Secret Selector: “Higher” & “The Politician” by Borealis

borealisMost musical movements have been historically late to wash up on the shores of Newfoundland & Labrador, but the delay of Borealis did not limit the reach of the band’s ground-breaking output. Borealis were based out of St. John’s, NL, and in 1972 their Sons of the Sea LP would be the province’s first recorded venture into psychedelia and hard rock. The album would claim its place as the first 100% original album by a Newfoundland band.

Borealis formed in the early 1970’s with brothers Paul and Mark Bradbury, Wayne Sturge and Chic Chessman. Borealis soon became a songwriting machine, combing elements of blues rock riffs through loungy hints of jazz-fusion and the distinct accent of a screaming hammond organ. The songs of Borealis jam with an instinctual looseness, yet they all boast precise arrangement and house some highly energetic performances from highly skilled players.

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By 1972, Borealis ambitiously churned out the ten song Sons of the Sea LP on Audat Records. Ron Hynes also released his debut album on Audat that same year, giving the label the first two all original albums by both a solo artist, as well as by a band, in Newfoundland & Labrador history. Borealis holds the Audat serial number 477-9025, while Hynes holds 477-9026. Though the Borealis album may have failed to garner as significant traction on the contemporary Canadian market as Discovery; Sons of the Sea would eventually become a heavily reissued nugget of 70s Canadian rock on the international market. The album has found itself bootlegged in Germany in 1985, reissued in the US by Void Records in 2001, and again in South Korea on Merry Go Round Records in 2005.

borealis3The international interest in Borealis is even prevalent in the album’s YouTube uploads. Aside from a couple of mislabelled tracks floating around on the web, the fullest and most accurate track-by-track upload is on a Spanish channel by a user who documents obscure 70s rock from his record collection.

Our first selection from the album is probably the most bang-on flirtation with typical psychedelic subject matter, and it may also be the province’s earliest lyrical reference to drug taking. “Higher” provides a stabbing organ accompaniment to a relentless description of what can only be pinned as a hallucinatory experience, man. From more common tropes such as “I see the colours all around my room, I see some pictures but I know not of whom”, to one of the more hilariously Canadian anomalies such as “The Premier has a beard and long hair and that’s strange, other things I see as my mind starts to range — higher.”

I can only imagine that songs like “Higher” were beloved staples in Borealis’ live set. The album contains some moodier slow tunes which fit the well-rounded 70s rock format, but the grooves and noodles of the more banging tracks rub off as particularly innovative for their era in Newfoundland music.

The chaps behind Borealis were, amongst a smorgasbord of other contemporary rock bands, fans of Blood, Sweat and Tears. This shines through clearly on tracks such as “The Politician” with tinges of jazz fusion and fuzzed leads, decorated with the ever-present pounding on the electric organ. It is funny to imagine these stadium rock styled songs in the small clubs of St. John’s. With rock n’ roll arriving fashionably late to Newfoundland by the mid sixties, Borealis wouldn’t have been too far behind the sock hops and teeny bops of the golden era of rock. They would have been an influential leap ahead into progressive and hard rock territory, and they stood unique amongst a vast land of cover bands.

fuddleThe series of firsts set by Borealis doesn’t quite stop there. In 1973 Paul Bradbury would compose and the music and lyrics to Professor Fuddles Fantastic Fairy Tale Machine, a full length accompaniment to a play by Alan Ball. Originally put off at the Arts & Culture in St. John’s, Professor Fuddle is undeniably the first ambitious attempt at a rock opera in the province. While all members have remained musically active over the last four decades, Bradbury currently practices “musical therapy” at hospitals, homes, parties and various events across south-east Ontario.

Keep digging,
– Secret Selector

2 thoughts on “Secret Selector: “Higher” & “The Politician” by Borealis”

  1. Karen says:

    You got it wrong in the members. Dave Hillier was the drummer. He was my uncle and is in all the photos accompanying the article.

  2. WAYNE STURGE says:

    Just to confirm Karen’s comments… Yes indeed Dave Hillier was the drummer for Borealis. Chic Cheeseman was with the group maybe a few months in it’s startup days but was quickly replaced by Dave who was our fabulous drummer and played a big roll in creating our album. These are facts I know because I’m Wayne Sturge the guitarist for the group and writer of Higher.

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