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Spirit of the West: An audio guide to their long, concluding journey

John Mann is shown singing at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in a scene from the documentary Spirit Unforgettable.

John Mann is shown singing at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in a scene from the documentary Spirit Unforgettable.

After more than 30 years, Spirit of the West plays its final show on Saturday night at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom. The band – now consisting of John Mann, Geoff Kelly, Vince Ditrich, Hugh McMillan, Tobin Frank and Matthew Harder – is taking its final bows less than two years after Mann, 53, revealed that he has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. It's time to return home, for a rest. To help send them off, The Globe and Mail put together a brief history of the band, with some video highlights.


J. Knutson and Geoffrey Kelly begin playing music together in Vancouver in 1983. Kelly's wife, Alison Kelly, is a theatre student who tells them she has a classmate who "can really sing." They get a gig in Whistler and invite that theatre student, John Mann, to perform with them. They start playing together as Evesdropper – which was constantly misspelled and mispronounced. In 1984, the trio releases its first album, Spirit of the West – which they take on as the band's new name. The band's early days are documented in the new film, Spirit Unforgettable, which will have its world premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto on April 30.

In 1990, the band – now Kelly, Mann, Hugh McMillan and Linda McCrae – has its first major label release, Save This House. The title track is released as a single.

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The album's biggest song is the anthem that will become Spirit of the West's signature, Home for a Rest.

In 1991 the band – now joined by drummer Vince Ditrich – releases the album Go Figure with what would become another fan favourite, Political.

The 1993 release Faithlift includes the radio hit And If Venice is Sinking, inspired by John Mann's honeymoon with actor/playwright Jill Daum.

From its next album Two Headed, the band releases a theatrical, avant-garde, single-shot video for Tell Me What I Think, directed by Morris Panych. As revealed in Spirit Unforgettable, it is not a hit with programmers at MuchMusic, who find it "creepy."

In 1995 the band records a live album with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Open Heart Symphony, including the track Williamson's Garage.

In 2009, John Mann is diagnosed with cancer. In 2014, he released a solo album, The Waiting Room, about that experience.

Later in 2014, John Mann reveals that he has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. He wrote this song about the experience, and performed it for The Globe and Mail at his home.

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John Mann plays an original song about his dementia diagnosis

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With Mann's Alzheimer's, the band makes the decision to cease performing. It wraps up its 32-year career with three nights at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver and a final performance on Saturday night.

Ahead of their final shows, Geoffrey Kelly tells The Globe and Mail the band might still play the odd time; perhaps a 15-minute set at a special event. "Maybe we'll do something like that as long as Johnny's still well," he says. "And maybe I'm just being a little too optimistic, wanting the door to be open a tiny crack for some possibility in the future. It's just really hard to say that it's over. Even though it's been an amazing 32 years, I'm just greedy. I want a little more."

Here they are on Thursday night, the first of three final shows.


CANADA'S MUSIC HISTORY: MORE READING

Fogarty’s Cove: The Nova Scotia legend and a quarry that could change it all The land Stan Rogers celebrated in song is slated to be turned into a granite quarry, bringing desperately needed jobs to the region. Josh O’Kane reports on a uniquely maritime clash between cultural preservation and economic development.
The keys to Canada’s musical history reside in Glenn Gould’s pianos One of the prized pianos of famous Canadian virtuoso Glenn Gould resides at Rideau Hall with the Governor-General. Laura Stone explains how it ended up there.
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