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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Change of venue

Coast staffer and local rocker Stephanie Johns reflects on the loss of the North End Pub and Diner, and the impact it’s having on Halifax musicians.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2007 at 4:00 AM

About five minutes after noticing a thread on www.halifaxlocals.com titled “NEP on fire?” (NEP standing for the North End Pub), the Coast office started to smell like smoke. We could see the clouds billowing over the north end while people quickly posted photos and comments online. Within minutes, there were hundreds of people posting about the fire, people sharing memories, condolences and general comments about how much this situation sucks.

In one afternoon, Halifax had lost a restaurant and pub—but it also lost yet another venue for live music. After the unfortunate closing of Stage Nine earlier this year, along with The Khyber Club and Hell’s Kitchen being more or less out of commission, and the Seahorse moving away from its punk roots, some young bands may find themselves at a loss for venues.

In that regard, The North End Pub (and its adjoining diner) was a real gem. This was especially true for musicians. The bartenders treated you nicely, sometimes you got extra money if the bar did well, the staff bought and wore your merch and you didn’t feel like you were annoying the regulars. So maybe the sound system wasn’t the greatest, or maybe the giant “Christmas Daddies” banner on stage didn’t always suit the music…it was still the closest thing to a perfect venue in Halifax I have ever played.

You could keep the good times rollin’ after a Friday gig by going to karaoke on Saturday (with the effervescent Bobby Parker). Or you could blow off some steam prior to your workweek at the Sunday afternoon Country Jamboree, hosted by neighbourhood barber Leroy Bennett. Bennett and his band would play a live country karaoke set, while hipsters and oldsters danced. Local musician Dusty Keeler recently uploaded a song to his MySpace page that he wrote years ago about the Sunday Jamboree.

“I hadn’t been in a while. But a couple of years ago I was there most every week and would sometimes play a song or two. But I always danced.” Keeler laments that there is now “one less stage to play on,” in the city—and it’s a lament that many local musicians share.

The Pub and Diner were owned by the Grafton Connor Group. At the moment, there have been no decisions about what will happen to the burnt-out property, although Pub and Diner lovers have already begun to worry about the appearance of more condos. Gary Muise of Grafton Connor says that

any decision about the property “could take months.”

There were a few other local musicians who lost a lot more than just a cool place to play: local metal band Terratomb lost everything in the fire. Two out of five members of the band lived just above the diner in an apartment that housed their gear, their merch and their lives. Clayton Hart, a guitarist for the band, was at work when he got the phone call telling him to come down to his home. “It was a crystal blue sky and I saw the column of smoke and I thought, ‘oh boy, this is big.’”

Hart’s roommate Richard Clamp had just finished a 16-hour shift and was asleep when Jason Quinn (another guitarist for Terratomb) heard the cooks from the diner shouting at them to evacuate. Quinn shook Clamp awake, and the two bandmates hightailed it out of their apartment with just the clothes on their backs and Quinn’s dog in tow.

The fire took out all of the band’s gear, as the apartment doubled as their rehearsal space. They lost seven guitars, three drum kits (one brand new) and more. They are now in the process of trying to secure reproductions of their masters from their albums from recording studios, in order to start again.

Friends and family are setting up fundraisers; a midnight movie showing at the Oxford is being planned and a trust fund is in the works. In another show of solidarity, a benefit show has been quickly organized for the band on Thursday, March 22 at the Attic, featuring Talk Sick, Hellacaust, Alchemy and Myles Deck and the Fuzz.

“None of us are hand out, beggar type of guys; we never were,” says Hart. “We took care of ourselves and lived well, but now our family and friends are helping us out.”

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