It all begins with the voice. And the Nylons have never even needed a band—they just needed their voices, their joy, and their ability to entertain audiences.
In 1979 four Toronto actors, "resting" and bored between auditions and jobs, decided to create a band. Problem: Paul Cooper, Mark Connors, Claude Morrison and Denis Simpson weren't instrumentalists, but they sure could sing. The four were singing their hearts out in the back room of a Toronto deli, and soon there were little after-hours gigs and some benefit performances.
With a reputation building in Queen Street "art" circles, the Nylons—named in the style of black vocal groups like the Orlons and the Chiffons—were ready for prime time. In April 1979 the group had its first "professional" engagement in an upstairs (and unlicensed) club across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
The seating was hard, you couldn't buy a drink, the sound system was rudimentary—and a single nylon hung from the centre microphone. The room was packed and the initial two-week run was extended for an additional six weeks; the Nylons became media darlings, and soon there was a seventeen-week run at a Queen Street club.
By the time the Nylons' self-titled debut album was released in early 1982 the group had built a national reputation as the result of constant coast-to-coast touring—and the record went Platinum in two months, a feat repeated by the second album, One Size Fits All, which came out at the end of the same year.
The band has been on the road ever since. One Size Fits All took them to Australia and Holland and Japan; other tours have taken them across Canada more times than any of the members can remember, throughout the United States, often with artists like The Bee Gees, the Beach Boys, and the Pointer Sisters on the bill. There have been awards, Juno Award nominations, gigs singing the National Anthem at Grey Cup games (and at Game six of the 1992 World Series when the Toronto Blue Jays won the title), a top ten Billboard hit (Kiss Him Goodbye), and even an adlib unrehearsed sit-in with the Persuasions (the veteran US a cappella band).
Now, all these years later, the Nylons still matter. There have been seventeen albums so far (including three compilations), and the group's world-class producers have included David Foster (Celine Dion and dozens of others), Val Garay (Bette Davis Eyes), Chilliwack frontman Bill Henderson, Andy Goldmark (Michael Bolton's producer), British producer Ian Prince, who won a Grammy for his work with Quincy Jones' Back on the Block and Toronto's Peter Mann.
There have been—counting the current line-up—a total of twelve group members in the group's twenty-seven years. Claude Morrison is the only original member still in the group, although Arnold Robinson, who joined in 1981 and who retired in early 2006, comes close to Claude's longevity.
But every member of the Nylons played a significant part in the group's quarter-century story. Denis Simpson and Ralph Cole left before the band made their debut album (although they're heard on the two early demo tracks that open the Sterling CD). Paul Cooper left in 1989, exhausted and tired of life on the road; Mark Connor, sadly died of AIDS in March 1991. Billy Newton-Davis and Micah Barnes had, respectively, three and four-year runs with the group in the early '90s, and Mark Cassius was with the band from 1997 to 2005.
The energy and spark the group had when it started is still present, as you can hear from the two most recent tracks recorded for Sterling with the present lineut—Claude, Garth Mosbaugh, Gavin Hope and Tyrone Gabriel.
It has now been over twenty-seven years. Tours, trials, tantrums, tribulations, and tributes and a hell of a lot of good music, good times, great singing the Nylons continue to perform worldwide to passionate audiences and critical acclaim.