In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Canadian pop-rock group Glass Tiger could do no wrong, opening for superstars like Tina Turner and Journey when not basking in a slew of radio staples.
Now the band, led by singer Alan Frew and keyboardist Sam Reid, are back with a new album of sorts entitled 31. The album is a collection of hits but all reworked, resulting in a refreshing take on nuggets like “Someday,” “Diamond Sun” and “My Song.” It also resulted in a slot on Johnny Reid’s national tour earlier this year and forthcoming British dates.
“There’s definitely an upswing this year,” Sam Reid says. “We’re a band that’s been still doing shows throughout the last decade or more but it’s been more festivals. This year with the release of the album and a Canadian tour we’re working on some dates in the UK and in the US. We’ve expanded again into places where we haven’t been in a long time.”
The record was the silver lining following an uncertain period in August 2015 when Frew had a stroke. At the time possible 30th-anniversary projects quickly went on the back burner as Frew recovered.
“When we came back we realized we kind of spent the 30th off the road and we just said, ‘Well let’s do a record,’” Reid says. “Johnny Reid, who produced it (31), planted the idea. He said, ‘Well why don’t we go back over some songs that have been like family members to you guys. And celebrate the fact you guys have thirty plus years of brotherhood and friendship and fans and everything. I would love to do a re-imagining of some of the songs that people know.’”
Sam Reid said while knowing the band’s hits like the back of his hand, reworking them took some getting used to. Yet by the end of the sessions, the material passed the “campfire test” thanks to each song having “a good melody with a great lyric.”
“Well, the biggest challenge is re-imagining because after 30 years of playing songs a certain way it’s a bit like riding your bike,” he says. “You get into your headspace over the thousands and thousands of times you’ve performed them. You get a little bit boxed into that’s the way you do it, that’s the only way you do it.”
The process was also vastly different than previous studio experiences for Reid. The keyboardist says each day kicked off around a kitchen table with “a bunch of acoustic guitars and just jam out the song” to get a feeling.
“Normally in the past, we would work on a drum loop, then add some guitars, but you would build it in layers,” he says. “Whereas Johnny’s approach was more, ‘Let’s spitball a bit here. Let’s grab some acoustic guitars, you sit at a piano and get a feel for it.’ Then when we lock into something we’ll do a quick reference recording and then we will build it that way. You kind of get a sense of the energy and the direction it was going in because you’re all sitting together playing it.”
The album also sees a handful of guests for 31 including Julian Lennon on “Thin Red Line.”
“We toured with him back in the ’80s and he’s always been a friend of the band,” Reid says. “He was one of the first people to reach out to Alan when he had his stroke saying, ‘Hey buddy I hope you’re okay.’ So it was just under the umbrella of friendship that was great. We coaxed him to a studio in LA to do a part he really wanted to do in ‘Thin Red Line.’ We took it in a completely different direction and he loved it. When I listen to it I get chills with Julian and Alan singing together.”
Glass Tiger also got a boost earlier in 2018 supporting Johnny Reid on an extensive Canadian tour. The trek saw the band get a chance to promote 31 from coast to coast while also trying out the new material in a roughly 20-minute segment during Reid’s set. Despite the brevity, things went beyond expectations.
“The reaction was tremendous which was very comforting to see people sing along,” Sam Reid says. “Of course they still know these songs but they go, ‘Oh this is a little different, there are some Uileann pipes and some whistles and some banjo on this one.’ Johnny had an incredible live band so we kept a lot of his players on stage with us and augmented our set with them.”
Elsewhere the band are in the early pre-production stages of a new studio album and plan on “hybrid” shows where Celtic renditions of songs are mixed with the ’80s signature versions known by all. Glass Tiger’s primary focus is a June 23 show at Toronto’s Massey Hall. Shockingly it marks their debut at the majestic venue literally days before a massive two-year renovation begins.
“We always loved the idea of playing Massey but the opportunity never came up and was never suggested,” Reid says. “Then all the years go by and it’s like, ‘Guys wouldn’t it be an amazing feather in our cap to say we played Massey Hall before they renovate it?’ It’s an honour to get one of the last few dates.”
And to be doing it following Frew’s remarkable recovery is not lost on Reid at all.
“We’ve been together so long we kind of finish each other’s sentences,” he says. “And anybody who goes through that traumatic experience it focuses us all just as family members would. We knew he was progressing positively. Our big thing was just to support him and give him the amount of time that he felt he needed so he could feel great about singing again.
“Other than the stroke he’s a very healthy guy and his voice is as strong now and in some cases, I think stronger. It’s been great. As long as he keeps blasting it out there we’re happy to be blasting it with him.”