The members of Of Gentlemen and Cowards name the Arkells as an influence with half reluctance.
They understand that the Arkells, who formed after meeting at McMaster as students, paved the way for acts with true Mac and Hamilton pride – naming themselves after the Westdale street on which the lived and practiced while at school and calling their debut LP Jackson Square.
“We all listen to the Arkells, but we tend not to write like them, because the last thing we want to do is become ‘the next Arkells,’” said bassist Josh Dawson. “We respect what they do … but as we’ve grown and matured, we’ve kind of found our own sound, and I’m glad it’s not the next Jackson Square.”
Of Gentlemen and Cowards is a band of current students at Mac, who play almost any campus charity show or event they can get, in part to get their name out there, and also out of a connection they feel to their school.
The four-piece folk-pop-rock group was the McMaster winner in the Campus Music Explosion battle of the bands competition in March. They went on to win the Ontario-wide CME Finals.
“We rehearsed that show more than we’ve rehearsed any show we’ve ever played. It was a 20-minute set, and I’m embarrassed over how much we rehearsed that show,” said lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Simon Edwards of the Ontario Finals. “We knew what we were going to say. We knew what we were going to wear.”
“It’s the stuff that you don’t want to think about,” said Dawson.
Now, they’re gearing up for an appearance at Burlington’s Sound of Music festival on June 14, playing on the same stage and day as the Arkells. Although they won’t be quite so meticulous in the planning for Sound of Music, they’re excited. It was at the 2010 festival that the Arkells had one of the biggest breakout shows of their career.
Things weren’t always this good for Of Gentlemen and Cowards, who got their name from the story of a trial that followed the sinking of the Titanic, in which the judge is said to have asked a defendant who paid for a lifeboat to leave the ship only half full, “Are you a gentleman, or are you a coward?” There were the shows to no one while on tour, or the time Edwards broke a rented, $3,000 guitar to start a show at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.
But the band took it all in stride, thinking only of the positive.
“That was the tightest we’ve ever played,” said Edwards of an empty-audience show. “I had never really stopped thinking about who I was playing to until then.”
They were also thankful that Long & McQuade only charged them a $400 repair fee for the destroyed Martin guitar. If they had to pay the full price? “We wouldn’t be releasing a record. That’s for sure,” laughed Dawson.
They’re currently working on a seven-inch release with Hamilton producer Michael Chambers of Catherine North Studios downtown, planning to release material in small doses. They came out with an EP last year.
Of Gentlemen and Cowards will be playing at 7 p.m. on June 14, appearing on the ArcelorMittal Dofasco stage of the Sound of Music festival in Burlington.