Orchestra Wee Wee

In 1999 the Hamilton Tiger-Cats managed, somehow, to win the Grey Cup, a feat they have not accomplished since but they’re going to try again next Sunday.

In June of 2000, the team held a banquet at which the players were awarded their Grey Cup rings. And since the team had a sense of humour, they actually contacted, us the arch-rival Argonotes, the Toronto Argonauts Band, to see if we’d pretend to be the Ticats band for this event.

(Hey, they offered us food and beer – and T-shirts – how could we say no?)

So here is Orchestra Wee Wee, the temporary Hamilton Tiger-Cats Pep Band, at the Grey Cup Ring Presentation Ceremonial Dinner

OWW

As far as we could tell, nobody noticed that the band looked kind of familiar, but we gave it our best shot and played the Tiger-Cat Marching Song multiple times. Our band has a long history of playing that song in Hamilton and wondering if anybody recognizes it.

The Ticats, recognizing a good thing when they hear it, briefly set up their own pep band and we were delighted to confront them at Ivor Wynne Stadium at a game in 2003. Here’s a joint picture of the Massed Bands of the CFL East Division at the Labour Day Classic in 2003.

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That too didn’t last but it sure was fun.

here’s an email I sent to Argonotes after our rousing success as Orchestra Wee Wee –


From: Steve Hayman
To: Argonotes
Subject: Orchestra Wee Wee!
Date: June 30, 2000

I want to thank the 14 members of Argonotes who became Orchestra Wee-Wee, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Band last night for Hamilton’s Grey Cup Ring Ceremony dinner. Over 800 people were in attendance to see the Ticats presented with their championship rings, and as far as I can tell nobody managed to put 2 and 2 together and realize that some of the music they were hearing sounded very familiar!


We got off to a shaky start. Weather caused the mother of all traffic tieups on the QEW – *three*hours* from downtown to downtown –
and everyone (including Premier Harris) was late, and when we started playing we had a whopping four people on hand, but once we all got there, they hustled us up to the balcony overlooking the banquet hall and had us play the Alleged Former Ticat Song (“We love those Cats,
those Tiger Cats ….”) over and over and over again while the players were being introduced. I imagine we played it more timesin that one stretch than it was ever played at Ivor Wynne Stadium in history.

We did a nice, tight, post-banquet show outside the hall as well. It’s amazing how good you can sound with the right 14 people
in place!

We got a picture or three of the band, in our souvenir Hamilton TiCat shirts, with the Grey Cup, and I’m sure it will be featured prominently on our “other” web site, www.ticats.com, as soon as yours truly gets his scanner fixed.

Thank you again to saxes Clem, Steve and Trevor, trumpets Alex, Gary and James, trombones Richard, Ian and Deb, tuba James, and percussion Bud, Angela and Tina. I really enjoyed doing this and I thinkwe did ourselves and Argonotes proud. Fundamentally I think we are all CFL fans as much as we are Argo fans, so if we can do the odd thing to help Hamilton, it will be good for the league, and maybe it will even shame Hamilton into actually organizing an actual band.

They’re already looking forward to having us visit for the Toronto at Hamilton game on Friday October 13. Game time is 7:30. based on what we saw of the traffic yesterday, I think we should all plan on taking the GO train.

Have a great Canada Day and we’ll see everyone at our next ARGO game, Tuesday July 11 vs Montreal. Meet at 6:30 at Front and Simcoe. More details later.

Oskee-wee-wee—excuse me, that should be
Argos Rule,
Steve

P.S. The Fan 590 has inquired as to whether we might be available for some sort of parade on the 11th from their downtown studio to the dome. It’s intended to celebrate Toronto’s home teams and will involve both the Jays and Argos, and a double decker bus which we might be able to ride on. I think, unfortunately, it’s during the day but if it’s at lunch time we might be able to find enough people. I’ll let you know the plan, if there is one, when I find out more details.

P.P.S. Yesterday I got a call from someone wanting to hire us for a Canada Day parade. (As you might expect the answer is “No, even if we did do parades, don’t you think we would have figured out something for July 1 before June 29?”)

