Finny McConnell says Johnny Fay couldn’t take the pay cut if he quit the Hip and joined the Mahones


By Steve Newton

When you’re the drummer in Canada’s top rock band, there are quite a few perks available—and I’m not just talkin’ free flats of Labatt’s Genuine Draft. For Tragically Hip skin-basher Johnny Fay, the prestige of his position also gives him the chance to work with his hometown buddies, like Kingston, Ontario, Celtic rockers the Mahones.

Fay coproduced the band’s new CD, The Hellfire Club Sessions, which will be showcased when the quintet plays the Gate on Tuesday (February 23).

“We’re old friends,” explains Mahones singer Finny McConnell from Toronto, “but [Fay’s involvement] just came about by him hearing the preproduction tapes that we made. He dug what he heard and offered to help us make the record, so we kindly took him up on that nice offer.”

As well as coproducing, Fay plays drums on the entire album, but Hip fans needn’t worry about him quitting that band to bash out the Mahones’ party-time noise full-time.

“He couldn’t take the pay cut,” quips McConnell, who nevertheless advises that Fay may have a future behind the recording console. “Every producer that we work with we learn things from,” he says, “and we definitely learned some new recording techniques from him. He has a good idea of how to get the vibes goin’ in the studio, and get the tempos happenin’, and get the live feel with the amps bein’ able to be turned up loud—a lotta things that we were tryin’ to accomplish before that we were havin’ trouble with.”

Furthering the Kingston connection, Tragically Hip bassist Gord Sinclair plays piano on the Tom Waits–like “Cocktail Blue”. And another pal who dropped in was current Junkhouse/former Crash Vegas guitarist Colin Cripps, who took the lead on the rocking “This Old Town”.

“He literally just grabbed a guitar off the wall and put down this smashing lead which sounds like something Adrian Belew would do—you know, the big, long notes—and we loved it.”

Like some of the Hip members, McConnell now makes Toronto his home, but he didn’t leave Kingston five years ago to be closer to the centre of the music industry. “I’m just a live-music lover,” he claims, “so I like to be around here to see all the shows, to be quite honest with you.”

McConnell has been indulging his passion for live music as a participant ever since St. Patrick’s Day 1990, when the nucleus of the Mahones was formed around several pints of Guinness.

“A friend of ours who owned a pub wanted to have some Irish music for St. Patrick’s Day,” he recalls, “so we got together with a couple of other guys and put together a setlist. We played the gig and everybody loved it so much that we’ve been playin’ ever since.”

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