Throwback Thursday: Growing Up Punk in Ottawa
By Matthew Gilmour
As an overly polite, 13-year-old, third-culture kid who had just spent his puberty in Singapore, I knew nothing about punk. I returned to Canada to spend my Grade 8 year at an urban priority school, where the teaching was poor and half the students were too. All of us lacked discipline, we had a lacklustre attitude and a grating sense of humour to prove it. I remember boarding the school bus with matching red shoes and a red baseball cap, oversized pants, a diminished disposition, and good manners that did not fit my image. Those good manners would serve me well later in some circumstances but certainly not on the vicious playground of this school, where “no fucks were given” and the middle finger was given regularly. Nevertheless, I blended in and immersed myself quickly. That year, I gained an enormous cultural competency, namely because I learned about three things: The Simpsons, slang, and punk rock.
I made a lot of friends that year but one such friend was particularly unique. Jimmy and I played hockey together and attended the same Christian youth group. We were, however, both interested in something more subversive–playing loud music for other people. We both had the same guitar teacher, who taught us jazz theory and modality before he taught us “Yankee Doodle.”
We had terrible equipment but Jimmy had an adventuresome and entrepreneurial spirit. He also had something that was just as valuable: an older friend in a local punk band called The Cobras. Later that year, we performed our first set with them at a show we had organized ourselves, for an audience of seven, in the basement of our local church. The Cobras all had leather jackets with dyed jet black hair, and had snuck in whisky in McDonalds cups. Performing for them without any approval from our families made us feel grown up, important, and like a bunch of badasses. We were clearly anything but.
However, playing our own punk compositions and being part of something was exhilarating as all hell and we were proud of it. Later in life, we would learn that being part of something meant belonging to a community.
At age 14, we would eventually record a single with a member of The Riptides. We had it released on a compilation, alongside other regional and local punk rock heroes. We then recorded a split CD with one of our favourite bands, Take One For The Team and sold out our CD release show with them at SAW Gallery. SAW frequently had all-ages shows where we could play with touring out-of-town favourites or local ringers that were looking to have fun and garner an audience. Things moved quickly for us, and we learned that there was an entire community of underaged kids just like us, who had all formed bands like ours, and who performed at SAW Gallery on a regular basis, exactly like we did. Those kids are still friends of ours today. Many of those friends are part of our local creative community. Some of them have pursued careers in photography, film, fashion, food & wine, and other facets of our local industry. It’s also safe to say that when I frequent amazing restaurants or bars in this city, I almost always run into friends working there that I know from that period in my life. In those instances, we can quote our favourite songs and sometimes each others’ songs verbatim. This is partly because we know each other well but mainly because we learned how to belong, how to be strong, and how to be supportive of each other.
I switched schools again the following year. This time to a gifted school that was more inclusive and pluralistic. It was also the kind of place where someone in Grade 9 would have a repertoire of Edgar Allan Poe jokes, so you can imagine how cultured some of those kids were.
To go with a new learning environment, we found new opportunities to play independently organized shows. The range of venues where a young person could perform expanded and diversified, along with our friends and social interests. I began performing or attending shows and concerts at neighbourhood community centres, Babylon Nightclub, and Bumpers (now The Works in The Glebe). My friends Martin and Adam introduced me to subculture, and I began to consume culture from local and independent sources. At the age of 16, the lens of punk introduced me to the concepts of activism and advocacy, media literacy, independent media, civic justice, animal rights, sustainability, and sober, straight-edge culture. As my understanding of the world became more complex, so too did the music I created.
Buried Inside at Club Saw in Ottawa – December 17th, 2004. Photo: Junked Camera
We began to play music influenced by artists that were much older than us. We adopted the tastes and turbulent behaviour of others for the same reason that we had started playing music in the first place. Being creative was incredibly fulfilling. Punk was awfully exhilarating. It felt important–that we belonged to a culture that was bigger than us. The grandeur of performing for local heroes, and having local heroes become peers was humbling and gratifying. We respected each others’ art, and by nature respected each other. I began performing at house parties with university students and full-blown adults, and shared both smiles and the stage with local acts like Buried Inside (affiliated with Invisible Cinema), Robot Kill City (Male Nurse), and Van Johnson (members of Big Dick).
