Jill Daum and her husband John Mann, lead singer of Spirit of the West, pose for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, April 29, 2016. Mann, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 52, died Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Jill Daum and her husband John Mann, lead singer of Spirit of the West, pose for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, April 29, 2016. Mann, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 52, died Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

John Mann, singer and songwriter of group Spirit of the West dead at 57

Mann died peacefully in Vancouver on Wednesday from early onset Alzheimer’s

John Mann, lead singer and songwriter for Vancouver’s beloved Celtic-inflected rock band Spirit of the West, has died. He was 57.

Eric Alper, the band’s publicist, says Mann died peacefully in Vancouver on Wednesday from early onset Alzheimer’s, the disease with which he was diagnosed several years ago.

“Surrounded by friends and loving family until the end, all were reminded of John’s rich legacy,” Alper said in a release.

“He was a potent force in music, acting — onstage, in movies and on television, and was world renowned as a songwriter.

“As well, he was a foresightful activist and charitable figure for several worthwhile organizations. His work will resound long after his untimely passing.”

A four-time Juno nominee for his work with Spirit of the West, Mann and his band became underground heroes for their politically savvy, musically diverse songwriting, which fused traditional strains of folk, Celtic and turn-of-the-’90s alt-rock.

In his later years, Mann survived cancer — and wrote about it — only to suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s, though he determinedly continued performing as he faced the condition.

Mann had two children, son Harlan and daughter Hattie, with his wife, the playwright Jill Daum.

Born in Calgary, Mann initially shifted to Vancouver to study theatre at Langara College’s Studio 58.

In 1983, he first hooked up with Geoffrey Kelly and J. Knutson and formed the trio Eavesdropper, though they would change their name to Spirit of the West by the time they independently released their self-titled debut in 1984.

More attention was drawn by the group’s sophomore record, 1986’s “Tripping Up the Stairs.” With all songwriting credits split evenly among the trio, the record was an eclectic stunner, with several songs built around traditional Scottish and Irish jigs.

In 1988, the band — with Hugh McMillan replacing the departed J. Knutson — solidified its reputation with the acclaimed “Labour Day.”

The wryly titled breakup tune “Political” — credited to Mann alone — gave the band its first real hit, and the band’s third album went on to draw both their first Juno nomination and the interest of major labels.

Spirit of the West signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1989, and followed with “Save This House” the following year, eventually scoring the band its first platinum album.

Their sound evolved perhaps even more dramatically with 1991’s “Go Figure.”

Their first album with a drummer (Vince Ditrich), “Go Figure” funnelled the band’s rootsy influences into a significantly harder-rocking framework, with several songs taking aim at former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Even “Political” was re-recorded here, newly jolted by electronics, and some fans resisted — a London, Ont., audience petitioned the band to perform the original version, for instance.

While Spirit of the West’s evolution toward rock did rankle some, they’d never been more popular. They struck platinum again with 1993’s “Faithlift,” tackling issues as heavy as riots, the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and Yellowknife’s Giant Mine explosion — and earning their best-selling record in the process.

Spirit of the West remained prolific even to diminishing commercial returns, releasing three albums over the next three years.

As the band wound down and eventually went on hiatus, Mann kept busy.

He rekindled his long on-hold acting career, eventually scoring roles on “Stargate SG-1,” “Smallville,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Intelligence.”

In 2002, he went solo with “Acoustic Kitty,” and would release two more contemplative solo records in 2009 (“December Looms”) and 2014.

That last record, “The Waiting Room,” tackled Mann’s long fight with colorectal cancer.

He learned he was sick in 2009, and spent months confined to a hospital bed. He’d fully recovered by 2011.

Sadly, that was not the end of Mann’s suffering.

In September 2014 he made public his diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In a note on his website, he said the diagnosis was not a shock because he’d been harbouring certain “fears and suspicions.”

“But I don’t want to spend any more energy trying to hide my symptoms,” he said. “I don’t want to feel embarrassed. I want to accept what has happened and live. I will continue to make music and I will continue to do shows.”

He added that he would use an iPad to help with lyrics for his shows, and he would accept musical accompaniment from friends.

“My Spirit of the West bandmates have circled me with care,” he added, “and we will forge ahead as we’ve been doing the last 30 some odd years with humour and friendship, playing our hearts out.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

Northern Health announced on Dec. 1 holiday changes to the medical travel bus schedule for December and January 2021. (Photo: supplied)
Holiday schedule changes for Northern Health Connections bus

N.H. announces transportation time changes from Prince Rupert to Prince George

A Water Quality Advisory is still in affect on Dec. 1 in Prince Rupert after being in place for a month. (Black Press file photo)
Water Quality Advisory still in place for Prince Rupert

High turbidity is creating risky drinking water in Prince Rupert

Pea sized hail rained from the skies in Prince Rupert on Nov. 30 leaving roads covered in a sheet of ice. (Photo; K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Large hail caused icy conditions in Prince Rupert

High wind warnings in effect for North Coast and Haida Gwaii

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Business groups have been advocating for years that local approvals for construction in B.C. are too long and restricted, and that B.C.’s outdates sales tax deter business investment. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents worried about COVID-19 deficit, business survey finds

Respondents support faster local approvals, value added tax

Most Read