The band Agent C and Top Secret at the 2016 edition of the annual Blues for the Bank benefit concert, which raises funds for Surrey Food Bank’s Tiny Bundles program. (File photo: Gord Goble)

Chris Thornley’s urge to play historic blues bar led to annual benefit concert in Surrey

Blues for the Bank, launched in 2006, returns to Guildford hotel ballroom on Jan. 20

SURREY — One of Surrey’s longest-running benefit concerts got its start because Chris Thornley wanted a reason to perform music at the fabled Yale blues bar in Vancouver.

It was 2006 and Thornley, a graphic designer and part-time musician, was about to celebrate “one of those big milestone birthdays,” although he won’t say which one.

“I decided, yes, we’re going to play the Yale, so I went down there and talked them into hiring our band to do a fundraiser for the (Surrey) food bank, which required a little bit of fancy talking since I didn’t really have a band,” explained Thornley, a singer and harmonica player.

Recruiting some musicians was the next step, and he invited Bruce Hayne (keyboards), Dave Gilbert (drums), old pal Kenn Moyer (guitar), Brian Linnett (sax), Bill Kudenchuk (guitar) and John Irving (bass).

Chris Thornley sings at the 2015 edition of the Blues for the Bank benefit concert. (File photo: Gord Goble)

“Agent C was a nickname Bruce had given me,” Thornley said of Hayne, his former business partner and current Surrey city councillor, “and the Top Secret part was because the band really was top-secret.”

And so, the very first Blues for the Bank benefit concert was held on Dec. 5, 2006.

“We did the gig and we raised, I don’t know, a couple thousand dollars for the food bank, at the Yale, and we actually had to, like, post a bond with them – a cheque for $500 in case nobody showed up for the event,” Thornley recalled with a laugh. “And the morning after our event I got a call from the Yale saying, ‘That was fantastic, can you do it again?’ And we’ve been doing it ever since. We went back to the Yale the second year, and that was pretty much it there. We tried a couple other places over the years, but we found a real home at the Sheraton in Guildford.”

• READ MORE: Logo á gogo: Surrey looks to Chris Thornley for new looks, including Surrey Board of Trade rebranding, from April 2016.

The hotel on 104th Avenue will host another Blues for the Bank event on Saturday, Jan. 20, with Thornley and band again taking the stage, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Some of the musicians, including Thornley, played charity gigs years ago as Keith Diamond and the Rockets, before Blues for the Bank was born as fundraiser/party.

“The original bunch from 2006, we’re all there but one guy (Irving),” Thornley said proudly. “And we’ve also added Jim (DeKleer) on violin, Terry (Girard) on sax and Jeff (Nelson) on bass. Jeff used to play with us in Keith Diamond and the Rockets, and do did Brian (Linnett) and Dave (Gilbert). It’s also been great to have Angela (Clarke) as our female vocalist, who is wonderful. The core of the band has stayed the same since 2006.”


Other players at this year’s gig include Thornley’s son Patrick on percussion and special guests, Aequitas Social Justice Choir.

“That’s something I’m so excited about, you have no idea,” Thornley said of the Surrey-based choir. “Their name is a Latin word for justice and equality, so it’s great to have them at the event this year. I have seen them perform, and we’re going to start our set performing with them, for three numbers, and after that we’ll just kick right into our dancing type set. We’ll have a break and they’ll do a couple more songs, along with the shortest of speeches.”

Tickets are $35 for this year’s Blues for the Bank, with every cent going to Surrey Food Bank’s Tiny Bundles program. Tickets can be purchased at, or call 604-501-5566.

Over the years, the event has raised close to $50,000, according to Thornley, who today runs Thornley Creative Communications in Fleetwood.

For a quarter-century, he’s been a supporter of the food bank.

“I believe really strongly in the food bank,” Thornley noted. “It’s grass-roots, especially the Surrey Food Bank, and there’s a direct line to the end user. And you know, it’s not getting better. We’re now dealing with the working poor, people who are working their butts off and they come home at the end of the day and have enough money to pay their rent or buy food, but not both, you know.”

Blues for the Bank is always a good time, with close to 200 people there to have fun for a good cause.

“We usually sell out, and we’re on the way there again,” said Thornley.

“I’ve been to some events where someone gets up and starts haranguing people for money, and that can be very uncomfortable, so we don’t do that,” he added. “And you don’t know who worked really hard to scrape together that $35 for ticket, so it’s all good.”

Sponsors of the event include Thornley’s design firm, Envision Financial, Surrey Board of Trade, the Now-Leader and Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.

“A lot of people don’t know this,” Thornley noted, “but John Kearns (the hotel general manager) donates the room, the stage, the lighting, the pipe and drape, and he also buys a table – at his place, his own venue, which I think is really cool. They also donate a dollar off of every adult-beverage drink, and they do so much for us, it’s amazing. They also do a special menu for our event, to class it up a bit.”

As for Thornley’s part-time music career, he and his band do it mostly for fun.

“But we will accept paying gigs,” he said with a laugh. “I love it, and I also have a little trio I work with, The Speakeasy Trio. We call ourselves that because we want to play loud enough so people can hear us, but not so loud that they can’t talk and hear each other. That’s our goal, so sometimes it’s just background (music) and sometimes people get into the music and we end up being the centre of attention.”

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