New Creation in the Vancouver Sun
'60s Godcore album finds itself born again: 30 years ago, a Jesus People band cut a disc that went nowhere, until now
by Dan Rowe for the Vancouver Sun, Monday, July 14, 2003
While the rest of Kitsilano in 1967 was turning on, tuning in and dropping out, Lorna Towers and her son Chris immersed themselves in a different kind of counterculture.
They were known in the parlance of the day as Jesus People, and they fell somewhere outside the Hegelian struggle between the hippies and the Establishment. Jesus People were, in a sense, counter-counter-revolutionaries, people who wanted to end the turbulent dawning of the Age of Aquarius by turning people on to Jesus Christ. They used techniques that even their own churches did not approve of, including, in the rarest cases, really, really good rock music.
Lorna and Chris Towers were on the fringes of even this. Lorna, a devout Christian, and her son wrote a Christian play in 1967 which they entered in a contest sponsored by CBC Radio. Needless to say their play did not win, but the mother-son combo kept writing. Poems evolved into songs.
Some of those songs, after languishing in almost complete obscurity for 30 years have recently come to light. The story of how a botany professor's wife and son earned a niche for themselves in West Coast music history is one of the most bizarre and compelling tales to come down the pike since, well, the hippies owned West Fourth Avenue.
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Lorna Towers had always loved to sing, but had never done so professionally. Chris had just started to pick up the guitar. He couldn't take his eyes off Jimi Hendrix, and was fascinated by Cream (and what nascent guitarist in 1967 wasn't?) Gimme Shelter was his favourite song.
"The devil has the best music," Chris Towers says now. "It was very hard to reconcile."
The Towers and a 21-year-old acquaintance, Janet Tiessen, formed a band, and for more than a year, the trio practised one evening a week in a wood-panelled rumpus room in Coquitlam.
The called themselves The New Creation. Their practice sessions were long and intense.
By 1969 Chris and Lorna, but mostly Lorna, were responsible for a catalogue of about 50 songs.
The New Creation seemed to be building towards something. The starkly messianic quality of the lyrics may have contributed to this sense of momentum. It certainly wasn't the group's few public performances. They received "polite" response at a show in a Gastown cafe. A performance for a suburban church group saw much of the audience watch in stunned silence or get up and leave early. The New Creation's only television appearance, on a cable access show, ended in an argument with the show's highly critical host.
Unbowed, the trio pooled their resources -- $1,000, no small sum at the time -- to get six hours in the middle of the night at Studio Three to record their album, Troubled, and have 100 copies pressed.
It was not uncommon in the summer of 1970 for bands that practised in basements and garages around the Lower Mainland to book recording time at the studio at the corner of Arbutus and 12th. But it probably was uncommon for any of those bands or even individual members of those bands to feel that the recording session needed to happen for reasons other than the dream of rock 'n' roll superstardom.
Tiessen can remember that warm summer night, but not all that well. She was in a fog. It was like a dream going into that big, airy studio. Again, not uncommon for a lot of the bands that recorded there, but for a different reason.
The New Creation had a message to deliver. They brought a cake to share when they finished recording -- which is probably not how the Rolling Stones celebrated the completion of Let It Bleed.
Tiessen likens the whole experience to white water canoeing. There's a difficult bend that you have to negotiate, with lots of rapids. It might end with the canoe tipping. It could just knock you around. Avoiding it is not an option. Hell or high water.
"Picture a bunch of kinda goofy, geeky guys, who have no flippin' idea . . . . You're doing it. You're scared. You just do it because there is some sense of need or urgency to do it," Tiessen said.
"That drug culture was so overwhelming, more than it was now. It was continuous. People were wearing long hair, nobody had short hair. It was just like open rebellion."
Six hours later, The New Creation had an album -- 41 minutes, 12 songs, one message. Piece of cake.
By the time, the album was off the presses, The New Creation was all but done. Chris was feverishly trying to get it played on Christian radio shows around North America. To his knowledge, the only play it got was on a Vancouver show whose host he cajoled into spinning it once in the middle of the night.
He has also heard a tale, quite possibly apocryphal, of a smitten DJ in Hawaii, which was, along with San Francisco, one of the major centres of the Jesus People movement, who played the album front to back for three straight hours. Then he was fired.
Tiessen was as unimpressed as most of the radio people who found copies of this strange album in an off-white sleeve with 'Troubled' scrawled across the front on their desks. "I thought, 'My gosh, I can't stand this album, it's awful,' " she said.
Soon after, she moved back to the Toronto area. She wanted out of Vancouver. The New Creation was not just a big disappointment, it was dead. The Towers' marriage, which had been in trouble for years, finally disintegrated. Troubled, which was only played once in the Towers household, may well have contributed.
Lorna needed space. She moved to Hawaii. Chris, then 24, stayed in Vancouver.
