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 *
Don Vito Donatiello