Coney Hatch’s Andy Curran on the benefits of working with Kim Mitchell and the challenges of opening for Judas Priest


By Steve Newton

Things were a little tense backstage in the Coney Hatch dressing room after last week’s Pacific Coliseum gig with Judas Priest. A relatively mild crowd response coupled with technical problems and the fact of no soundcheck had the boys from Toronto “bummed out”, as bassist and vocalist Andy Curran put it.

But talking to Curran by phone from Seattle this week I discovered that the group is taking things in stride and making the most of the opportunity that playing with a band like Priest provides.

“Compared to a lot of the shows we’ve done, Vancouver wasn’t that good. But we’re not about to hold a grudge against the city. I think we looked at ourselves as playing pretty bad that night, because, depending on how the crowd is, we sort of play off that. We were busting guitar strings and breaking cords, But I think a major problem was that the crowd was actually waiting for Judas Priest.

“I don’t know if they really even wanted an opening band. There are some places where we do really well, and there are others where the fans aren’t concerned about who’s opening the show–it could be anybody for all they care. But still the exposure we get on the tour is amazing, so we really can’t complain.”

Curran’s definitely right about that. Exposure is the most important thing to a young band like Coney Hatch, who have recently released their first album and are striving to make a name for themselves. The band’s current lineup has only been in existence two years. Curran and drummer Dave Ketchum, a Keith Moon fanatic, were playing in and around Toronto during 1980, but the other members of the band were not interested n touring and ended up quitting. So Curran put an ad in the Toronto Star for a new lead guitarist, and auditioned over 30 hopefuls.

The second-to-last player they looked at was Steve Shelski, the group’s main axeman today. Shelski had been playing around Toronto in another local band and studying jazz at Humber music school, majoring in piano. His formal training shows up on “Monkey Bars”, a cut from the group’s self-titled debut, on which he pulls off some rather unusual interpretations of the electric guitar.

The last member to join, guitarist and vocalist Carl Dixon, had been playing in a band in Montreal that had fallen apart. Upon returning to his hometown of Barrie, Ontario, Dixon saw the newspaper ad for a second Hatch singer, and the band was complete.

But that was only two years ago, and now the band is opening for one of Britain’s most successful heavy-metal acts. Did Curran expect this so early in the band’s career?

“No way. All our friends are still playing the club scene! I think we really shortened the ‘long road’ to where we are by meeting Kim Mitchell.”

Mitchell, the former guitarist for Canada’s Max Webster, produced and mixed the Coney Hatch album, and has been a major force in the band’s rise from obscurity. Curran’s description of how he became involved with the band reads somewhat like a rock-business fairy tale.

“The first Toronto gig that we played after getting Carl was at The Gasworks on Yonge Street, one of the better rock clubs in the city. There was a guy sitting out watching us and writing stuff down, and I thought he was reviewing the show for a newspaper or something. So I went up and started talking to him. I asked him how he liked the band and gave him a button, and he said that he was Pye Dubois, the lyricist for Max Webster.

“I guess he really liked the band, because he told Kim about it, and the next week when we played Oshawa he was there. He came back to the dressing room after the show and we asked him if he’d be into working with us in the studio–helping us arrange some of our tunes and putting down a demo. And he said, ‘For sure!'”

With Mitchell at the helm, Coney Hatch have come a long way in a short time. And Curran doesn’t believe the band will be just another flash in the pan. He thinks there are a few things that set them apart from other bands trying to cash in on the hard-rock sweepstakes.

“I think we’re different in the fact that we have two vocalists. There’s not too many bands around that do. And Carl and I have completely different style and voice textures. We try to put a lot of melody to our music. We do go for the heavy background, but we put as much melody in it as we can.”

When asked how he felt Coney Hatch compared musically to their concert-mates Judas Priest, Curran responded, “It’s pretty obvious, they’re definitely heavier than we are as far as style of music is concerned. I think that British bands in general rely a lot more on guitar riffs than, say, Canadian ones. They’re heavily riff-oriented, and the vocals are almost secondary. I’ve noticed that with bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon–it’s as if they’re searching for the ultimate riff.”

While it may only be the British bands that are looking for ‘the ultimate riff’, Curran and the Coney boys certainly come up with a few memorable ones of their own. And their name has a rather catchy ring to it as well. About its origin, Curran says, “I had a whole sheet of names that I thought would be good for a band. But one day when I was on holiday in England with my parents they showed me this really old building that was completely surrounded by a brick wall. It looked kind of like Eddie Munster’s house. And they told me that it was Colney Hatch, a lunatic asylum. So we took the ‘l’ out to simplify it and make it easier to remember.”

Does naming a group after an insane asylum suggest that its members are a  little on the ‘strange’ side?

Replies Curran, “Yeah, I guess you could say we’re just a wild and crazy bunch of guys.”

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