Matt Gilmour slaying it as the guitarist of We The Accused at Club Saw in Ottawa – December 17th, 2004. Photo: Junked Camera
It was also around this time that I met my best friend Alex Maltby, who arrived at my high school from Belleville in Grade 11. I invited him to sit with my group of friends on his first day. He had been playing music in Belleville for quite some time, and from my understanding, was already a staple in the all-ages music community there. Upon arriving in Ottawa, he began collaborating with friends to form acts like This Soft Light, Coast, and Fire Heats Water. He recorded my math-hardcore band We, the Accused and played bass in my math-rock band The Curviture. Members of Coast and Fire Heats Water also played in HAMILTON. Through some act of unintentional interconnectedness, we all became bound together, and cooperatively and collaboratively brought each others’ vision to fruition. We actualized each others’ art. We contributed to our community.
Without an inkling of doubt, the music community and punk subculture have had a huge influence on my life. They have given me rare life experiences, changed my consumptive patterns, fostered my creative interests, effectively been a determinant in my identity, and allowed me to connect with many more people and ideas than I would have normally. For those reasons, I am deeply grateful and indebted to my friends, many of whom I still see and smile with today.
I am also even more grateful to the people who saw passion, potential, or part of themselves in my art. It is through their voices, all singing in unison, that I found my own.
Throwback Thursday: Paperjack – The Effort I’ll Never Get Back (2001)
By Zachary Houle
It was the summer of 2000. I frequented the Second Cup on the corner of Bank and Somerset, as it was a favourite coffee joint, and still is. However, anyone visiting during that time got a bit of a treat while getting java. You got a preview of Paperjack’s sophomore (and final) album, 2001’s The Effort I’ll Never Get Back. My memory is foggy, but one or two of the guys worked there. Anyhow, over the store’s PA system, a rough mix without vocals would be frequently playing, simply because the dudes who worked there were in the band and they naturally wanted to show off their latest creation.
If that says anything, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back had a fairly long gestation period – recorded in scraps at various studios and put together meticulously. When the goods finally dropped, courtesy of Kelp Records, one thing was clear, and is even much clearer in retrospect: this was a band giving its all. In 2014, listening to the album again, it’s apparent about how much of a concept album this is about being in a band, knowing full well that this might be the group’s last shot at the big time –whatever that big time was. Their hearts were on their sleeve and they poured whatever finances they had into the project. Indeed, the photo on the insert of the disc coyly is shot from the inside of a vehicle – a homage to Double Nickels On the Dime? – as the driver is passing by a Scotiabank branch on the 417 as he reaches for the radio controls.
My first encounter with Paperjack, sort of, wasn’t a positive one. In the mid-90s, I was writing music reviews for the Ottawa Citizen’s High Priority page for teenagers (back when the paper tried to cater to a young audience) and I said something in a review about the latest Furnaceface album being overproduced. Ben Wilson, who would become the frontman for Paperjack and was, at the time, a graduate of Glebe Collegiate, wrote a letter to the page on June 26, 1995, telling me that “Furnaceface’s release is not a ‘mess’. Rather, it’s a display of what the band can achieve musically. After all, who wants a CD that does not give a full picture of the band’s abilities?”
Little did I know at the time that Paperjack, so named after a book by local fantasy writer Charles de Lint, would become one of my favourite bands, after seeing them perform at Carleton University, where the band members were studying, and buying their 1997 disc Ross, which only hinted at the promise of the group. I think I eventually realized that Wilson, the singer/guitarist, was the dude who wrote to me in High Priority (I have a long memory), and we talked about it and buried the hatchet.
But Wilson’s words reverberate with me as I write this piece. Clearly, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is indeed a full display of what the band could achieve musically. It paints a full picture of the band’s abilities, a shot at going completely for broke. And, yes, it’s a record about being in a group. Opening song “You Guys Are Awesome” is about the other bands that peppered the scene: “Did you have a good time? / Did you have fun? / You guys are awesome / Did you have space? / To pack in the van? / You guys are awesome.”
