I wrote this when Paul was first in palliative care. (Almost a year ago!) His friends were planning the tribute show and news of his illness had filtered out to the media. I wanted to make sure that the stories that were written about him talked about the music that was most his, the albums, the bands he had fronted. And to share the parts that he had kept private, the illnesses that had led to the great music that we still have in the songs he recorded. While Paul talked about his illnesses with very few people, he knew I was writing this story and knew it was important to share. This story was included in The Polly Package box set sold at the Super Duper Show tribute. ~ kimiko
Here's what I want. I want someone to write a story about Paul that highlights his music. One that talks about his spectacular guitar playing that lit up crowds and regularly left guitar geeks with their mouths hanging open. After shows guys would come up to him and ask about his pedals and his guitars and shake their heads when they realized that his equipment was nothing special, an old Les Paul and a standard pedal, but somehow Paul could take those and turn them into magic.
*His sound was amazing! He was channeling his hero Mic Ronson....and so much more. He had tone for days and to me , it was like he could sneak up on a note and then strangle it...add vibrato and it would sing so sweet. ~Steve Finley, the Guitar Repair Shop*
And a focus on his song-writing. His songs aren't about deep issues. Yet like any great storyteller, through them he is able to communicate something that is at once specific, but universal, evoking a moment. Paul crafts his songs like poetry, capturing images and sharing story. All wrapped in poppy melodies that draw people in. Even when Paul played in groups where he was not the front-man and only one or two of his songs were in the show, many people would name his songs as their favorite of the night.
Paul has this amazing capacity to engage people. When he starts to play, people migrate to the stage. Crowds that politely watched other groups from their tables are drawn forward like moths to flame. Anyone left sitting at a table would soon be unable to see over the crowd surrounding the stage.
*Hello Polly played their debut gig at the Heritage Grill sandwiched between two sets of China Syndrome. As soon as Paul appeared in his full regalia and plugged in, I swear the whole room was smiling. They totally blew us off the stage. ~ Tim Chan, China Syndrome *
Paul truly came alive in the live show. And Paul is not a newcomer to the live music scene. For over 30 years he's been well known as a spectacular rock guitar player. [Although at home you're more likely to hear him playing classical. He's very fond of Mauro Giuliani.] As a young man he played with the Toys and No Fun, and more recently upfront with the Transvestimentals and Pleasure Suit. Polly is really all about him. It is the culmination of years refining his craft through the simple act of practicing it.
*First time I encountered Paul he was playing guitar in a cover band called Toys, somewhere in Abbotsford I think. I was a complete guitar geek at the time and I couldn't stop watching him. He had such style and command. And great guitar tone of course. He had this little box plugged into his amp that I had never seen before so I had to figure out what it was. It was an Electro- Harmonix LPB-1, a very early pre-amp. I bought one the next day. Still have it. Every time I look at it I think of Paul. ~ Larry Lechner, We Found A Lovebird *
People often describe Paul's style as Mott the Hoople or Bowie-like or reference groups like T. Rex when talking about him, which he finds both pleasing and embarrassing. He doesn't like to set himself up with people whom he idolized as a teenager. (But he did sand off the top of his Les Paul because Mick Ronson did.) Paul's music and presence has the capacity to fill a stadium, and the saddest thing is that this never happened for him.
If accolades mean anything, Paul easily should have made the big stage. Part of the challenge was his humble and self-deprecating manner. He is the opposite of a self-promoter. He has declined many live local gigs because he didn't want his shows to become something you could see every weekend. He is also painfully shy requiring the deftest hand in an interview to open him up. You'd be forgiven for not recognizing in him the dynamo behind Polly. On stage it's like he draws energy from the universe and blasts it through his voice and his guitar, changing from mild mannered man to superstar. Of course, he'd be embarrassed to hear it told like that. I remember one night after a set, he had changed out of his Polly regalia into his street clothes and was standing near the back of the club. Someone who had seen the set started effusing to him about the act that was just on, wondering if he had seen the amazing guitar player, without realizing that he was talking to him!
*It was a year of great and unpleasant change in my life when I turned to music to see me through. In a beautiful heritage theatre in New Westminster, I saw "Polly" for the first time. Up on a stage that could never contain him, came the man who played like Mick Ronson, while singing like David Bowie, with a splash of Mott the Hoople. He had the persona of those twenty something wunderkinds of the 1970s. The pose, the clothes, that hat, but above all the music! I knew that in a lifetime of attending gigs great & small, I was now seeing THE glammest of the glam.
