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THE CRESCENDOS
The Crescendos 1963Hula-hoops, the advent of television, the introduction of 45’s, Sputnik, the Edsel.  The late 50’s was a period of optimism in North America.  The young people of the time, an emerging force that would later come to be known as the Baby Boomers, hadn't struggled through the war years.  They were looking for something more exciting.  They discovered that vitality in Rock and Roll.

Augustine United Church still stands on River Avenue in Winnipeg’s trendy Osborne Village district.  Back then, the area was called Fort Rouge.  And it became the setting for the inception of one of Winnipeg’s most influential bands - The Crescendos.  Still without a drum kit, Vance would borrow a set from the uncle of one of his school friends, Terry Loeb, and every Saturday, the two boys would practice together.  Terry, too, initially wanted to be a drummer, and they would take turns rehearsing, each learning off the other.  Gradually, other budding musicians began to drift into the practice sessions, and the gatherings took on a more structured arrangement.  The diverse group of teenagers eventually formed into a viable unit called The Crescendos.

The early 60’s saw The Crescendos start out playing the local community clubs.  Initially, the band performed instrumentals only, but with the burgeoning influence of British bands such as Cliff Richards and The Shadows, their repertoire was gradually reworked to include vocals.  It was an exciting time in the music industry and local teen clubs began springing up throughout the city.  Radio stations jumped on the bandwagon, and one DJ in particular was instrumental in marketing the Crescendos.  CKRC’s Doc Steen promoted their shows and played their music on air, starting a trend that would set the benchmark for all others to follow.  He even went so far as to allow the band to practice in the station’s studio, which gave the group first crack at listening to newly released material.  They would often wind up playing tunes that had not yet been released to the public, and when the songs finally did receive airplay, many thought they were listening to the Crescendos instead of the actual groups who had recorded the music.

The Cellar was one of the first clubs to cater to the rock culture.  The Crescendos played there almost exclusively throughout 1963 and were so much an integral force within the club that other bands wanting to play there had to audition for The Crescendos.  The Crescendos would have the final say on who would be allowed to perform.  It was at the Cellar on one of those auditions, that Vance first met Kurt Winter, and a life-long friendship would develop from that propitious meeting.

In 1964, The Crescendos were approached by an entrepreneur who had the cash, but not the know-how, to set up another teen nightclub - The Twilight Zone.  The organization of the club was turned over to the Crescendos, and in addition to taking over where The Cellar left off, it quickly became the place for musicians to frequent when they weren’t playing.  It was also the place to kick-start many new bands as entertainment ran every night of the week.  The Twilight Zone was the setting where The Crescendos made that fateful decision to take the band international.

It took a year for the band to save enough money to book passage on a ship to England, and on July 20, 1965, Vance Masters (then known as Schmidt), Glenn MacRae, Terry Loeb, and Dennis Penner docked in Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles.  Try to imagine, just for a moment - 1965: The Beatles, Liverpool, the British Invasion, the whole world caught up in the frenzy of Carnaby Street and Piccadilly Circus.  You’re 19 years old, and you have just jumped right into the middle of the whole foray.  The entire metropolis was throbbing with creativity; photographers, models, musicians, designers and actors were emerging from every nook and cranny of the city.  What an amazing time that was!  Nothing seemed impossible or out of reach.  But the first months of their adventure were anything but a storybook tale.

The band arrived in England with no bookings scheduled and began making the rounds of the English clubs, often playing just for the exposure.  They had used their entire savings for their train and boat tickets, and resorted to such tactics as pilfering coal from their neighbors to heat their flat, and relying upon the generosity of their growing legion of fans to get through the lean times.  Dennis Penner, disillusioned by the whole ordeal, lasted only 5 months, and returned to Canada.  By this time, however, the band had developed a loyal following, and they hired Stewart McKernan, a bassist from Liverpool, to replace Dennis.  They became regulars on THE CAVERN Club’s schedule. On occasion, Paul McCartney got up to play with them.  John Lennon and Brian Epstein were often in the audience to catch the band’s show.  Chris Curtis, drummer for The Searchers, took the band under his wing, gave them a new name - The 5 AM Event - and produced their first single, a cover of a Paul Revere and the Raider’s tune called Hungry.  While the release failed to chart in 1966, it has since become a classic and was re-released on a CD titled Maximum 65.  HUNGRY, by The 5 AM Event, is now considered one of the top twenty tunes for that year and the original 45 has become a much sought-after collector’s trophy.  The flip side of that 45 contained  (I WASHED MY HANDS IN) MUDDY WATER.  The obscure band from Winnipeg has gone down in history along side of such legendary notables as The Kinks, John Mayall, David Bowie, and The Small Faces, who all appear on that compilation CD of 20 songs, released in 2000.  Near the end of his tenure in Britain, Vance sat in as drummer for The Merseys, a Liverpool teen pop band formed out of the break up of The Merseybeats.  The band also featured Joey Molland, later of Badfinger fame.  On October 7th, 1966, Vance set sail for Canada.

The return of The Crescendos to Winnipeg was like a brand new start for the band.  Dennis Penner came back into the fold and they resumed playing.  Being the only band from Winnipeg that had dared to take a chance of living the life most musicians dreamed of, they were overwhelmed by fans and fellow musicians alike at their first performance.  While in Britain, the band had developed their own distinctive sound and style, and they were a breath of fresh air into what had become a stagnant scene locally.  They caused a decided shift in the direction music took here, with other bands changing their music to keep up with The Crescendos.  1967 brought an end to The Crescendos.  Vance and Glenn were both now married to girls they had met in England, and Glenn had taken a full-time job at Winnipeg piano.  Vance and Terry went on to play with several unremarkable groups such as The Exiled and The Clayton Squares, until the summer ’68 when Vance re-connected with Kurt Winter in The Fifth.

UPDATE:  On December 11, 2008, Joey Molland played at one of the Casinos in Winnipeg, reuniting with Vance and Glenn after 42 years.  Full story can be read HERE.

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