(L to R – John Moorhouse (bass), Steve McCann (keyboards), Cherril Yates (vocals), Rick Young (drums) and Gary Eade (guitar).
Way back in the mid-1980s, I was interviewed by two London Free Press reporters, Randy Ray and Mark Kearney, about The Comic Opera, the band of which I was a member in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The interview was for a column the two prepared for the paper called “Where Are They Now?” in which they profiled rock bands and musicians who played in and around Southwestern Ontario.
In addition to my band, many other local bands and musicians like Thundermug, The Bluesmen Revue, Graham Lear, The Raes featuring Cherrill Rae Yates, and Grant Smith were included in the series.
In 2017, Ray and Kearney compiled all of these articles into a compilation called As The Years Go By, now available for sale in the JRLMA Hall of Fame.
What follows is the updated article on The Comic Opera that appears in the book.
The Comic Opera Rock Show
Nearly five decades have passed since The Comic Opera Rock Show came together in St.Thomas, Ontario.
As fate would have it, the group would not go on to stardom, and Rick Young would not win fame and fortune as a big-time rock celebrity.
But if the band could have reunited at some point for an evening in one of the Ontario dance halls where it used to play, its members would have found out that things worked out rather nicely for each other.
The Comic Opera Rock Show regularly shuffled personnel — 24 members passed through — but an early line up was founder Steve McCann and bassist John Moorhouse,both of London, Ontario; singer Cherrill Yates; guitarist Paul Hackman and drummer Gary Burditt, all from St. Thomas. Young and drummer Gary Eade, both also of London, later replaced Hackman and Burditt, to form the version of the band that was together longest.
“They were great days,” recalls McCann. “It was a treat to know you could work every weekend, play valid jobs and get good exposure,” McCann said in a mid-’80s interview while he was the owner of Yer Man’s Irish Pub on London’s Dundas Street.
Comic Opera is probably best remembered as a concert band in its early days and later, a peppy dance group with heavy emphasis on tunes by Janis Joplin, Bonnie and Delaney and Friends and Sly and The Family Stone, that capitalized on Yates’ strong voice.
The band formed in 1969 and for about 2-1/2 years, played teen clubs such as Lambeth Teen Town, The Met Set in Metropolitan United Church in downtown London and later Wonderland Gardens, the Spoke and Rim Pub at the University of Western Ontario and dances in Grand Bend, Bayfield, Port Dover and Hamilton, among other places.
It practised on weekends in the service bays at a car dealership operated by McCann’s father on Talbot Street in St. Thomas. A Lambeth barn was also a favourite hangout.
In its first year, the group was a regular Saturday night act at Wonderland Gardens, usually opening for out-of-town bands such as Mashmakhan and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels.
When Young joined, he added management skills that won the band regular gigs as far away as Windsor and Toronto. Members were still in school but sometimes worked six nights a week.
“In those days many groups were doing acid rock music. It wasn’t really suitable for dancing,” recalled Young. “We were always booked because we could be danced to.”
Comic Opera was the “unofficial” house band at The Spoke and Rim before it moved to a new location.
Yates, who later became Cherrill Cucanato, said her experience with the group convinced her to go full time in music. She remembered some crazy times and some aged equipment.
“Our van would break down at 3 a.m. in the middle of nowhere and all of us would hitch-hike 35 miles to a gas station.”
Another time, she said, McCann was in the middle of a “smoking solo” when a leg snapped on his organ. A roadie had to support the instrument until the song was finished.
“But it was my grounding in music. I learned how to love it to stay with it. If you don’t, you’ll never survive. It’s tough,” she said.
Moorhouse said Comic Opera had a large local following and was convinced that the group had a big future.
“I remember seeing bumper stickers with our name on cars in the UWO parking lot. We took that as a pretty big compliment. I thought we were going to make it pretty big.”
But it wasn’t to be. In early 1971, the group recorded three original “demo” songs, Black Cat, Trans Canada Highway and If You’ll Take My Hand, in a bid to win a record deal.
The songs received limited airplay in London but never made the charts and were never pressed as records, said Young. Lack of commercial success, combined with artistic differences among members, led to Comic Opera’s demise.
“It was a major disappointment,” says McCann, also remembering how band members’ musical tastes began to take different directions. “I wanted to play stuff by Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, very technical music. It came down to a choice between staying a good weekend party band or making a career out of it.”
Young and Eade left the group and it folded shortly after. Rae probably had the best success after Comic Opera, electing to move back to her native England in the early ‘70s, where she met Welsh singer Robbie Rae. The couple returned to St. Thomas, married in 1974, formed The Raes, recorded a handful of hit records and had their own TV show in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. She later split with Rae. and remarried. In 2017, she was living in Florida.
Hackman played guitar with Kitchener rock band Helix; Young taught at Montcalm Secondary School in London; Moorhouse was a supervisor at Kellogg Salada Canada Inc. in London; Eade was a London methane gas consultant.
Moorhouse was featured in a 2009 article in the Brantford Expositor that focused on his work of 15 years as the featured entertainer at the Olde School Restaurant outside of Brantford. “My job is to provide a pleasant atmosphere for dining and entertainment afterwards,” he told writer Tim Philp
(From As The Years Go By by Randy Ray and Mark Kearney, 2017)