We met after the show, and Paul the person was a thoughtful and humble compassionate man. That we shared a common foe [cancer], was not yet known to me, but his support while I was battling hard, filled my heart.
I think Paul expresses his emotions through those blistering solos. I have always known that he is the most underrated guitarist out there. He could have played on any stage with any band and done them proud, and other guitarists know that all too well. ~Pepper Kay, fan *
While Paul's live shows were something to see - Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks once told his wife that "Polly live is the closest you'll get to seeing David Bowie in the early 70s," - his albums have their own incredible story. His first album, All Messed Up, came after a dark time when he saw the possibility of ever making such an album recede. Surgery to remove precancerous lesions from his mouth had left him literally tongue-tied. In the following year as he rehabilitated himself with speech therapy he fell into a deep depression. Depression was not new to Paul, but this one was deepened by a fear that he would never be able to sing again.
All Messed Up began as a kind of test to see if he could do it. He layed it down track by track, song by song at a small studio nestled amongst the autobody shops down the street from his home in New Westminster. It's truly a solo affair. Paul performed every track of every song from drums to vocals to bass to piano to harmony to lead guitar and tambourine, as well as writing and arranging each song. The first song he recorded was Roll 'Way the Stone, kind of a pilot. After that he just kept going.
The Make It A Smash EP came at another critical time. Paul had just been diagnosed with oral cancer. He began recording it early in 2016 as he awaited surgery and stopped when the pain from the growing tumors inhibited his ability to sing. Although he had more songs to record, he stopped at EP. Our loss is that he is unlikely to record again. Although the surgery and follow-up radiation seemed successful, by the fall new aggressive tumours had returned.
Music is a simple thing for Paul, in that way that only makes things sound simple that are actually rich and complex. Music, for him, is about joy, about connection. The songs on these two albums are only some of his catalogue; he's been writing and playing for 40 years. Some of his songs have been captured in live shows. Quite a few were awaiting the next recording session that will now never happen.
Although Paul's music never reached the broad audience that he hoped nor he the fame that others thought he warranted, he and his music touched many lives and inspired many people. My wish is that someone would do him justice in writing about it.
*Paul has always been a kind of guitar hero to me. I always loved the way Paul could pull a killer melody out of any song. Damn! He just slayed me with the way he stood there with eyes clinched and back arched, arpeggio-ed and dampened perfection; just commanding such glorious music from his guitar. And it was always a kind of gift. It was always, like, where is this going to go?. . . Oh, My God! This is Perfection!
Getting to know Paul was a gift. Getting play with Paul was an honour. He has given me such joy and inspiration. Such incredible joy.
Eric Cottrell, bass player, Polly. First saw Paul play with No Fun in the 80's *
I first met Paul back in 1984, I was DJing at Victoria’s campus radio station CFUV. No Fun was #1 on our charts at the time ...AND they were coming to town!
The show was beyond my expectations and Paul’s guitar solo on their cover of Almost Cut My Hair led me to purchase a [Crosby Stills Nash & Young] LP the following week trying to re-live the high of that experience. Neil did a fine solo ...but he’ was no Paul Leahy!
Fast forward to the next century. I had followed both The Transvestimentals & Pleasure Suit at The Railway a few times as well as The Sugar Refinery and chatted with Paul a bit at those shows.
Fast forward again a few years later - I bump into Paul in uptown New West at London Drugs and from there we started both a professional relationship, as his record label, and a valued friendship.
While first listening to early mixes of All Messed Up, he inspected my decrepit electric guitar and asked if he could borrow it for a bit. About a week later he returned with the guitar re-strung, re-set and totally rebuffed, making special mention that he removed all the blood stains.
About a year later Paul asked me how my guitar playing was going. and my excuse for lack of progress, was that I had moved from the house into an apartment. He then showed up a week later with this groovy Danelectro mini amp thingamajig giving me no excuses. Paul also generously shared design books, another topic we often discussed, and when orphaned one year, Paul kindly invited me to the Leahy Christmas dinner.
As a friend his actions were generous, sincere and caring - his words and advice, encouraging, thoughtful, wise and often humorous. I’m going miss seeing my quiet unassuming friend, in his cap and jean jacket, set down his glass of red wine then disappear - returning a few moments later as the biggest rock star I think I’ll ever get to see — Polly!
Gosh, where do I start?
I guess I have to start with my coming of age in the 80s and seeing No Fun play in Victoria.
Seeing No Fun was a kind of dawning for me; a mix of clever lyrics and melodies combined with Paul’s harmonies, songs and guitar breaks that just stunned me.
