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Triumph was all business when it came to rock 'n' roll

Triumph, the hard-rock trio from Mississauga, Ont., had learned the secret of turning heavy metal into gold.

Hard rock band from Mississauga, Ont., put on impressive light show, toured incessantly in 1980s

The spectacle of a Triumph show

Digital Archives

36 years ago
2:14
The band Triumph uses lights and effects to enthrall fans in 1985. 2:14

Triumph, the hard-rock trio from Mississauga, Ont., had figured out how to turn heavy metal into gold.

In 1985, reporter Russ Patrick travelled to the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia to take in a Triumph concert and learn the secret of their success for CBC's The Journal

"After 10 years on the road, they've become one of the most successful touring bands in the business," said Patrick, after introducing the band as they rode in the back of a limousine to the show.

The arena full of thousands of waiting fans, many of them holding lighters aloft, could also be seen.

$10-million tour 

The rock band Triumph tells fans whose show they're at by displaying their name in lights in a Philadelphia arena in 1985. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

Triumph had gone from playing "small clubs in small towns," said the reporter.

"Now they play theatres and stadiums in large cities, mostly in the States," said Patrick.

Such shows — 94 in total on this particular tour — would gross $10 million, according to Patrick's report.

All together, a million people would pay to see the "high-tech extravaganza that is a Triumph show" that year. 

Right from the start, a flash of pyrotechnics followed by the word "TRIUMPH" in bright lights let fans know they were in for a spectacle.

Laser light shows

Reporter Russ Patrick went to a Triumph concert in Philadelphia to find out what drew fans to the band. (The Journal/CBC Archives)
 

"Describing a Triumph concert as 'colourful' is a massive understatement," said Patrick.

"Complete with laser light shows and onstage explosions, they're among the most technically sophisticated of any in the rock world." 

The nightly light show was designed by drummer Gil Moore, "director of Triumph's high-tech concerts."

But, as Patrick noted, "some critics" had noted that Triumph's "showbiz spectacle" overshadowed the music.

Moore, for his part, maintained that the goal of such spectacle was to "enhance the music." 

Ontario origins

Triumph puts the business in 'music business'

Digital Archives

36 years ago
2:04
The band from Mississauga, Ont., approaches its work seriously. 2:04

During the day, bassist Mike Levine was seen making the rounds at Philadelphia radio station WMMR to "plug their concerts and new record," said Patrick.

"We started in a little bowling alley in Port Credit, Ontario," Levine was seen telling a DJ in an on-air interview. "Deciding if we could be a rock band or not. It was a lot of fun in those days — still a lot of fun, too."

The Globe and Mail's rock critic, Liam Lacey, had been following the band for much of its career and noted their driven approach to touring.

"That attitude ... which is working very hard at it, carries over into their ordinary lives," he said. "[It] comes back to this middle-class background in Mississauga, people who go out and do their jobs. They're like travelling salesmen."

'12,000 screaming rock fans'

Guitarist Rik Emmett is seen charging onstage at the start of the Triumph show in Philadelphia. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

Levine explained why, in Patrick's words, "the dollar ... [was] so important to this band."

"There is no pension plan for used-up rock stars," he said. 

The band's business manager, Joe Owens, ran the band's studio and negotiated contracts. was "trying to expand Triumph's market beyond its teenage audience." 

He cited songs that might have appeal to an older audience and noted guitarist Rik Emmett's guitar prowess as Emmett could be seen onstage.

"In concert Rik plays a classical guitar piece ... under 1,200 lights with lasers," said Owens. "He stands centre stage in the spotlight for 12,000 screaming rock 'n' roll fans. They love it and accept it." 

Members of the rock group Triumph -- Mike Levine (left) Gil Moore (right) and Rik Emmett (centre) -- take to the stage after being named to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the Juno Awards in Calgary on April 6, 2008. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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