Interview by Jay Cooper
Caught up to the multi-talented Alan Frew recently to chat about his achievements with Glass Tiger and much more! Singer, Song writer, Actor, Author, 5 time Juno award winner, Motivational speaker, painter and Grammy nominated artist. He hasn’t slowed down over the years and the future is very exciting.
JAY COOPER (JC): You have a connection to the Kawarthas and specifically Peterborough, which goes back a long way.
ALAN FREW (AF): There’s a couple of things come to mind. Growing up in the bar scene and playing Peterborough. And then coming back to headline MusicFest. It’s just a lovely place. I never take it for granted. When someone says ‘I saw you the first time you played here’ I take the time to chat and it never grows old. Coming back to Peterborough this year with the huge crowd was incredible. My old buddy Ronnie Hawkins was from here. I remember I had a tv show in the 90’s and Ronnie was the most amazing guest - he was such a character. I thought the world of him. And I remember coming up to Stoney Lake and how lovely it was.
JC: You are a singer, song writer, actor, author, 5 time Juno award winner, motivational speaker, grammy nominated, and I think you were in the medical field? Anything I don’t know about you? Are you a chef too?
AF: (laughs) I’m not bad in the kitchen. Yes, thank you for that. It sounds a little over the top. I’m an artist as well. I paint.
JC: You paint? Do you have shows?
AF: Yes, I paint, but I haven’t had shows yet. It started quite humbly during Covid. I paint, dare I say, an Andy Warhol-esque approach to life. I tell stories in my paintings. I did this one particular painting that had everything in it from Heinz beans to Juno awards to a space shuttle. And this lady in Montreal asked if she could commission it. I said ok and before you know it, that’s what I did through Covid. I was commissioned on all of these paintings. It kept me sane and kept me busy. It’s a labour of love and I enjoy it. I’m getting paid for what I used to get the strap for in school. (laughs) I used to doodle on everything.
JC: You moved from Scotland to Newmarket when you were 16. Were you in bands back in Scotland as a young person?
AF: No. When I was about 12 a neighbour started making acoustic guitars. I wish I still had mine. I got this acoustic guitar and learned a few chords. When I came to Canada that all kind of shut off. It wasn’t until a guy, Martin, taught me a few more chords and we started singing for weddings and parties. Five long haired scruffy guys heard me sing at a party and asked would I like to join their band and invited me to audition. They asked me what I know and I said anything by the Beatles. I sang ‘Get Back’ and I could see them say we’ve got to get this guy. So, I joined and we playing the bar scene and we all ended up broke. (laughs) So the band broke up and I became an Orderly in a hospital. I worked in autopsies for 4 years with the dream of becoming a doctor. That was my focus. Another local band invited the bass player, Wayne, from my band to join them. He said ‘if you want me, you should check out Alan Frew’. I told him I wasn’t doing it, I’m done, but he convinced me to meet them. They asked ‘what songs do you know’, and I said anything by the Beatles (laughs). I sang Get Back and the rest is history. But I said I would only do it as a hobby. I’m not going on the road. Well, how did that work out? (laughs)
JC: It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that Glass Tiger’s first album had Jim Vallance* co-write and Bryan Adams sing on it. How did that happen?
AF: When we started playing the bar scene it was fairly obvious that we were really good at what we were doing. The bars were filled with people. I was still a registered nurse at the time and worked the gigs around my job. The record labels started coming to the gigs and once that happened, it took a serious turn. Our Manager called Styx’s Manager who flew up to see us and he was blown away.
Capitol Records called me in and when I got there, the band wasn’t there. They said ‘we are signing YOU - we are going to make you a star. They offered me a signing bonus that was a fortune back then. I said I would get back to him but never did. He was furious and said that I’d never work in this town again. (laughs) So we went back to playing the bars. But Capitol kept coming to the gigs. When we opened for Culture Club at Maple Leaf Gardens, I think we were the only unsigned band to ever do that. I was still working midnights at the hospital. We performed to 20,000 people and then I would jump in my car and be slinging bedpans by midnight. The next day, we did it again. After that, the phone rang and this voice said, ‘you’re a star’. It was Capitol Records - the same ones who said I’d never work in this town again. (laughs) And they signed the whole band. Jim Vallance was a producer with Capitol and they thought it would be a good match. On the very first day working with him, we listened to Tears For Fears, ‘Everyone Wants to Rule the World’. It was the shuffle beat, so he started dabbling, and at the chorus I sang ‘Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone’. That first day we wrote Don’t Forget Me AND Someday.
JC: That’s crazy!
AF: So we started working on the rest of Thin Red Line. Much of which we had without Jim. We were in full blown recording mode when Bryan Adams called Jim. Bryan was coming in town for the Junos (1985) and Jim said to swing by the studio and meet the guys. Bryan came in and we had a great chat and a few Heineken’s and Jim said ‘why don’t the two of you get on the microphone for fun’. Never thought much of it after that, the rest is history and the song went screaming up the charts.
ATOTK: For you guys to go from a bar band to that is pretty impressive.
AF: It’s like a speeding train. You go from being a bar band to flying into Germany, then the UK and coming back. Our first two major tours were Germany, then America, to the Grammys and then back to Europe with Tina Turner. It was a head trip.
JC: I couldn’t even imagine. I’m glad you guys kept it together. It would be overwhelming.
AF: It was wild.
JC: So you’ve had that success and then the second and third album and now there’s a shift in time. You had Simple Mission in 1991 and a few years after that you all parted ways. Was it the grunge movement or the audiences reaction to you that you decided to pause?