You know, I don’t have many guitar heroes… if any?
But Paul has always been a kind of hero to me.
I always loved the way Paul could pull a killer melody out of any song.
He just slayed me with the way he stood there, with eyes clinched and back arched, arpeggio-ed and dampened perfection; just commanding such glorious music from his guitar.
And it was always a kind of gift.
It was always, like, where is this going to go?… Oh, My God! This Is Perfection!
And I love his lyrics and and his delivery.
The way he enunciates his Rs.
I love the way he kisses off his lyrics; “togeth-ah!” “shyow” “ah-ho-oh!” “glahm”…
Always with that divine vibrato and conviction.
The funny turns of phrase he’d write…
He created a different world and it was beautiful.
I guess I just got a glimpse of that back in the No Fun days, but after being in Polly, it all came
to the fore.
Being in Polly was… well, really, it was a dream for me.
I love Paul.
I love the world he creates with music.
He sings beautifully — just the right amount of femme flourish and glam vibrato — with understatement that can bowl you down.
I am listening to Put A Little English On It right now, and it really is an incredible testament to Paul’s mastery of the craft.
Fucking solid and fulsome guitar…
Fantastic lyrics; Put A Little English On It? — come on!!!
That’s so cool!!!
And that guitar?
The Wilted Flower Child?
His songs bring so much joy to my life and I can’t believe I got to play with him.
When I practiced Polly songs on my own I would sing along with them and try to embody them like Paul…
“We will be death’s lov-ah-ha…”
I don’t know if that is an appropriate reference… but it’s a very fond memory that I had.
Anyway, I am rambling.
Getting to know Paul was a gift.
Getting to play with Paul was an honour.
He has given me such joy and inspiration.
Such incredible joy.
I first met Paul in 1982 when I was volunteering at the library of Jarvis Elementary in Delta where my mother was the librarian and Mrs. Leahy was a teacher. Mrs. Leahy would often come into the library to pick up resource books for herself and would inevitably start telling me about her son Paul, so I had actually heard about him for many years before I actually met him. One day I walked into the library looking for my mother and found Paul sitting on the circulation desk. (Apparently he was giving guitar lessons at the school and would often sit beside my mom in the staff room chatting with her). I immediately knew who he was. I think he wore a leather jacket and jeans that day and the thing I remember the most was his unusually thick head of hair. It was below shoulder length and obscured all the features on his face except his nose and mouth. We talked exclusively about me because I did all the talking. I told him all about my involvement in the local music scene, writing for fanzines and promoting our local music. He was very soft spoken, polite and appeared to be mildly interested. It seemed like I was overwhelming him with my enthusiasm. Our conversation abruptly ended when my mother came in and said it was time to go home.
The next time I met Paul was in the fall of 2011, 29 years later. I connected with him via Facebook through a mutual friend, David Dedrick from my high school. I knew nothing of his life in between. We found out that both our mothers passed away within three years of each other and we talked at length about their illnesses and their deaths. I decided to catch up on his life by asking him an exhaustive amount of questions about anything and everything. He would always say “Corinne, I can’t possibly answer all your questions” and pause before continuing with “I will endeavor to answer your questions.”
Through this line of questioning I was able to learn countless mundane things about him such as: he loves his morning coffee and said it was one of the things in life that he would never give up. Apparently, he would savor his (cooled) coffee every morning for quite a long time on the couch by the window before he’d be ready to face the day. For breakfast he’d have buttered toast topped with cinnamon & sugar or peanut butter. He liked the peanut butter quite warm and melty, to the point where it was running down his hand. Paul kept stressing to me that he was a simple man with simple tastes. He liked cheese and crackers for lunch, apples & bananas for snacks, pizza and lasagna for dinner. His dining out choices were the cold cut sub from the Subway, donburi from the local Japanese restaurants, and omelettes from IHOP. I later learned the reason for his food choices; the oral surgery that he had in 2007 had made food less palatable and harder to move around in his mouth.
We ‘d often talk about music and he himself said that he had very pedestrian tastes in music compared to the eclectic tastes of our friends. In addition to bands you suspected he liked such as Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Queen and Alice Cooper, he also liked Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, The Pretenders, The Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Bay City Rollers, Elton John and the Cocteau Twins. He described to me some of the concerts he attended in the past. At this point I can only remember his stories of Led Zeppelin at the Pacific Coliseum in 1973 and The Cramps at the Commodore in 1992. When I asked him if he could choose to have the voice of any other singer who would it be , I was quite surprised by his answer …Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I would have guessed Freddie Mercury.