Later on, on the haunting “Let’s Be Super-Nice to Each Other”, Wilson, who channels Stephen Malkmus, sings, “I never kissed a musician until I kissed Sarah,” who becomes a “sister” when he joins, presumably, the musician’s union. “All of these plans / And working for the man / With all my sisters and brothers.” So, yes, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is about the trials and tribulations of being in a group with the foreshadowing that this could be it, this is one shot at reaching glory and the need and reliance on other people to help attain that.
But what makes The Effort I’ll Never Get Back a special album is that it is a human album. The vaguely post-rock instrumental “Cloak & Dagger” is notable in that it includes a very noticeable flub that stops the song briefly. For all that the disc is about doing your best and trying to reach out to as many people as possible, it is also an acknowledgement that perhaps your best isn’t all you’ve got, and, indeed, this might just be pessimistically the effort you’ll truly never get back.
However, even though the record is certainly meaty and gives you grist for the mill in what it takes to be a successful band, the record is, in a word, fun. It flat rocks out gleefully. This is embarrassing, but, to this day, I’ve been known to practice air guitar to “F* Off” in the company of my cat in the downtown Ottawa apartment I share. Congratulations, Paperjack. I think you’re the only local band I’ve done that to.
Aside from that song, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is studded with gems. “Break Things” is a nod to Replacements-style alt-punk. “Blist”, which was something of the “single” from the album, considering that it showed up on a compilation from Fine Records of Ottawa acts, also hums with vital energy. “Nod of Satisfaction” has a melancholic riff that slithers into your cranium and never lets go. And “Stranger Means Danger” is a strum of a song that also makes a memorable mark with its acoustic and electric guitars stabbing at each other with a remarkable melody.
What’s more, though, this LP also shows off the musician’s musicianship. “Grain of Salt” is notable for its polyrhythmic drum pattern that makes the tune sound somehow foreign, as though it gestated in a dark continent. “The Alpine Swiss” is a slacker of a song that, yes, recalls Pavement, but a version of Pavement that wasn’t interested in sloppiness or playing as though they’d spent too much time at the beer taps. “Master Card” – another nod to the debt these guys went into to make this record? – chugs and churns with the guitars pointing a counter-attack to the rhythm section.
All in all, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is among the very finest records that this city has given birth to. And, truthfully, Paperjack never really got the respect they deserved. I recall seeing the band play at an outdoor festival in Confederation Park sometime after the album’s release, and the outfit was in the middle of playing “Blist”, I believe, before they got the power pulled on them mid-song – they’d gone over their allocated time limit, no matter how good of a time those in the audience were having, forcing the group to quietly leave the stage with a meek “thanks.” Typical Ottawa bureaucracy at work.
Although Paperjack is no longer, remnants of the band still linger. Wilson works at a job in the federal government as a speechwriter, and I believe he has a family. He and Brennan Pilkington have formed a “hypnotic space folk” band called Orienteers that have been active in Ottawa since 2008. The other guys? Who knows? Still, if I ever need a fond memory of a seemingly simpler time, a time before 9/11, a time before the war on terror, and a time before the Great Recession (which has impacted writers like me), The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is what I turn to.
In that letter to High Priority, Wilson concluded, “Critics of anything tend to say too much – try just paying attention and respecting things for what they are.” I couldn’t come up with a better statement to describe Paperjack’s final album. Just pay attention and respect it, because, when all is said and done, it still holds up as a damn fine statement of the very best that the Ottawa music scene has had to offer. It’s durable and an excellent effort that rewards the listener, even if Paperjack never truly got the accolades that they so clearly and dearly deserved. A “Nod of Satisfaction”, indeed.
Zachary Houle is the Canadian Music Editor for PopMatters.com, a Chicago-based webzine that attracts 1.3 million unique visitors globally each month. He also reviews books for bookwookie.ca. In addition to his music and book writing, he has had freelance journalism published in SPIN, the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and Canadian Business. He also dabbles in fiction and poetry, and his work here has been published in literary magazines in Canada, the US and the UK. He was a recipient for an emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa, and was nominated for a US Pushcart Prize for his work.
