The seeds of the Tea Party were sown in elementary school where Jeff Martin and Jeff Burrows struck up a lasting friendship and shared complementary musical tastes. Both had music in their family – Burrows’ father was a drummer, whilst Martin’s stepfather was a bass player.
“My stepfather was a massive blues fan. I picked up the guitar when I was seven and when all the other kids were listening to Ozzy Osbourne, I was learning How Blue Can You Get? by B.B. King. You can tell a rock musician who has never played a blue note in their life, there’s no soul, no sex,” (Jeff Martin).
Fairly quickly the two started playing in bands, sometimes separately and sometimes together. Jeff Burrows played in a band called VaVaVoom and Jeff Martin played in a band called The Shadows, winning a local battle of the bands competition and having the track ‘Know My Rights’ pressed to 7” vinyl. This is Martin’s first recorded song ever!
The Shadows: Know my rights:
The two played together in The Jigsaw Affair, along with Jeff Renaud and Brad Burrows, who was soon replaced with Stuart Chatwood. A number of recordings exist from the Jigsaw Affair, including the embryonic roots of the future Tea Party song Psychopomp, as the track ‘Something More’.In high school the two met Stuart Chatwood, and together Stuart and Martin formed 'The Stickmen'. The Stickmen went on to record a demo tape and tour frequently in Toronto in the late 80s early 90s, with Stuart on guitar and vocals and Jeff on lead guitar and additional vocals, notably on the track ‘Loverman’.
In early 1990 Jeff Martin and Stuart Chatwood were back in Windsor, taking a break from their Toronto jobs. During this time they met up with Jeff Burrows for a night out and some drinks at the Coach and Horses. Whilst they were there the manager enquired about Burrows and Martin’s availability to play some live music and draw in some patrons – tentatively to be titled B&M Blues – having both previously played there before. The three of them expanded on that idea and decided to form a band, simply for fun under their terms. It didn’t hurt that the money being offered was better than what they were making as The Stickmen in Toronto.
Around May 1990 Jeff Burrows made the coach trip to Toronto, with his drums in the hold of the Greyhound bus and the trio booked in some time in the Cherry Beach rehearsal studio. The space was rented from noon till 5 p.m., but the excitement in the newly formed band was palpable and they turned up at 5 a.m., ready to go. After 10 solid hours of jamming, starting with a run through of Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin) and ending with bleeding fingers, exhaustion and smiles like the cat that got the cream, a band had well and truly been formed.
A few months of rehearsals and song writing followed, with Stuart making the switch from rhythm guitar and vocalist to bass player, and the first summer gigs were lined up. Tentatively billed as the “The New Stickmen”, in lieu of a name, and as a homage to The New Yardbirds, the band played such venues as “The Rivoli”, “C’est What” and “Coach and Horses”. The reception was immense, and the plans were swiftly made for more gigs and to capture the sounds on their debut recording later than year. All that remained was the name.
They found this within the pages of a well-thumbed copy of Hammer of The Gods. Some potential suggestions, though it remains to be seen whether they were serious contenders were The Crowley’s, Loch Ness, Edgewater Hotel, and The Lori Maddox’s. All of which were rejected in favour of the name given to the legendary 1969, four-hour Boston gigs of Led Zeppelin: “The Tea Party”.
The Capitol Demos era
Following the release of their self-titled debut album, and fueled by ambition and raw talent, the group toured the Toronto and Windsor area extensively. Early examples of the ferocity of their live show have since emerged, notably the fabled April 92 Coach and Horses show, and the December 1992 Toronto show.
As can be evidenced from these recordings the band’s sound was subtly changing, evolving into something more mystical and esoteric than the earlier blues-based sounds on their Indie release. During this time new tracks were written and recorded in the studio, later emerging as ‘The Capitol Demo’.A number of major labels refused to sign the band at this time but, ultimately, they found their home with EMI based off the strength of their live shows. Unique to this relationship was that the band was afforded total control of their sounds, and Jeff Martin was to produce – being the youngest producer with EMI Canada at that time.