AF: There’s a lot of convoluted stuff. Glass Tiger talent wise, in my opinion, were equal to Duran Duran and Simple Minds. There’s many elements that go into making you international that’s way above actually recording songs and singing them. There’s no doubt in my mind that Glass Tiger should have been internationally recognized on a grander scale. But that’s the way it goes. Things started to wane a little bit and some discontent gets in. By the time we did Simple Mission and the duet with Rod Stewart, the label wanted us to come out with Animal Heart. I was getting a little disgruntled and I thought when this plays itself out, I would like to try other stuff. We remained friends. Up until 4 or 5 years ago, Glass Tiger only did 3 major albums. Thin Red Line, Diamond’s Son and Simple Mission. From those three albums we had 11 hits and some international hits, 5 juno awards and 7 or 8 million albums sold. One can only wonder if we’d been that kind of band like Blue Rodeo who had 20 albums or whatever it is. We took that big hiatus and I did some solo stuff that I’m very proud of. It didn’t get the recognition I thought it should have, but that’s ok. I still did some co-writing with the guys. The industry itself kept asking us to come out and play so we agreed. So here we are today, still doing it.
JC: All 80’s music stations are huge now. So, when they had a pause, the resurgence and interest just went through the roof and it’s still there.
AF: When we do concerts like Peterborough, there were 14000 people in that park. It was beautiful. The resurgence has caught up with people in their late 30’s and younger. They couldn’t possibly have seen us first time around and some weren’t even born yet.
JC: The band is still playing gigs. But you are still excited to perform. Everyone in the band is still friends?
AF: We enjoy it immensely. We still do a fair bit of touring. We had some gigs in Europe but got stopped by Covid. The thing that hurt us the most was the long hiatus and it took us off the radar in the UK, Germany and America. So, to go over there now we have to re-establish because we didn’t stay year after year. We definitely paid a price for that. We did a festival in England and it was a little bit of a harder rock festival than I would have thought we would have done but the reviews were absolutely outstanding. They said Glass Tiger stole the show. It was very encouraging.
JC: Outside of music, you wrote the book The Action Sandwich and you’ve done some acting. Did you have a background in either one of these fields?
AF: No. I think I’d be better at acting if I was playing myself or someone like myself. The audition process is extremely difficult and can be demeaning. I’ve always liked it as more of a hobby. The Action Sandwich is a bit different. I’ve always been a student of life, wondering why and how and where and when. I used to listen to Tony Robbins etc. And then one day I said, I’m the story I could tell. Public speaking followed from that and did well. I’m writing a fiction based novel on my rock and roll life. I’m also working on an online course built around The Action Sandwich. It’s going to be for like-minded entrepreneurs. And I continue to paint.
JC: You’ve met some amazing people - Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney. Were they introduced to you or were you mates because of soccer?
AF: Rod’s manager, Randy, was at the Junos and told me Rod would like to say hello. He said I might get 5 or 10 minutes, and I said sure. Rod and I ended up sitting for about 3 hours just talking football and gave me his number. We talked for a couple of years. I watched his team play and we’d kick a ball around. Rod heard My Town and asked why I didn’t ask him to sing on it. I told him I didn’t want to play that card. He said he wanted to sing on it so I said OK.
JC: And Mr. McCartney?
AF: I went to a press conference to see Paul McCartney and got invited back to meet him. That was just unbelievable. And Julian Lennon and I have been pals for years. He’s still doing music and he’s a brilliant photographer. He has a Foundation called White Feather. Anything he can do to help this planet, he does it. He’s just a great human.
JC: Best gig?
AF: They all vary for different reasons, but we did Canada Day in Ottawa to 120,000 people and that was our first experience looking out at that many people. We did Gage Park in Hamilton to 80,000 people. And touring with Tina Turner where we played Paris for 5 nights, Munich for 7 nights, Amsterdam for 5 nights. So we got to be in these cities for multiple nights. It was just incredible. We played in Barcelona where we thought no one would know us and from the moment we hit the stage, they just went crazy and had an amazing time. I remember thinking, wow, this is Barcelona. And then when we did a club in Montreal that holds 900 people but it was fantastic. And recently, Peterborough for MusicFest. I kid you not, it was unbelievable. Whether it’s a free concert or if people pay for it, taking the time out to come from their homes. It’s humbling.
JC: Worst gig ever?
AF: One was a gig but the other was a record company thing. The record company wanted us to do an album signing in the furniture department of Sears - two people showed up. It was so embarrassing that I had a lamp shade on my head in the furniture department and stood still. (laughs) But the worst gig was probably in Dryden in our bar days. A couple of drunk guys and a dog showed up. (laughs)
JC: (laughs) Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans and supporters here in the Kawarthas?
AF: When we come to the Kawarthas, I can’t tell you enough how amazing it is. Some of you have followed us since day one, some are newer fans. You never let us down. You come out every time and I just need you to know that it’s a humbling experience and we don’t take it lightly. I’m happy to meet as many people as I can when I come out. I’m very reachable. We will come back anytime we are asked.
JC: Thank you so much for your time. It’s wonderful and insightful. I hope you enjoyed our conversation.
AF: I did. Thank you, Jay.
*Jim Vallance is songwriting partner for Bryan Adams. He has written songs for Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltry, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Europe, Kiss, Scorpions, Anne Murray, Joe Cocker and Heart. He has won the Juno award for Composer of the Year 4 times and is a Member of the Order of Canada.