long-haired monsters? Just good clean boys

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How you guys manage to play and party all night and then get up for class in the morning?

Gord Downie: Personally, I don’t. I’m just a succession of borrowed notes.

Gord Sinclair: We’ve been led to believe that it’s a matter of responsibility and organization, but we haven’t reached that plateau yet.

What happens if all five of you want to go to a movie together downtown?

Gord D: No, it’s impossible.

What can you do without attracting a lot of attention?

Gord D: We go to the Plaza.

What about merchandising? Will there be posters and T-shirts?

Gord S: No, but we’re coming out with “Tragically Hip” pencil cases and lunch boxes.

Almost a year since they began playing together, excitement about the group picked up around campus, making them local legends.

Adding Davis Manning on saxophone since the last time The Journal reported on them, Ted Emerson and Paul Faulkner call the group “Kingston’s hottest rock combo.”

In a playful interview with the guys, Emerson and Faulkner get some classic quotes from the band about their fame, partying, classes and plans for the future.

Oct. 22, 85 – Hip to Head in music and muck

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In their first of many Homecoming appearances, the Hip open act for the Hamilton band, Teenage Head, at the Open Air concert on Fleming Field (now called Agnes Benidickson Field).

Don Munro, a contributing journalist at the time, writes that the Hip “didn’t have the crowed they deserved”, as they played a short set before rushing to a gig at the Manor.

“Vocalist Gord Downie’s incredible stage presence made the band come alive. As a new twist, they brought out three stylish female dancers,” Munro reported.

Vol. 114 - 1986-87

Oct. 28, 1986 – Good mix of bands makes Oom-Pa-Pa a success

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Playing again the following Homecoming and their first Oom-Pa-Pa festival – an annual Germanic Oktoberfest-themed festival – the Hip joins fellow Queen’s band Guyana Kool-aid for a sold out show in Jock Harty Arena.

The two Queen’s groups played for a crowd of nearly 1,000 people, alongside a band called the Continentals. The Hip were headlining.

The show was given positive reviews by The Journal’s Neil Kerr.

Whether Paul Langlois was playing with the Hip at that point is not mentioned in the article – likely because most students didn’t remember much from the weekend anyways.

Homecoming in general was rowdy that year. After organizing a legal Open Air concert on the Saturday night with the permission of the City, city officials said it likely wouldn’t happen again due to poor behavior.

Nov 14, 1986 – Metamorphosis of the Tragically Hip

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Coming off shows at McMaster University and the University and College Band Showcase in Toronto, the Hip surprised their hometown fans with a few changes to their lineup.

Paul Langlois was introduced on rhythm guitar, a surprising twist according to the article, as saxophone player, Davis Manning, left the group — solidifying what will be the Hip’s lineup for the next 30 years.

Playing at the familiar Alfie’s venue, the band added more original material as The Journal’s Jeff Jenkins wrote, “the metamorphosis of the Hip continues, it would seem.”

The show was given mixed reviews by Jenkins as some of the fans were expecting more of the “high energy dance music” and 60s covers the Hip was originally known for.

“Although the old band definitely had more energy, the original stuff deserves a listen,” wrote Jenkins.

Jan. 27, 1987 – The Hip mixes distinct originals with old standards

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The band had to elbow their way through a packed dance floor to get onto the small stage of Clark Hall Pub, wrote Basil Rolfe for The Journal.

“The band played a mixture of Sixties standards and their own work. They faithfully rendered the best of the Monkees, the Yardbirds, the Animals, etc., but more significantly their own songs were the best of the night.”

Vol. 115 - 1987-88

Oct. 19, 1987 – Students left wanting more Hip

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Returning again to play Homecoming weekend, the Hip packed Alfie’s to kick off the weekend festivities.

“Although the Tragically Hip has performed at Alfie’s numerous times, the band seems to retain a certain magic and mixes enough variety into their shows to keep people coming back for more,” The Journal’s Grant Daly wrote.

“The longer hair style and laid back wardrobe may have been an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the revitalized “Dead” look that is sweeping campuses nationwide.”

Oct. 30, 1987 – Poor turnout for charitable event

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It wasn’t all fame and glory for the Hip in the early days.

A Sunday benefit concert for Amnesty International in Grant Hall – entitled Freedom Concert ’87 – featured four hours of live music, seven different acts and a less than impressive turnout.

The Hip played the show’s finale to a small group of sober fans on the Sunday evening.

The Journal’s Peter Robinson criticized the band for their lack of energy on stage, while acknowledging that playing a Sunday evening isn’t the most exciting show.

Jan. 15, 1988 – The Tragically Hip get back to basics and score big with a record contract, American tour, and strong support from hometown

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On the same day as the national release of the Hip’s self-titled debut EP, The Journal published an interview with Sinclair and Langlois about the band’s big break.

The Hip got their record deal after a show at Toronto’s Hourseshoe Tavern, were they were discovered by a BMG (RCA Canada) exec.

The Journal’s Christine Campbell discussed details with Sinclair and Langlois about the new record deal, their writing inspirations and how the band has changed since its early days as a “campus cover band”.

The guys also discussed the release of their first video (presumably “Small Town Bringdown”) and preparation for a show at the legendary rock venue CBGB in New York City.

"When we’re back in town we get positive reactions. We were a little concerned, being Kingston is a small town and stuff but it seems like people are behind us," Paul Langlois said.

Jan. 19, 1888 – Hip meets expectations, but sound system doesn’t

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In their first big performance in Kingston since the release of their EP, the Hip played the annual Super Bash concert for roughly 600 people at the Olympic Harbour Building.

The Hip got positive reviews for their show, but the sound quality did not.

Of all The Journal archives, it seems Greg McKenzie is the first to recognize the Hip’s potential to impact the Canadian music scene.

