Happy Man’s Jay Homenchuk and Graham Brown were Born to Entertain


By Steve Newton

Happy Man singer/guitarist Jay Homenchuk has been involved with Vancouver’s independent rock scene for a number of years—either as a guitar roadie for Brilliant Orange or as a member of Green House and his current group. Born and raised in Lotusland, he’s seen the local scene evolve from the wild punk-rock days of the late ’70s.

“When I got into it, it was at a virtual all-time high,” says the 30-year-old rocker. “Basically, when I got into music, the Pointed Sticks had just broken up and there was a lot happening. There wasn’t much on a major-label scale, but there were a lot of independent things, and you can definitely see a lot of parallels today as far as people putting out CDs and things like that. There are a lot of independent releases, and, hopefully, the town will be recognized once again for its merits and creativity.”

Homenchuk wouldn’t mind if some of that recognition fell on his own band, whose independent disc, Born to Entertain, recently hit local record outlets. It’s a fine collection of tunes penned by himself and singer/guitarist/harpist Graham Brown, and engineered by Mark Findler at Sierra and Venture Soundtracks. The two songwriters first met when Homenchuk was working as a roadie for Brown’s previous band, Brilliant Orange, one of the more promising original acts to not make it out of Vancouver.

“I was happy with Brilliant Orange until we went down to L.A. and started recording,” says Brown, “and by that point the vision I had of the band was gone. Things were happening, we were filling clubs across the country, and all of a sudden it got to the point where it was like, ‘Oh no, you’re just not slick enough, you gotta sound this way.’ Everybody wanted to be a songwriter all of a sudden, and it got kinda ugly for a while. Eventually, I just stopped bringin’ in songs to the band.”

Before setting up roots on the West Coast, Alberta native Brown spent a year playing with Edmonton’s Jr. Gone Wild, joining the ranks of the numerous players that have come and gone from that Prairie institution.

“When I was in Junior, we came out to Vancouver on a tour and I just kinda thought, ‘What the hell am I doing in Edmonton?’ So I moved here, and that’s when I started Brilliant Orange.”

Brilliant Orange released one album in the U.S. on BMG, Love and Evolution, before Brown became disenchanted with the group and formed Green House with Homenchuk. They had to change that name, however, when they found out it was already being used by bands in England and Saskatchewan. So they chose Happy Man, and—along with bassist Mark Gibbs and drummer Mark Gruft—released Born to Entertain on their own Stomp Records.

The disc cleverly mixes elements of pop, folk, blues, and rock, and serves them up with promising accessibility. Local violinist Marcelle Nokony sits in on three tunes, and her skill with the bow—as can be heard on the upcoming London Quireboys release—is most evident on Brown’s “My Nails Turn Blue”, a down-home country/bluegrass tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jr. Gone Wild album.

“She’s one hell of a fiddle player,” enthuses Homenchuk. “She’s done a lot of session work and has worked with the [Vancouver] symphony before. She’s actually quite popular in Europe with her own quartet. So it’s a nice little ace in the hole, as you can see.”

Chatting with Happy Man’s principal members gives one the impression that Homenchuk and Brown believe strongly in what they’re doing with the band—and its future.

“Things seem really good and tight,” says Homenchuk, “both personally and music-wise, between us. So, hopefully, we can get a decent run and make enough money to be able to do it as a living. I really enjoy making records and playing live and writing songs. And that’s what we’re all doing it for.”

Local fans interested in supporting Happy Man’s endeavours can check the band out when they play 86 Street on Friday (November 6) as part of a Coast 1040-sponsored Club 1040 & David Hawkes night. It’ll be the band’s second appearance there this week, the first a U2 after-party gig on Tuesday.

“Don’t forget that Hendrix warmed up for the Monkees once!” says Brown, not the least bit daunted by the prospect of “following” Bono and the boys.

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