2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 4- A SOUND DAY SELECTS- ‘LONDON BABY’- SLAVE TO THE SQUAREWWAVE

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Well for this round of the Song Draft, I decided to go in a bit of a different direction. I had tentatively planned on picking Gerry Rafferty’s brilliant “Baker Street” but Hinoeuma beat me to the punch… which was not only fair but kind of encouraging to me, confirming that some great songs are great songs that appeal far and wide. I’d already picked a song by the biggest American alternative act of their generation, R.E.M.,  one of Canada’s internationally best-known acts in Rush, and one from the granddaddies of rock, arguably the biggest band ever – The Beatles.  So for this one I decided to go the other direction and pick one very few here (probably none) have heard – “London Baby” by Slave to the Squarewave.

Slave to the Squarewave are veterans of the Toronto scene, a band led by a couple of creative, flashy friends, Colin MacPhail and Rob Stuart. Back when this song was done, they were a quartet with drummer Doug Lea and guitarist Andrew Starr being a part and adding to the prominent and classy keyboards of Stuart. Once in awhile, Rob’s wife Kim lends a hand or a voice; unlike the Beatles, the presence of a wife didn’t seem to affect the band much for the worse. MacPhail is the frontman in every sense of the word, the main lyricist, with a powerful voice and a flair for the theatrical on stage.

By 2005, when they first recorded “London Baby”, they’d been around for four or five years and put out a couple of indie releases. They had a loyal following around Toronto and one DJ – David Marsden, whom I’ve written about before – backing them and playing them alongside bands that sounded a bit similar but enjoyed immensely bigger budgets and more acclaim – Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, The Cure at their most playful, Echo & the Bunnymen at their most radio-friendly. 

I can’t remember when I first became aware of them, but hearing their songs on radio, albeit only on one show, and seeing them billed on events around the area, I became a fan and often went to their shows. They were always a full-blown party; drinks flowed freely, faces became familiar, people sang along, not totally infrequently some of the ladies in the crowd ended up dancing on stage and Colin as oft as not ended up half-stripped out of his fancy suit that he began the show in. The songs were upbeat and sounded great at home, but really came to life in a bar or small nightclub setting.

“London Baby” was a particularly catchy bit that just about dared you not to get up and move, and sing along. It had the brash “in yer face” approach of Oasis from the decade before and the dance sensibilities of New Order the decade before that. Rob – he of Briitsh origins and accent – tells me it came about fairly organically at a Sunday afternoon jam session. Colin tried to write lyrics that were “everything that was typically British.” They even managed a suitably British video, after they signed a contract with Sparks Music in Canada. No Warner Brothers or Sony were Sparks, but at least it was a label with some distribution throughout the country. One could find Slave’s Big Change album racked up in record stores right by those of Sting or the Smiths.  One song from it squeaked onto the national dance chart, and this song was used by the TV show Fashion Television in one of its segments (in all likelihood looking at British fashions.) But the lads were smart enough to not quit their day jobs. Big Change wasn’t really a big change in terms of their international status or bank account bottom lines.

The Slave to the Squarewave continue to record sporadically and play when the pandemic will allow; mostly now they’re just to core duo of MacPhail and Stuart. The latter has another hand in music now, being a DJ on an internet radio station besides his 9-to-5 office job.

So here’s to the Slaves, as the fans call ’em, and here’s to “London Baby”, a thouroughly likable little ditty. Maybe not one of the ten or twelve best ever, but hey, one that deserves to be heard and a big reminder for us. Great bands we hear on radio or see displayed prominently at Walmart are fine… most of the time they have that level of success for good reason. But let’s hear it for the others – local music and local musicians, working away to make music and entertain us day in, day out, struggling in obscurity. Playing music more for the love of it than the gold in it. Cheers to all of you who fit that category. Besides, U2 and R.E.M. are fantastic. But they never hung out with me at a late-night restaurant after a show and drove me home because I was a tad tipsy! So thanks for that Rob and Colin, and thanks for making music for the love ot it. And thanks to all you unsung musical heroes in every city.

20 responses to “2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 4- A SOUND DAY SELECTS- ‘LONDON BABY’- SLAVE TO THE SQUAREWWAVE

  1. Dave, such a great tune and accompanying video! So happy you chose a lesser-known but no lesser-quality group and song. If you hadn’t we never would have enjoyed hearing and watching them today. I also love your thanks: “And thanks to all you unsung musical heroes in every city.” They truly are unsung heroes!

    • thank you – that was what I was going for – shout out to all those “unknown” artists out there waiting to be discovered but adding to our lives even if they never do get “known”

    • I really wanted this band to take off. Their whole album of original tunes is SO GOOD. Imagining them with a full fancy production studio, etc. and how much better it would sould.

  2. I love this kind of fast-paced, exuberant music, so this song is right up my alley. I agree with you Dave that there are so many talented artists & bands out there making some really great music, but who remain relatively obscure for one reason or another. That’s why I choose to write about a lot of independent or up-and-coming artists on my blog – to give them a bit of press in the hope that they’ll gain some new fans.

    • thank you! Yep– this song really is quite catchy and coulda, shoulda been something of a minor hit at very least. I bet there are cool bands like that toiling away in every city on the continent (and Europe too)

    • I’m adding to my own comment, because after another listen, I hear even more to comment on. To me there’s a hint of Queen in this song early on. Also, listening to the words, it’s a stream of mentions of British places and customs, from Ascot, Brixton, Chelsea, Scousers, and even a chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. And you hung out with them!

    • maybe a little Queen… I think Colin channels at least a little Freddie Mercury style on stage. they also definitely have more than a nodding glance towards 70s David Bowie in some of their stuff.

  3. I never knew this one…I like the 70’s type keyboard that is going on in the background…Steve Wonder used that back then in a few things. Cool little song.

    • As much as I’ve heard them and at times talked to them, I’m not sure where the name came from. tentatively plan to be interviewing them soon for my own blog, so maybe that’s a question to look at .
      Yep, hats off to the musicians who continue to perform for the love of it. Some of them have real talent and all do their best to entertain. Good thing too, as I think in today’s world there’ll be no more Beatles or Rolling Stones or even U2s… the days of the multi-million selling megaband , I think, are passed.

  4. Thanks for this write up Dave and the intro to this band and song. Really enjoyed it. Whenever I see a band live regardless of how good they are or less than good I always respect the fact that they are getting on that stage and doing what they love and sharing that love with us the audience. And that is many times more apparent the less success or exposure they have gotten

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