Throwback Thursday: Heartbreakers by Brights
By Pierce McKennirey of Those Gulls
I love the Heartbreakers EP by former Ottawa band, Brights. Though short in length, it packs in a ton of great melodies that brought me back to many of the bands that first got me into music.
In particular, the tracks “Home” and “Five Year Plan” really stuck out to me. Every time I heard Home,” I could picture a crowd of friends, family and fans gathering around the band to sing along in those memorable “Whoa-oh-oh’s!” that dominate the chorus and outro. It was feel-good music with lyrics that resonated with me. To be honest, the lyrics hold true today, for anybody searching for a bit more meaning in their mid-20s and beyond.
“Five Year Plan” also hit home with a super-catchy, singalong chorus. It touched on the issues faced by those commencing adulthood, and to me, sounded like it focused on the responsibilities and challenges associated with “growing up.” After a beautiful guitar solo, gang vocals round out the song at the 3:25 mark.
The three other tracks (“Operate Me,” We Are Getting Restless,” and “Heartbreakers“) were also strong pop-punk songs that hit an emotional note with honest lyrics and catchy guitar hooks.
From what I understand, members of this band are still playing and writing in bands such as The Gallop, Stay Classy, Sound of Lions and more. If I’m lucky, maybe we’ll see a 10-year Brights reunion show in 2018 (fingers crossed!). Whenever I want to have a nostalgia trip, I throw on Heartbreakers. Solid, all-around!
Heartbreakers EP from Square Up Records.
Call for Submissions: What’s your throwback story from the Ottawa music scene?
We here at Ottawa Showbox are officially putting out a call for submissions for Throwback Thursdays. We want to hear from you with your stories from days gone by. It’s our belief that these stories help to put together a cultural history of the music scene, and even more, build a collection of stories and perspectives from a diverse group of people. Maybe there’s some lost footage or photos out there that most of us have never seen before, or perhaps a favourite band or show from decades ago that may stand the test of time.
– Which Ottawa band was your favourite back in the day? Why?
– Is there a particularly memorable show that you went to? Tell us about it!
– Was there a popular (or underground) club that used to put on great shows regularly?
– Is there an album from the past by a local band that is close to you? Tell us why!
– If you were/are in a local band, got any ridiculous tour stories for us?
– Is there a person that is/was an integral part of the scene that deserves an honourable mention?
Lots of choices! Now rack your brains and send us your write up to music [at] ottawashowbox [dot] com. We’ll publish it soon in one of our Throwback Thursday features.
Throwback Thursday: Billy Talent @ The Tulip Festival 2004
Benjamin Kowalewicz, lead singer of Billy Talent, rocking out at the Tulip Festival in Ottawa in 2004. Photo: Brian Garson (Junked Camera)
With the Ottawa summer festival season now behind us I thought it might be fun to look back to one of the festivals that used to really kick ass musically, the Tulip Festival. The Tulip Festival used to bring in some heavy hitters, for example Billy Talent, Glass Tiger, Reverend Horton Heat, Trooper and many more in 2004. Sadly the festival no longer brings in those types of musical acts, but on the plus side Ottawa does have a plethora of music festivals now compared to then.
Unfortunately for me, I missed out on most of the bands listed not named Billy Talent, but this bothered me very little at the time as I was really into the band from Mississauga, ON. Billy Talent rolled into town riding their hugely successful debut self-titled album. I am pretty sure this was one of the first times I had seen them live and could not get over how much lead singer, Benjamin Kowalewicz, danced and posed like my beloved rock god Iggy Pop. However the comparison ended there, Kowalewicz had a very different sound, he was more of a screamer.
The show was very high energy, enetertaining and filled with all my favourite songs from the debut. Songs like the hit single “Try Honesty,” the super punk rock track “Voices of Violence,” the darker “Nothing to Lose” and one of my all time favourites by the band “This is How It Goes.” Other than the dance moves, the most memorable moment was when Kowalewicz grabbed a fake tulip close to four times his size and ripped it to shred. The staff standing in the side stage area looked horrified and while the crowd erupted and loved every minute of it.
