"Don't Walk Past"
With the recent tragic and untimely passing of Blue Peter lead singer and frontman Paul Humphrey, the timing is right for a review of their iconic single, “Don’t Walk Past”. Both the song and its accompanying video were ubiquitous during the summer of 1983 here in Southern Ontario. The song itself was a classic in the New Wave genre featuring soaring vocals and synthesizer; one of those tunes that once heard is instantly recalled by the listener.
Hailing from Markham Ontario, the band started during the later part of the 1970’s when high school chums and band co-founders Paul Humphrey (lead vocals) and Chris Wardman (guitarist and songwriter) began practising and writing songs in Wardman’s basement. According to the biography section from the band’s excellent website (bluepeterband.com), during this period as the band began take shape and play out, “Humphrey remembers that the era was one in which many new bands faced certain challenges that made the going difficult. "In those early days, there were no places for a band who did original material to play. In a lot of bars, you had to play cover tunes, so we came up with our own treatments of the Stones, Iggy Pop, Led Zep, and the like, but we really wanted to have a way of exposing our songs. Besides," Paul continues, "we really couldn't play a lot of those covers 'cause we found it just didn't work that well with our energy." Times did change, however, and the live venue scene in Toronto started to open up, providing more opportunities for young, up-and-coming bands to get a shot at playing gigs. "It was an exciting time," recalls Humphrey. "Clubs like The Edge and Larry's Hideaway opened up and a lot of good bands with original music got a chance. There's a certain musical historical element to those days, and we were part of it."
The first several years of the band (1979 -1983) were spent in sorting out personnel and honing the group’s identity. Their trajectory was not meteoric, but it was a steady progression of recording and performing. Blue Peter were a popular draw on the local club scene, with their visibility being boosted when they were selected to open for British New Wave acts that were touring here in Ontario. During this time period, the unique sound they were developing was being recognized locally with support from independent FM radio station CFNY and the weekly music and cultural television newsmagazine “The NewMusic”. Having your songs played on the radio is crucial in generating record sales, and prior to the release of “Don’t Walk Past”, the band had recorded and released a few singles, a couple of EP’s and a full fledged album, “Radio Silence”. In 1983, the band recruited English music producer Steve Nye, whose credits included work with Japan and Bryan Ferry, to work on their new material. Out of those sessions they released what is generally considered their signature song, “Don’t Walk Past”.
The version of the band that recorded “Don’t Walk Past” consisted of mainstay’s Humphrey and Wardman, as well as Rick Joudrey (bass), Jason Sniderman (keyboards), and Owen Tennyson (drums). The single was released on the Canadian label Ready Records in both seven inch (catalogue number SR 331) and a twelve inch (catalogue number SRB 033) versions. It was also part of their album Falling. The accompanying video of the song has been recognized as one of the top Canadian music videos of its time, winning the “Best Video of 1983” award from the Canadian Film and Television Association. In addition to Paul Humphrey's passionate vocals, the song had a strong groove, with keyboards providing most of the melodic structure, a simple but punchy bass line and minimal but effective guitar. It is easy to see why the song and its accompanying video have had such an impact on the Canadian music scene. For better or worse, in the age of music videos, appearances became crucial in breaking a band and getting their videos played. Besides Paul Humphrey’s talents as a vocalist, he was very telegenic. As well as being aired in Canada, the video was picked up by MTV and broadcast in the United States. It should be noted that with his untimely passing, several Canadian artists who were part of that scene, (or were up and coming), have acknowledged the influence of the band and Paul in particular. Gord Deppe of Spoons fame stated that “Paul was one of the kindest and most talented people I ever met”.
Although “Don’t Walk Past” was crucial in increasing its popularity, the band would call it quits in 1985. They will always be closely identified with the song though, and its success cemented Blue Peter’s importance as part of the Canadian New Wave music scene.