The Crescendos 1966 in Picadilly
Vance Masters















Hula-hoops, the advent of television, the introduction of 45’s, Sputnik, the Edsel.  The late 50’s was a period of optimism in North America.  The young people of the time, an emerging force that would later come to be known as the Baby Boomers, hadn't struggled through the war years.  They were looking for something more exciting.  They discovered that vitality in Rock and Roll.

Augustine United Church still stands on River Avenue in Winnipeg’s trendy Osborne Village district.  Back then, the area was called Fort Rouge.  And it became the setting for the inception of one of Winnipeg’s most influential bands - The Crescendos.  Still without a drum kit, Vance would borrow a set from the uncle of one of his school friends, Terry Loeb, and every Saturday, the two boys would practice together.  Terry, too, initially wanted to be a drummer, and they would take turns rehearsing, each learning off the other.  Gradually, other budding musicians began to drift into the practice sessions, and the gatherings took on a more structured arrangement.

Early summer of 1963 found Vance and Terry at the home of a bass player by the name of Ralph Lavalley, where they met up with Glenn MacRae.  The instrumental, Long Tall Sally, was recorded in the back yard of Ralph's parents' place on Larsen Avenue.  It was on that afternoon that Glenn, Terry, and Vance first broached the subject of forming a band together.  Lavalley was already with another group - The Legends - so the search for a bass player began.  Chris Anderson, later of Dianne Heatheringon & The Merry-Go-Round, filled the spot.

The band started out playing the local community clubs and their first job had an unpromising beginning, recounted by Glenn, but long forgotten by Chris.
"He was a guitar player and we talked him into tuning his guitar down and playing it as a bass.  We practiced a bit and he played at our very first gig ... a small community club on Logan near Keewatin.  He doesn’t remember it … I’ve talked to him about it and he doesn’t remember it.

Anyway, we did 2 sets - repeated a few tunes as we didn’t have that many; getting ready for the third set and Chris packed up his guitar and left.  His mother told him he had to be home by 11:00 pm.  Took the bus home.  Quite a first gig.

We managed to finish the 3rd set without him and went for Chinese food at the Shanghai and ate his share of the gig money.  One of my favourite stories."  -- Glenn MacRae
In Denis Penner, they found the perfect addition to fill the spot vacated by Chris, and the diverse group of teenagers formed into a viable unit called The Crescendos.

Initially, the band performed instrumentals only, but with the burgeoning influence of British bands such as Cliff Richards and The Shadows, their repertoire was gradually reworked to include vocals.  It was an exciting time in the music industry and local teen clubs began springing up throughout the city.  Radio stations jumped on the bandwagon, with one DJ in particular greatly influencing the marketing of The Crescendos.

CKRC’s Doc Steen promoted their shows and played their music on the station, starting a trend that would set the benchmark for all others to follow.  He even went so far as to allow the band to practice and record in the station’s studio.  Their second recording was of a tune written by the band, titled "So Devoted to You".  It was only on tape and never pressed to vinyl, but Doc Steen aired it whenever he would be acting as MC at a Crescendos gig.  Having such a close working relationship with the DJ also gave the group first crack at listening to newly released material.  They would often play tunes at their shows that had not yet been released to the public, and when the songs finally did receive airplay, many thought they were listening to The Crescendos instead of the actual groups who had recorded the music. 

The Cellar was one of the first clubs to cater to the rock culture.  The Crescendos played there almost exclusively throughout 1963, earning ten dollars a night during the week, and twenty-five dollars on weekends.  They were able to purchase their first van on the strength of that steady booking at The Cellar.  The Crescendos were so much an integral force within the club that other bands wanting to play there had to audition for the group and they would have the final say on who would be allowed to perform.  It was at The Cellar on one of those auditions, that Vance first met Kurt Winter, and a life-long friendship would develop. 

"We were like the house band there," recalls Glenn MacRae.  "We played there for months at a time, and used to practice there.  We'd make maybe ten dollars a night during the week and twenty-five dollars on the weekend.  We bought our Volkswagen van on the strength of our steady gig at The Cellar."  The entrance was in a lane off Fort Street and had a big, red door.

In1964, The Crescendos were approached by an entrepreneur who had the cash, but not the know-how, to set up another teen nightclub - The Twilight Zone.  The organization of the club was turned over to The Crescendos, and in addition to taking over where The Cellar left off, it quickly became the place for musicians to frequent when they weren’t playing.  It was also the place to kick-start many new bands as entertainment ran every night of the week.  The Twilight Zone was the setting where The Crescendos made that fateful decision to take the band international.

It took a year for the group to save enough money to book passage on a ship to England, and on July 20, 1965, Vance Masters (then known as Schmidt), Glenn MacRae, Terry Loeb, and Denis Penner docked in Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles.  Try to imagine, just for a moment - 1965: The Beatles, Liverpool, the British Invasion, the whole world caught up in the frenzy of Carnaby Street and Piccadilly Circus.  You’re 19 years old, and you have just jumped right into the middle of the whole foray.  The entire metropolis was throbbing with creativity; photographers, models, musicians, designers and actors were emerging from every nook and cranny of the city.  What an amazing time that was!  Nothing seemed impossible or out of reach.  But the first months of their adventure were anything but a storybook tale.

