Circumstances around a globally popular band suddenly bidding farewell, arguably at the height of prowess, beg explanation. In the case of Canadian act Saga, it was a collective lifestyle decision vs. anything to do with music. And as singer/composer Michael Sadler notes, the proverbial “final chapter” might be history yet the door is ajar for any number of meaningful epilogues: one-off concerts, perhaps even a new studio album.
Options remain in play apart from touring again, as Saga made its last official curtain call during the recent (Feb. 3–8) Cruise to the Edge floating progressive music festival.
Looking back, it was quite a run. The band’s 40-year career encompassed a staggering 22 studio albums with seven charting singles, eight live recordings, 11 compilation releases and six DVDs. Breaking internationally on the cusp of MTV’s early-1980s rise to mainstream influence, Saga was among the world’s first progressive groups to enjoy widespread video exposure. Songs “Don’t Be Late,” “Wind Him Up” and “On the Loose”—the latter two embellished by playfully melodramatic video sketches—became enduring examples of Saga’s infectiously melodic brand of symphonic pomp.
Despite the group’s impressive longevity (including a late four-year stint without Sadler), Saga never achieved the universal appeal of fellow Canadian exports like Rush or Bachman Turner Overdrive. This is puzzling given longstanding European support for its music, particularly in Germany.
The band’s lack of traction in the U.S. was particularly baffling, its last full American tour occurring in 1986. Was Saga’s blend of classic rock, symphonic progressive and pop too homogenized for American tastes? Among diehard progheads its style perhaps was too harmonious, too “accessible.”
At the center of it all from 1977-on was front man Sadler (save for his aforementioned break from 2007–2011), along with founding mates Ian Crichton (guitar) and Jim Crichton (bass/guitar/keyboards). Rounding out Saga’s final lineup were longtime keyboardist Jim Gilmour and drummer Mike Thorne, a relative newcomer.
This writer first encountered Michael Sadler on the inaugural Cruise to the Edge in 2013. He and band mates were reeling from the tragic accidental death of Jim Crichton’s son, which occurred immediately preceding the cruise. In Jim’s absence Saga pulled out from playing as planned but remaining members elected to stay aboard for “Storytellers” question/answer sessions and impromptu lounge gigs. The show must go on in some form, even if it wasn’t onstage—fans were owed as much, they reasoned.
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