Ben Mahony is on a roll.
Backed by Rob “Roxx Hunter” Hunter on electric guitar and Ian March on drums, Mahony is cycling through an insane series of cover songs that includes Don’t Fear the Reaper, Whole Lotta Love, Prove My Love, Play That Funky Music and Sweet Child of Mine.
He shifts into a now-trademark high voice for Beck’s Debra. The audience at Whitewater Wednesday jam is crowding the dance floor. Mahony’s party-vibe goes to 11.
When I sit and talk to Mahony over vast amounts of coffee, I’m shocked to discover two things: he’s not British (he’s not even from British Columbia) and he’s not a woman (those who remember his Big Eyed Beans days know how cute he looks in a dress).
Mahony is actually from Tillsonburg, Ontario, a town made famous by Stompin’ Tom Connors.
“Just like in the song, I picked tobacco for 14 summers. Everybody does, it’s a rite of passage there, starting in the summer after Grade 8.”
The British accent is the result of growing up in the 1980s, something I can sympathize with.
“I played some new-folk-hippie scene in Guelph, that was vaguely connected to the Rheostatics,” he explains. “I didn’t get close enough to meet them or anything.
“I used to say, ‘The hippie thing wasn’t really my scene, but it was market.’ I hung out in the coffee shops, arguing over identity politics, but I didn’t quite fit in.
“In Lethbridge,” he continues as I get another cup of cappuccino so I can keep up with his cross-county odyssey of bands, “I hooked up with Phillip Saucer, a bass player, and we still get together to play.
“We had an all-original indie rock band that morphed into a disco band. That’s why I have so many silly cover songs up my sleeve, like I Was Made for Lovin’ You, Baby and KC and the Sunshine Band.
“We aim to lighten the music scene up, but the indie-rock fascists didn’t like us and turned their backs on us. We alienated all 10 to 15 of our fans.
“When I got here, I teamed up with Tennessee Steve Wilde,” he says, referring to the mysterious guitar player who wandered into town, never telling anyone his real name.
“I was playing some solo acoustic nights, mostly original material, with some alternative rock. Steve was actually about to leave. We got together at a party and hooked up with Ken Hermanson, Patrick Singh and later Aubrey Brandt. Steve turned us into a real band, getting us to do 10-hour rehearsals and learn about advertising and publicity.
“It was a shocking but enjoyable workshop in Rock and Roll. It started out as indie rock and somehow became Spinal Tap. It got too crazy. One of the big problems was we didn’t write songs together, so there was no real next step up from playing the Dawson City Music Festival.
“It was fun, but I needed to get away to recover.”
He spent that recovery in Victoria. “I went to yoga school. I needed to ground myself and it seems like such a Spinal Tap thing to do. It was like detoxing after a bender.
Mahony is more than a party-band front man with a fake accent and a high voice. As many Yukoners remember, he ran as a Rhino candidate in the last federal election, but failed to get on the ballot.
Since then, he’s played extensively in Dawson City, almost making it a second home.
“I played acoustic solo shows of all original songs for a couple of hours in the afternoon, then partied in the Pit at night. You never know when free-spirited Dawsonites will wander into the Pit and shift the mood from sombre to joyous. I’m almost considered a local there. You know you’re one of the crew when people feel free to hurl abuse at you. If I went back now, most people wouldn’t know I’d ever left.”
But left, he did.
Mahony attempted to live in Montréal for two months. “I wanted to starve in a different language. I guess I have an impulse for suffering, embarrassment and pain. I arrived back in Dawson City, broke, the day before Christmas. I did some gigs at the Pit.
Check out Ben Mahony at his Myspace page, www.myspace.com/benmahony.
Five things you should know about Ben Mahony:
1. There is no “e” in Mahony.
2. He’s nocturnal.
3. His friend, Blake, says all he needs is hot water, greens and a warm place to sleep.
4. He had a van that was like a community bulletin board. “I let people write whatever they wanted to write on it. It started out positive.”
5. The fifth thing is secret. Be sure to ask Mahony what it is, whenever you see him.
PHOTO: BARRY ‘JACK’ JENKINS