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Posts Tagged ‘The Rheostatics’

Ignored 191: Homestretch at the Horseshoe Tavern

In Graphic on October 4, 2018 at 12:09 am

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Ignored 163: Semi-regulars

In Graphic on November 23, 2017 at 1:52 am

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Ignored 104: Big edge

In Graphic on August 18, 2016 at 1:59 am

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Ignored 63: Forever Gone

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

I used an iPhone to have a chat with Nick Smash, author of the new(ish) Toronto post-punk memorandum Alone and Gone.

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Crammed with photos and accounts of GTA musical weirdness from 1979-1983, this book gives a seldom-seen peek at what New Wave and post-punk looked like for Toronto concert goers three decades ago. Don Pyle’s book covering 1976-1980 is also great BTW.

The scene birthed the Rheostatics, Fifth Column and a slew of other acts lost to history. Nick has done his best to bring them back.

Here are some words…

Cam: First question: when did you have the initial idea to write this book? What were the seeds?

Nick: The story started when my brother put on the Toronto Calling exhibition here in Toronto in 2010. I started writing some thoughts about those days and it just kind of organically snowballed.

Cam: What kind of crowds did those exhibits attract? Assume a mix of people from the original scene and “curious newcomers”?

Nick: There were great cross section of familiar faces, many I hadn’t seen in 30 years and quite a few ‘youngsters’. it was great to see an interest spanning the generations. I think Rick Winkle from the Vital Sines was at there, Dave Howard from the Dave Howard Singers was there plus the lead singer from the Curse was there.

Cam:  I know the collection starts in 1978. Was that when you and your brudda Simon starting going to show or rather, when you started taking your camera to shows?

Nick: The Clash at the Rex Danforth Theatre here in Toronto that we really started taking photos. Before that, I was working at Music World on Yonge Street and was enjoying all the free tickets to gigs at Maple Leaf Gardens. Simon was still in school then. He ‘borrowed’ my ID to see the Ramones at the El Mocambo in February 1979 and that changed his life. Not sure if working at music world changed mine all that much!

Cam: Did venues have a “no cameras” policy in those days? If so, how did you sneak your camera in? What were you shooting with?

Nick: As as “no cameras” are concerned, we would just show up with the camera at the door, look a bit pathetic, sad and broke.. and hey presto! Some of the photos in the early days, we would have to sit there for two or three hours so we didn’t lose that fantastic angle. The camera itself was our father’s bashed-up old Canon. Manual focus exposure. A nightmare to use.

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Cam: How may shots did you have from that initial Clash show? Assume the room couldn’t have been that large?

Nick: Actually, it was probably 2000 capacity. The Rex was an old cinema. We have the better part of 36 exposures I think from that show. The best ones are in the book. As you might imagine, it was chaos down the front so taking photos was a challenging concept.

Cam: How quickly did you get the photos developed after the show? For “the youths”, the idea of having to be choosy with your snapshots would be completely foreign. What did you initially do with the photos once you got them developed?

Nick: We processed and printed everything in the basement at home a day or two after each gig. Because film and chemicals were expensive, we would jam sometimes two or three gigs on one roll of 36 exposure film. Sometimes, we knew in advance that a band had a great live show so we would stock up with a couple of rolls of film. Once we had prints some would go into my fanzine, Smash It Up. Some we would sell at The Record Peddler. Eventually, some we nailed up on the walls of The Edge.

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Cam: Who were your allies in the scene? Assume you were friendly with the Garys if you’re nailing stuff to their walls? Did you ever get special access or credentials to take photos?

Nick: All the staff at The Edge were really helpful and supportive. We never had any special passes or credentials as they weren’t needed at this point. i think the Garys and the bands were just grateful somebody was there showing an interest and wanting to take photos.

Cam: What were some of the more interesting rooms you shot at? Locations that people mightn’t even know as concert venues these days?

Nick: There is a shortlist of venues which only lasted a short while. The Exile On Main Street, 100 Bond Street, The Dash Bhagat Temple, The Beverley Tavern, The Cabana Room, Larry’s Hideaway…all gone now. they were all good places to shoot bands as the audience was always right up close to the stage. The bigger venues like The Concert Hall, The Music Hall were always really full of course and made it more of a challenge to get some good images. Sometimes you struck gold and were allowed by the Promoters (usually the Garys) complete access to the stage and the band.

Cam: Switching gears to local bands, who were some of your favourite Toronto outfits of that era? Artists we may have heard of and artists, we may have not.

