SAGA Gearing Up For 40th Anniversary

Legendary Canadian pro-rock band Saga has been pretty consistent in putting out new material over their impressive and prolific career. Generally speaking, two years is about the longest fans have to wait for a new helping of the band’s unique, occasionally enigmatic but always incredibly well-crafted brand of rock music.

2012 marked the return after five years of lead vocalist/songwriter Michael Sadler and the release of the dynamic, critically and popularly-acclaimed album 20/20. Two years later, like clockwork, came the somewhat more experimental Sagacity. With this track record well established, many observers, commentators and admirers of Saga have been expecting to hear of a new album coming sometime in this leap year of 2016.

They will have to wait, though, until 2017. But there’s a very, very good reason why. It’s the band’s 40th anniversary.

Formed from the remnants of the moderately-successful band Fludd in 1977 in the southern Ontario city of Oakville, Saga released its self-titled debut album a year later. The album, which features the concert favourites Humble Stance and How Long, curiously became a big hit in Germany and Puerto Rico, the former still the band’s number one market.

From there, Saga has released a string of albums that are as much philosophical and imaginative explorations as they are examples of the band’s musical and lyrical depth, complexity and skill. Not known as a singles band, there have nonetheless been a series of songs that have become part of the band’s essential lexicon over the years including the hits Wind Him Up, Catwalk, On The Loose, Scratching the Surface, The Flyer and Only Time Will Tell.

In very much the same way as fellow Canadian band Rush’s fans are steadfast in their loyalty and expect to hear music that is both challenging and ever-evolving, Saga’s fans – particularly those in Europe – also hold an iron-clad affection for the band.

Which is why Sadler said he wants Saga to do something special to commemorate the 40th anniversary, and use that special occasion to put a different spin on the set list for the band’s upcoming European tour.

“I don’t think we’re going to be doing something like Rush and their R40 tour, but we will definitely film a majority of that year. One thing I want to do is play in as many places as possible – especially places we haven’t played ever or for a very long time – the United States being one of them. This means we have a year to make it happen. It’s no one’s fault but our own that we haven’t been south of the border, so let’s change that; and we have one year to put that into effect,” said Sadler, who actually lives in California these days.

“And I am also thinking of doing a ‘deep tracks’ tour later in 2016 over in Europe where we would play songs that we have never played before and make the whole set like that. Then for the encores we would do the ones that we can’t leave the building unless we play them kind of thing. Our fans in Europe see us all the time and I think it would really spark something in them to do this, something unexpected, and it would be fun for us as well.”

Sadler also said holding off on recording and releasing a new album until the big anniversary year would allow he and his bandmates, including long-time members Jim Gilmour (keyboards) and brothers Ian and Jim Crichton (guitar and bass respectively) and drummer Mike Thorne, who joined in 2012, a chance to really make it something special.

”It doesn’t have to be conceptual but I do think it has to be something that encapsulates 40 years of writing. I am almost tempted to say to the guys take two or three albums from a certain time period of our catalogue – one that represent what was influencing us at that point in time. Listen to them and then do some writing and just see if it somehow subconsciously brings something out of you. I want to encourage them, in the middle of their writing, to take a break and thrown on one of our albums that they haven’t listened to in a while and see if you can take themselves back to what was happening and what they were feeling when we were doing that record. Then go back to their writing and see what happens,” he said.

Although there is no ‘new’ product to tour in 2016, the band’s current European-based record label earMusic has been releasing expanded, remastered versions of each Saga album from 1989’s The Beginner’s Guide to Throwing Shapes to 10,000 Days, which came out in 2007 – 12 discs in all.

“The label initiated it. It was their idea. They wanted to do it and we said cool, go for it. So they’ve been doing a couple a month since the fall and I think it goes until July. They got someone to remaster then and, I am not just saying it because it’s our stuff, but quite often you will get re-releases and they say it’s all new and remastered and people will listen and say, ‘well it sounds pretty good but not a lot different than the older versions.’ Well, with these ones it’s noticeable in a good way,” Sadler said, adding that the packaging contains more photos and other original fan material.

“And on the last tour in Europe we recorded an entire evening in Hamburg and what they have done is put at least two tracks from that show on each of the reissues. So it’s pretty cool.”

