It’s easy to underestimate the craft of Paul Leahy.
The glam-infused, guitar-driven rockers on Polly’s 2013 debut CD All Messed Up, and jubilant 2016 follow up, Make It a Smash (which adds a smidgen of Gary Glitter and Queen to the canvas) sound positively effortless, natural, and organic. The solos are lean and mean, and subordinate themselves to Leahy’s songs without much in the way of show-offiness or self-indulgence.
But just because they sound effortless doesn’t mean they’re simple. As Leahy’s friend (and former No Fun bandmate) David M., has noted, “it ain’t easy to play guitar like Mick Ronson!”
Pointed Sticks guitarist Bill Napier Hemy knows what M. is talking about. The Pointed Sticks debuted their cover of Polly’s “Put a Little English On It” at the Fox Cabaret a few weeks ago, and presumably will be whipping it out again when they headline this Friday's tribute to Leahy at the Rickshaw. Dubbed the Super Duper Show, it's a benefit for the guitarist’s family, and a celebration of the music of an under-appreciated local great. (Also featured will be Swank, the Slip-Ons, the New Black, Tayt Modern and The Furniture, among others.)
Sadly, it is highly unlikely that Paul Leahy will get to hear his friends, peers, former bandmates and family paying tribute to him. Nevermind attending the gig-which was never really in the cards-Leahy may not even be around to see recordings of the event, it seems.
Northern Electric’s Richard Chapman, who organized the night, says that Leahy-who was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in early 2016-is, as of this writing, nearing his final day in a hospice in Surrey.
“To be honest-unless he’s gotten a little better since the last time I saw him-he’s not really taking stuff in," Chapman tells the Straight, calling from his office in New Westminster He’s in a painful state-but I would love for him to witness the show in some aspect.”
The local legend has no shortage of fans.
“Paul gets a beefy and nuanced sound out of that Gibson that I couldn’t hope to mimic,” Hemy says humbly. “I just try to play the songs using voicings that are comfortable for me, and hope to capture some kind of feel that works. I think he used a drop-D tuning for ‘Put a Little English On It,’ but I just use a normal tuning. I think it still works, but without some of the bottom that he gets.”
Hemy first saw Leahy with the Transvestimentals, “years ago at the Railway Club”. He recalls: “Paul was dressed in high-heeled boots and some tight leggings, and he was doing his stork-like glam guitar hero prancing. It was obviously not parody-he was living it.”
The glam rocker in Leahy would no doubt be pleased to note that Tim Chan of China Syndrome-also on the bill Friday-donned a bit of uncharacteristic eye makeup for the recent Rickshaw Bowie Ball, where he dedicated “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”. Chan notes that Leahy once did a Christmas cover of, “Scary Santas (and Christmas Creeps)” back in his Transvestimentals days.
While paying tribute to Bowie is nothing new for China Syndrome-“Let’s Dance” and “Ashes to Ashes” are go-to covers for the band, which they performed at last year's Bowie tribute, as well-actually adopting a glam look is not something you expect of Chan.
“To be honest, I wasn’t a glam guy when I was young,” the one-time Victoria-based guitarist offers, “but I certainly admired people who did glam it up or dress in punk or goth regalia. I did get more interesting haircuts later when I started playing in bands. Otherwise I was mostly a shy, studious and retiring kid obsessing about music in my bedroom” (Come to think of it, that is kind of how you imagine Bill Napier Hemy, too).
But Chan’s admiration for Leahy rivals Hemy’s. “Paul is one of the most amazing guitar players I've ever seen,” he enthuses. “I've felt that way ever since I saw him back in the No Fun days. Even then his quiet, low-key and modest personality seemed at odds with the ease and showmanship he displayed, playing his lead guitar bits.”
Chan hears Brian May as well as Mick Ronson in Leahy’s kitbag. “And perhaps some Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult,” he adds, or maybe even Segovia, whom Leahy apparently admires and has written a song about. “I don't think I can play ‘Paul's way’ on any of his songs,” Chan admits. “Not even close. He's a true, pure talent.”
Leahy's son, Finn,, will be at the Rickshaw, performing a particularly relevant Bowie cover.
“Finn’s a pretty cool kid, and my last visit with Paul, the first thing he wanted to show me was video of Finn rehearsing at the hospice,” Chapman says. “Finn’s got a great voice-I think he’s just learning guitar, but he’s nailed it guitar-wise, too, and his voice is just beautiful. He’s very musical, and Paul and him are always talking music.”
Bands are keeping the exact covers they’ll be playing somewhat close to their chest, so I’ll leave it for those in attendance to find out exactly what song Finn is planning. Other bands will be covering songs of Paul Leahy’s from various stages in his career, from punkier tunes like No Fun’s “Uptight and Anxious” (from the band's 1984 cassette box set Snivel)to Leahy's more contemporary projects. There will also be a generous helping, as Tim Chan puts it, of “choice covers that are related to Paul in some way.”
Besides coming out to the show, fans of Paul Leahy’s will want to snap up the limited-edition box set, the Polly Package, at the merch table, which can also be pre-purchased via Paypal (details can be found on the Polly Page on Facebook ). The box set will feature signed copies of All Messed Up, a bonus-cut-enriched Make It a Smash, and Leahy’s previously unreleased, pre-Polly Pleasure Suit album, the mixing of which was completed specifically for the event by Marc L’Esperance.
Further, in support of the GoFundMe campaign for the Leahy family, David M. of No Fun has released a selection of Leahy-centric No Fun material for sale on CD Baby, and will personally donate a digitization of the Van-Cover compilation cassette, featuring No Fun, Nomeansno, the Frank Frink Five, among others, to anyone who donates to the Go Fund Me in any way (just let him know you've donated at email@example.com).
M. will likely be absent from the tribute, but Chapman hopes no one involved is taking it personally.
“We invited him, obviously, right at the getgo,” he says. “And he didn’t really respond-though he sent me a note the other night, saying 'Hi and thanks'. But I know he must be going through a lot of pain, dealing with this, too. For all of us-I’m hoping this show will be a healing event for everyone that Paul is leaving behind here, as well as just a great tribute to Paul, getting the show he would want. A Super Duper show!”
For more information on the Paul Leahy Super Duper Show, go here.