The United Empire Loyalists was a Vancouver B.C. band that originally consisted of Rick Enns (lead vocals, bass), Anton "Tom" Kolstee (lead guitar), Jeff Ridley (rhythm guitar), and Richard Cruickshank , later replaced by Glen Hendrickson(drums). In 1968 the band recorded a lone single "No, No, No," that was pressed in only 200 copies but sold well enough to attract a fan base and the attention of a local concert promoter who booked the band to open for The Grateful Dead. In 1968 the UEL's were part of the Vancouver underground music scene so the release of a single was perceived as a commercial cash by the band so they abandoned their commercialization for songs that consisted of long jams and experimental sounds. With a limited fan base of only a few hundred of Vancouver teens, the band started to make waves around the west coast music scene and with some music pointers taken from their experience with the Dead, they managed to attract interest from Canada's National Television station the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
In 1968, as part of the Enterprise television series , the CBC filmed an hour-long studio performance of the band. This even brought more of a cult mystique to the UEL's and in 1990, the band was reformed to again perform for the CBC in a documentary about the Vancouver 60's music scene. During the late 60's and early 70's the band went on tour through out B.C. opening for such acts as the Cream, Yardbirds, Steve Miller Band , Country Joe & The Fish Canned Heat and many more acts both local and international. They became one of B.C.'s hottest bands yet never released another single or received radio air play ! Notes From The Underground is the first compilation entirely devoted to the music of the United Empire Loyalists. The CD contains 13 songs taken from a variety of sources including some "live" club record ings from 1968, unreleased studio recordings from 1970, as well as songs that were originally featured on both CBC Television programs from 1968 and 1990. While the sound quality on some of the songs, especially the those recorded privately in 1968, is not great these are some of the only recordings that still exist of this band. Noticeable missing from this set without explanation is the band's "commercial" single "No, No, No" but none the less all but two on this set are originals written by the band members. With liner notes detailing the history of the band written by Anton Kolstee, this CD is a fitting tribute to one of Vancouver's best kept secrets that is finally available for the first time for all to hear.
Jeff Ridely was the rhythm guitarist and a vocalist for the United Empire Loyalists. He kindly conducted this interview with me in May of 1999 as a precurser to a future full interview which will be done with Harry Viesel which is to be printed in Ugly Things 18. Thanks to Harry, and thanks to Jeff for giving great insite into the Vancover 60's rock 'n roll scene!
When did the band start?
Jeff Ridley: We started in 1965 as the Molestors. The members were myself-rhythm guitar/vocals; Anton ("Tom" as he was then known) Kolstee-lead guitar/vocals; Richard Cruickshank-drums; Mike Trew-lead vocals/keyboard; and Bruce Dowd-bass guitar. In 1966 we replaced Mike and Bruce with Rick Enns-bass guitar/lead vocals who had just come from the Tom Northcott Trio.
What was the Vancover rock 'n roll scene like?
The Vancouver scene in 1965 was undergoing a split between R&B bands and the new English style bands. In England it was the MODS and ROCKERS as portrayed in Quadraphenia; in Vancouver it was the HIPPIES and the GREASERS. By the time we hit the scene the hippies and new English style bands had asserted themselves as the new force. In 1966 and 1967 the scene exploded! There were many great bands and an eager generation if kids wanting to hear the new sounds, read the new philosophy, take mind altering trips and generally experience life in a much bigger, freer, more unrestrained way than our post-war parents.
Was the band more into psychedelic stuff, r&b or a mixture of rock 'n roll styles?
Quite a heavy blues/rock influence, with tinges of psychedelia. The reviewer for German Rolling Stone described it as "re-creates the acid experience" and "excellent food for the brains of space travellers".
So judging from your record, you where a hippie band with English tendancies?
If by "record" you mean "No, No, No" from the History of Vancouver Rock and Roll compilation, the UEL sound can't be judged from that. That was quite early. You have to hear the later material on the CD "Notes from the Underground" to appreciate the Loyalist's sound. We were famous for our long, instrumental jams which transported the listener on a trip almost like the acid experience. There are a couple of inklings of this on the CD.
Was the band creative musically writing material?
Most definitely. Jamming was a big thing for us. Through free, unstructured playing we developed many ideas which would become songs. Rick was also a songwriter.
How did the United Empire Loyalists fit into that scene?
The UEL was at the cutting edge of the new Vancouver scene. We were practically the house band at the major music venue which, in the beginning, was the Pender Auditorium, where Jerry Kruz first brought the Grateful Dead to Vancouver. And later, we played regularily at the Retinal Circus on Davie St. Whenever a major act came to town, like the Cream, the Dead, Country Joe, Canned Heat, Steve Miller, etc., or whenever there was an event like a be-in, the Loyalists were asked to play.
