In December of 1982 Rev. Ken and The Lost Followers headlined the closing night party/boozefest (other acts that night included Terry and the Tights) for the short-lived Peterborough performance space City Stage (more about the venue and its legacy below). Yes, you heard it right: when the song is over Rev. Ken really does remind the crowd - at 5:09 - not to go anywhere during the break, because THE BOOZE IS FREE! In fact, he says EVERYTHING IS FREE! What he meant by everything, we can only guess because we really can’t remember a lot of what went on that night. But he’s right about the free booze part and it seems the camera operator on this video was taking full advantage.
This version of the band was made up of the three core members, ‘Reverend’ Ken Ramsden, ‘Washboard’ Hank Fisher, and ‘Bashful Cousin’ Matthew Fines, along with Earl ‘Stinkfoot’ Hope on bass (seen here singing ‘Caldonia’) and Johnny Pearl on drums. Ken played mandolin, guitar and lead drinker. Matthew was lead guitar. Hank was a multi-instrumentalist (he still is, you can see him around Peterborough with his current outfit, The Corn Pickles), playing guitar, dobro, trombone, a custom built washboard that contains about a dozen noisemakers on top of the washboard itself, and a one-of-a-kind wind instrument Hank made from a kitchen sink and duct tape, the famous fallopian tuba.
The Lost Followers were variously described as hillbilly punk gospel and a five-piece party band who presided over the Church of the Open Bottle. Hank’s dry wit and Ken’s liquid insanity (after all, “Let the Spirits Enter The Body” was the band’s rallying cry) made for a combustible partnership but a very entertaining live show, with Matthew’s reliable and tasty guitar work driving the band forward through it all. The group’s frequent gigs at The Red Dog Tavern cemented a fervent following (their weekly Red Dog Howl featured bum cleavage contests and a baloney snowflake competition, don’t ask), especially among the hard partying student crowd, first in Peterborough but soon in many other cities and towns. They were a particularly big hit at The Brunswick House on Bloor Street in Toronto, though perhaps their most notable gig was an entire month playing Expo 86 in Vancouver.
City Stage was a cabaret-style performance space operated by the artist-run centre Artspace, which opened the venue in November, 1980. Occupying the rear unit at 190 Hunter Street West, the 1,600 sq ft City Stage was on the ground floor, directly below the same size Artspace gallery above; audiences (numbering 50 to 150) often moved up and down during events such as this, dancing to the band downstairs and chilling out to the art upstairs. Although Artspace had been at the location only since 1977 (its second home), a rent hike resulted in Artspace/City Stage giving up the location in favour of more than doubling its size in the Market Hall. The choice of The Lost Followers to close Artspace/City Stage was a natural, as they had often played at Artspace events. In fact, Ken had played at the grand opening of the very first Artspace location on Water Street in 1974. For that show Ken put Hank’s writing (poetry really) to his own music, thus beginning their musical partnership. Eventually of course Hank would learn to write his own music, and Ken his own lyrics. These days Ken works as a solo artist and as part of the Celtic band Freshwater Trade.
City Stage hosted a wide range of activities including music, spoken word events, performance art, film screenings and particularly theatre, most notably a young in-house semi-pro theatre company formed whenever a tempting project presented itself or a job creation grant was available. Aspiring artists with the City Stage Theatre Co who would continue with careers in the performing arts included actor Rob Winslow, director Ben Henderson, designer David Skelton, writer Paul Mason and actor/musicians Rob Fortin, Jim Gleason, David Ramsden and Lee Shropshire. One of Canada’s best playwrights, Peterborough native Dave Carley, saw City Stage host the very first professional production of one of his plays - ‘First Strike’, directed by Dean Hawes - courtesy of the short-lived (there’s that phrase again) Otonabee Theatre Co-Op. As it turned out the story of City Stage did not really end in 1982; in 1989 a new generation of Peterborough theatre artists took over the space to create the Union Theatre, a groundbreaking space which hosted hundreds of theatre, music and community events (even a soup kitchen) until 1995, when it too succumbed to its landlord’s indifference (if not hostility) toward artist-run activities. There’s a nice history of The Union on Wikipedia.
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