The band arrived in England with no bookings scheduled and began making the rounds of the English clubs, often playing just for the exposure.  They had used their entire savings for their train and boat tickets, and resorted to such tactics as pilfering coal from their neighbors to heat their flat, and relying upon the generosity of their growing legion of fans to get through the lean times.  Denis Penner, disillusioned by the whole ordeal, lasted only 5 months, and returned to Canada.  By this time, however, the band had developed a loyal following, and they hired Stuart McKernan, a bassist from Liverpool, to replace Denis.

The Crescendos became regulars on The Cavern Club’s schedule, often playing on the same night with legendary artists such as Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, John Lee Hooker, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames.  On occasion, Paul McCartney got up to play with them at The Blue Angel.  John Lennon and Brian Epstein were often in the audience to catch the band’s show.  A commemorative wall was unveiled by Gerry Marsden in 1997 on the site of the Cavern Club.  There are two bricks engraved for the only all-Canadian band to ever play at the club - one for The Crescendos, and a second brick for the name under which they recorded - The 5 a.m. Event.

After hearing a set at The Sink Club, Chris Curtis, drummer for The Searchers, took the band under his wing, gave them a new name - The 5 a.m. Event - and signed them to Pye Records, taking them to London to record their first single, a tune called Hungry.  Written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, the song had been released in America by Paul Revere & the Raiders one month earlier, but was unknown in Britain.

Though the release failed to chart in Britain in1966, it has since become a classic and was re-released on a CD titled Maximum 65.  Hungry, by The 5 a.m. Event, is now considered one of the top twenty tunes for that year and the original 45 has become a much sought-after collector’s trophy.  The flip side of that 45 is I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water.  The obscure band from Winnipeg has gone down in history along side of such legendary notables as The Kinks, John Mayall, David Bowie, and The Small Faces, who all appear on that compilation CD of 20 songs, released in 2000.

While in London, they played a few local jobs under the name of The 5 a.m. Event.  Kit Lambert (manager of the British band, The Who) attended one of their shows.  So impressed by Vance's performance, Kit convinced Vance to join the Fruit Eating Bears, the backing group for The Merseys, a Liverpool teen pop band formed out of the break up of The Merseybeats.  The Fruit Eating Bears also enlisted Joey Molland of The Masterminds, a group that frequently played on the same nights as The Crescendos at the clubs. Joey later went on to play with Badfinger, and would reconnect with Vance and Glenn 42 years later in Winnipeg, Canada, on December 11, 2008.  (READ ABOUT THE EVENT HERE)

During the interval when Vance worked with the Fruit Eating Bears, The 5 a.m. Event became the resident group at the Blue Angel in Liverpool, hiring Pete Clarke as their new drummer.  Pete had previously played with Vince and The Volcanoes, Groups Inc., The Escorts, The Krew and Them Grimbles.  Vance returned to The 5 a.m. Event shortly before they departed for Canada on October 7, 1966.

The return of The Crescendos to Winnipeg was like a brand new start for the band.  Denis Penner came back into the fold and they resumed playing.  Being the only band from Winnipeg that had dared to take a chance of living the life most musicians dreamed of, they were overwhelmed by fans and fellow musicians alike at their first performance.  While in Britain, the band had developed their own distinctive sound and style, and they were a breath of fresh air into what had become a stagnant scene locally.  They caused a decided shift in the direction music took here, with other bands changing their music to keep up with The Crescendos.

August 1967 brought an end to The Crescendos.  Glenn went on to have an illustrious career with Winnipeg Piano and then Long & McQuade, while still playing occasionally.  Denis left the music industry and moved his family to Vancouver several years later.  Vance and Terry carried on with their next venture - CLAYTON SQUARE - until September of that year, when Vance replaced Ron Savoie in THE FIFTH.

POSTSCRIPT:  July 2022

On February 12, 1994, The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature hosted a musical reunion called Get Back, The Evolution of Winnipeg Rock. That event was the catalyst for a project that is on-going to this day, involving thousands of hours of interviews and combing through historical records to crystallize the memories of musicians who left their mark on Winnipeg and the surrounding area.

Many years ago, Dave Romanyshyn, of The D-Drifters fame, had a conversation with one of the volunteers working on the project and reminisced about a humourous event he called his "Beatlemania moment" that involved Vance.

Full text of Dave's recollection - in his own words - can be read HERE.

Rehearsal 1963
Rehearsal 1963

Vance Masters 1964
Vance Masters 1964

The Crescendos 1964

The Crescendos
The Crescendos Van


The Dudley Institute Promo 1965

Vance 1966
                                in London, England
Vance 1966 in London, England

The Sink Club
                                Promo 1966


The photo in the top left corner is the promo picture for Pye Records and
was taken in Picadilly Circus.

ideos open in a separate window

Long Tall Sally (Video)




I Washed My
                                    Hands in Muddy Water (Video)



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