P.P.P.S. I got another invite for a parade later in the year in Mississauga. Here is how this kind of thing usually goes. They tell me that they’ve got the Argonaut cheerleaders, so they figure they could get the band; however it usually means they have 3 of the 30 cheerleaders, and while that works great for the cheerleaders, if we had a turnout of 3 people it wouldn’t be quite as great, soI usually politely turn this sort of thing down.

Tuning Up in Victory Formation at the 100th Grey Cup. And the best picture ever.

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the 100th Grey Cup, when Canada’s most loved team, the Toronto Argonauts, defeated the Calgary Stampeders.

It’s also when we got the best photo of the band, ever.

So, the Argos win, seconds after the final whistle, the band sneaks onto the field through, uh, a door or two that we got tipped off might be open.

And hey, there’s Marcus Ball, #6 of the Toronto Argos! Gerry gets him to whack the drum a time or two …

Marcus Ball on the drum

and then I immediately started fumbling around, trying to take a picture of the band.

Marcus Bell, who may I remind you has JUST WON A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP, says to me “Here, give me your phone, you go get in the picture.” A scene captured by my cousin in the stands – here I am handing off my phone ….

The Band on the Field

And Marcus Bell takes this picture. Possibly the best photo of the band EVER. In retrospect, maybe we should have retired right then and there.

The Band, by Marcus Ball

This is why we love the CFL. A player steps out of his own celebration to do the band a favour, and I’m sure he’s not the only one who had done that.

Of course, moments later, we had a ritual to attend to. Tuning up! We would only tune up after the Argos won the Grey Cup; no point jinxing things by tuning up earlier in the season. May I present to you –

Tuning Up in Victory Formation

Grey Cup 2001 (Montreal; Calgary 27, Winnipeg 19)

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Ah, Montreal. The band’s first overnight grey cup trip. In 1998 we’d come down for a regular season game at Molson Stadium – worthy of a blog post of its own, the team chartered 3 cars of a Via train to Montreal and miraculously offered the band a free ride – and we all remembered that so fondly, how could we NOT go to Montreal for the Grey Cup?

Plus it’s an eastern division cup. Those are easy. In all our history, we only ever managed to get the band to fly somewhere once (to a “home” game in Fort McMurray, Alberta) but hiring a bus to go to an eastern opponent seems simpler. And here’s Rick, our bus driver from Great Canadian, a great guy.
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(More to come, this blog entry more or less a placeholder.)

I’m indebted to Colin “Trombone” Leech for the photos on this page (and for showing up! As the Ottawa branch of Argonotes, we could always count on Colin to show up only for certain road games.)

Argonotes at the 2001 Grey Cup

Grey Cup 2017 (Ottawa; Argos 27, Calgary 24)

Part of our Ongoing Series of Argonotes Grey Cup Memories.

2017 Grey Cup

Wait, what? Argonotes at the 2017 Grey Cup?
Didn’t the band fold in 2017?

Well, yeah, it kind of did, the band packed it in after 22 years just before the start of the 2017 season (and reunited for one reunion performance in July) but that’s a topic for a much longer post. Or if you subscribe to The Athletic, you can read about it here…

However, Argonotes did actually perform on Grey Cup Weekend. Sort of! So it gets its own entry in the archives.

the eastern final

So I guess the Curse of Argonotes that we applied to the team didn’t work, because they won the Eastern Final and made it to the Grey Cup against Calgary.
I was delighted to take my dad (and brother (and one son)) to the Eastern final at BMO Field, and the Argos beat Saskatchewan.

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should I stay or should I go

Yours truly was kind of moping around that week, debating whether to go to Ottawa for the game.

I’d talked myself into Not Going. I can’t go. Not without my band.

But after some intense lobbying by basically everybody I’d ever met in my entire life, all saying “What, are you nuts? Go!”, and especially after an invitation to connect with the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep Band (who were making their 4,000th straight Grey Cup trip), I found a ticket and headed to Ottawa for the weekend.

hanging out with musical friends

The Roughrider band even let us hang around and play and possibly even conduct.