Nick: I loved Tyranna, Drastic Measures, the Points. I did like Teenage Head but thought they had become more of an established rock band by this time. You can only do so many gigs at the Knob Hill Hotel before you become tired and boring. Oooh controversy!!! The Secrets album, I thought was one of the best from this time. The, of course, there was a whole new generation of bands from 1980: Diners Club, Vital Sines, Breeding Ground, Rent Boys, Youth Youth Youth, Fifth Column; all incredibly exciting and FUN!

Cam: Breeding Ground were kinda dark, gloomy, goth-y when they started out, no? one band there’s very little on the Internet about, from what i can see.

Nick Breeding Ground were very Bauhaus in the early days which yes, might have been a bit forced and self conscious. They matured really quickly though and evolved into a band that would have fit nicely between U2 and Love And Rockets…in 1985. The Canadian music business just kind of ignored them hoping they would go away. They should have come from somewhere else.

Cam: What were some of your early memories of Fifth Column? Certainly a band whose influence is still playing out today, directly or indirectly.

Nick: Fifth Column were a sparkling jab and a shot of brave boldness. I remember they threw everybody off the scent. They were punk but they weren’t; they were different and odd. Their off-kilter beats and wayward way of playing their instruments really inspired a lot of us to try different things and bring a different attitude to what we were trying to do. Their presence was huge. Caroline Azar and GB Jones’ Hide tapes sounded good then and sound even better now.

Cam: For the era you covered in the book, did bands like Teenage Head and the Diodes already seem like a different generation… that first wave of punk?

Nick: Those bands seemed to be over really as far as we were concerned. They got caught up in the major label machinery and were chewed up. We, of course, thought differently and thought we could do better.

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Cam: Who was the most surprising “big band” you got access to?

Nick: Probably the Stranglers.

Cam: What kind of access did you have to the Stranglers? they seemed kinda… surly.

Nick: The Stranglers had a scary reputation and I had managed to get myself on the stage lurking behind Jet Black‘s drum kit. I was petrified that JJ would see me and beat the shit out of me. But I’m still here and the results of that night you can see in the book.

Cam: So between 1983 and the 2010 photo exhibit, what happened to these photos? Where were they stored, displayed, etc?

Nick: The photos sat around and gathered lots of dust for 30 years. Simon’s son Rudy thought they would look great as huge posters in a gallery. The result was again, our Toronto Calling show at Steam Whistle Brewery in 2010.

Cam: Did you guys continue taking photos post-1983? And do you still to go shows today? What are you listening to these days?

Nick: We both continued to take photos just not of a lot of bands. All through the 1980s and 1990s, I went to loads of gigs and ended up working for Island records in the UK. I listen to everything as it’s my job (I run my own PR company in London) but I find it’s really tough to stay loyal to any one band as the competition for my attention is overwhelming. My fave current bands? Nadine Shah, Warpaint, Godspeed You Black Emperor…and I’m sure there’s loads of other really good things but there’s just not enough time in the day.

Visit the Alone and Gone website to make arrangements to get your own copy of the book.

Ignored 54: Do you like Blue Rodeo?

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2015 at 12:53 am

I talk to my high school pal Adam about Blue Rodeo, Neil Young dying (again), Oasis (a few times), everything and nothing.

Cam: Morbid question: of any active living musician, who will you be the most upset for when they die?

Adam: Funny you ask, as I was commenting to a buddy that Van Morrison feels like the guy to go now that Joe Cocker is gone.  That’ll be sad. I love Van and fell in love to Astral Weeks. Paul, without question.  Dylan, Simon, Bobby and Phil.  Springsteen will outlive us all. It’s hard to imagine the legends of rock passing.  It’s interesting for us to have grown up during the baby boomers 40s.  We saw their second acts and revered their first.  The 1960s, the British Invasion, the Summer of Love and then 1972.  All these things were within the same recent memory as August and Everything After (or Nevermind) is to us now. So rock had always been around. George dying devastated me. So did Jerry dying.

C: Astral Weeks is fantastic. Consistently one of my Top 10 faves. Yeah, Van is pretty enigmatic, at least in terms of his public persona. Which he barely has if he’s not touring. Neil Young dying is going to be brutal. That seems like it could be very personal to Canadians in our demo: an artist that we loved, our parents loved, a Canadian, somebody who was equally at home jamming with Booker T and the MGs, the Band or Sonic Youth. A total legend: both “Neil Young: the performer” and “Neil Young: the concept”. It’s crazy Jerry was only 53 when he died. Considering McCartney, Brian Wilson, etc. are now in their 70s.