“The city of Kingston might be put on the "commercial map" with the emergence of The Tragically Hip,” McKEnzie wrote. “New Canadian talent like The Northern Pikes, 54-40, and Chalk Circle could soon be joined by the Hip if the band plays its cards right. Their recent record contract is a strong indicator of better things to come.”

Jan. 26, 1988 – EP review

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Even with all the hype surrounding the band on campus, not everyone loved their early work and not every review was positive.

Tedd Betts gave the Hip’s first self-titled EP a harsh review in this January edition of The Journal.

“The tragic story of the highly-touted Tragically Hip’s debut album starts with the first track,” he wrote.

“The bitterest taste of the record, though, can be found in the lyrics. The band is tragically lacking in this department.”

In hindsight, it’s easy to notice the irony of critiquing the Hip for their “lacking” lyrics.

But Betts’ review puts in perspective how far the Hip have come and how difficult at times their early years might have been. Since the beginning they’ve consistently been praised for their live performance, but apparently their work in the studio took time to perfect.

Vol. 116 - 1988-89

Oct. 14, 1988 – Grab your lederhosen and head for Jock Harty

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The Journal published a preview for the Oktoberfest themed Oom-Pa-Pa festival, to take place the Friday night of Homecoming weekend.

This is the Hip’s fourth consecutive Homecoming weekend appearance and their second time playing the Oom-Pa-Pa festival.

It was a few months since the release of their first self-titled EP and the Hip were at the height of their campus stardom.

“The Hip are legendary for infusing high voltage energy into a boisterous, if not spirit-fueled crowd. And with the capacity for 1,000 eager patrons, Jock Harty arena should provide a suitable venue for their rowdy stage antics,” wrote The Journal’s Kristen Gill.

Imagine this: tickets were only $8.

Oct. 18, 1988 – Homecoming barrels ahead with the Tragically Hip

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Homecoming weekend that year had a lot of big names come out to play. The Hip performed on Friday night, while Blue Rodeo and Colin James played the Open Air concert on Saturday night.

As part of the Oktoberfest theme, a traditional Oktoberfest band opened for the Hip. The band, known as Feeling Great, “dressed in conventional Germanic regalia, complete with lederhosen,” The Journal’s Pamela Ip reported.

“As 11 p.m. neared, the anticipation for the headline act peaked. The crowd had clearly gathered in droves to hear the Tragically Hip, a home favorite who have gained national and international recognition.”

As Ip noted, Gord Downie was up to his usual stage antics, jumping around all over stage in a “fever-pitched state of frenzy.”

Apparently Dan Ackroyd was at the concert as well – and later attended a “shooter party” (whatever that means).

Vol. 117 - 1989-90

Sept. 19, 1989 – Hipper than your usual hosers

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The Journal’s David Lauder took a critical look at the Hip’s first full-length studio album, Up to Here, track by track.

Lauder noted that his criticism pointed, “to the fact that the Hip is a young band that has left itself room to grow beyond this solid effort. Being touted by the Canadian media as the “great white-north hope” or as successors to The Band is hard enough to live up to … It is just that those who have seen the Hip live truly expect immediate greatness.”

Dec. 8, 1989 – A decade in entertainment: Local heroes on the campus scene

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As part of a special feature summarizing the past decade as they moved into the 90s, Tom Megginson told an offhand history of the Queen’s music scene, focusing on the Hip.

“Everyone I know has a friend or relative who appeared in their first video” Megginson wrote. The video he’s referring to is likely "Small Town Bringdown", the first single off the Hip’s self-titled EP from the year before.

“But the Tragically Hip is known by the rest of the world as a Kingston band too, just to prove that there is no justice in this world for Queen’s students.”

“I must end this column with a plea to my fellow children of the Nineties: Take up your guitars, your voices, your drums, and play like hell. The Hip are out of here, and it’s time for the second wave.”

Jan. 16, 1990 – Kingston’s finest entertain hipsters at Superbash

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“The image of the Hip as a campus band only exists as a legend to most current students, and some are even unaware of the Queen’s connection,” wrote Megginson in his review of the Hip’s first show back in Kingston since the release of their first full length album, Up to Here, the previous fall.

Megginson, having some knowledge of the Hip’s origin from his previous writing, asked Downie to confirm the band’s past, “to set the record straight.”

“I caught him in his dressing room, during the sound check. He was open and friendly, and talked for a good half hour while guitarists Bobby Baker and Paul Langlois tuned up and goofed around in the background.”

Downie confirmed to Megginson that the band was still very much rooted in Kingston and at Queen’s.

But Megginson also asks an interesting question of the reader: with a much smaller turnout than what was expected, where were all the Hip faithful’s on campus?

Vol. 121 - 1993-94

Sept. 10, 1993 – The hippest show in town

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It had been three years since The Journal reported on the Hip – with the exception of a short review of the band’s second studio album, Road Apples (1991) and offhand references to the band in other articles.

Megginson’s premonition had come true — the Hip was no longer just a “campus band” and Queen’s students were no longer the only audience who would give them a listen. But had both completely forgotten about the other?

Apparently not. In September of 1993, the campus legends made their way back home in a perfect setting for their return — Richardson Stadium.

By this time the Hip had already released three full length studio albums, all of which received a Juno Award in accompaniment (Most Promising Group of the Year, 1990; Canadian Entertainer of the Year, 1991; Canadian Entertainer of the Year, 1993)

Introduced by Dan Akroyd, the Hip came out to a full downpour and a sea of umbrellas and raincoats, wrote The Journal’s Rob Furse.

But that made no difference to Downie, Furse wrote, “who was, as usual, immediately engulfed in his own universe”.

Chapter 3:Coverage of the Hip's final concert