Drums

It was a fantastic experience, and I owe a lot to the Rider band for the invitation, and to my Argonotes colleague Jenn “Piccolo” “Or Bass Drum” Annis, because I think we both agreed that two people is, legally, a band.

two people are legally a band

Two Argonotes

And we found ourselves at the Argo bash. I had this informal plan to have the entire Riders band show up and I was going to give them Argos shirts if they’d just play Go Argos Go and pretend to be Argonotes, but that kind of fell apart when they said “Sure, we’ll do it, but wearing green”, which wouldn’t have been nearly subversive enough.

So, what the heck, whaddya gonna do, there’s a stage and a rowdy group of Argo fans and there’s beer and we had a trombone and a bass drum, what more do you need, and without further ado, here is a performance of “Go Argos Go” by Argonotes, the Until Recently Toronto Argonauts Band, at the Argos Ottawa party the night before the Grey Cup, and I promise you, there are much better recordings of this song!

My thanks to Spitzka for the video and all his support over the years.

Was it a great weekend?
Absolutely! Inspired, no doubt, by our performance, the Argos beat Calgary in an epic snow globe of a game, with some wild plays, an incredible finish, a great halftime show by Shania Twain (who arrived on a dogsled) and I had a great 2nd row seat surrounded by Ottawa REDBLACKS fans who couldn’t have been more gracious after the victory.

Was this our greatest Argonotes performance ever?
Probably not. Other than the part where it inspired the Argos to victory the following day.

Was it our final Argonotes performance ever?
Hey, you never know.

Grey Cup 1996 (Hamilton; Argos 43, Edmonton 37)

84th Grey Cup emblem

1995 was the band’s first year and at the end of the season, I think we were just too addled to even think about going to that year’s Grey Cup. But in the final game of 1995, there was some sort of Canadian identity crisis thing going on and as I recall, the team let anybody in to the final game for free if you brought a flag.

It was quite a sight in 1995, all those fans, and all those flags. It must have impressed the visiting quarterback, a guy from Calgary named Doug Flutie, because he wound up signing with the Argos for the 1996 season and led the team to a 1996 Grey Cup Victory.

Of course most of us had watched the 1995 Grey Cup on TV, and had probably seen the parties, and might have noticed some sort of green and white band from Saskatchewan in some of the media reports, and since the ’96 Grey Cup was in Hamilton, hmm. I wonder. We’d never played anywhere out of town. Could we make it to Hamilton?

As it turns out,

a) we did, and

b) there isn’t as much online record of it as you might like, because people weren’t yet carrying around cell phone cameras documenting every waking minute of their lives.

The 1996 season was notable for, I think, the first mention of the band in the Toronto Star. Dig the old URLs! People didn’t even think to get their own domain names.

Toronto Star, 1996:

ARGGOOSS: As the CFL playoffs get under way, you might want to check out the Double Blue’s official site in cyberspace(http://www.interlog.com/argos).
Along with the standard mix of schedules, results and statistics, the Argos’ homepage has a nice where-are-they-now feature called “Ancient Mariners”.
The latest one is on 1940s star Bruce Richardson, but you can also select one of several earlier Ancient Mariners from the archive provided.

For a look at the lighter side of the gridiron, take a wander into the home page of the Argonotes, the team’s official band

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, right, the 1996 Grey Cup in Hamilton. Here are a few memories.

the Ottawa party

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Somehow we’d heard that the city of Ottawa was hosting a party in Hamilton, and we got ourselves invited to that. It was a little awkward, because the Ottawa Rough Riders had either just folded or were on the verge of doing so.
I recall the band actually giving the organizer some money from the stage just to see if it would help. (It didn’t.)

We went on right after the Saskatchewan band. This was our first glimpse of our Western rivals –


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I remember thinking – Hmm. They seem to know what they’re doing. Perhaps I should contact them and see if we can, you know, do some Massed CFL Bands thing in future years? (Foreshadowing! Stay tuned.)

