Frontlines

Thursday Night Fever

Judith Timson September 18 1978
Frontlines

Thursday Night Fever

Judith Timson September 18 1978

Thursday Night Fever

Frontlines

Sometimes when she's standing up there on stage, awash in the glitter,

wearing her red-sequined dress with the slit up to there, or her gold lamé harem pants, or even her pheasantfeathered body suit, Patsy Gallant gets so high it scares her. Those who watched her pick up her third Juno last March as Canada’s leading female vo-

calist may well have felt a twinge of fear themselves when they saw her, as she recalls it, “go insane, crazy, totally berserk. I was having the time of my life.” Instead of walking up on stage she leapt up, exposing her underpants in the process and then, squeaking and giggling, managed to embarrass even singer Burton Cummings, the prince of maudlin pop who appeared on stage with her but looked as though he would have preferred to be underneath it. “All of Canada threw up,” hissed one discomfited show-biz wag, and while that may be an exaggeration (ratings show not all of Canada was glued to the Junos) it isn’t to say that Gallant, bilingual chanteuse of superstar status in Quebec and darling of the disco bubble-gum set, has never shown the slightest bit of restraint. That alone will account for some of the interest when, on Thursday, September 21, she premieres as the host of her own weekly show, the CTV network’s big musical-variety production for this season.

There is in the entertainment industry a curiosity afoot about the woman who has been chosen this season to do for Canadians what Julie Amato tried but couldn’t manage two seasons ago—zero in on their affections as a leading television personality who brings together good mu sic and good fun on a zippy show. In Gallant’s case, you can almost hear the collective mutter: “Who does she think she is, Cher?” It’s not that she looks like Cher. On the contrary, she is short (just over five feet) and in possession of rather unremarkable features,by showbiz standards. But despite her limitations, she gamely presents herself as a flashy, glitzy disco queen who gets out there and gives it all she’s got. The result has been a strange relationship with her audience.

Some people, for instance, were de-

lighted by her chutzpah when she appeared on 90 Minutes Live in 1976 wearing braces (because at the age of 25 she’d decided she’d had it with buck teeth) to sing her first national hit single, From New York to L.A., with its somewhat optimistic lyric, “I’m a star in New York, I’m a star in L.A.” The song itself was a jived-up disco version of Quebec singer Gilles Vigneault’s classy provincial anthem Mon Pays and had nothing whatsoever (until Gallant’s agent found a new lyricist) to do with booze and drugs in Los Angeles. Armed with a technically good pop voice, Patsy Gallant breezed to further triumph last year with another hit single, Sugar Daddy, and continued outraging or gratifying observers with her flashy performances. “Oh, audiences just love Patsy,” says her Montreal business agent Ben Kaye. “She may push the sex symbol bit but what comes outa that dress with the slit is talent.

You know what I’m getting at?” Certainly audiences feel something for her. After an abysmal late-summer concert at Hamilton Place theatre during which the only rapport Gallant seemed capable of generating consisted of her leaning down into the audience to ask a startled fan if his jewelry was real gold, the crowd—thin to begin with— gave her a standing ovation. As one applauding woman explained: “We feel so sorry for her. She tried so hard.”

If trying hard were all that counted, Patsy Gallant would surely be living out

any number of show-biz success fantasies. She’s been at it relentlessly ever since, at the age of five, she was hoisted up on stage to join the rest of the singing Gallant sisters from Campbellton, New Brunswick. Now, at the age of 30, her raw energy and what television producers call her versatility—she sings, composes, plays piano, dances a bit and has a natural comedic talent— has led her to what she considers a “privileged” position in Canadian show business—her very own television show. “And it’s gonna be terrific!” enthuses executive producer Ed Richardson in a near-yell in the Scarborough offices of CTV’S flagship station CFTO, where Glen Warren Productions is taping The Patsy Gallant Show.

When everyone concerned—producers, agents, performers—has been de-hyped, the show turns out to be not a multimillion-dollar extravaganza making Gallant the highest-paid performer in Canadian television, as her agent would have it, but a modest, albeit fastpaced musical half-hour with a stream of imported and domestic guests (AÍ Green, Marc Jorden to name two) and a series of production numbers, some tending toward last year’s disco hits. You don’t need to be a sage to know that while disco will live on for a while yet, clones of Saturday Night Fever productions may be a little stale by midseason.

While the producers claim “big bucks” are being spent (at the same time refusing to say just how many bucks) it’s difficult to see where. The star’s three female backup singers appear in too-tight, obviously cheaply made costumes with crooked hems and stray threads while Gallant herself had to send to Montreal for her own outfits because CFTO had not presented her with new ones during the first week of taping. “All of this unfortunately reflects on Patsy,” sighed one of her associates.

In Montreal, where she lives and records her French and English albums, Patsy Gallant is surrounded by attractive and personable men—among them Ian Robertson, her former boy-friend and current producer, and Dwayne Ford, her current boy-friend and keyboard player—who believe in her chances for success. Ford, who is nudging Gallant toward a softer musical image, observes acidly: “I think she should forget about bubble gum and start doing more serious music that reflects her talent rather than her pocketbook.” Others on the musical scene praise her dedication and competence but lament her presentation. Says Richard Flohil, editor of The Canadian Composer. “If only she came on as a serious performer dedicated to her music rather than a mindless twit.”

But Gallant, a very open, very gutsy woman with a disarming tendency to admit to her own foibles, is convinced she is projecting the real Patsy and after 25 years of kicking around in the business, maybe she’s right. All the same, she has like anyone who puts herself on the line, personally and professionally, grave insecurities: “Listen, I am very nervous about this. I can’t blow it. It’s a heavy gig to take, and I am very afraid of being seen on television once a week.”

Nevertheless, she is going for it. By the end of the season she may recall that wistful line about stardom in her first hit: “But was it really meant for me?” Or she may, in typical Patsy fashion, run right over her opposition. As she says, “I just don’t take no for an

answer.”

Judith Timson