Interesting facts about the self-titled album, in 2005 it was ranked number 453 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time and in 2007 it was certified three times Platinum in Canada. Feel nostalgic like me and relive Billy Talent’s debut album, streaming below for your listening pleasure.
Throwback Thursday: The Flatliners @ Maverick’s in 2010
With life being so busy right now, I thought it might be fun to throwback to the article I sent to Matias when applying to write for Showbox. I sent in a few of my clippings, and later found out that The Flatliners piece was the one that excited him the most as he is a big fan. So check out this throwback to 2010 when the Flatliners rocked Ottawa!
The Flatliners hit the stage Friday night December 10th with their skate-punk style and a little ska-flare, as snow fell in the capital.
The boys from Richmond Hill, Ontario pulled out the big guns early, playing their new single “Carry the Banner,” as their second song. The crowd got into it right away, the pit never stopped and the patrons at Mavericks chanted along for the whole set. When the band launched into “Eulogy,” lead singer, Chris Cresswell, had a hard time getting in a word as almost every person crammed into the venue was belting out the chorus.
The Flatliners played a good mix of new and old, allowing for moshing or skanking depending on what you fancied. They played “Christ Punchers” off of their new EP, Monumental 7″. Chris introduced the song by saying, “I don’t care what you believe in … but I believe in reality, I don’t believe in any of that other shit because some of it leads people to do terrible things.”
One of the highlights of the show was the band’s merch guy, who, dressed in full gym attire, sweat bands and all, performed jumping jacks and push-ups randomly during the set from the side of the stage.
Opening for The Flatliners was Naples, Florida, four-piece dance party, Fake Problems. The band never took breaks between songs and provided countless sing alongs and clapping opportunities getting the crowd quite involved. The one time the band did slow down to breathe, they started freestyling Will Smith’s classic made-for-movie song, “Wild Wild West.”
The Menzingers, the pride of Philadelphia, tore up the stage with their old school 90s punk rock sound. They opened with “I Was Born,” as they sang the chorus with passion, “Oh my God it’s been far too long, send my thoughts to the firing squad.” The crowd was so into the band you would have thought they were the headlining act. There are just not enough bands still kicking around playing this upbeat and real sound of the punk rock I grew up on.
It was not all punk rock at this show, Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck brought a more rock’n’roll edge with their set. They reminded me of what Attack in Black would have sounded like had they listened to more Replacements before recording their follow-up to Marriage (and one of the guitarist looks a little like a young Tommy Stinson). During the first song one of the guitars broke, but they hammered through on a back up and closed out their set with a stellar track called “Brooklyn, NY.”
The local entertainment was provided by Currents, a three-piece growing in popularity in Ottawa. The bass player told the crowd not to buy their album but to download it and to spend your money on the touring bands that really need it. It was a nice touch by the opening act.
Boys Night Out @ Babylon in 2003
Boys Night Out lead singer Connor Lovat-Fraser looking pretty in pink at Babylon Nightclub in Ottawa in 2003. Photo by Junked Camera
Last week I recalled the tale of how epic Alexisonfire were on a fateful day in 2003. Today I will tell you of how Boys Night Out, a little-known screamo band from Burlington, Ontario, helped me feel more confident and reinforced many of my punk rock ideals that same night.
Boys Night Out played before Alexisonfire, and they were not as heavy but were a great blend of pop-punk and screamo. The band was just about to release their debut album, Make Yourself Sick, and played a lot of new music which was exciting, as well as some tunes from their earlier EPs. For anyone who was not really aware, lead singer Connor Lovat-Fraser, transformed his dark and murderous short stories into lyrics or concept EPs (like concept albums but shorter). So while the new material was very much of the emo and screamo variety, the older stuff was the inner working of the mind of a serial killer he had created, very cool stuff. But I digress…
Boys Night Out lead singer Connor Lovat-Fraser getting up close and personal with the crowd at Babylon in Ottawa in 2003. Photo by: Junked Camera
What I remember most of Boys Night Out’s performance has nothing to do with their music. The music was great, but what struck a chord was when an ignorant showgoer called out the lead singer for wearing a pink shirt. The snarky sarcastic remark as the band took the stage, “Hey, nice pink shirt man,” was met with, “Damn right it’s a nice shirt, and I wear it proudly because real men can wear pink.” This really hit home for my 16-year-old self. It reinforced the idea that there are no gender limits to colours, to be comfortable with who you are and that I should think and dress how I want. I had been dealing with being bullied for my appearance quite a bit in high school, like many others, so this was very powerful to hear. If he can come into a room filled with no one he knows, and most not even there to see him, and have such confidence and be so comfortable, anyone could.