And I think this is us at one of the gigs that year – sorry, cameras back then did not typically embed detailed timestamps and latitude/longitude info in each picture …

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what else was going on

Hey, check this out, I never throw anything out, an email to the band outlining our plans for the weekend


From: Steve Hayman 
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 1996 20:03:06 -0500
To: argonotes@objectario.com
Subject: Quick Grey Cup Weekend Reminder!

Meet at 7:30 PM tomorrow (Friday) at the beer tent at King & Bay. At 8:30 we'll be at the Edmonton hospitality suite in the Ramada Hotel; at 9:30 PM, the Spirit of Ottawa show at the Royal Connaught Hotel.


Then on Saturday, meet at 10:30 AM at the Ramada Hotel for the Edmonton Klondike Breakfast, and we'll move on after that for the parade.

I have been unable to get tickets for the game itself on Sunday - although I did try; talked to the chairman of the grey cup committee, wrote to CFL chairman Larry Smith
too.  Oh well.



Any problems, give me a ring.  

See you tomorrow!
Signed,
"Still no baby."

“Still no baby” ? What was that about? Oh, I remember now (see later.)

the Grey Cup Parade

Hamilton wisely combined the Grey Cup Parade with the city’s annual Santa Claus Parade.
The Grey Cup part was a sort of pre-parade that went right down the main street of Hamilton, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, and when they all saw the Argos Band proudly riding on the Argos Float, they all said – if I remember correctly – “Boo.”

Here are a couple of grainy photos from the live CBC coverage. For the full effect, please yell “BOO” at your computer when reading.
That’d be me at the front holding the shield.

Parade2

Parade1

the MOB – the Massed Ontario Band

Somehow I thought it’d be fun to worry about not one but two bands in the parade, and put together the first and last appearance of the MOB – the Massed Ontario Bands, a combined entry from the marching bands of Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario, the non-marching but game-to-try-anything Waterloo Warriors Band, and the Carleton University Band, which turned out to be one guy (thanks for coming, Peter.)

We sent out a few simple tunes to all 4 schools and everybody theoretically learned them – I think we were doing “Ca-Na-Da”, the 1967 Centennial song, “Hogan’s Heroes”, the theme from a TV show about – wait, can this be right? a world war II prison camp? people thought that was funny? – and “Scotland the Brave”, because of the large contingent of pipers from Queen’s.

This was so much fun, I hope we can do it again some time. Everybody enjoyed it, old rivalvies were set aside, the group some how self-organized into a marching band shape and proceeded down the parade route. That was pretty cool. I still have the MOB banner out in the garage.

Thanks to my cousin John Hayman – Warriors Band Fhorn – for the photos, which it turns out were actually taken by my brother Michael!

The 1996 Massed Ontario University Bands

The MOB on the march

the game

A classic. Argos win, in a snowstorm. Flutie, long thought by many westerners to have fumbled on a crucial late game third down, did not in fact fumble, because if he had fumbled, surely the refs would have said something.

did you get in

No. We faxed the league, and commissioner Larry Smith asking if we could get in, and got a reply a week after the game saying basically “Sorry, everybody was out of the office and we didn’t see this message” which is an easier reply than “No.”

later that same week

The Grey Cup was on Sunday November 24, 1996.
on Monday, November 25, I sent the following urgent email to the band –

Subject: ALERT!  ARGO VICTORY PARADE TUESDAY NOON!  BAND NEEDED!

12:15 (noon), Union Station. Parade up to Nathan Phillips Square. Possibly marching, possibly riding on a bus.  We will be right behind Doug Flutie himself.

I need people for this!  Can you come?  Please?  It'll be over pretty quickly.


BONUS: FREE LUNCH!  Seriously!  The city will buy us lunch if we do this.

I called the mayor's office - which is running the parade - and got us invited.  Somehow the Argos neglected to mention us as a possible entrant.  Figures.

Our first GREY CUP VICTORY PARADE

On Tuesday, November 27, the team organized our first Grey Cup Victory Parade, from Union Station to City Hall.
Gerry was whacking the bass drum pretty hard; an “E” fell off live on TV and by the end of the parade, the bass drum read “GR Y CUP CHAMPS”.

