Ian Lihou remembers the exact moment he first heard the Beatles. He was sitting in the kitchen of his family home near Campbell River, when “Please please me” started playing from the speakers of their radio. Even though he was only six years old at the time, he recalls his brother saying, “Mom, that’s the Beatles.”
Music has struck a chord with Lihou ever since.
“Immediately, I understood why they were so much bigger and better than everything else. They’ve continued to be my go-to,” he said, sitting in front of the iconic Abbey Road poster in Ring System Music Studio.
“Music has always been a part of my everyday life,” Lihou said.
His current set includes five days of teaching his young students in Ring System Music Studio. Saturdays he practices with his own band, then on Sundays it’s back to rehearsals with his students as they fine-tune for their next concert. In his downtime, he likes to listen to his extensive record collection. He loves going camping, and even then he’ll bring along his guitar.
“I haven’t not had a band or a music project for probably 35 years.”
That’s the same amount of time Lihou has been in Prince Rupert.
In January of 1983, Lihou and his older brother were hired to put a band together for TJ’s Cabaret. The gig was meant to last 10 weeks. Then two more. Opportunities just kept popping up.
While TJ’s Cabaret has long since burned down, Lihou became a permanent fixture in Prince Rupert’s music scene.
When asked how many instruments he can play, Lihou said, “Well? None.” Then he laughs. “I play guitar and bass guitar. I can dabble in keyboards and drums — all kinds of instruments. I play horn, I can play trumpet and trombone.”
Professionally he mostly played the bass guitar and sang.
Ask him how many bands he’s played in and he’s likely to laugh again.
“I’ve played with almost every musician who’s played in Prince Rupert,” he said. He can’t count them all.
At a Summerfest in Smithers years ago, someone asked him why all of the musicians from Rupert played together. Each band from the coastal city that went up had a member — or more — who played with at least one other band during the music fest. The stage was a rotation of Rupertites, and it was hard to keep up with who belonged to which group.
“In Rupert, everyone plays with everyone. Whatever makes the song better,” he said. “That spirit’s always been prevalent here. I relish that.”
One of his lasting marks on the Prince Rupert music scene is how many young musicians he’s helped grow under the spotlight. Every year, his students put on the show of the season for the Jingle Bell Rock charity concert.
After the first Christmas concert in the Tom Rooney Playhouse, Lihou had a dream for his students to perform on a bigger stage — in the Lester Centre Performing Arts Centre.
Since then, the young talent take centre stage every Christmas, giving an outstanding performance and giving back to the community. All of the proceeds raise money for the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal. Likewise, their year-end Rock Stock concert donates all of its proceeds to the Lester Centre. The next Rock Stock is May 26.
“They’re great causes, but almost more important than that, the kids thrive when they are given the opportunity to play,” Lihou said. “All of that camaraderie and feeling of belonging that they get from being a part of this. It has ramifications outside of this studio and outside of the Lester Centre.”
These days, his favourite place to be during a performance is standing on the side of the stage, watching his students give their all. Then, after the final applause has rung out, they get to see the rewards whether it’s how many more people the Salvation Army was able to feed or the new equipment at the arts centre.
“They get better all of the time — you can see it in their eyes,” Lihou said. “They have proven to themselves now that they can pull this off. It’s not just simply playing songs.”