Sounds Like Montreal

By Dave Bist 
Illustration – big band, super-sound 

November 14, 1970  
Many moons ago I used to sneak into the Esquire Show Bar, sit up at the bar beside the drum set and groove to the best rock sounds around at the time. 
Those were good days – and good groups. People like The Fendermen, The Green Men, King Curtis, Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces, Martha and the Vandellas, Billy Stewart, The Jades. 
Yes, The Jades. Four guys, I think, all dressed the same, the front men doing little dance steps together, the whole trip. 
There was one Jade I remember in particular. He played bass and sang and had this little step he’d do where he’d look like he was walking and didn’t move an inch. Yes, I used to groove on that. 
But time, they say, goes on. A lot has happened over those six years – like I don’t have to try to look cool and ancient when I walk into the Esquire any more (but I don’t know if that’s good or bad). 
Most of the stars of that era have faded. Milly Stewart has died, Muleskinner Blues is an oldie but goodie, Doggett’s Honky-Tonk isn’t even that, Curtis’ Soul Serenade never even got the recognition it deserved. 
But those old Jades – actually they were only in their teens when they played the Esquire – are something else. 
The man who did that little step is called Billy Ledster and now he’s fronting a 10-man band called Illustration, a band made up almost entirely of Quebecois, and a band that ranks with Chicago, BS&T and the rest. 
Illustration is one of those band it’s hard to write about because you get so excited about them that all the old adjectives don’t seem nearly strong enough. For the record, they’re super tight, super professional, and down-right superb. They’re musical perfection without sounding contrived, they’re totally together but all individually brilliant. 
But most of all they’re Illustration – not BS&T, not Chicago, not the Electric Flag – and that’s what it’s all about in the end. The comparisons with the other big bands are inevitable, and in 90 per cent of the cases you can compare them. 
Not so with Illustration. The only thread of similarity is that they’re original – and that’s a big part of the reason for the success of BS&T and Chicago. 
But probably the string that binds Illustration onto the top rung is Ledster. His voice is rough-edged, but perfectly controlled. It’s like a piece of granite that’s been shaped by Rodin – it’s still a little rough, but it’s beautiful.  
The men behind Billy have a wealth of experience behind them. They’re the guys who were in groups before The Beatles made it the thing to do. They’re the guys who had a love for music that was born within them, not one that was force-fed by the Popcult. 
Illustration first formed in Montreal at the beginning of last year under the name The Sound Syndicate. At that time they were just a murmur away from being great. They signed a recording contract with Janus Records in the U.S., did a superb album that was moderately successful and toured all over the continent.  
They were back in Montreal briefly last year to promote their record and play a weekend at the Laugh-In, headed back on the road and now they’re here again (at the Hawaiian Lounge, just up Stanley St. from the Esquire) and all that promise has come together into a group that romps and stomps, and lows smooth as butter, and does it all with expertise that’ll floor you. 
Others in the group include John Ranger, another ex-Jade, on organ; Richard Terry from Vancouver, on bass; Garry Beattie of Sherbrooke, on guitar; Leo Harinen of Montreal, Ben Perreault, of Montreal, and Billy Shiell, of Miami, on trumpets; [Roger] Homefield of New York on trombone; Norm Burgess, of Edmonton, and [Glenn] Higgins, of Toronto, on saxes. (Ledster’s from Rouyn[, Quebec], by the way.) 
Together they make up one of Canada’s finest contributions to the musical world. They’re Illustration. Remember them – and go see them – because they’re going to right on top very soon.