Here’s Global’s report on the victory parade, with the typical sort of downer woebegotten angle that too much CFL coverage of the day included. But they also included a brief glimpse of the band

On Wednesday, November 28, this picture from the parade was on the cover of the Toronto Star. Doug Flutie, Alexa Flutie, coach Don Matthews, the Grey Cup and … a glimpse of some guy with a trombone.

Flutie Parade

Later that day I took a copy of that day’s paper to the hospital and proudly showed it to a brand new baby. Nick, see that? Your dad’s on the cover of the paper today. Happy Zeroth Birthday. Maybe you’d like to join the band in 16 years or so. We could use some more trumpet players.

That was a pretty good week.

Grey Cup 2007 (Toronto; Saskatchewan 23, Winnipeg 19)

Part of our Ongoing Series of Argonotes Grey Cup Memories.

The 2007 Grey Cup was the first one in Toronto since 1992 (and, thus, the first home grey cup for Argonotes, since the band started in 1995.) We were so excited we even had special collector’s edition lapel pins made up. See above! No, you can’t have one, I think I only have this one left. They were pretty popular.

We were particularly pleased to be joined by the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep Band, who, of course, manage somehow to go to every Grey Cup, whereas in Argonotes we could only muster the strength to go to the East Division ones.

warming up

As usual we played at all the team parties, including the fabulous Spirit of Edmonton event and their legendary Saturday morning breakfast. I recall that we’d established an official band beachhead at the Novotel downtown where most of us stayed Thursday-Sunday. That sure made it easier to get around without anybody worrying about what anybody had had to drink, if theoretically that were happening.

In a post appropriately titled What we learned while killing our brain cells, the legendary Boatmen Blog had these kind words to say about our performance at Saturday morning’s Spirit of Edmonton breakfast. (The whole post is worth a read but, well, if I had to pick one paragraph it’d probably be this one.)

It’s never too early for Steve Hayman to bring his A-game. As always at the Spirit of Edmonton Breakfast (which, as you can see, is really a goldmine for material), we were treated to an MC making assorted jokes that range from the corny to the slightly blue. For a guy trying to work a room full of drunks on a Saturday morning, he did a fair job. But he had nothing on the leader of the beloved Argonotes, who came equipped with a dizzying array of one-liners – among them a solid one about Saskatchewan poised to match the number of Grey Cups won by Sarnia and Queen’s University, and…well, truthfully, we can’t remember the others, on account of the nature of the event. But trust us, he was very funny. And we maintain that the Argonotes’ cover of BTO’s Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is genuinely more enjoyable than the original.

strolling around Toronto

I’m lucky I didn’t get fired for having the band play inside the Apple store at the Eaton Centre.

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The CFL Pep Band Summit

Just before the parade we hosted the Saskatchewan band for lunch at our favourite pregame hangout, Joe Badali’s which – what do you know – turned out to be the starting point of the parade. (Photos of summit to come, once I can find them.)

parade? what parade? who said anything about a parade?

There was no official Grey Cup Parade, which naturally caused a lot of sneering in western Canada about those high faluting Toronto hipsters who are too cool for the CFL etc etc etc – any Argo fan has been hearing this for decades – but that didn’t stop anybody. Naturally we got together with the Saskatchewan band, the Calgary Grey Cup Committee (who host the annual pancake breakfast and do the horse-in-a-hotel routine) and various fan groups and decided we’d all meet at the corner of Front and Simcoe on Grey Cup Saturday for the ..

the Not the Grey Cup Parade

The theory being that parade permits were super expensive, but protest marches were free, so it wasn’t a parade, it was a protest march objecting to the lack of a parade.

We started at Front and Simcoe, went west on Front (mostly on the sidewalk), turned south on John St over the bridge to Skydome, and wound up at the Convention Centre.

We may have tipped off the media in advance. Rob Leth of Global did a fantastic report.

June Trueman

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Right at the start of that report, and again towards the end, you can see a Winnipeg fan hugging a Saskatchewan fan named June Trueman, who was a delightful member of the Saskatchewan pep band and who, sadly, passed away last month. June was a founding member of the Saskatchewan band and seemingly everybody’s favourite alto sax player. It was always a pleasure to seek her out and say hello. Thank you, June.

