The Hippo


Oct 22, 2019








Courtesy photo.

Mike Girard’s Big Swinging Thing

When: Saturday, May 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 and $40 at 

Buzz all year
Rocking holiday band morphs into Big Swinging Thing

By Michael Witthaus

 Featuring big band versions of rock favorites, the annual Christmas Buzz Ball is a treat for both local music fans and the performers on stage. Along with show leader Steve LeClaire and his band the Tornado Alley Horns, Fools front man Mike Girard has played in all five of the holiday shows. When the 2014 edition wrapped, the two wished out loud for a year-round version of the event.

“I’ve always wanted to have a really big band playing rock ’n’ roll, and he said he’d be interested,” Girard recalled in a recent phone interview. “I thought this was just happy talk … six months later he’d found 13 horns players.” 
The zany singer offered his Fools bandmates as a rhythm section, LeClaire recruited a pair of Worcester singers quickly dubbed The Jewels, and Mike Girard’s Big Swinging Thing was born.
The massive band debuted last summer to a sold-out crowd at Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury Beach, Mass. Their set includes big band covers of AC/DC, Green Day and the Stones — “Rocks Off” is a revved-up highlight — and movie soundtrack selections like “Goldfinger” and the theme from Blazing Saddles
“You feel like you want to grab your popcorn when you hear the beginning,” Girard said of the latter song. “There’s a big MGM buildup. … It’s great fun.”
Although he’s always ebullient, it’s clear Girard is especially savoring the current project. 
“It’s such a great time; really,” he said. “Singing in front of this band is like driving a freight train down a sidewalk and being able to make 90-degree turns — it’s just a great bunch of horn players.”
An upcoming show at Manchester’s Palace Theatre will be the band’s fifth; given the scale, it’s not like they can play every night of the week. 
“You can’t just go into any club with a 21-person band; most of them don’t have a dressing room big enough for that,” Girard said with a laugh. “We wanted it to be an event situation, and if it means only playing four times in our first year, so be it.”
He’s looking forward to returning to the Palace, site of the first three Buzz Balls. 
“When I was a kid growing up in Ipswich, every town had a miniature version of that classical style; great sight lines, no bad seats,” Girard said. “We’re really hoping to bring out some surprises for that night, because I want it to feel like the circus is coming to town.” 
With tongue ever in cheek, Girard noted that show’s scale presents a few challenges. 
“I finally just learned everyone’s name a while back,” he said. “For quite a few rehearsals, everyone was called ‘man’ — as in, ‘How’s it going, man?’ It’s so unfair because of course they all know me — the band has my name it!”
The Fools continue apace; in 2015, the band entered in its fifth decade, anchored by original members Girard and guitarist Rich Bartlett. The Big ’80s days of label deals (two albums with EMI) and national tours with The Knack and other top acts are past, but they remain a regional favorite; recent New Year’s Eve and April Fool’s Day shows at Blue Ocean Music Hall were both sellouts.
Girard documented his time as a front man in Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales. The 2010 biography included a hilarious recollection of the band’s severely abbreviated time opening for Van Halen. (Spoiler alert: Don’t show up David Lee Roth, and be aware that backstage food is headliner-only.)
“I feel very fortunate because I’ve been playing with all these friends over the years and so many things can break up a band: no money, too much money, no wives, too many wives, whatever,” Girard said. “But I’ve known these guys since I was 5 years old, so there’s no secrets at all. We’d probably have a bowling team if we didn’t have a band.”
Does Girard have another book in him? 
“I keep threatening to, and the publishers keep calling,” he said, adding that though another one about his band isn’t appealing, he might go there. “I sort of want to do something with time travel or science fiction, but I suppose it could be something about the year and a half that we broke up. I lie so easily.”

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