Big Toe

By: Alasdair M. Brooks

The classic St. Mary's College of Maryland (S.M.C.) band Big Toe was formed in Autumn '89 by the creative minds of Geoff Wright, Josh Shaffer and Alasdair Brooks, the latter a former member of Classical Ugandan Music. Everyone (band members included) expected "Toe" to die the rapid death that it probably deserved at that point, but after a few muddled early practices the three founders were joined by bassist Gerard "Chuck" Rainville and Ted Chain stalwart Keith Richmond. This formative lineup only performed rarely and frequently with guest musicians who at this point were there largely to hide the deficiencies of most of the members other than Alasdair and Keith (both of whom had actually played their instruments before joining the band). This lineup was also responsible for the most shambolic version of "Louie Louie" ever performed and for starting the rivalry with the "Legiondary John Renal Band." The Renal Band shared a bassist with Big Toe and a drummer with Chain band Absolute Value, but is chiefly notable for having been fronted by John Renal - quite possibly the most risibly unself-aware musician ever to grace S.M.C..

After trombonist Long Josh Shaffer left for Oxford, he was replaced by trumpeter and occasional guitarist John Irvine who - gasp - was a talented musician. At this point, Big Toe began to resemble an actual band, with original material written by Alasdair who was left free to concentrate on vocals after the addition of Cathy Ray Weeks (now married to Geoff and named Cathy Weeks Wright) on keyboards. This was the classic Toe lineup. High points were the "Talent Orgy" where the hitherto untouchable John Renal Band were beaten into second place and the notorious Fisherman's Inn show. Ted was also involved with Toe at this point, and co-engineered the classic bootlegs "Ska'd Live" and "Ska'd for Life."

Just as Toe was set to conquer S.M.C., Alasdair and John jumped ship. John was replaced by returning co-founder Josh Shaffer while Alasdair, in one of those personnel moves best described as eccentric, was replaced by Heather Flower. Heather was clearly the better singer, but whether she was better for Toe is open to question. Big Toe now entered a period of being the most popular band on campus, but without Alasdair and John the band was coasting on past achievements. Toe was still chosen to represent S.M.C. in a major college band competition. The songs selected were the Alasdair-penned classics "Catch me if you Can" and "Kill Yourself." But tellingly, the former sounded like an escapee from the 4AD label and the latter featured bizarre co-vocals from the melody impaired Rainville.

More line-up changes followed in Spring '91. Cathy moved to bass, Chuck moved to co-lead guitar (with Geoff), and Jen Maser was added on drums. Keith (briefly on saxophone) and Josh both left early in the Spring in increasing despair at Chuck's insistence that Big Toe actually practice regularly and generally behave like a proper band. Even a brief one show return by Alasdair couldn't paper over the cracks. Only Geoff was left of the original members other than Chuck and alone he wasn't enough to control Chuck's increasingly serious attitude. After a grand finale in April '91, featuring all members past and present except Alasdair (who was rumoured to have joined a bizarre religious cult but was actually working as an archaeologist - no, really), the Toe broke up.

Where are they now? Alasdair Brooks kept crossing the Atlantic and was briefly engaged to the anti-Toe Anna Kenney. He came to his senses and is currently a professional archaeologist in Central Virginia. He is now working on his solo album, working title "Bugger me stupid with a shared needle." Geoff Wright and Cathy Weeks married in October 1994 and moved to Alaska, in part due to Geoff's increasingly radical anarchist beliefs. They are rumoured to be forming a band called "Skanchorage." Josh Shaffer is a reporter for the newspaper in the Maryland Eastern Shore town of Salisbury. He writes stories about the widows of Moose and Elk lodge members. Keith Richmond has enjoyed some modest success as a producer of 4AD soundalikes. He is said to be considering some sort of collaboration with Ted. Heather Flower's current whereabouts are unknown. None of the other members of Big Toe are particularly bothered by her disappearance. Chuck Rainville, Jen Maser and John Irvine are three quarters of the Baltimore circuit stalwarts "the Jennifers." The Jennifers finished second in the all-male category of MTV's best unsigned band contest - we are not making this up. Jen's feelings about been passed off as a man are however, unknown.

"The Big Toe Story" written (in an utterly biased and self-serving manner) by Alasdair Brooks 7/3/95.


Kill Yourself (live)
Ghost Train

Member of the Ted Chain

Copyright ©1996, Alasdair Brooks <>
Copyright ©1996, The Ted Chain