I remember turning around during the parade and seeing this incredible mass of humanity following along, which was pretty amazing for a non-event that we only started “planning” a couple of days before.

post parade performances

Here are a few Youtube clips of band performances that day

Post-parade, Super Tequila at the Convention Centre

Grey Cup Sunday, Surfin’ USA in the fountain outside Skydome

Geez, that fountain was a good spot. I’m glad nobody found the switch to turn on the pumps, though. We got a nice picture there, and then moments later the fountain was swarmed by Saskatchewan fans.

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as a proud Canadian band, isn’t it a little weird that you keep playing “Surfin’ USA”

how about we call it “Surfin’ PEI.” Happy now?

did we get into the game?

Yes. The league graciously gave us some passes to get in, although we didn’t have any seats so we had to find obstructed-view unsold seats. The Saskatchewan band got in, of course; they always buy tickets. What? Buy Tickets? Who does that?

more photos and video

See more from 2007 on the band web site here.

was it fun?

are you kidding? it was the best. What’s more fun than getting together with your friends, even your friends from Saskatchewan, and making some music?

We never sounded better than we did playing in that fountain. I remember Dave Keith telling me “You know what, by the end of the season, we actually sound tight.”

Imagine what we would have sounded like if we’d ever had a rehearsal.

Remembering Grey Cups past

Part of the reason for this post is that I haven’t blogged anything in a while, but mostly it’s because the 2020 Grey Cup should have been played last Sunday, but wasn’t.

It’s all got me feeling really nostalgic about the Grey Cups I’ve been lucky to attend with Argonotes, from our first in 1996 to our last in 2017.

Some were road trips to Cups in Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal, and some were at home in Toronto, but they were all memorable, multi day festivals of fun and music and drinking and parties and camaraderie and fierce but good-natured rivalries with the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep Band, and occasionally a football game at the end, and at this time of year, past pictures, videos and posts keep popping up in my Facebook on-this-day-in-years-past memories feed.

I feel the need to write about each of them.

I don’t much care whether anybody reads this series, but I want to gather all my best memories of each one in one spot. And this seems like a good spot.

More to come.

In no particular order … ok in numerical order … with a few articles still to be written

  • The 1996 Grey Cup in Hamilton, our first road trip
  • The 1997 Grey Cup in Edmonton, which we didn’t attend but we got to play in the Victory Parade
  • The 2001 Grey Cup in Montreal, our first overnight road trip
  • The 2004 Grey Cup in Ottawa, where we discovered how easy it is to sneak onto the field if you look like you belong
  • The 2007 Grey Cup in Toronto, including the legendary Not the Grey Cup Parade
  • The 2008 Grey Cup in Montreal, where we stayed at an extremely swanky hotel by mistake
  • The 2012 Grey Cup in Toronto, where the Argos won it all at home in one of the all time greatest band moments
  • The 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto, our first (and last) at BMO Field
  • The 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa, featuring Technically It’s A Band If You Haver At Least Two People
  • The 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton because hey, you never know.

Tempo!

Check out this showstopper performance by one of the world’s greatest brass bands, Wales’s The Cory Band.

wow

I tried but failed to get Argonotes to play every single piece at this speed, mostly because if it didn’t sound great, at least it would be over sooner.

In this performance please note

  • The tempo, which seems to be about a blistering ♩ = 180, or as P.D.Q. Bach called it, Come un pipistrello fuori dall’ inferno [Like a bat out of hell.]
  • The delighted reactions of the choristers in the back
  • The pure joy of the conductor Philip Harper. We should all aspire to enjoy our jobs this much.

my favourite movie conductor

Naturally this reminds me of the finale of one of my favourite films, Brassed Off, in which the (fictional) Grimley Colliery Band performs this piece at the national championship. They’re not going quite as fast though.