The band entered the studio in February 1993 at White Crow studio in Burlington, Vermont to rework tracks off both the Indie album and The Capitol Demos, plus two new tracks (A Certain Slant of Light and Raven Skies) into what would become their major label debut, Splendor Solis:
“Tea Party was a perfect match for White Crow. The studio was one of last great analog recording studios in the Northeast U.S. The band's organic sound took full advantage of it.” - Todd R. Lockwood, Studio Owner
Splendor Solis was released in Canada in June 1993 and there were four singles released - The River, A Certain Slant of Light Save Me (with videos directed by Floria Sigismondi) and In This Time (released in Australia).
The title, meaning the splendor of the sun, was taken from the 15th-Century alchemical manuscripts of the same name. The artwork by Steve Cole was also inspired by some of the works contained within the original manuscripts.Other tracks that may have been in consideration for the album: Dancing in the Moonlit Night, Pie Dog on the Prowl, On My Knees, The Coven, Can You See My Tears, The Timing Song, Solomon’s Blues.
First attentions and touring
Following the album launch the president of EMI records gifted a 1916 Gibson Harp Guitar to Jeff Martin, which was used on subsequent tours and recordings.
Recording and release of Edges Of Twilight
Splendor Solis started the band on their journey of fusing world and rock music (later dubbed “Moroccan Roll”), but it wasn’t until its success that they had the funds to take it to the next level and start to actually incorporate exotic instruments into their repertoire. With new tracks already in their live set (Walk With Me and Drawing Down the Moon), and additional tracks from their travels (Fire in the Head from their time in Europe, Shadows on the Mountainside from their trip across the Rockies etc) the band began to write and compile demos for what would become their next album. Slowly the tranches of exotic instruments began to arrive and were quickly incorporated into the sound. “I think there were 31 different instruments on that record. So every day, there was a FedEx or UPS truck arriving, either at our studio or rehearsal space, and it was just a box, a surprise every day.” – Stuart Chatwood
Taking lyrical inspiration from various sources including Fire in The Head by Tom Cowan and musical inspiration from the likes of Toward the Within by Dead Can Dance, and a range of acoustic folk guitar players they’d listen to on their tour with Roy Harper, the tracks began to take shape and the band located to Los Angeles for the recording sessions, co-produced by Ed Stasium. The end result was The Tea Party’s best-selling album to date, and one which broke them into new territories across the world. It allowed them to forge an identity outside of their own influences and silenced the critics who had written them off as a retro act. The album contained the track “Sister Awake” which was later voted the top Tea Party single in a Facebook vote by fans. The album reached #11 on the Canadian album chart and attained double platinum status, earning the band several Juno nominations, including "Best Rock Album" and "Group of the Year". It remained in the Australian top 20 for over 18 weeks, and was voted in top 50s albums of the 90s in German music Magazine VISIONS. Following the album’s release the band extensively toured Canada, USA, UK and mainland Europe and Australia.
In October the band is opening for their heroes Page/Plant on their tour stop in Montreal.
Opening for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
On October 18th the band opened for Page and Plant’s Unledded tour date in The Forum in Montreal. Playing with their musical heroes – Jimmy Page and Robert Plant - has since been cited by the band as a key highlight of their career. The rumour goes that Jimmy Page wished he had of discovered them earlier so they could have joined them in support for more of the 1995 tour. The event led to a friendship between Jimmy and Jeff, occasionally referenced by Martin as The Sorcerer and the Apprentice, and led to Jimmy’s own appreciation of The Tea Party music.
Release of Alhambra
Following in the wake of The Edges of Twilight the band released Alhambra, a collection of reworked acoustic tracks, plus one new one Time, with Roy Harper on vocals. The acoustic tracks were stripped-back versions of some key songs from the Edges of Twilight recorded using the array of exotic instruments that had been showcased on the previous record. Also on the record was an electronic infused remix of Sister Awake by Rhys Fulber, which was a departure for the band’s sound but delicately hinted at what was to follow.