A: Forgot Neil.  Yes. Harvest for our parents. Harvest Moon for us. BTW, that Barrie concert had nobody I wanted to see. On the plus side, the thing at Fort York looks super awesome.

C: Ya, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and I guess Modest Mouse but nothing grabs me. it’s a very contemporary line-up so I kinda give them credit for not copping out and having AC/DC headline, a la Coachella. i think we discussed it before… i find these massive outdoor concerts are more akin to “camping” than “music event”…. the bands seem almost secondary to the experience. Do you like Blue Rodeo?

A: “Lost Together” was our wedding song, and I saw them at the big Simon & Garfunkel l show at the SkyDome back in…94? Also saw them once at the Gardens, I think. 5 Days in June was a tremendous album to hit for us at that age. It was everywhere at camp, and “5 Days in May” had a fantastic video that felt a lot like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. That is my favorite Toronto 1990s thing ever, my favorite BNL song, one of the greatest covers of all-time, and a video about youthful love.  Holding hands and running away from the camera in black and white still makes me feel 18.  “Diamond Mine” is also a great song too. They hit such a creative peak back then that they got to coast on being Blue Rodeo after that. Everything sounds the same, but I’ve got no gripe with them, just not any interest for anything past their greatest hits, which I like a lot. Sometimes, I love it.

C: Ya, from 1988-1993, they were in a rare place: massively popular/stadium worthy but making music that was pretty innovative and seemed very contemporary even though in other ways, it was very old. At that time, comparisons to the Band seemed farfetched but maybe not that far off? Again, it’s crazy that a song like “5 Days in May” was something that little kids listened to and enjoyed and watched the video for on MuchMusic. For anybody who loved them in that 1988-1993, they still seem like superstars even if they’ve been on commercial autopilot for the last 20 years (assumedly… I haven’t really been paying attention although I saw them at the Amphitheatre 2-3 times during that stretch). It seems they could’ve been marketed differently and been a positioned in the Wilco/Son Volt/Whiskeytown ilk or gone ina slightly different direction and been in the Widespread Panic/String Cheese conversation? Instead, they were kind of just a notch below the Tragically Hip commercially.

A: Heard some stuff off their last album that was good.  Or was that Cuddy? Have been rewatching The Last Waltz on the topic of the Band.  Wondered about best or biggest bands with multiple singers.  Ricky, Richard, Levon. How cool it is when the song goes to the guy who sings it best?

C: I guess the Beatles introduced the “multiple singers” model? Hate to say… I automatically think of the Eagles and afro-era Don Henley behind the kit. In more recent times, I think Sloan really nailed this model. Maybe part of the reason they’re now a quarter century in. Another band where I haven’t paid attention to the last 4-5 albums but I have little doubt of their continued quality.

A: I thought about it with the Eagles too as I was reading the Simmons eagles history recap in the Grantland quarterly.  Obviously the Beatles.  I met the bass player from Sloan, the one I recognize, and asked him about the baseline on “Money City Maniacs” being the same chord trough the entire verse until the chorus.  Like “Tomorrow Never Knows”!  He was appreciative. We were with our kids at Centreville on the island.

C: Good call. I still get a bit starstruck when I see musicians in public. It’s very humanizing. Some recent sightings: Damian from Fucked Up with his kids at the ROM, Ron Sexsmith walking down College, Stephen from Lowest on the Low on the subway a bunch of times. The thing that I find funny about the Eagles in retrospect: they were essentially devoid of any humour or fun. That was a VERY serious band.

A: Very serious band. I liked the Eagles.  At least their greatest hits. Just learned “Hotel California” on the ukulele.  So much fun to play and sing/scat the dueling guitar solo.

C: I like the Eagles too. I think the “seriousness” was a 1970s thing. It’s when whoever decided that rock music wasn’t just for kids anymore. It was OK for 45 year-olds to listen to the Eagles, James Taylor et all. These were seriously artists who (apparently) had something to say. I like the Carly Simon song “Anticipation”. Here’s a good question: who are the most tense bands of all-times? Artists where the acrimony on-stage was really obvious. I’d say (at times) the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Pixies all belonged in the top three. I feel like I’ve seen some Van Morrison performance where he seems like he’d rather be anywhere else than on-stage.

A: Carly was great. And the cover of that album? Man.  That is a good question. Knee jerk answers. In no particular order: the Beatles in that picture with Yoko there.  The Beatles in that scene filming Let It Be when George says (do your best George), “Tell me what you want me to play and I’ll play it”. Oasis. The Eagles. The Wonders, from that Tom Hanks movie.

