For a generation of Guelph music fans, Royal City was something akin to a supergroup. From his early teens, band ringleader, Aaron Riches had been a figurehead of the city’s hardcore punk scene, fronting numerous politically charged punk bands and promoting DIY gigs (including one of Fugazi’s first Canadian shows). At the same time, while bands like the Constantines were still gestating, the Jim Guthrie Quintet was a go. A local lo-fi recording guru, Jim had assembled a hot-shit band including the in-demand duo of bassist Simon Osborne and drummer Nathan Lawr to play his experimental pop epics. In 1999 or so, Aaron sought out Jim to help him make a new record at Jim’s home studio.
The band solidified around Aaron, Jim, Simon and Nathan, with a loose open-door policy that welcomed Leslie Feist, Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) and Bobby Wiseman of Blue Rodeo fame into the lineup for short stints. Even after Nathan left the band and new drummer Lonnie James (formerly of Superfriendz) stepped in for Little Heart’s Ease, Royal City always made room for distinct musical personalities to make a wonderful, unified noise.
It was during that first U.S. that the chestnuts found here were planted. Their inspiring ride around the States helped unlock their potential, and you can hear a great band emerging in the songs Royal City wrote and performed during this period, many of which are gathered here. They simply turned a corner with “Postcards,” born in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky. Its plaintive angst and rhythmic groove are striking, with Aaron sounding confident and loose, and his increasingly limber band pushing him as a composer. Invention also fuelled the transformation of “Bad Luck” into its best-known, “Give Peace a Chance” rhythm, but it was a powerful live highlight in the original version found here. It meshes well with the band’s ferocious cover of Iggy Pop’s “Success,” which some folks in Nashville must still recall the scruffy strangers belting out at 12th and Porter one wild night.
Then there are beautifully rendered sketches like “I Called But You Were Sleeping,” “Can’t You” and “They Came Down,” which bask in their stark, hazy ambience. Royal City had a lighter side, too, that can be felt throughout “A Feast,” “Burning Torch,” and the band’s theme song/anthem (which, on a rough night, became “Royal Shitty”). Their cheeky, 3/4 time take on “Is This It?”, recorded in the UK with the legendary Edwyn Collins, breathes considerable warmth into the Strokes original. The songs are so diverse, recorded years apart by different lineups, but it all hangs together surprisingly well. One could almost believe it was a lost Royal City record.
01. Here Comes Success
02. Can’t You Hear Me Calling
04. A Belly Was Made For Wine
05. Dog Song
06. O You With Your Skirt
07. Bad Luck
08. The Notions Will Sing
09. I Called But You Were Sleeping
10. They Come Down
11. Is This It?
12. In The Autumn