This was one of the most punk rock things I had heard from a lead singer on stage, and it happened at a screamo show. Check out a few videos below of the great early workings of this now defunct band.
Popping My Alexisonfire Cherry @ Babylon in 2003
Photo by Junked Camera
Many of you may not be old enough to remember this, but MuchMusic used to actually have musical programming. I know, I know, it’s crazy to think that now, considering all they do is “reality TV.” But many of their programs used to be an amazing sources for discovering music, namely the Punk Show and Going Costal.
One night in late 2002, or early 2003, while sitting in my parents’ basement and watching Going Costal, I discovered this band that forever changed my outlook on music. A little screamo band from St. Catharines, Ontario, and that band was Alexisonfire. I had never seen or heard such raw energy, power and passion as the now defunct band played in “Pulmonary Archery.”
Alexisonfire quickly became my favourite band and their debut album never left my Discman. In June 2003, they came to town. I couldn’t wait to go see them, and on top of that they were playing one of my favourite venues, Babylon (which used to do a lot of all-ages shows). Alexsionfire’s performance was breath-taking, infectious, loud, sweaty, bloody, and made me a lifelong fan. Three moments from the set really stood out. First was how often lead singer George Pettit would hold the mic out to the crowd and how many times I got to scream into it, most notably during my favourite songs “.44 Caliber Love Letter” and “Adelaide.” Try to find me in the image at the top of the article. (Hint: I used to have a lot more hair back then.)
George Pettit aiming his “shotgun” at Dallas Green as the band begins a song at Babylon Nightclub in Ottawa in 2003. Photo: Junked Camera
The second truly memorable thing from the Alexisonfire set was how hardcore they were. During the set, bass player Chris Steele swung his bass and clipped guitarist and vocalist Dallas Green in the face. Green did not miss a beat or even a lyric and kept going through a growing crimson mask. You can see the blood running down his face in the photo just above, as I am sure many of you would find this toughness hard to believe from the soft and sad man behind City and Colour.
The third image engraved in my mind from that night, was how lead singer Pettit started a song, and it kills me not to remember which one it was! Pettit would stand there pretending to hold a shotgun and proceed to “shoot” the band members when it was their time to kick in, as also seen in the photo above (thanks Junked Camera for capturing so much of this great Ottawa history.) Something about that moment, that showmanship, that stage presence, has stuck with me to this very day. I went on to see Alexisonfire another dozen or so times but this night, the very first time I saw them, remains my favourite.
Throwback Thursday: The Summer of ’88 — The Stand GT @ One Step Beyond in Ottawa
By Chris Page
The Stand GT didn’t play Ottawa much in our early days.
It wasn’t that we weren’t shown any love in the nation’s capital. It had more to do with our proximity to Montreal, being from the rural county of Glengarry. We were very connected with that scene and were fortunate to be playing shows with legendary Montreal bands like The Gruesomes, Deja Voodoo, Jerry Jerry, and of course our touring pals Ripcordz.
Our first show in Ottawa was at the Downstairs Club on Rideau Street, which became Lucky Ron’s, then The Hi-Fi and is now a Beer Store. We opened for scene vets Fluid Waffle (who later became Furnaceface) and I would have met Dave Dudley (Dave’s Drum Shop), Slo’ Tom Stewart (Spaceman Music) and Patrick Banister for the first time that night — great guys who I’ve been friends with ever since. But my memory of that evening is pretty hazy over 25 years on.
