Lost Bands: Gangway

Gangway’s one of those bands who, as far as people in the States are concerned, can’t really be described as lost…because they were never found in the first place! And I don’t mean that in a “their albums didn’t sell well” kind of way; I mean their albums never got released here at ALL. Hell, I’ve never even heard one of their studio albums; all I have is a best-of disc called Compendium, which plays like all your favorite bits by the Pet Shop Boys, the Lightning Seeds, and…well, basically, any band you can think of that incorporates lush keyboard sounds into their pop songs.

There are a couple of fan sites dedicated to the group (like this one), but they don’t appear to have their own website…possibly because they broke up in 1998. Nor do they have a MySpace page, not even an unofficial one, which is somehow even more odd, given how many folks tend to put up fan-run pages for their favorite artists. They do, at least, have a Wikipedia entry, which indicates that, in 2006, guitarist/songwriter Henrik Balling and lead singer Allan Jensen staged a reunion show at a small bar in Copenhagen for all of 125 people. (Oddly, keyboardist Torben Johansen was present in the audience but, the entry implies, did not participate in the performance.)

None of the band’s albums appear to be in print – or, if they are, they’re only available in Denmark (and since I can neither speak nor read Danish, I may never know) – but, for now, you can at least enjoy this video by the band on YouTube.

Conveniently, it’s for one of my favorite songs on Compendium. It’s called “My Girl and Me,” and it features such brilliant lyrics in its chorus that it’s inexplicable that it didn’t get released in the States:

“My girl and me / We hang around in bars / And we’re usually drunk / But we’re never too drunk to fight / Like cats and dogs all night.”

That’s genius.


Lost Bands: The Origin

When the Origin released their self-titled album on Virgin in 1990, it was with decidedly little fanfare…but if you were to take a gander at the cover now, you’d probably think, “Dude, these guys are totally trying to look like Toad the Wet Sprocket!” Seriously. I mean, here’s the cover…

…and here’s Toad:

Am I right?

In fact, it ‘s probably just coincidence, given that The Origin actually appeared at almost the same time as Toad; they just didn’t have the luxury of scoring a major radio hit to prolong their career. They did, however, have some great songs. Their debut featured songs like the pumping piano of “Growing Old,” the charming “Everyone Needs Love,” and the nice orchestration on “Who Would’ve Known.” Fans of the band, few though they may have been outside their home base, were therefore excited about the possibility of a follow-up, even though they feared that the lackluster sales of the debut might well result in the band being a one-album wonder. 1992’s Bend was almost like the work of a completely different band, however…and while I mean that in a good way now, if I’d made the same comment at the time the album was released, I probably wouldn’t have meant it that way. The group seemed less interested in ruling the charts and more interested in being themselves, tackling everything from funk to folk, though still maintaining the same melodic sensibilities. Of course, it sold accordingly…which is to say, not very well at all…but it’s still worth hunting down if you can find it.

The Origin broke up without releasing a third album, and you’d think that I’d just end this here…but, instead, I actually discovered more about the band while writing this piece, and it’s so interesting that I wanted to include it here.

I knew that the band’s de facto leader was named Michael Andrews…but what I didn’t know is that in the Origin’s original, pre-Virgin line-up was Gary Jules, who came to prominence a few years back for his cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World.” And to move from mad world to small world, it turns out that, not coincidentally, Michael Andrews not only played the spooky piano on the song, but he also did the entire score for “Donnie Darko,” the film in which Jules’ TFF cover received such tremendous attention. Andrews also was a major contributor to Brendan Benson’s One Mississippi and Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket To Come In, and he’s also the leader of the Greyboy Allstars, who can be heard on the soundtrack to “Zero Effect,” which Andrews also scored.

So that’s what Michael Andrews is doing…but if anyone knows what anyone else from the Origin is doing nowadays, drop a line or leave a posting.


Lost Bands: Gunbunnies

Like so many disaffected teens with a jones for new music, I spent some time working in music retail…and one of the many bands I discovered during this era (1989 – 1994, with some time off to attend college) was the Gunbunnies. Signed to Virgin Records back in the days when the label was flooding stores with promotional copies of albums by their new artists, we scored both cassette and CD promos of their debut album, Paw Paw Patch, and it’s clear Virgin had high hopes for these guys.

Their single, “Stranded,” was picking up quite a bit of college radio airplay, and the critics were loving the fact that the album was produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson (Big Star, the Rolling Stones, the Replacements). Plus, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Chris Maxwell, had put together 10 songs that could hold their own with bands like Guadalcanal Diary, House of Freaks, and the like…and although he had a highly competent band behind him, Maxwell was practically a one-man band; he played guitar, harmonica, trumpet, and electric sitar on the album!

Poised for success…? Yeah, not so much.

The Gunbunnies disappeared after Paw Paw Patch…and I mean really disappeared. Not only was there no follow-up album on Virgin, there was no follow-up, period. Maxwell didn’t even go solo; he just vanished.

Well, okay, he didn’t vanish vanish; if AllMusic.com can be trusted (and they usually can), he left music altogether for about five years, then returned to play bass for They Might Be Giants and to do some production work for artists like the Lunachicks…but, of course, that’s if this is the same Chris Maxwell. Can anyone confirm or deny…?


Toy Matinee, “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge”

What’s there to say about Toy Matinee…? They came quick and didn’t stay long, and during the brief period they existed, their most impressive feat as a band was securing Julian Lennon to contribute guest vocals to their lone, self-titled album.

Sounds woefully unimpressive, no…?

Well, the thing is, the two guys who made up Toy Matinee were Patrick Leonard – who produced Madonna’s True Blue, Roger Waters’ Amused To Death, Jewel’s Spirit, and Elton John’s Songs from the West Coast, among many others – and Kevin Gilbert, who’s written songs for Sheryl Crow, engineered Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, and played keyboards for Susanna Hoffs.

So, basically, it didn’t matter what Toy Matinee did; they had plenty of other avenues to fall back on…which is good, given that Toy Matinee did precisely jack.

In 1990, no-one was looking for the second coming of Steely Dan. Too bad, since that’s exactly what “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge” was. Arguably the best song on an album full of consistently solid pop-rock tracks, it tells the tale of one Jenny Ledge, who was “tempted by half-Elvis, half man-about-town, and a life of ease.” Great song, but one woefully out of place at its time of release. Check out the video…

…and if you like what you hear, go yell at iTunes to make the album available for download so you can hear the whole thing.


Lost Bands: Pleasure Thieves

Another one of those bands that seems to ring a bell only with former record store employees who used to snake any and every promo disc that came in, the Pleasure Thieves released one album on Hollywood Records – Simple Escape – in 1992…and not much else. (Further research shows that they did a cover of the Who’s “Boris the Spider” for the soundtrack to Arachnophobia, but, honestly, probably even less people own that than do Simple Pleasure.)

Lead singer Sinjin-William Dolan…and, no, I don’t know what kind of name Sinjin-William is, either…sounds almost like Neil Diamond at times with his husky voice, and the music’s very synth-heavy; neither were attributes that would’ve led any band to success in the early ’90s.

The group vanished so far into oblivion that they have no website, no MySpace page, nothing…but in a bizarre post-script to the band’s career, the band’s song “Blue Flowers” – a highlight of the album – was discovered by a DJ in the Phillipines and became a hit there…in 2002!

If anyone has any idea if the band or Dolan went on to record anything else, please leave a posting.