Such a hallowed background hardly squares with the story of a music journalist who began his career with a scoop for the Toronto Telegram – he prefers the word exposé – about a Toronto drug dealer who later went to jail for a very long time. And whose best-paid gig was a 350-word story (at $5.00 a word) about a Toronto band called Battered Wives – in Hustler magazine.
Freelance stories included pieces based on interviews with hundreds of artists – including John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, and Joe Strummer. The entertainment industry – especially its music component – fascinated him, and he was soon writing a weekly faxed package of Canadian music news to the Selkirk, Moffat and CHUM radio chains across the country – all of them anxious to fulfill their CRTC-mandated spoken-word requirements.
In the mid-‘70s Farrell became editor-in-chief – for $95.00 a week – of Record Week, an early Canadian music trade journal founded by Joey Cee and which featured a distinguished roster of music writers, including Martin Melhuish, Juan Rodriguez, Larry LeBlanc and the late Jeani Reid. And that, in turn, led to stints as a writer for the U.S. trade journal Cashbox, and later as Canadian editor of Billboard.
In the spring of 1981, he and his wife Patricia-Dunn mortgaged their country home in a quaint Ontario village to start The Record, a weekly newspaper that would cover the music scene in a professional manner and without the baggage of snarky gossip and distant disputes and disagreements.
Co-financed with first-year advertising agreements from the five major record companies of the day, The Record was set to go – and the first issue came out the first day of a six-week postal strike.
While other publications – RPM, Billboard, Friday Morning Quarterback – were stuck in limbo, Farrell got the record companies (in exchange for free advertising) to distribute The Record through their branch offices to radio and retail outlets.
The Record lasted for 18 years as a print publication, growing from a stapled tip sheet to a glossy magazine that often ran to 100-plus pages. It also inaugurated an annual music convention, with attendant gala events and showcases. It might have been a side project, but Canadian Music Week became an instant success and part of the industry’s fabric. (Farrell sold the rights to CMW to its present ownership in 2001).
But, like so many print publications, The Record was gutted by technology.
As the internet stumbled through its early years, with painfully slow loading times and frequent glitches, the publication limped on for two more disheartening, money-bleeding years. Hammered by rising costs, file sharing, the lack of a paid online subscription base, a shrinking record industry, and the arrival of SoundScan and BDS in Canada, The Record finally gave up the battle.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the Farrells paid all their bills, and David left for the Maritimes to lick his wounds and try his hand at other things – a micro-brewery, writing a novel, running as a Green Party candidate.
New times, a new millennium, and perhaps a new David Farrell. Back in Ontario, he was contacted by indie music promoter Joe Wood. The industry needs a news source again. The Record is history, RPM is gone, and there’s no single website that gives anyone any information at all.
Why not chat with Cliff Hunt, Wood suggested? Hunt, former band manager, music entrepreneur, and then COO of music tech company Yangaroo, offered seed money to help Farrell launch FYI (Farrell Yangaroo Inc.)
With a small amount of capital to launch another music trade publication, Farrell’s next call was to Slaight Communications’ CEO Gary Slaight whom he’d known since the ’70s.
Slaight immediately gave the thumbs up to the idea and offered to be the principal backer of the venture – an endorsement from which he has never wavered, even when the two of them butt heads like 20-year-olds arguing over the same girl.
Now, 10 years later, Gary Slaight continues as FYI’s principal backer – ostensibly the publisher, he has allowed Farrell full rein over the site’s editorial content without a shred of interference.
For his part, Farrell is more than grateful. “I have been given the freedom to write about what I think is important and express my views without interference, and in any age this is remarkable,” Farrell says. “Gary is neither a writer nor a publisher -but he has been a godsend.
“For the better part of my life, I’ve been a journalist who has taken the task seriously. Sometimes it means taking on powerful forces; sometimes it affords me the opportunity to say what needs to be said, or say what I want to say.
“Sometimes I annoy, cajole, push; but without a shadow of a doubt, I say – without any hesitation – that the writing process has never been haphazard, thoughtless or intentionally flammable. Words to me are like precious gold and the thought that goes into what I write has always been measured by fact and reason.”
And Farrell’s career has had its bizarre moments, even though he rarely writes (or even talks) about them. He’s spent a night at The Plaza in NYC with Led Zeppelin, protected from a bust by NYC cops paid to stop anyone entering the suite; he interviewed Blondie while inhaling Thai stick in Lounge 22 at the Windsor Arms in Toronto, all the time and trying not to fall in love with Debbie Harry.
He vaguely recalls getting drunk on corn whiskey with Howlin’ Wolf and howling with Richie Yorke at an after-party concert with Procol Harum in Stratford, Ontario. And Farrell also recalls, with a shudder, spending two days in the studio writing a feature about Styx, a band that loathed each other at the time even more than he hated their music.
Those stories are a counterpoint to an extraordinary career that has involved writing more mundane stories – keeping the record straight about exceptional people, extroverts, and introverts. The music business in Canada, Farrell tells you, is a tight-knit community of people who are creative, sometimes explosive, and always coping – every day of their lives – with constant change.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO ATTEND ANY INTERNATIONAL MUSIC CONVENTION THIS YEAR… Make it CMW 2018 – Where Music Means Business!