Do you think the "scene" in Vancover was more musically driven, or more politically driven or where they seperate?
The "scene" in Vancouver had different components that overlapped but were separate. The musicians weren't political; we were musically driven. But the literary/intellectual crowd at the university and at, say, the fledgling Georgia Straight newspaper, had some political aspirations. But in Canada in the sixties it was hard to get motivated politically. We had little to get political about. All the heavy stuff like Vietnam and equal rights, things that totally politicized the youth in America, were not Canadian issues. As much as the politically minded young people in Vancouver tried to generate some emotional fervour over these issues, we couldn't get that excited because there was no way we in Canada could feel the issues as intensely as Americans whose sons were being killed in Vietnam and whose black citizens were being brutally persecuted.
Vancouver was a little more unbridled both musically and philosphically Compaired to most places in Canada, wouldn't you say?
Yes, I believe Vancouver was more unbridled, and yes, it was definitely a reflection of what was happening in Haight-Ashbury. The hippie scene in Vancouver was very focused and very intense. Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano was the geographic centre of hippiedom. I well remember the effect caused by the the smell of incence from the head shops mixed with the smell of patchouli from the hippie chicks as I walked along Fourth Avenue on a hot summer day. And speaking of unbridled...we had Wreck Beach!
Can you please give myself, and the dear readers a little bit of an outline of what the geographic Vancover scene was like: some clubs, if there was a "hang out" area
Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano was the 'Haight' or 'Greenwich Village' of Vancouver. This was the "hang out" area and it was here that most of the head shops, boutiques, etc. were located. There was one small music venue, the Bistro, on Fourth Avenue where we played many times. But the main music venue was, in the early days, the Pender Auditorium, in the downtown area. Later on the Retinal Circus on Davie Street in the West End became the main venue. This was the 'Fillmore West' of Vancouver. This is where all the great acts like Country Joe, the Dead, Siegal-Schwall, Junior Walker, Canned Heat, etc. played. So in the daytime you could hang out on Fourth Avenue and at night you could head over to the Retinal Circus for music, dancing, light shows, strobe lights, etc.
can you please explain Wreck Beach to the nice folks in the rest of the world!!!
Vancouver is one of the few cities in the world which has a public nude beach. This very popular and controversial beach was (and may still be--I haven't been there in ages) a place where young and old, single people and families, could sun bathe and picnic and play volleyball and generally disport themselves in the altogether. It had its opponents, naturally. One very vocal opponent was a very strange woman named Bernice Gerard, a right wing christian. (Right wing christian is the polite way of descibing her). But, and this is just speculation, city hall may have recognized the tourism potential of our internationally renowned beach, and wisely decided to turn a blind eye.
What other local bands would you have "equated" yourselves with? Bands like the Chessmen or the Painted Ship?
Tough question...definitely the Painted Ship...the best Vancouver band from that era. Nardwuar told me an incredible story of how Painted Ship's tape of their lp for London Records got lost in the mail and there was only the one tape...so the lp didn't happen!
What about the HydroElectric Street Car?
Yeah, these guys I knew real well. They were quite good...kinda heavy and loud. Once their guitar player couldn't do some gigs so they asked me if I would play for them. I agreed and we had a few rehearsals and then played some gigs around BC. Anton and I, in the Loyalists, always used Fender Super Reverb amps (just little amps) but Hydro Electric Street Car had Marshall stacks!
Can you relate some or one of your most memorable moments performing... A few memorable moments...
Playing with the Grateful Dead at the Pender Auditorium on their first visit to Vancouver. On that trip they needed a place to practice so Richard (our drummer) suggested his parents' West Vancouver home. So off we all went...and now you have the Dead (Pig Pen was still alive), us and a bunch of other hippies all crammed into this nice, suburban house just rawkin'. The police were called and, as would happen many times, we were shut down! (Imagine what it would have looked like to a neighbour seeing the Grateful Dead and large entourage entering a house in their neighbourhood!)
We open for the Cream in the Coliseum. This was the first time I had stood on stage in this large a venue...it was awesome! We finished our set and walked down the stairs at the back of the stage, and there were Eric, Jack and Ginger standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to go up. I looked at them speechless like they were some kind of gods. I was 18.
On one of our many gigs at the Retinal Circus on Davie Street, Anton (lead guitar) and I (rhythm guitar) for no apparent reason and quite spontaneously, went onto the stage, picked up our guitars, and started to jam. And this jam just flowed out in the most beautiful way. It absolutely clicked and what came out was the most joyous, free and unfettered, life-affirming music that to me said 'I'm so happy to be alive'.