Revolutionary for Alhambra was its inclusion of over 47 minutes of multimedia videos, pictures and facts about the band on the album, which was ahead of its time. Each of the exotic instruments was showcased in a video segment, and a new official video for ‘Shadows on the Mountainside’ was included.
The band supported this release with a tour known as the “Acoustic and Eclectic” tour, which included two sets, one acoustic with the exotic instruments and then another plugged in.
Some additional 'Alhambra versions’ of tracks later appeared on the Triptych Special Edition, and the band performed these tracks in a Much Music showcase in 1997, prior to the release of their next album.
Alhambra has often been retrospectively called ‘The calm before the storm’.
Release of Transmission
Those who expected the band to move further towards the East were in for a surprise with this release. The Eastern elements did not completely disappear but, thanks to the use of sequencers, samples and loops, they were mixed up. The result is that the album, which was released in 1997, sounded a lot harder than its predecessors and songs like “Gyroscope” and “Babylon” probably scared listeners who still had songs like “Shadows On The Mountainside” in their ear.
This time the cover was designed by Stuart Chatwood. During a museum visit in England, Martin and Chatwood were most impressed with a painting by William Turner. Inspired by it, Chatwood took up the brush himself and thus the painting “The Earth We Inherit“, which can be seen on the cover, came into existence.
Because of the problems with management and the bankruptcy of EMI USA, the album was released by Atlantic Records in the USA. The band’s hopes were high for this release in the US and they had every right to expect a major breakthrough. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. US radio just wasn’t ready for music of this caliber but, once again, the band did very well in Canada and Australia.
A deep insight into the Album can be found here: The Transmission Archive
Release of TRIPtych
The world instrumentation was front and centre for some tracks, Samsara and Halcyon Days. The electronica introduced in the last album underpinned most of the tracks and the hard rock elements were ever present. Vocally Jeff took inspiration from the lyrical phrasings of Jeff Buckley. Indeed, in the earlier days of touring the UK they had a gig cancelled as they had been replaced by Jeff Buckley. Not knowing who he was at the time the band acquired a copy of his album, hoping to dismiss it, but were immediately captivated – indeed later introducing Hallelujah as a live insert. Martin’s voice in Triptych is more expressive and melodic than in the previous releases, with a higher register being attained.
Recording originally commenced in Jeff Martin’s Montreal home, but these early tapes were unfortunately ruined by a sandblasting incident and they had to be re-recorded from scratch.
Yielding the band’s first number-one single – the pop-sounding “Heaven Coming Down”, the album peaked at No. 4 on the Canadian charts and earned the band a Juno nomination for “Best Rock Album”.
The album also contained the first official cover version of Daniel Lanois’ “The Messenger”, which had been a staple live insert in Save Me for a number of years.
During the recording session for Triptych, the songs "Waiting for a Sign", "A Woman like you" and a cover of the Rolling Stones classic "Paint it Black" were also recorded. Most of them were released a short time later on the Triptych-Tour Edition, which was only available in Germany. There is also an instrumental piece called "Invocation" which was released later on Jeff Martin's solo album "The Armada".
Given the more "mainstream sound" of the album and a sponsoring partnership with PEPSI, some fans were irritated. At the same time the band gained new fans because of this.
The Interzone Mantras is the sixth album released by The Tea Party. Jeff Martin hyped the Interzone Mantras by proclaiming it would be the band’s heaviest rock album to date. He even went so far as to say that “Canada finally has a rock band again”.
Martin wrote the lyrics for the songs during a stay in Prague, while the music was written in rehearsal space and recorded in 20 days only.
The Interzone Mantras connectes the band back to their past. Thanks to the use of exotic Eastern instruments, some of the songs have a mystical depth to them which blends with their dark romanticism. Much like Triptych, the array of music on this record ranges from rock songs like “The Master and Margarita” and “Cathartik”, to Eastern-inspired songs such as “White Water Siren” and “Mantra,” to the more typical ballads like “Soulbreaking.”