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In the mid-1970s, a Boston radio station started to play a few tracks from an obscure album, Philosophy of the World, by an obscure group of young women, the Shaggs, from an out-of-the-way New Hampshire village. The songs divided those who heard them. Some, like Frank Zappa and Lester Bangs, thought the Shaggs were better than the Beatles. Others were repulsed by their naive sound. Either way it was the first big find, probably still the biggest, in the history of outsider music.
Quixotic is a great word. It looks good on paper, it rolls off the tongue and has obvious literary allusions. Because of this it is over used. But using the strictest definition of the word -- "caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals" -- the strange souls who dedicate so much of their time to finding the next Philosophy of the World or the most recent outsider hit, the Langley Schools Music Project, which was also a Vancouver find, are absolutely, undeniably quixotic.
James Brouwer, originally from B.C., moved to Guelph, Ont., to study philosophy at the university there, which is better known for its heavy focus on agriculture. He was able to get a slot at the university's radio station about five years ago to indulge his interest in strange, esoteric music. On that show, Brouwer became the first person to play a song by The New Creation over public airwaves in nearly 30 years.
Chris Towers, who works for Canada Post and lives with his wife in south Vancouver, had no idea that his long-abandoned hopes of finding someone who liked his music had finally been answered.
Neither did Lorna Towers, back in Vancouver and still working part-time as the manager of an apartment building near the Burrard Street Bridge.
Janet Tiessen, coincidentally, now a letter carrier for Canada Post in Toronto, was probably just out of the listening range of CFRU, but had no idea that the disappointment she had contributed to had suddenly found an audience, albeit a marginal one.
Brouwer got the album from an old friend, Ty Scammell, a long-time record-dealing fixture at Vancouver flea markets. He had found it in the basement of a Vancouver thrift shop in the late 1980s. More of a fan of psychedelic music then outsider music, Scammell understood its brilliance and would play it for serious collectors, but he wouldn't sell it. He offered to burn a CD-R version for Brouwer, who could not believe his ears. "I just loved it. I thought it was an amazing record," he said.
Brouwer gets up early every Saturday just to go to yard sales to search through musty boxes of albums hoping against hope to find something interesting. He should know by now that it is highly unlikely. In the 10 years or so that has been a hobby, along with seeking other "naive art" like paintings, Brouwer has considered himself lucky if he came across one truly great outsider album each year.
Things like the Internet and improved CD burning technology have helped make the small world of outsider music a bit less isolated. Online, Brouwer found a Web site operated by Berkeley, Calif. resident Will Louviere, who was hoping to take his hobby to the next level and reissue some of the best finds with a few of his like-minded friends. They got in touch and worked out a trade that saw a copy of The New Creation's Troubled going to northern California.
"Once, we heard it we knew it was going to be our first release," Louviere said. "It was just so strong."
After hearing the first track on the album, Welcome to Revolution, it is hard not feel that way. Although, as Louviere points our, plenty of people think Troubled, like Philosophy of the World, might be the worst thing committed to vinyl.
The band came up with the song just a few days before the recording session and were still working on it as they went into the studio. It features five-and-a-half minutes of the three band members uttering phrases, like "might is right" and He's got the whole world in his hands," which the sound technician, whose name has been forgotten but not his skill, laid over a bed of sound effects crudely recreating gunfire. Eventually, it flows into a two-minute tune with lyrics that talk unflinchingly of a revolution brought about by Jesus, setting up the next 11 tracks. It ends with the sound of a bomb falling and exploding.
Over-all, the musicianship is a bit rough, a confession the band members will make themselves, but the earnestness and garage band ethos would lead the top reissuer of outsider music, Irwin Chusid, to dub it "Sixties Garage Godcore." Brouwer describes it as a cross between the Shaggs and an early, untrained Velvet Underground.
A couple of the more compelling and more traditional tracks are Wind, a haunting piece that was written and sung by Chris, and Yet Still Time, a piece about a troubled 21-year old who gets into trouble with drugs and the law. The 10th track on the album, it best reflects the problem the band had in keeping time on the second side of the album when they were hurrying to get all 12 tracks in the can before their six hours of studio time expired. Urgent.
Louviere began his hunt for the band members with Tiessen because her name was more unusual than Towers. He got in touch with her and the others, and told them of his intentions. They thought it was a joke. "No one had ever mentioned the record to them in 30 years. It was truly and completely lost," Louviere said. Tiessen had not even been in contact with the Towers' in that time.
During the 10 months it took to package the liner notes and complete the process of reissuing the album on Louviere's new label, Companion Records, he won the trust of the band.
They regained confidence in their own abilities, too. Chris cringes at the rough spots, but he listens to the CD in his car on his way to and from work. Tiessen, halfway across the country, is looking for a drumset. She will be back in Vancouver this October and, if all goes well, The New Creation will reunite -- Sixties Garage Godcore lives!
Still, The New Creation is on the outside looking in. They won't be rock stars and the naive message of their music is more out of place now than in 1970. But they have finally found a place where they and their music are appreciated, proving that there is, after all, yet still time.
NOTE: This page was copied from the original posting after it was removed from the Vancouver Sun online archives.