Spirit of the West performs their final shows in Vancouver this weekend. Couldn’t score tickets? We’ve gathered our favourite songs into a Spotify playlist so you too can bid the band adieu – plus, read more about our Video Director’s new documentary, Spirit Unforgettable.
I’m grateful and honoured to have created a film that captures the legacy of John as an artist and of the band too. They are phenomenally talented musicians, and chronicling their story allowed me to capture the rare essence of Spirit of the West. They epitomize a freethinking, youthful and exuberant joy. They were always and remain very noncommercial. They just did what they wanted to do. It is a beautifully Canadian story. – Pete McCormack, Director of Spirit Unforgettable.
1. Save This House (1990)
The opening track on the band’s first breakthrough, platinum album for Warner Music Canada (also called Save This House), it speaks to the lovely, naive optimism of the early 90s: rock can save the planet! The song marries traditional Celtic sounds (the bodhran drumming, for instance) with a newfound obsession with electric guitars — a combination that would prove to be a deal breaker for the band’s earliest folk fans but the recipe for longevity for a band born of the ’80s and still touring strong. Great Big Sea and other bands would come to dominate this territory, but SOTW was the early pioneer.
2. Political (live) (1994)
There’s irony in this live version of Spirit’s perhaps best-known song, since it was recorded for the NPR radio show Mountain Stage. The compendium album from which this song was taken was meant to introduce Canadian listeners to the US show with the lure of Canadian songs. “Political,” as John’s introduction here explains, refers to the disintegration of his relationship with Mecca Normal singer Jean Smith. Spirit is a live band; this gives a small sense of that towering energy. (Fans are a rabid bunch, by the way. At gigs, they’d storm the stage, demanding the earlier, folk reading from Go Figure.)
3. And If Venice Is Sinking (1993)
From the band’s best-selling album, Faithlift, the chart-busting “Venice” is a love song based on John Mann and Jill Daum’s honeymoon trip to that Italian city: “And if Venice is sinking I’m going under ‘cause beauty’s religion and its Christened me with wonder.” We should all be lucky enough to experience joy as they do in this song, especially present in the closer chorus, sung by friends and family.
4. The Crawl (1986)
Arguably, Canada’s greatest drinking song name-checks every bar worth its salt (from the Troller to the Raven) in pre-craft beer Vancouver. Hearing local landmarks played on MuchMusic was nation-building at its best.
5. (Putting Up With) The Joneses (1990)
Spirit of the West is a political band. And although “Political” is one of its best-known songs, that one doesn’t, as we’ve seen, rattle the bars the way many other tunes do. This lesser-known barnburner from Save This House advocates for the developmentally challenged: “Mrs. Jones wants to have a baby. She says that as a woman it’s her right. Yes, we tried to tell her, I guess that she forgot, when she and Mr. Jones were wed the doctors tied the knot.” A classic John Mann scream closes the song.
6. Goodbye Grace (1991)
If Save This House was the band’s breakout album from the byways of Celtic folk rock, follow-up album Go Figure was its first genuine alt-rock release. This ballad typifies the honesty of SOTW’s lyrics and the tight relationship with fans, telling the story of the birth of keyboardist Geoff Kelly’s premature son. Grace was the old name for BC Women’s Hospital, a resonance that every fan of the band holds onto when entering that building.
7. Thank You (2013)
John Mann has had his share of health challenges — even before this round with early-onset Alzheimer’s. In 2009, he began a fight with cancer that he documented in the musical The Waiting Room. From that show came this heartfelt expression of gratitude — in the key of B for “beauty of personal courage.”