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The crime of the century? Why a 1979 Halifax Supertramp concert was cancelled

Rick Tarkka was at his home in Lawrencetown, N.S., on the morning of July 31, 1979, when he heard some crushing news on the radio.

The dial was tuned to Halifax station C100 and it was revealed that rock group Supertramp’s sold-out show scheduled for that evening at Halifax Metro Centre was cancelled due to threats against the band.

“This was just devastating,” said Tarkka, who was 15 at the time. “You know, my heroes were supposed to be coming.”

The cancellation even managed to attract the attention of The New York Daily News.

Supertramp performs in Winnipeg on July 9, 1979, three weeks before they were to play in Halifax. (CBC Archives)

At the time, Supertramp was one of the hottest bands on the planet.

Their Breakfast in America album had come out just months before and they toured across North America and Europe in support of it. Tracks from that album such as The Logical SongGoodbye Stranger and Breakfast in America became classic rock staples.

Rick Tarkka was 15 when the highlight of his summer was supposed to be a Supertramp concert in Halifax. (Submitted by Rick Tarkka)

Too young to work, Tarkka had spent the summer looking forward to the show, counting down the days until it happened. His dad had bought two tickets and Tarkka was going to attend the show with a friend.

“We didn’t have the internet in those days, so you would just speculate on, ‘What’s the show going to be like? Oh, I heard rumours that they play this, are they going to play that?'” he said.

Tarkka wasn’t the only person disappointed.

Paul Taylor of New Glasgow, N.S., was supposed to work at the show as a roadie. Then 17, he left home at 6 a.m. and arrived in Halifax around 8 a.m.

When he showed up at the arena to report for work, he was told the concert had been cancelled.

“I said, ‘Gee, I just came from New Glasgow to work for the show,'” said Taylor, who later spent part of his career in the music business as a lighting designer and director.

Supertramp’s 1979 tour was in support of their album, Breakfast in America, which was nominated for three Grammys. (Robert Short/CBC)

He recalls seeing a distraught concert promoter in the background. “Ten-thousand ticket sales just went out the door,” said Taylor.

Annapolis Valley resident Phil Vogler planned to drive to Halifax for the show, but heard the news before departing.

“I can’t use the words I want to use, but I was mad,” said Vogler. “I was disappointed.”

At the time, rumours swirled about the reason for the cancellation. Vogler remembers hearing there was a threat from the IRA, while Tarkka remembers it being described as a bomb threat.

“Not that people don’t have conspiracy theories now, but there was people who were making all kinds of stuff up there thinking, ‘The album broke bigger than they thought, I think they’re probably going to be playing in Philadelphia,'” said Tarkka.

With concerts resuming amid Nova Scotia’s reopening, we have an odd story about a Halifax concert that didn’t happen. Supertramp was set to play in the city in 1979, if not for what some might call: the crime of the century. The CBC’s Richard Woodbury reports. 2:44

Why the concert was cancelled

The truth is someone called A&M Records in Toronto, which was Supertramp’s record company in Canada, and made death threats.

Group manager David Margeson told the Canadian Press that “a guy from Halifax” called in a threat, saying things like “we’ll blow you away” and “the only true artists are dead.”

“It was the first time we’ve ever run into threats,” said Margeson. “It freaked us out somewhat.”

Saxophonist John Helliwell performs on stage in Paris on Oct. 18, 2010. (Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images)

The decision to cancel the show was made by the band members on the day of the show, saxophonist John Helliwell told CBC News in an email.

“We took a vote when we were in Moncton N.B., and the consensus was to cancel, due to the dramatic nature of the threats, which were only made known to the musicians on that day,” he said.

For fans who missed the Halifax show, the band put out a live album in 1980 that was recorded on the Breakfast in America tour.

Supertramp returned to play a show in Halifax in 1985. By then, Roger Hodgson, who sang on hits such as DreamerBreakfast in America and Give a Little Bit, had departed the band.

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