C: Oasis. Yes, good one! I think the Kinks used to brawl on-stage too. So there’s that…. I could be imagining it but I feel like the last 3-4 years, there’s been a certain demo that is yearning for Oasis and they truly are cementing themselves as one of the most beloved bands of the last 25 years. I think people took them for granted a bit. I was in Scotland last summer and this really hit home when I saw a rowdy bunch of 20-somethings collectively slurring their way through a karaoke version of “Wonderwall”. I don’t think it’s even that great a song but it somehow has infiltrated multiple generations. People LOVE it. Although maybe just in that setting, since it does lend itself well to karaoke (not many lyrics, fairly short, everybody has heard it 10,000 times).

A: I think “Wonderwall” is one of the greatest pop songs of all-time.  Certainly of the decade. I had this experience last summer when I was five weeks into working seven days a week and I was burning out.  I was walking, exhausted through a Loblaws in the west end. “Wonderwall” comes on. I start singing to myself. It gets to the chorus and after singing, “You gonna be the one that saves me”. I burst into tears and say aloud,  “That’s not a good sign”. The point I turn to as a mild breakdown last summer.  I love that song.  “1979” came out at the same time. Great song, too. The sound on the Morning Glory album is bollocks. What would Liam say?  I also love watching Noel sing “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.  Perfect song for his voice.  At the time, I thought some of their stuff was totally and completely derivative of the Beatles (see “All Around the World”, “… Anger” opening chords, every Beatles reference etc). Noel just gave an interview that Alan Cross linked to. I still do Oasis binges through seven songs. I was way too into the Dead’s Mars Hotel (and DMB) at the time to be into Oasis.

C: “1979” is indeed great and a really strange, unique single. Nothing really like it and certainly  very dissimilar to anything in the Pumpkins discography. It’s probably hard to quantify but why do you like “Wonderwall” so much? What is the broad appeal? I think it’s totally fine but a bit boring and the vocals are slightly nasally, even by Oasis standards. I do like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. Just the huge production values and drama of it. Very out of step with 1995 or whenever that came out. I always admired Oasis’ ambition, even when the quality of songs didn’t really match up. Plus Noel is probably Top 3 best musician interviews ever. I could listen to that guy talk for hours. Zero filter when he’s in the right mood.

A: I like the chords. I like the guitar intro. I kinda like it nasally on that one.  I love the way the drums come in after “back beat the word is on the street”. I love the baseline. I love the stings beefing up the baseline in the chorus.  love the chorus.  Maybe the right time of my life at 18.  Probably feels like a Beatles song.  A piece of magic.  It’s also one of those songs perfect to sing alone to.  Words you’ll just know by heart.  Oh, also I love “Live Forever”.  Learned how to play it on the uke.  Great fun.

C: Yup, fucking love that song too! Never acknowledged your BNL “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” comment but seriously, that might be my favourite cover version of all-time. As a 14-year old kid growing up on the Toronto city limits, that video perfectly captured the banality, boredom and humour of suburban Toronto perfectly. Such a tasteful, pitch-perfect performance for a band that was really young and unestablished at the time. I think too many people write them off as a joke band but at their finest, there was a lot to like with BNL. I really like the song “Jane” as well from their “difficult” second album.

A: I remember hearing million dollars in the big A&A on Yonge Street with Marc and us laughing about the real green dress that’s cruel.  The era of that tape. Good call on why the video is so pitch perfect.  The apartment looks just like my late grandmothers at York Mills and Leslie, but wasn’t.  And the power lines reminded me of the ones down by Finch.  Which they were just in Scarborough.  It definitely captured suburban Toronto.  Though their neighborhood was postwar bungalows.  I saw Paige in withrow once.

C: His coke bust is still likely in my Top 5 pieces of most shocking pieces of “music news” that I’ve ever heard. I don’t really know anything about those guys personally but that ordeal no doubt blindsided a lot of casual fans. In summary, drugs are horrible. It is telling that while Nirvana and Pearl Jam were blowing up stateside, Canada’s hottest new “modern rock” bands were the Barenaked Ladies and the Crash Test Dummies. The Odds were really solid as well. Supposedly there was a piece on CNN around that time that suggested that Canadian was in the midst of a “silly rock” revolution during that era, throwing names like Corky and the Juice Pigs and (for some reason) the Rheostatics into the mix.I could totally be imagining that last part but I think I read that somewhere.

A: Interesting.  And that (Steven Page’s) life blew up and the band broke up. That still doesn’t register for me.

C: I love the song “Try” by Blue Rodeo so much. Such an incredibly self-assured song from a debut album. Not an easy feat to pull off.

A: Oh man. Yes.