Another goal for the band is to reach out to more fans in its home and native land. For decades, Saga was so busy in other parts of the world that they rarely did extensive tours of Canada and made even rarer appearances in the US of A. Sadler has said many times in the last few years that this state of affairs needs to be rectified. And, slowly, it’s happening.

At present, Saga is booked to play a special show on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto for the lone eastern Canadian date so far in 2016, but Sadler is confident more dates will be added soon – particularly in western Canada.

“The general concert business is really hurting across the board, unless you’re the Rolling Stones or Guns and Roses, so that’s a factor for sure. For the average touring band or musician, who just wants to play, it’s getting harder and harder. Bands of our vintage or genre are teaming up for package tours or stripping down to do acoustic shows because the money is just not there, but the expenses keep going up. But we are making some inroads in Western Canada,” he said.

“We played a couple of casino shows, one in Calgary and another in Saskatoon last year and I know we have a possible date in B.C., which would be the first time we’ve played the west coast in about 20 years. We are hoping the positive feedback on those casino shows will get us onto that circuit. I love the facility in Calgary and the audience was wonderful. At the beginning when someone mentioned that we should be doing the casinos I was thinking, ‘really?’ My first reaction was picturing use being relegated to doing lounge stuff, until it was explained to me that these are often high-end professional concert theatres that just happen to be at casinos. I have seen some now in Vegas, with the full blown stage shows and they are amazing.”

Music themed cruises are also becoming an alternative venue for many bands and Saga has been a regular on the progressive-rock oriented Cruise from Edge, including the most recent one in the fall of 2015.

But Sadler knows that the music business, in almost every aspect, is nothing like it was when Saga launched itself into the world in 1977.

“I have talked to other musicians from that era and they are saying, ‘oh things aren’t what they used to be. The music business has changed and there used to be guys who cared at the record companies and the record companies don’t exist anymore and any kid can write a song, put it on the internet and two minutes later become a star, blah blah blah.’ And I am thinking to myself, ‘yeah, what’s your point?’” he said.

“You can do one of two things. You can sit there and wallow and wish it was the good old days. But hey, wake up, it ain’t and it’s not going back in that direction any time soon, if ever. You might as well accept it and stop doing what you’re doing which is lamenting, and do something else for a living. Or, secondly, you can choose to reinvent yourself and use the new criteria of the music business to your advantage.”

Sadler said he and his bandmates decided to try and use the technology and new methods for connecting with music lovers to the best of their ability. And they also have come to an understanding that album sales and the methods by which people acquire music is a paradigm that will not likely shift back to the big money maker it used to be. But that’s not the primary reason Saga wrote, recorded and released their first album in 1978 and it’s not their driving impetus for whatever they release in 2017.

“Because it’s satisfying from a creative point of view. My question is are there going to be enough people like me and the guys in other bands that still do this from my peer group, who are going to want to make records. And are there enough people like that coming into the business. Listen, we can sit and reminisce about the ‘good old days’ but it is what it is now. And hopefully people are going to come along and pick up the torch and feel the same way about writing and recording music for the same reasons that I do, for the right reasons,” he said.

One of those ‘guys like him’ was the recently-deceased music legend David Bowie, who never pandered to any trends and was always a truly independent creative force.

“I always appreciated his artistry. I think he was a genius in terms of reinventing himself. He was truly a musical chameleon, and I loved that each album could sound so different from the next one – each one as good but completely different. Across the board he was one of the coolest dudes ever and had such a great mind. Everything he did was adventurous,” Sadler said, saying the loss of Lemmy and Bowie in particular had him pondering his own mortality and the misadventures of his earlier days in the music business.

“Especially with other musicians and your musical peers going down it’s a blow when you hear it happening and at the age at which they’re falling. You start thinking of the partying you did and when did you start cleaning up your act and was it soon enough. Did I do too much damage at a certain time? Did it take its toll without letting me know and is it going to rear its ugly head suddenly, even though I have basically been clean living for the past 14 years. So it definitely gets you thinking.”

What gets Saga fans thinking are the tantalizing tidbits of information relating to the album re-issues, the forthcoming tour, 40th anniversary and new music – and there’s little doubt fans throughout the world are looking forward to all of the above.

For more information on the band, visit

Posted by Jim Barber | February 2, 2016

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