The cover art was created by the Italian artist Alessandro Bavari. Stuart Chatwood discovered Alessandro’s work while reading an art magazine. The CD Booklet was folded as a poster which displayed the cover artwork of Bavari. The first 100,000 CDs also included an additional lenticular image cover. The German version included “Walking Wounded” as a bonus track, which wasn’t available there until then.
In the year 2000 the band played for the first time a concert with orchestra accompaniment in Calgary. Two years later, thanks to a sponsor, the band were also playing orchestral concerts in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal. Since the orchestra came from each city, the rehearsals always started the day before. The Canadian conductor Marc Ouelette was responsible for writing the sheet music for the orchestra and conducted all shows.
Listen here to the Toronto show
Some concerts were filmed for a future DVD release. However, license fees made a release impossible. Nevertheless, a documentary about the tour appeared on Discovery Channel:
In April 2017 the band again got the chance to give two concerts in Sydney and Melbourne with Orcherster accompaniment.
The release of Seven Circles marked another turning point for the band or, as they put it, a shift in consciousness. As they were writing the album their manager and friend, Steve Hoffman, was battling and eventually lost his fight with cancer.
For the first time the band gives total control over the production of several songs to an outside producer, Bob Rock (Metallica, Our Lady Peace), and this collaboration resulted in “The Watcher”, “Coming Back Again” and “Overload”. This was something Steve had encouraged them to do since he felt it was time to bring in fresh ears. The other songs were co-produced by Jeff Martin and up-and-coming producer at that time, Gavin Brown.
Another first for the band came when they brought Holly McNarland in to sing a duet with Jeff on “Wishing You Would Stay”.
“Empty Glass” pays tribute to one of the band’s inspirations, David Bowie and later was covered by Willam Shatner who is known for his acting in Star Trek.
Seven Circles is much more accessible, leading some longtime fans to accuse them of selling out in order to make a bid for the US market. The album — which was released in Europe more than a year later (Oct. 31, 2005) — also received some harsh reviews from critics and heralded the temporary end of the band.
In 2005 the inconsistencies within the band can no longer be overlooked. After the previous album did not meet the commercial expectations of the record company and led to a cooperation with Bock Rock on the producer's chair for the album 'Seven Circles', Martin feels more and more "disempowered". In late summer the band announced a break, officially, so that drummer Jeff Burrows could cure some health problems. But in reality, concern for Jeff Martin's health may have been the reason for this pause, which again tried to combat his dissatisfaction with alcohol and drug use. Out of this break Jeff Martin published a press release in which he announced his withdrawal from the band. In statements published by Burrows and Chatwood it is said that this withdrawal hit them completely unprepared. The official reading of the band later was, that they disbanded due to creative differences. It'll take six years for them to talk to each other again.
After the end of the band Stuart Chatwood concentrated on composing music for video games, as he already did before by composing music for the 'Prince Of Persia' game. A joint project with Jeff Burrows under the name 'The Art Decay', for which Jimmy Gnecco was intended to become the singer, never took off. A couple of instrumental tracks exist, but never were released.
Meanwhile Jeff Burrows joined Rush's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and other Canadian musicians as drummer in the one-off project the Big Dirty Band as well as presenting the midday shift on The Rock, a radio station in Windsor. In 2008 Burrows announced that he, Edwin, Mike Turner and Amir Epstein would form the band Crash Karma, recording their debut album in early 2009.
Martin moved to Ireland and recorded his debut solo album "Exile and the Kingdom", which was released in Canada and Australia in 2006. He toured parts of Europe, Canada and Australia, and released two live albums and a live DVD. In August 2008, Martin announced the formation of his new band, The Armada, with Irish drummer Wayne Sheehy, who worked with Ron Wood and Eric Burdon. In 2010, The Armada breaks up. Jeff Martin found a new band called 'Jeff Martin 777' with Jay Cortez on bass and Malcolm Clark on drums. Their debut album "The Ground Cries Out" was released on March 1 in Canada and made it to No. 51 in the Canadian Albums Chart.