Viva la Royal Albert

New documentary traces the history of famed Winnipeg music venue

  • Call to Arms producer Jeff Newman (left) and writer/director Randy Frykas (right) both performed in bands that played at The Royal Albert. – Tyler Funk

Disgusting, gritty, iconic, legendary – the Royal Albert Arms has been called a lot of things in its almost 100-year history. Now a new documentary sheds some light on what makes the hotel and bar both reviled and revered.

Produced by Jeff Newman and written, directed, filmed and edited by Randy Frykas, Call to Arms: The Story of The Royal Albert debuts tonight (Thursday, Oct. 1) on MTS TV’s Winnipeg on Demand.

“The Albert is quite hidden in the grand scheme of Winnipeg. There’s a large majority of people who don’t know what goes on there,” Frykas said. “The best bands aren’t always playing the MTS Centre or the Burton Cummings Theatre. There’s these talented musicians that take the stage at the Albert every night.”

The 29-year-old filmmaker, who has edited more than 30 documentaries – including last year’s Comeback Kid DVD Through the Noise – jumped at the chance to make the doc.

“The Albert has such a rich history and so many cool things have happened there,” he said. “I’m so lucky that I got to be the one to tell the story.”

The 45-minute documentary traces the venue’s history from its construction in 1913 as a blue-collar hotel to it’s establishment in the ‘80s as one of the places to see local punk acts like The Stretch Marks, Personality Crisis and The Unwanted. Since then, everyone from Green Day to Dave Grohl to Sloan to Nickelback has played the Albert.

Call to Arms is quick to point out that whether it’s established touring acts like Andrew W.K. or Winnipeg bands that are just getting their start, the Albert doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who gets to grace its stage.

The thing I learned the most was just to let things happen – be ready for anything, because at the Albert, anything can happen.

Randy Frykas, filmmaker

Fittingly, the doc includes footage of, and interviews with, Winnipeg bands like Hot Live Guys, Hide Your Daughters, High Five Drive and Electro Quarterstaff.

The documentary also covers the grisly murder that took place in one of the hotel rooms in 2003, as well as the controversy that erupted when the hotel changed ownership in 2007.

Frykas shot more than 70 hours of footage for what was initially supposed to be a 30-minute special. Whenever he wasn’t sure what to do next, he would just head to the Albert and strike up a conversation with someone.

“The thing I learned the most was just to let things happen – be ready for anything, because at the Albert, anything can happen,” he said. “Whether the roof was leaking or people were doing stage dives or people were climbing on the ceiling, I had to be ready for anything that could happen and just go with it when it did.

“I just let the Albert tell the story.”

Producer Jeff Newman, who played the venue in the late ‘90s while in the band Debauchery, said the biggest thing he learned from the documentary is the impact the Albert has made on Winnipeg and its music scene.

“There’s a strong sense of community there and people genuinely care for that place,” he said, mentioning a scene in which Royal Albert general manager Natalie Sharma gets teary-eyed while talking about why she loves the venue so much.

“It’s really representative of how meaningful that place is to a lot of people.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 1, 2009)

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