Out in public Paul was pretty quiet. He was most comfortable at home and likened himself to a house cat. I think he just liked to observe and I would say that he measured and weighed his words very carefully before speaking. He avoided drama and certainly didn’t want to attract it either so he always spoke or wrote very carefully with great consideration to the possible outcomes. If he was feeling particularly energetic he’d like to talk about himself; describing the different bands he had played in, growing up in Surrey, his past jobs and what he was doing in his current job. He was quite clever and witty. When I caught on to his jokes I would often snort and he would laugh and then I would laugh. When I was slow in catching on to his jokes, he would be slightly annoyed that I made him repeat it and that I had missed his comedic timing. Paul was fond of word play. The song “Made in Japan”, the Pleasure Suit album title “Put It On” and his compilation box set “The Polly Package” are fine examples. In contrast he had no shortage of corny “dad” jokes either. He would often tell Finn to “eat over the sink like a man.”
Paul was the dearest of friends and I will miss my silly conversations with him between loads of laundry and dishes, photographing him in concert trying to capture his best side and pose, and hanging out at the back of the Grill with him and Richard.
Finn, your dad said many times over the years that you were a very smart young man, that he’s lucky to have such a nice son that doesn’t get into trouble. He’s confident that you’ll be successful in whatever career or education you choose. Kimiko, whenever Paul talked to me about you, he would tell me that you were a very strong and smart woman who is capable of achieving anything she puts her mind to. In mid October when I broached the subject of his mortality asking how you would fare, he said to me “She will be just fine and will get through this and will be able to move forward. She has a lot of support.”
When I formed a band called Transvestimentals from my core group of friends and favourite musician-songwriters, my agenda was simple: Showcase for Paul, alternate platform for Nicole (Steen of Coal). Sure we were in music terms a bit long in the fangs but no matter: we were conscious, mobile (bad backs aside), upright and had all our faculties and there was Rock to Roll, man. The focus shifted more and more Paul's way for the prolific rate of riotous joyful sexy rollicking songs was unstoppable and irresistible. As good as any of the best of Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople but with a more knowing self-mockery, albeit gentle rather than vicious.
I was not the first one to harness the raging talent and mysteriously provocative presentation of the best frontman I've ever seen, especially once Paul was seen to be free as a hired guitar-slinger and fantastic song-writer. After our 2nd show no less than 3 local "legends" had told me they intended to head-hunt Paul. Good luck!
Paul and I shared a few things in common. Both of us hated windy weather, promoting ourselves, rude careless disrespectful mean racist sexist idiots, leaving our homes, windy and rainy combo weather, demanding people, going outside, touring, rainy weather on its own, asking for anything, depending on anyone for anything, racist sexist weather, gender-unbending, age-ist people, any type of weather, and windy people
Headhunters of Paul: Sure! Legion!!! And to watch that play out was fun and funny. Those who hitched themselves to the Star of Paul found out that the orbit of the Star revolved around a small apartment, a treasured son, a beautiful smart wife, and a sprinkling of family and community. He was not going to be your ticket to rock-n-roll glammerfame, not your ticket at all. He's not ambitious but he is stunningly talented and thank fuck, he liked to share it with us. To know Paul is to know how to let him be and keep him close in one's heart, like a wolf that likes being near you and sharing food by the fire but not if you never shut the fuck up! Paul thinks a lot of things are funny and he is remarkably funny, but if you weren't listening carefully and letting things unfold, ha you missed it! Too bad, asshole. Learn from your mistakes: its the quiet smart ones not the show-ponies that count, although for a band both can be needed. Not mine. Show-ponies not shown. Paul stayed with the Transvestimentals until I was diagnosed with Parkinsons and folded up our tent.
Thank you Paul, for all the years. All the laughing at rehearsals, the mad lyrics, the truth within them, the melodic elegant raunchiness of your guitar sound and the dress sense! Looking good and sounding good? That is great. Looking bloody fantastic and sounding like everyone's very favourite songwriter and everyone's most giddily thrilling guitarist, well, that is Paul.
Its such a fun record (I loved the youtube of the Sticks doing "Put a Little English on It" btw).
Paul really nailed the idiom in a scary way. Makes my inner Ronson smile. How have I missed this guy til now? Where did he make this record and who played on it? Was Gord N in on this? "Made in Japan" is a better Mott song than a lot of Mott songs. Avoiding copyright infringement with "Roll 'Way the Stone" not "Roll Away the Stone". Guitar by Mark Ralphs! Its dynamite."
