One of Canada’s most celebrated music experts, KCC is probably best known as a broadcaster, both on radio and TV. Yet beyond the music there is the man, and his autobiography is a gripping account of a life lived at times in the margins of society where music is a constant companion and driving force. Although it is not a music book per se, it sparkles with particular brightness when Champniss is recounting his teenage dalliances with bikers and skinheads, punks and new wavers as well as night club citizens. In fact, youth subcultures seem to be the signposts on the forgotten byways along which he travelled intrepidly. His enthusiasm for his beloved Fulham FC has evidently never diminished.
The enthusiasm he had for great disco and soul records throbs in the early part of the book, while his Damascene moment when he encounters Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ reminds us that this was an Englishman in the New World with a box of records under his arm; a man on a mission to play music that inspired and consoled people, or just made them want to dance.
His razor sharp observations make the characters brim-full of energy, his encounter with a successful academic book seller is Charles Dickens meets Hunter Thompson. Who knew the world of traveling salesmen was more rock and roll than rock and roll itself?
Naturally, the book made me want to know even more about the man and the music. He was generous enough to answer some questions about his life and work.
Music seems to be a guiding, sometimes chaotic, hand in your life why do you think you were captivated by music so deeply and for so long?
Pop music captured me very early. It never let go. It was a combination of not only the power of song, but of the culture that grows up around it: rebellion, sex, individuality (and, paradoxically, tribal), energy, and the love of dance. To be knowledgeable about pop/rock gave you entre into a new world, valuable currency as a teenager.
You mention the advent of punk in London, what was it like to sense this new wave of youth culture gathering?
I had returned to London just after the famous Sex Pistols interview with Bill Grundy in December 1976. My family, and English friend, asked me, the music guy, what my thoughts were on this new thing. At the time I was immersed in disco, and dismissive of what I thought was an extreme element in music. But then I began to see the influences in not only music, but fashion, design, and attitude. Within a year the repetitive nature of disco weighed on me. “What this town needs is an enema” comes to mind. I began to welcome the radical change.
Punk quickly splintered into ‘new wave’, do you have any particular fond memories of that new soundtrack to the early 1980s?
As a successful night club DJ in the late 70s I became bored with the repetitive nature of the 4/4 beat. Soings such as “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” (Ian Dury), “Ca Plane Pour Moi”(Plastic Bertrand), “Money” (Flying Lizards), and “Planet Claire” (B-52s) began to creep into my music set. The Vancouver Sun came to the club I worked at – took a photo of the small group of new wavers who took the floor when I played those tunes, and then printed a story about Disco on its last legs. Under the photo they had the caption “New Wave punk rockers take over Pharaohs in Gastown”. I lost my job. But New Wave pointed me in a new direction. Joy Division changed my life.
You are remembered for your excellent documenting of punk rock on TV, can you tell us more about how that came about?
I was working for the TV show “The NewMusic” in the early 90s. My boss, the late John Martin, when he started the show in 1979, documented the early Toronto punk scene, and the punk bands playing Toronto. (There is the famous 1979 Clash interview at the O’Keefe Centre. The Undertones opened). John wanted me to go through the archives and tell the story of punk utilizing all those great early interviews, plus update them with new ones, which I did. The result was ‘Punk 76-79”. I was surprised by the incredible response. It hit at just the right time.
What did you learn about punk when doing that?
I learned just how important Toronto was to the Punk scene in North America. New York, Boston and Toronto were the epicentres.
Do you recall any punk records/gigs that stand out?
“Homicide”/999. “London Calling”/The Clash...and of course Joy Division’s music.
What do you think punk’s legacy was?
Punk changed the world...not as a musical legacy, but as the D.I.Y. attitude. It de-mystified the music industry. It empowered the creative urge. It empowered the person. It shook up society.
You have interviewed some of the most legendary, as well as lesser-known acts (I recall you as one of the first people to sense that Alanis Morisette would go the distance…) what do you think makes for a ‘great artist’?
Talent, luck, right timing, right team, commitment. Context. Things are best understood by the context in which they find themselves. The same applies to artists.
What makes a great interview?
Do your homework. Listen. Listen. Listen. Provided the subject is willing to talk, the interviewer can feed off the answers, and then ask fresh questions. Break the media mould. Hopefully, something fresh is revealed, not just to the audience, but maybe to the subject themselves.
How did you prepare for them and do any stand out in particular?
I research as much as I can. I listen to as much music as I can. Here are the interviews that stand out for various different reasons:
1) Joni Mitchell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oqUYMkOp4M
2) U2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I7zibFNrF4
3) Sex Pistols: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6FLkt9gD7I
What advice would you give to anyone considered a music industry career?
Don’t do it. But if you must, commit to it with all your heart...and be prepared. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” Hunter S Thompson.