Kings of Fri­day Night

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - DIVERSIONS - AL­LI­SON LAWLOR al­lison­lawlor@east­link.ca @chron­i­cle­herald Read be­tween the lines with jour­nal­ist and au­thor Al­li­son Lawlor as she ex­plores the Nova Sco­tia book scene and chats with lo­cal au­thors in her weekly col­umn.

Jay John­ston was four pages into a novel he was writ­ing about grow­ing up in Truro and his mem­o­ries of dances led by the pop­u­lar rock and roll and R&B band The Lin­colns, when he got an un­ex­pected call from the band’s for­mer drum­mer ask­ing if he was in­ter­ested in telling their story.

He set aside his novel and said yes.

“We were so lucky to have this pow­er­ful, leg­endary band,” said John­ston, also known by his writ­ing name, A.J.B. John­ston, in a re­cent phone in­ter­view from his home in Hal­i­fax. “Peo­ple came from far away to ex­pe­ri­ence a Lin­coln dance.”

In Kings of Fri­day Night: The Lin­colns (Nim­bus Pub­lish­ing), John­ston, a pro­lific au­thor best known for his books re­lated to Louis­bourg, brings to­gether his per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions, pho­tos and in­ter­views with loyal fans, band mem­bers and those close to them, to paint a por­trait of the band that hit its peak in the 1960s. He also tries to show what life was like in Truro in the late 1950s and 1960s; a time when seg­re­ga­tion, racism, sex­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia per­me­ated the prov­ince.

In the early 1960s, Truro was a town di­vided: East/ West, Protes­tant/catholic, black/white. One thing brought ev­ery­one to­gether: a Lin­colns dance.

“It was the only place where ev­ery­one went and you could see each other,” said John­ston. “It was the one and only mixer in Truro at the time.”

An all-white band play­ing largely African-amer­i­can mu­sic, The Lin­colns had their own unique sound and be­came known as Truro’s “kings of Fri­day night.” They ded­i­cated that night of the week to play­ing in their home­town but trav­elled to halls and cam­puses across Nova Sco­tia and into New Brunswick.

“They were re­ally charis­matic per­form­ers,” he said.

John­ston re­mem­bers the first time he paid 75 cents to at­tend a dance in Truro. He doesn’t re­mem­ber the de­tails, like whether it was 1965 or 1966, or whether he was in Grade 10 or Grade 11, but he does re­mem­ber the feel­ing he had that night.

“There was some­thing much big­ger at play that night: a life force I had never be­fore heard, seen, or felt. Its in­ten­sity il­lu­mi­nated the hall and ev­ery­one in it,” he writes in his book.

Danc­ing to live mu­sic and con­nect­ing not only with the sounds the mu­si­cians cre­ated, but with the hun­dreds of peo­ple, black and white, mov­ing in the hall with you, was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence, said John­ston.

“It was so elec­tric,” he said. In the sum­mer of 1958, young mu­si­cians Peter Har­ris, Frank Mum­ford, and Brian Chisholm de­cided to form a band with their pi­ano and two gui­tars. They asked Rod Nor­rie to join them on drums. Their first gig was at an Al­lied Youth Club dance at Truro Ju­nior High. They were paid a to­tal of $30. Soon they re­al­ized they needed Frank Mackay’s en­er­getic and

stir­ring vo­cals to com­plete them as a band.

By play­ing to large au­di­ences across the re­gion The Lin­colns helped to “open the door to what has be­come the Nova Sco­tia mu­sic scene,” long­time fan and for­mer MP Mary Clancy told John­ston.

“The Lin­colns were the best band I ever heard in Hal­i­fax and one of the best bands, pe­riod,” said Clancy. “They had an in­cred­i­ble chem­istry. They took Amer­i­can rock ’n’ roll and made it their own. It made them unique. They had some­thing no­body else had. A to­tally one-of-a-kind band.”

The Lin­colns held their fi­nal con­cert in 1969 be­fore get­ting back to­gether for sev­eral re­unions. The first of many re­unions was in 1978. It was a fundraiser for mi­nor foot­ball and was held in Truro. Be­tween re­unions, the band lived on through John Maclachlan Gray. The band’s or­gan­ist for two years, the writer and com­poser later drew on the ex­pe­ri­ence for his mu­si­cal, Rock and Roll, which pre­miered in 1981 at the Na­tional Arts Centre. It was adapted for CBC TV in 1985 as The King of Fri­day Night.

To cel­e­brate the launch of John­ston’s book, a con­cert was planned for May 9 at Truro’s Marigold Cul­tural Centre. Char­lie A’court was to re­place Mackay on vo­cals. Mackay died in 2019 fol­low­ing heart surgery. But the con­cert has been can­celled due to the COVID-19 cri­sis. John­ston is hope­ful it will take place later, when Nova Sco­tians are al­lowed to gather and en­joy live mu­sic again.

“The Lin­colns rep­re­sent the af­fir­ma­tion of life and deep-seated af­fec­tion and joy and fun,” he said.

MORE BOOKS ON THE SHELF

Hal­i­fax au­thor Anne Emery has pub­lished the 11th book in her pop­u­lar mys­tery se­ries that fol­lows two un­likely col­leagues: Monty Collins, a sharp-tongued pub­lic de­fender, and Fa­ther Bren­nan Burke, an Ir­ish Catholic priest with some darker se­crets.

Post­mark Ber­lin (ECW Press), the lat­est book in the se­ries, opens with the body of one of Fa­ther Burke’s parish­ioners washing up in Hal­i­fax.

“It was a chilly, grey morn­ing in Hal­i­fax when De­tec­tive Sergeant Piet Van den Brink had stood on the shore look­ing out at the At­lantic Ocean, as if the rolling surf could bring in the an­swers he needed to ex­plain the pres­ence of the body ly­ing at his feet,” Emery writes.

Meika Keller came to Canada af­ter es­cap­ing through a check­point in the Ber­lin Wall. An army colonel is charged with her mur­der, but Collins ar­gues that her death was a sui­cide. Guilty of ne­glect­ing his du­ties as a priest when Keller needed him most, Fa­ther Bren­nan needs to un­cover what led to her death. The novel takes read­ers from Hal­i­fax to Ber­lin, where Fa­ther Bren­nan searches for what, or who, is re­spon­si­ble for Keller’s death.

Emery’s Collins-burke Mys­ter­ies se­ries started with her 2006 book Sign of the Cross.

Hal­i­fax-based au­thor and artist Veron­ica Post has pub­lished her de­but graphic novel, Lan­gosh and Peppi: Fugi­tive Days (Conundrum Press). The black and white paperback opens in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary in the midst of the mi­grant cri­sis and is loosely based on a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of Post’s di­aries be­tween 2012 and 2015.

Seen through the per­spec­tive of a vagabond named Lan­gosh and his faith­ful dog, Peppi, the pair stum­ble on the re­mains of the coun­try’s war-torn past. Read­ers fol­low them through al­leys, tun­nels, train sta­tions, aban­doned build­ings and the coun­try­side, where they dis­cover the dif­fer­ence be­tween some­one who has the choice to live a tran­sient life­style, and some­one who has been forced from their home and coun­try.

Post grew up in Hal­i­fax and teaches fur­ni­ture-mak­ing and draw­ing comics in the city.

A.J.B. John­ston, au­thor of Kings of Fri­day Night: The Lin­colns.

Nova Sco­tia's orig­i­nal rock and soul re­vue The Lin­colns.

Post­mark Ber­lin by Anne Emery.

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