I do remember two things from that show: Fluid Waffle covered the place in exploding bags of white flour during their set and, not related, the members of The Stand GT were barred from the Downstairs Club for life.
Whatever. It was a trumped-up charge that didn’t take.
The road trip for our second Ottawa show is slightly more memorable.
We were psyched to get a show at an all-ages club called One Step Beyond and this time around we were endorsed on the poster by The Gruesomes very own John Davis. Getting kudos from a bonafide Canadian indie star was a major coup for a young garage band from the sticks.
Actual poster for the show that still hangs in the old rehearsal ‘chicken coop’! Note the little Gruesomes logo with quote that says, handwritten: “Bassist John Gruesome: These guys are great. I highly recommend them.”
One Step Beyond was an all ages club on Rideau Street that existed from 1986 to 1988. As Tom Stewart says in a great write-up here, for such an important venue in the Ottawa underground scene, “…in hindsight, it’s a miracle the club survived as long as it did, considering it was trying to pay the rent from the sale of soft drinks and fruit juice.”
I don’t remember the exact year of The Stand GT’s show at OSB, but I think it was the Summer of ’88. We all lived in Glengarry at the time and were still attending high school. A buddy (affectionately nicknamed “Happy”) graciously offered to drive us to Ottawa in one of his company trucks. Friends with access to trucks or vans to haul our gear to shows were extremely hard to come by. And in those days, an offer of free beer was the main currency in The Stand GT’s barter system.
The day of the show we met at Doug’s family farm early in the afternoon and waited for Happy to show up. It wasn’t long before I realized we’d be travelling in a refrigerated vegetable delivery transport truck with a 20 foot cargo-hold box. To give perspective on its size, it was about half the length of an 18-wheeler.
I’m not sure who agreed to the plan for all of us to ride in the back because, of course, there were no seats, let alone seat belts.
Without letting common sense get in the way, youthful exuberance prevailed and the loading began: drums, amps, guitars, two-fours of Labatt’s Blue and bags of chips. The ride to Ottawa was about two hours from Glengarry, so sustenance was required. If memory serves, there were six of us back there with two up front in the cab.
Once loaded, we climbed up into the cargo hold to test our pal’s generous road trip accommodations.
I can still remember my surprise and concern when they closed the big hinged doors on the back of the truck. It was pitch black in there.
With our eyes fighting to adjust from bright sunshine to extreme darkness, I remember focusing on a tiny rust hole emitting the only natural light in the back of the truck. The hole wasn’t big enough to poke a finger through and we knew we needed a better solution to our lighting situation.
Soon we were banging on the doors to climb out and rustle some flashlights from Doug’s dad who was shaking his head at us from the back porch of the farmhouse.
Another thought soon crossed my mind: refrigerated truck would probably mean “air tight” cargo hold, correct? What if we ran out of oxygen on the trip? With six of us in there, surely fresh air wouldn’t last long.
Doug and I put our heads together and quickly came up with a MacGyver-worthy solution to build a rudimentary messaging system to our driver should we start to lose air out on the open road.
We tied strings of bailer twine (used for making hay bales) and secured one end from the steering wheel in the cab. We ran the twine out the drivers side window, over the top of the truck and down into the cargo hold, through those big back doors. No air? Simply, pull on the rope. I relaxed knowing Happy would feel a little tug on the steering wheel and pull over to save us from suffocating.
With our comfort secured, the road trip to Ottawa began.
The back of that truck had the feel of a rolling, low-budget discotheque. The flashlights illuminated the anticipation on our faces and we started to sway down the road. The portable cassette player was cranked as we passed around bottles of Labatt’s Blue.
Doug balanced two beer bottles between his stretched out legs as he sat on the floor of the truck with his back against one of the side walls. I remember the flashlight dangling, hung around his neck while he changed the strings on his guitar.
Wally sat on a case of beer, his own flashlight beaming up from a shirt pocket, creating a creepy effect on his face as he chugged beers. It was a look that would do Lux Interior proud.
Chris Page & Doug MacPherson live with The Stand GT circa 1988.
