The Tiaras' two singles are virtually unknown outside of a handful of northern soul anoraks on the other side of the ocean in Britain. But here in Canuckistan, the Toronto group is important for being the launch pad for actor Jackie Richardson and singer Brenda Russell.
Songwriter Al Rain, who penned all four of the Tiaras' sides, recalled the day a group of teenaged singers walked into his office at the spanking new Sound Canada Studio on Eglinton Avenue in Don Mills (Ontario). "These lovely young kids came into the studio and we talked about music," he told CM in a recent e-mail. "They opened my eyes to soul. I started teaching them about harmony, etc. We spent month after month working and rehearsing. They were like my kids." Indeed for the 16-year Richardson, it was probably much needed practice. "[It] was really funny because [with the Tiaras] I couldn't really sing," she told The Whole Note in 2013. "I earned my place as a choreographer until I could stay in tune after a year or so."
The Tiaras eventually got good enough to sing at a few of the clubs up and down the hopping Yonge Street strip. It was actually at a gig in nearby Hamiliton, Rain tells us, that Brenda Russell was added to the line-up. "We started out doing jobs with a backing group called the Luv-Lites, and while the girls were playing in Hamilton, I met Brenda Gordon and she joined up."
Of course, by this time the astute Art Snider, the man behind such labels as Chateau, Sound Canada and, later, Periwinkle, took a professional interest in the young ladies and hustled them off to New York to record some backing tracks for his various projects. "We went to New York for a recording session with the Allen Sisters and Pat Hervey, who could sing the phone book and make it sound great," Rain explained. "We did three Tiaras songs: 'Surprise', 'Foolish Girl' and 'Where Does All the Time Go?."
'Where Does All the Time Go?' was issued in the early part of 1968 on the relatively well-known Barry label. Foolish Girl', on the other hand, came out on the totally unknown Op-Art imprint, which almost certainly accounts for its rarity after all these years. Its lithe and carefree soul is competent enough, but it is the pounding floor-filler 'Surprise' over on the back that fills up the blogs of northern soul collectors these days. A 2012 post on the Soul Source site reports that the record was essentially unknown prior to 2003, when deejay Andy Dyson turned up a copy and offered it for sale. Since then a few more copies have been unearthed by Toronto-based dealer Martin Koppel - perhaps from the murky corners of his Scarborough warehouse? - and, as the site explains, "No more copies have been located and the record's Canadian origins will surely ensure that it will remain very rare indeed."
As the Tiaras got better, they started finding their names on ever more coveted bills. "We got bigger and more important gigs," Rain tells us, "even with big stars of that era, like Sly and the Family Stone, Wilson Pickett, the Box Tops, the Left Banke, the Monkees and Burton Cummings and the Guess Who." But by the end of 1969, the gals had all gone their separate ways. Richardson would eventually earn a Gemini Award for her performance in the 2010 TV drama The Gospel According to the Blues, while the ever-talented Russell found fame with her 1979 top-30 hit 'So Good, So Right' and again a decade or so later when her 'Piano in the Dark' entered the Billboard Top 10.
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