He might not remember the name of the band right now, but he certainly remembers the feeling.
Longtime North Shore resident Barry Samuels was 17 or 18 years old when he promoted his first gig – hustling to get a band booked to play a nightclub in London’s Soho area.
“That was my first event. I wasn’t even old enough to drink,” Samuels, who grew up in the U.K. before moving to Canada in 1967, tells the North Shore News.
While Samuels wasn’t legal drinking age at the time, the thrill of organizing his own show and delivering the joy of music to the hungry masses provided him with his own form of intoxication. It’s a feeling that’s never truly let up in the proceeding decades either, according to Samuels.
Born into a household alive with his father’s instrumentation, he remembers being “very musically aware” from a young age. In one telling anecdote, Samuels describes being obsessed with pop music as a young boy and spending countless hours listening to tunes in bed on his transistor radio.
“I knew every hit song to the last detail – maybe not the lyrics – but I knew every sound, every inflection, every detail. I got to the point where I could predict what was going to be a followup single if I listened to the album – and 90 per cent of the time I was right,” he explains.
Samuels’ early infatuation and study of all-things popular music would end up serving his career well, helping him to develop the ear which would allow him to excel in the music industry as a jack-of-all-trades promoter, booker, manager and, occasionally, producer.
While Samuels’ mom begged him not to become a musician “for reasons that are too obvious to talk about,” he discovered he was more interested in working behind the scenes as a booking agent and artist manager anyway.
“I’ve always had music and entertainment in my blood, it’s that simple,” he says.
His first gig as a teenager might have been in the U.K., but he truly cut his teeth in the industry when he moved to Canada a few years later. At 20, he was working in sales for a radio station when he was introduced to someone who was opening a nightclub called The Daisy in Vancouver. He talked his way into becoming the manager there and, most importantly, the one in charge of hiring the entertainment.
In one of his early gigs he hired a band called High Flying Bird to play The Daisy. Samuels describes the band as “not your typical club band” and perhaps “too different at the time” – and perhaps the club owners agreed, because the band was promptly dismissed a few days into their residency and Samuels was soon after let go, he explains.
But then something wonderful happened: the Vancouver Sun, propped up by Samuels’ ability to tout the act he was representing, devoted a full-page spread in the newspaper highlighting the band’s excellence and musical prowess – and this was after their residency was already terminated. High Flying Bird approached Samuels and asked if he’d be their manager.
“Before I knew it, other bands were approaching me because I was on the map,” says Samuels, who by this point had formed a talent agency called Axis Entertainment.
For the next 20 years, Samuels was involved with some top-notch talent in Canada and abroad, including Vancouver-based glam rock outfit Sweeney Todd, who both Nick Gilder and a young Bryan Adams would at one point roll through, and, perhaps the biggest act he was ever involved with, the American rock band Heart.
Circa 1974 Samuels got a call about a band, holed up in West Vancouver in order to avoid the scourge of the Vietnam War, who were looking to audition for him. This was an earlier incarnation of Heart – before singer Nancy Wilson would officially join – and Samuels made his way over to a property he describes as “an unfinished basement with a ceiling that was six-foot-six high, bare to the rafters with insulation everywhere” and set up like a mini stage.
The band played for him and they “just blew my mind away,” he explains.
While the Seattle-based band was staying in Canada, Samuels endeavoured to keep them busy with gigs. Some time later he got a call from a nightclub called The Cave looking to book talent.
“I says, ‘Actually I’ve got Sweeney Todd open and another band that I’d love to put in there, but it’ll be their first gig in town. They’re from Seattle, their name is Heart,’” recalls Samuels.
After the band returned to the U.S., they became hugely successful. Years later, when the group was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Samuels was invited to attend the festivities at the behest of Heart.
By 1987, Samuels felt he was ready to get out of the music industry. He hung up his manager’s jacket for a while and set out on a new career in the financial services sector, until officially retiring in 2012. But, he explains, after dipping his toes back into the world of music promoting again just before he retired, he admits that all of a sudden he had “that music-thing back in my blood again.”
That “music thing” is still flowing. Officially starting this weekend, Samuels will be working as a promoter and booker for Sunday shows at Two Lions Public House in North Vancouver, or as he describes it: “My job is to pack that place and to turn it into the focal point of entertainment … on the North Shore.”
He says his goal with his new gig at Two Lions is to “draw from different pockets” when it comes to booking unique entertainment – from music and comedy, to burlesque and cabaret – while attracting new visitors in addition to maintaining Two Lions’ core audience.
Visit facebook.com/thisistwolions or jenningsculture.com/two-lions-public-house.html for more information on upcoming shows and events at Two Lions.
As for this Sunday, he says he’s thrilled to present Diamond Forever: A Celebration of Neil Diamond featuring singer Jason Scott, starting at 7 p.m. A music industry veteran like Samuels has seen it all, as they say; his high praise likely means a lot.
“He’s a phenomenal performer and he’s won so many accolades and awards,” he says. “He’s one of the top three or four Neil Diamond artists in the world.”