The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir were a Canadian alternative R&B-flavoured rock band that formed in 1985 in Toronto, Ontario. Performing in the first ever gig were: Chris Brown (organ), Jason Mercer (bass), Chris Miller (guitar), Kate Fenner (vocals), Andrew Whiteman (preaching & tambourine), Peter Mercier (guitar), Brian Figaro (guitar), Curtis Lamey (bass), Graham King (drums & rumored cyclist), Mark Perkins (drums), Paul Swayze (drums), Anderew MacEacran (percussion), Derek Sinclair (sax), Colin Dundar (dancing), Mike Rosenitsch (dancing) and Lydia Wagerer was baptised with real bourbon.
The Show was opened by Miller, Mercer and Perkins performing a blues number entitled RUBBER DUCKY with Miller on vocals. Mercer then took a seat on the RED COUCH and began playing The SERMON. During the song Mercer passed the bass off to Curtis.
According to a CBC Midday interview done at the band house Chris Brown came up with the name from a dream he had. The name was meant to be used for one show; a lunchtime performance at Lawrence Park Collegate in Toronto. They performed the only song they knew - an original entitled "The Sermon" - with Andrew Whiteman providing a hellfire & brimstone rant.
The band consisted of vocals Kate Fenner, vocals and organ Chris Brown, vocals and guitar Andrew Whiteman, guitar Chris Miller, saxophone Derek Sinclair (85-86), saxophone and vocals Chris Plock (86-88), saxophone Sean James (88-89), bass Jason Mercer, trumpet John Buck (86-88), guitar and vocals Peter Mercier (85-89), percussion Andrew MacEacran (85-87), guitar Brian Figaro (85-86), drums Graham King 85-88), drums Gregor Beresford (88-94), drums Daniel Barnes (94), drums Howie Beck (94-95), drums Tom Bona (95). Vocalist Dave Wall joined the band in 1988, and vocalist and saxophonist Gene Hardy joined in 1989.
The core line up of the band as most fans will remember consisted of Chris Brown, Jason Mercer, Andrew Whiteman, Chris Miller, Gregor Beresford, Gene Hardy, Dave Wall and Kate Fenner
In 1987 they released their first of three independent cassettes called A First Taste Of Bourbon featuring the songs Bad, Destruction and Work.
The second cassette was If Hell Had A House Band in 1989 featuring Ain't It Better To Ignite Than To Explode, Do You Believe?, Just Can't Seem To Get My Poor Self Together, Make Em Laugh (Stanley), and Decomposition Blues. Just Can't Seem To Get My Poor Self Together was featured on the Intrepid Records INDIE-CAN '89 compilation.
In 1990 Sister Anthony was released. This got some indie radio play and the band made a video for the song Worms. Chris Brown played trombone in a tree from what I can recall. Following Sister Anthony the band teamed up with Bob Wiseman from Blue Rodeo who produced the cassette single "Put Your Head On" b/w "As Right As They Want To Be". It was recorded at Metalworks Studio in the summer on 1991 and attracted the attention of film director Bruce McDonald, who included it on the soundtrack to his 1991 film Highway 61.
With the exposure they gained from "Put Your Head On", the band signed to the independent label Yonder Records, and released Superior Cackling Hen in 1992 produced by John Goldsmith. If you don't know where the title came from, check this out. The singles "Make Amends", "Afterglow" and "Original Grin" were all hits on campus and modern rock radio stations in the next year. Videos were made for Make Amends and Afterglow.
At the end of 1993 Whiteman left the band. His last show was to be at the Phoenix Concert Theatre on December 19, 1993, but a surprise Horseshoe gig on December 23 proved to be his final performance. Apparently there is a tape of this show out there, somewhere. After leaving the Bourbons, Whiteman recorded as a solo artist, and subsequently became a member of the bands Gunwhalebob, Que Vida, Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle. Beresford left the band in 1994, and performed drum tracks on Tom Cochrane's 1995 album Ragged Ass Road.
In 1995, the band released Shy Folk or Shyfolk, which featured contributions from Ani DiFranco and was produced by Michael Phillip Wojewoda. The singles from Shy Folk, "All Peace" and "Be My Witness", kept the band successful in alternative rock circles. "Simple" was the 10 minute cornestone of the album. A beautiful, gripping and sensitive song about survival and carrying on in the wake of the death of Chris Brown's father to cancer.
A CD reissue of Sister Anthony was also released in 1995 on Yonder Records. It included the single "Put Your Head On" and a Live version of "As Right As They Want To Be" from Phoenix on December 19, 1993. At the end before they fade out, Ani DeFranco and her drummer Andy Stochanski do a djambe drum jam with Gregor before going into Grow. Unfortunately, the song cuts at the start of the jam.
Following Shy Folk, the band relocated to New York City to make its bid for stardom, but instead the band soon broke up. Their last shows were in Toronto on Saturday March 25 1995 and finally Wednesday March 29 1995 at AJ's Hanger in Kingston Ontario. At the time they were working on a new album which was to include "Supply and Demand", "Becoming And Forgetting", "Letter to the Editor", "The Sheriff", "Silent Bell", "Pieces", and "Prisoners Of Yesterday".
After the breakup, Brown and Fenner stayed in New York and continued to record and perform both as a duo, with band and as solo artists. They have released Other People's Heavens (1997), Geronimo (1999), Great Lakes Bootleg (2000), O Witness (2001), Songs (2003), and Go On EP (2004). They also released solo CDs in 2003. Horses and Burning Cars was Kate's CD and Chris released Burden Of Belief. In 2000 they also toured with The Tragically Hip on their "Music @ Work" tour. They opened the shows and then performed with the band with Chris on Keyboards and Kate on vocals.
Jason Mercer played with Ani DiFranco's band from 1997 through 2002. He played with Ron Sexmith for a year following the demise of BTC and has played with him since 2002. He now lives in Brooklyn NY and also works with the band Crescent and Frost, Ana Egge, and Matt Keating.
Dave Wall is a Toronto-based composer and singer. He has written scores for a long list of film, television and experimental projects, working with collaborators such as Bruce Mau Design, Avi Lewis and Simcha Jacobovici. His career as a singer now includes fronting The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and performing in support of his two solo records ("Lozenge", 1993 and "The Spell I Was Under", 2006). In 2003 he received a Chalmers Foundation grant in association with film maker John Greyson to create the video installation/opera Fig Trees. Chris Miller is a Toronto based sound designer editor and recordist whose award winning work can be heard on Feature Films MVP The Film and Love Is Work, IMAX and National Film Board of Canada documentaries, television, and movies of the week.
Gene Hardy and Plock became session musicians who have played on albums by a wide variety of Canadian rock, pop, jazz and blues musicians, and Beresford joined David Wilcox's band.
In 2000 Chris and Kate put together the retrospective album 1985-1995 which was released on Tycoon Records. More an homage to the band than a greatest hits it featured a treasure trove of rarities for any BTC fan including "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" with the Rheostatics from the Borrowed Tunes Tribute to Neil Young, a live version of "Becoming and Forgetting" which was to be on the Shyfolk follow up, a live version of "City Of The Prince" which was one of the last Whiteman songs the band did before he left, and "They Are Falling" which near the end of the band's time Kate used to do solo acapella. It was a mezmerizing thing to see.
The band is still loved by many, missed by many more, and awaiting a reunion by...well at least by me....
With the gravity so many claim of their existence, it's a wonder these nine planets don't get confused and collide (yeah, yeah, yeah)...
From Opentopia, Monkey-Boy and Darrin Cappe.