Though the refrigeration unit was off, there was enough oxygen and the concerns over lack of air were soon forgotten. We were rolling down the highway with that hard-to-describe feeling of freedom and youthful excitement. This was a trip that would see our young band play a big show in a big city that night. And we were amped up by the fact none of us had a care in the world.
Until someone had to pee.
Little did I know my emergency twine concoction would be used to request a toilet break as opposed to being the instrument of a desperate plea for air. When I nonchalantly reached to pull the twine, my smugness turned to a sinking feeling which I’m sure no one noticed in the flashlight ambiance of the steerage discotheque.
The twine was completely pinched in those big metal doors. There was no way to reach the driver.
Of course, at the realization of this turn of events, an overwhelming feeling came over us: we all had to pee.
After a short, frantic and semi-drunk discussion, our friend Zimmy was the first to suggest a plan that involved an empty chip bag and the aforementioned small rust hole at the bottom of the doors. The hole may not have been large enough to put your finger through, but it was certainly large enough to empty a chip bag, filled with liquid, out onto Highway 417.
Doug MacPherson and Glen ‘Wally’ Wallace rehearsing, circa 1987.
The rest of that evening is a blur. Happy did get lost on the way into Ottawa so we spent about 3 hours in the flashlight disco. I wish I could remember what was on the cassette player back there: the soundtrack for an experience none of us will forget, but still can’t remember.
I do remember One Step Beyond was a cool venue and we made many new friends that night. One of those pals was Alan Wright (R.I.P.), an underground music lover from Kingston, then Seattle, who had a terrific fanzine and who would become a huge champion for the band in the many years to come.
The ride home was a much more relaxed and comfortable affair for specific reasons I won’t mention here. But you can ask any of us about the rest of the story sometime. All in all, that Ottawa trip led to an incredible chain of events that would take The Stand GT on an amazing journey, lasting many years.
For more information on One Step Beyond, there’s a fantastic write up about the Nation’s capital punk/alt/hardcore history by Ottawa legend Slo’ Tom Stewart on the Ottawa Explosion site. Of course, you should also listen to and purchase The Stand GT.
We’d love it if you did.
Throwback Thursday: MxPx at the Civic Center in 2001
Today we throwback to when I was 13 and loved me some pop punk.
It was the summer of 2001, the summer before I entered high school. My parents got me tickets to see one of my favourite bands at the time, MxPx and some other bands at the civic center. I could not have been more excited.
The night began with supper at Mexicali Rosa’s on Bank Street (R.I.P.). My father and I walked in and it was empty, except for the all three members of MxPx and their girlfriends!!!! I was so giddy I could barely handle it. We ordered and ate, all the while I kept looking over to see what they were doing and eavesdropping on their conversation. Finally I gathered the courage to go talk to them, with a lot of help from my dad. We chatted briefly, got my ticket autographed and then I asked if they would play my favorite song, “Doing Time.” The song is a teen anthem comparing high school to jail, perfect for my angst-ridden 13-year-old self.
The waiting game began as I had to sit through (well stand through) two bands I had never heard of and listen to Willie Nelson between bands (it was the On the Road Again tour). The opening acts were Ultimate Fakebook, a three-piece power pop band from Manhattan, KS and this little band from Maryland you may have heard of led by two brothers Joel and Benji, Good Charlotte. Ultimate Fakebook had really catchy hooks, cool vocals and impressed me. In writing this piece I just found out they reunited, re-launched their website, recorded new material and still play every once and a while. The other band, Good Charlotte, who later went on to major radio success, were super boring, felt fake and disappointed me, even as a 13 year-old which was their target demographic I believe.
A few more Willie Nelson songs and it was time for MxPx (which stands for Magnified Plaid). Their set was killer, playing all the songs I loved and had me bopping up and down and singing. Near the mid-way point of the set lead singer and bass player, Mike Herrera, said, “this one is for Eric.” When they started playing “Doing Time” I was on cloud nine just melting and screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs. It was one of the greatest moments in my young concert-going life. The rest of the set was great and just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get close to the high of hearing them dedicate a song to me, they covered “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash during the encore to even get my dad singing.
It was a magical night of pop-punk and the perfect story to brag about as I began high school. Thank you MxPx.