"I didn't put 2 and 2 together with the "No Fun" connection but loved them too. I watched some footage online of different "Polly" incarnations and was wowed by his guitar feel. That kind of touch is so fucking rare. When we came across our Murray we became Odds again because he had that feel. We call it "70's hands". It was a no brainer to ask him to join the band. It doesn't happen often anymore. You can tell when somebody actually lives and breathes through the guitar in that particular way. It's a black art. No instructions can teach it. "
I have never been more privileged to play with another musician than in the Transvestimentals with Paul.
I think the highlight was when I first heard "Filthy Chair". The chord progression blew my mind. I realized that I was seeing something special, a true talent who was unpretentious, humble and totally confident (in heels!)
I feel I never appreciated what we had there, a fantastic band with great personalities. I was by far the least talented and wish I pushed harder to make more of that experience. But, I enjoyed it all, and I still play the songs to my much suffering friends as I recount my brush with glam super stardom. I have Valerias TVM band photos framed on the wall above my drum kit, which I'm trying to learn again.
I still remember the first time I encountered No Fun, on Shaw public access and Paul was standing in the middle of King George highway while proposing it be named the Paul Leahy Parkway... I had NO IDEA I would ever be in a band with Paul at that time.
At our shows at the Railway, Paul always had a little picture of Finn on his amplifier, a little reminder of what matters.
The light that burns twice as bright is supposed to burn half as long, but that's bullshit. The great ones should last longer.
All my best
I first “met” Paul on Facebook. He liked my posts. I appreciated his good taste. A long time later I realized I had been corresponding with THAT Paul Leahy.
Later, watching him at LanaLou’s, I felt like I had stumbled upon a teenager's bedroom and was watching a boy prance around with a hairbrush. He had a lanky frame. His head tilted down and he looked back in a shy awkward way. He adjusted one amp, then his mic, then another amp, adjusted his peaked hat. He seemed painfully self-conscious. He blew through his lips, turned back to Eric Lowe and David Charan his band mates. He rocked back on his foot, made another adjustment, struck a chord and then BLAM, lightning. Seemingly from nowhere, Paul Leahy glam god appeared! It was then that you saw the lithe black-clad creature with the sloe eyes peering out from under his commander cap as he made Swarovski Crystal out of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.
In Vancouver, I think it is agreed that no one does Dogs any better. He is glam, he is hot, he is cool, he is a family man and a gentleman. THAT is PAUL LEAHY.
My dearest Kimiko, Finn, and the wonder that is Polly. My heart is with you at this time; sadly, I'm afraid it is broken. Polly, I don't know that you remember me, and obviously in your storied career, there are many people who've had the honour of sharing a stage with you, or adored you from afar — much as I did. In what I consider the greatest of honours, I was able to accompany you on bass at two shows. Rehearsing with you, you never belittled me for my meagre bass playing at the time; instead you were so courteous, so patient, writing out all the chord changes in your songs. I never knew playing in a band could be like this.
You elevated me.
You enthralled me.
You were so gracious, downplaying your talent when I exuberantly would request songs ("How Do You Go"). I felt something like I'd never felt in the music scene before. I have two photos of me in costume (nothing too risqué!) that I treasure dearly, and proudly point out to the love of my life, now my wife, the good times I had playing with my favourite band, The Transvestimentals. I am proud to have been part of something bigger than I'd ever dreamed.
You, sir, are a gentleman in every respect. If I could give some portion of my remaining years to you, I would do so without hesitation, if only to hear you play again. But I'm lucky, because I don't think I'll ever forget a single note, a single lyric, for as long as I live.
With all our love, Justin and Susan Clow
So I'm writing things about Paul, but it's really quite boring... "a person has never before been as humble as he is talented". "Paul's brain works faster and more efficient than ANY modern recording system. If we could have just hooked a few cables up to Polly's brain and uploaded the data into pro tools, we would have ended up with an endless amount of AMAZING material... in a tiny fraction of the time."
I have lots of stuff like that... but I want to contribute something funny, and maybe roast Paul a bit!!! HAHAHA!
his theory of "can I eat 2?" comes to mind right away!!! HAHAHA
As far as a favourite song... I don't have one... I can visualize Paul's vision and hear where I fell short on each track...
Don't get me wrong... I know it is one of the most incredible albums of our age... but being so close to it, I critique my own work far too much to be able to be satisfied . ... although I LOVE LOVE LOVE ANY of the guitar solos!!!!!!!
The "short, but sweet" Saturday boys guitar solo makes me feel like I'm a kid on Christmas every time I hear it!!
Don Vito Donatiello