Things you might note from this film –

  • They’re not going quite as fast, only about ♩ = 150
  • Also an outstanding cornet solo
  • The conductor in this clip is the actor Jim Carter, later to find much success as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey. (In the film, he’s a tuba player temporarily filling in for bandleader Pete Postlethwaite, whose character is too ill to conduct the final scene, but he gave one of the all time great acting-conducting performances. Carter isn’t conducting quite up to that standard.)
  • On tenor horn, Ewan McGregor, later to find much success as Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • the band in this film is actually the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, posing as a different coal-mining-community brass band in a film that I think you absolutely should watch.

In Argonotes we used to joke that our slogan was Faster + Louder = Better.

The Cory Band is proving it to be true.

Fond memories of Joe Badali’s Restaurant

Joe Badali’s restaurant – sadly, now closed – was a great friend of Argonotes. It was the closest thing to a sponsor we ever had.

Badali's web site screenshot. Now closed.

Nick and I went to the Jays home opener yesterday, which I think was the first time I’d been back to Skydome since the Argo era there ended. This triggered lots of fond Argonotes memories of course. Especially the old tradition of emptying the spit valves on the statue of Ted Rogers.

The Final Emptying of the Spit Valves

But I was sad after the game as we walked back to Union Station to see that Joe Badali’s Restaurant (at Front and Simcoe) has closed, and the building it’s in is being gutted, and the adjacent parking lot is now fenced off. Yet another office tower is going up.

Badali’s holds a special spot in Argonotes history. Before our very first game in 1995, we barged in there to play “Argos Rule the CFL” – to a reaction of befuddlement and confusion. But it got better.

For over 20 years, it was where we started and ended every performance. “Meet at Front and Simcoe 90 minutes before kickoff” was the usual rule. We’d gather in the adjacent parking lot for a warmup – where we’d make sure nobody had tuned their instruments, ever – and play for the crowd there, and then head over to Skydome, crashing other restaurants along the way. And we’d always wind up at Badali’s after the game too, for drinks and conversation.

Warming up in the Badali's parking lot

For a few years, it was the official post game Argo bash spot, and everybody would gather there – players, dance team, fans, band – and former manager Mike O’Connor always made sure there was a reserved table for the band. And free beer and appetizers too. I couldn’t believe it. What had we ever done to deserve this grand treatment? A packed restaurant full of people celebrating an Argo victory – and there’s a reserved table for 30 people for the band? This is great, but why? IMG 0327

(Well, I always thought it was part of an unspoken arrangement: we’ll buy you a beer so long as you don’t ever barge in here and play “Argos Rule the CFL” ever again. go crash the Lone Star and Boston Pizza and East Side Mario’s all you want though.)

Doug Flutie came and sat at the band table once. Doug Flutie! The greatest quarterback in CFL history! And he came and sat at OUR table! I can’t imagine that happening in the NFL. Players mingling with ordinary people. (Naturally we asked him if his Flutie Brothers Band needed another 40 members, and he pointed out “I already have horns in the band.” Well OK then.)

Even after it was no longer the official spot – for one awkward year, the official post game restaurant was Frank D’Angelo’s “Forget About It” Supper Club – fans and players continued to celebrate or commiserate after the games at Badali’s.

Badali’s was also the gathering spot for several CFL Pep Band Summits – wonderful Grey Cup get-togethers with Argonotes and our great friends, the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep band.
This is the 2012 Summit, possibly history’s largest gathering of CFL Musicians. And there’s Bob Mossing, Member of the Order of Canada, Founder of the Roughrider Pep Band –

CFL Band Summit 2012

(Note, former BC Lions band leader Dal Richards is also a member of the Order of Canada. I presume they eventually give this to all CFL band leaders. I will keep an eye on my email.)

Hanging out with the Rider band provided some of my greatest Argonotes memories – and we kicked off the 2007 “Not The Grey Cup Parade” from the Badali’s parking lot!

I celebrated both my 40th and 50th birthday parties at Badali’s, surrounded by all my band friends and family. I was looking forward to celebrating the next big birthday there too … But the Argos moved to BMO Field, the band got ignored to death, and I hadn’t been back to Front and Simcoe until yesterday.

Thank you to Mike, who’s moved on, and all the wonderful staff at Badali’s over the years who treated us so well. We miss you.