The Falcons give diehard instro-rock fans a reason to rejoice
In celebration of their 20th anniversary, Vancouver instro-rockers the Falcons recently released EP Collection, a batch of tracks recorded between 1991 and ’97, newly remixed and remastered in analogue. The 12 originals—plus a version of the deathless instro classic “Apache”—were recorded “live off the floor” at a no-frills Kitsilano location called Bedclothes Studios.
“Bedclothes Studios is a spacious seven- by 11-foot bedroom,” reads the disc’s liner notes, “with two closets, optimized for recording. First, we remove the bed. Second, we hang four 2x6 foam cushions in the corner, and third, we wheel in the Audio Technica four-track cassette recorder. Now we’re in business.”
Diehard instro-rock fans have reason to rejoice whenever the Falcons get down to it. On their latest album of new material, Atomic Guitar, lead guitarist and main songwriter Mike Beddoes—proud owner of the aforementioned recording facility—leads rhythm guitarist Scott McLeod, bassist Gord Kearney, and drummer André DesLauriers in a wonderfully melodic and whimsically swinging collection of 12 originals, with a lap-steel-infused cover of “Sleep Walk” thrown in for good measure. The album—which made this scribbler’s Top 10 list of 2011—was also recorded “live off the floor in analogue”.
“I like to record that way,” Beddoes says, sipping coffee at a Kits java joint, “and I hope I’m helping revive an interest in live, old-school recording. ’Cause it is such a nice sound; it sounds like people playing. Sure there’s a few blemishes—you speed up and slow down, and it’s not always meticulously in tune—but that’s natural. We’ve got fretless bass and 12-string electric, and I’m playing a Fender Jaguar—they’re never in tune!”
Perfectly tuned or not, Beddoes’s Jag never strays far from his Gibson Falcon amp when it’s time to make a new Falcons record. He’s shown clutching the instrument on the cover of all of the band’s releases, including 1997’s Queen of Diamonds, which was named album of the year by influential U.K. surf-music mag Pipeline, and 2001’s Rebel Jukebox, which the group plans to rerelease as a 10th anniversary edition—a year late, mind you—this September.
“I got the Jaguar when I was in New York in 1982,” says Beddoes, “so it’s a souvenir of America. It’s the gaudiest of Fenders, with the most chrome and the most buttons. And it’s got little metal channels that the pickups sit in, so it’s really harsh. It’s a real trial to play, but it sounds neat when you get it right—now and again.”
Over the years the Falcons have had guest appearances on their albums by the likes of Bill Bonney from the Fentones and Nokie Edwards of the Ventures. Beddoes says that the main aim of the Falcons is to keep the spirit of the classic instro-rock bands alive, and that there’s a “fair number” of other groups with similar goals.
“Either they’re strict revivalists,” he says, “doing the best they can to sound like the Ventures or the Shadows, or they’re doing something quite unrecognizable from that, basing it roughly on the sound of those bands.
“So that’s the two general schools of instro-rock,” he adds, “and then there’s us. There’s a few bands like us—not many—who are starting with the original stuff and trying to bring it forward as if they’ve been playing it for the last 50 years.”
Although they don’t do a lot of gigs, on record the Falcons sound surprisingly tight. Kearney has been with the band since day one, and DesLauriers has slammed the skins since ’98, but on the rhythm-guitar front there’s been a lot of changes. Before MacLeod—who makes his debut as a Falcon on Atomic Guitar—that position was held by Michael O’Brien and Gary Schnepper, as well as two players who have since passed away, Gary Cramer and Kim Clarke. When first forming the group, Beddoes auditioned 24 rhythm guitarists before finding one that was up to snuff.
“It was quite an ordeal,” he recalls. “Of the 24 there were maybe four who could play, whereas when I was growing up everybody played rhythm guitar first and then learned lead guitar. Nowadays everyone wants to play lead and no one could be bothered to learn the rhythm, which is where it all starts. And I love rhythm playing. I do it myself, given half a chance.”
Here’s hoping Beddoes keeps on finding solid enough rhythm players to back up his tasty lead work so he can continue making music “live off the floor”, whether in the cozy confines of Bedclothes Studio or—as with Atomic Guitar—via offshoot company Bedclothes Mobile.
“The ‘mobile’ part is I took the tape recorder out and recorded it in the hall,” explains Beddoes, referring to the Russian Hall on West 4th Ave. “The acoustics are excellent, and it’s only three blocks from my house, so what could go wrong?”