Saturday, July 28, 2007

When punk ruled in the Garden City

Against all odds, punk rock rocked Victoria 30 years ago; a new project recalls the era
Mike Devlin
CanWest News Service

Blade, of the punk rock band the Dishrags, performs in 1978.
CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun, Files
Blade, of the punk rock band the Dishrags, performs in 1978.

Few knew what they were creating, if they were creating anything at all.

Even fewer had an idea their music would go on to have a lasting impact -- let alone be captured for posterity in a book and on CD nearly 30 years later.

They played for fun, not profit. The music was scrappy, loud and angry. If their friends liked it, so much the better. If their parents hated it, they succeeded on some nefarious level.

It was the late '70s and early '80s, and acts concerned with writing and playing this new brand of music -- punk rock -- were popping up everywhere from Oak Bay to Sidney.

For years, the genre had been rallying youths in New York and London, even in sunny San Francisco. But unbeknownst to many, punk was alive and well in the B.C. capital, thanks to a cluster of then-unknown, now-legendary Garden City bands: Nomeansno, the Neos, Infamous Scientists, the Dishrags, Red Tide and the Dayglo Abortions.

There were no dreams of super-stardom, but there were loads of raw talent, as evidenced by the comprehensive assembly of music, photos and stories included in the book/two-CD set All Your Ears Can Hear: Underground Music in Victoria, B.C., 1978-1984.

The 79-page, 79-song project took six years to complete and stands as the most comprehensive collection of punk material and memorabilia in the city's history.

"Personally, I feel this project is a vindication of sorts, and I'm sure a lot of the other bands will feel the same way," says Marcus Pollard, singer for new wave act The Clicks, which disbanded in 1982. "It wasn't Paris in the '20s, but it was definitely an important scene."

The heavy lifting for the non-profit, volunteer-driven project was done by a trio who didn't want to see the city's rich history dissolve due to foggy memories and deteriorating tape.

Self-styled audio archivist Jason Flower was the project's go-getter, digging up long-lost cassettes and getting in touch with members of acts, now grown men and women, who hadn't uttered the word "punk" in decades.

But he was the right person for the job. "I'm not afraid to call somebody up who hasn't spoken to anybody in 20 to 30 years," he says.

Kev Smith, bassist for the seminal hardcore act the Neos, edited much of the copy, as he was a ground-floor cog in the machine. And yet even he was amazed at what they uncovered during the process.

"Victoria was so culturally isolated in those days, it's hard for people who weren't even born yet or never lived here to understand," he says. "For all that stuff in the book to have happened in that era, it's pretty remarkable."

Ricky Long, who played in a number of bands from the era, wound up investing his own money to keep the project afloat. "When you're dealing with one band it's easy, when you're dealing with 48, it's not," Long says. "We are older men with lives. I have three children. And that was the brick wall in the process."

All Your Ears Can Hear spotlights a time when the city was finding its feet, from the underground up. But Victoria isn't as sleepy anymore. Nomeansno still tour and record, as do the Dayglo Abortions.

Neo's records sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet (see sidebar). And various members of the Victoria contingent, such as ex-Jerk Ward and Red Tide member Stephen McBean, have found success in Vancouver.

"It's kind of strange, kind of depressing, kind of exciting," says Black Mountain frontman McBean, whose band toured with U.K. stars Coldplay and appeared on this year's soundtrack to the film Spider-Man 3."

McBean will join Long in a reformed Jerk Ward for the All Your Ears Can Hear release party Saturday at Logan's Pub. Also on the bill are long-dormant acts Automatic Shock, House of Commons and The Slivers.

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