Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Of Tony Bardach, Part One: The Pointed Sticks Return to Vancouver by Way of Japan

Pointed Sticks, 2006 by Cindy Metherel

The following is, roughly speaking, the article that used to be on the Nerve Magazine website - now, alas, crashed, gone, kaput - in which I interviewed Tony Bardach of the Pointed Sticks (Myspace, with songs, here) about the band's Japanese tour and their first reunion concerts in Vancouver a couple of years ago. I thought I would reprint it in full, prior to putting up a new interview with Tony. Bear in mind that this took place in 2006... and that Tony's side project, Slowpoke and the Smoke, will have a performance at Falconetti's on the 'Drive this Friday! More on that to follow... here is:

The Pointed Sticks Return to Vancouver by Way of Japan
An Interview with Tony Bardach (and Ian Tiles, too)
November 2006, written for the Nerve Magazine by Allan MacInnis

Tony Bardach, photographed in Japan. Provided by the Pointed Sticks.

Everybody knows about the “big in Japan” cliché, but I think the Japanese take their pop culture pretty seriously. And since theirs agrees with mine, I’d say they have great taste!

- Dale Wiese, Noize to Go! owner and Waiting for the Real Thing compilation producer

Japanese promoter Toshio Iijima, of the collectors’ record chain Record Base “couldn’t believe (his) ears” when he heard, after long negotiations, the Pointed Sticks had agreed to come to Japan for a reunion tour. The band’s energetic and cheerful brand of power pop makes them a favourite of Japanese punks, along with DOA, the Modernettes, the Subhumans and the Dishrags; the Japanese market accounts for 80% of the Sticks CD sales worldwide. Toshio had been conspiring with the band’s label owner, Joey “Shithead” Keithley, for a long time to make the tour a reality. We owe Toshio and Joe, and the bands’ Japanese fan base, a big debt of gratitude for their enthusiasm; the Pointed Sticks will be playing their first Vancouver concert* in over 25 years, on January 6th, 2007. Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu, guys!

(Gord and Tony at Richards on Richards, 2006. Photo by Nick Jones, we think!)

Details are unclear at press time, but I’m told there will likely be two shows, an afternoon all-ages gig and an evening one, both at Richards on Richards – the selfsame street where the band had their debut gig, at the Quadra Club, back in the summer of 1978. The band – including original members Nick Jones, Bill Napier-Hemy, Gord Nicholl, Ian Tiles, and Tony Bardach – are discussing possible future gigs, and have even talked about putting out a new single.

Pointed Sticks’ bassist Tony Bardach, instrumental in organizing the Vancouver show, was happy to talk to the Nerve about the bands’ experiences in Japan last July. “The most impressive thing to me was how prepared and aware the crowd was,” he told me. “They knew all the words to all the songs and sang them in key – with a Japanese accent – which blew our minds completely. Then secondly, the places were jam-packed, to the rafters, and everyone was smiling.” The number of fans crammed into the smallish Japanese clubs was “a recipe for disaster,” but to Tony’s amazement, the band “had no problems at all. People were crowd-surfing and the crowd was just falling over itself and swaying all this way and that, and nobody got hurt. It was completely benevolent. No elbows, no tough guys, no bullshit – it was all just like pre-hardcore. It was like early punk, like it had never stopped.” The tour went by pretty quickly, but for Tony “it was wonderful being there. It’s a fantastic place, and the people are so stylish. Even the guys have all got great hair!”

Their Japanese fans. Photo provided by the Pointed Sticks

Drummer Ian Tiles was similarly impressed. “The experience was so intense. We had a pretty tight schedule, though. We were like an amoeba, we did everything together!” The band managed a trip to Harajuku and to a temple, in-between concerts.

Bardach and Tiles’ history on the Vancouver punk scene dates back to the early days, before either DOA or the Pointed Sticks were formed. “It was only about 100 people doing it, basically, and 1000 people looking at it,” Tony reports. “We were all over the map – you can hear that by listing to the Vancouver Complication album. There was no paradigm - it was an every-person-for-their-own-idea kind of time.” Tony was introduced to the idea of punk when Ian arrived from Ottawa with a Sex Pistols single in tow. “We kinda listened to that and we thought, y’know, we gotta find some punk rockers, let’s get something going. They were hard to find, though. Finally we saw this show, ‘Punk Rock with the Skulls and Victorian Pork,’ at the Legion, so we went there.” The Skulls were Joey Keithley’s pre-DOA project, and Victorian Pork was their “fuck band” spinoff, involving most of the same members, playing different instruments. After a short time in their own band, the Tuney Loons, with Tiles singing and Chuck Biscuits on drums, Bardach and Tiles “amalgamated” with Victorian Pork. Brad Kent, Randy Rampage, and Dimwit were involved at various points, as well. DOA arose from this incestuous gaggle of punks, after a failed attempt by the Skulls to make it in Toronto; shortly thereafter, the Pointed Sticks formed.

The Tiles/Bardach rhythm section, by Femke van Delft, Aug 2007

There are missing pieces to the puzzle – I haven’t had a chance to talk to Bill or Nick about their path to the band – but the original lineup was Nick, Bill, Tony, and Ian (Ernie Dick was the original drummer, before Ian took up his place at the kit – hence the original name, Ernie Dick and the Pointed Sticks). Keyboardist Nicholl, who currently runs Paramount Studios with the Modernettes’ John Armstrong, would join up later, coming in from Active Dog. The Sticks were still a four piece when they won the Battle of the Bands at the Commodore. This led to the first single, “What Do You Want me to Do,” produced by Bob Rock in 1979. Tiles would eventually pass the drumsticks on; they went quickly from Chuck Biscuits to Active Dog’s Robert Bruce, before finally landing with the much-missed Dimwit.

Tiles, still a key figure on Vancouver’s rockabilly scene and member of the Hard On People and Coal, tells me that “Playing with Bill changed my approach. Bill was brilliant. I was more attentive when I played with Bill – well, I tried to be, anyway!”

Bill Napier-Hemy teaches guitar to dyslexic children in real life, and is a calm, polite man with a warm smile; Japanese fans I talked to particularly took a liking to his moderate, Japanese-friendly self-presentation. I got a chance to ask Bill about his favourite gig from the band’s youth. “We got to open for the Buzzcocks in San Francisco, when they had decided to call it quits and played their last gig for about a decade. They were spectacular. The Dead Kennedys were also on the bill and they rocked.”

Tony filled me in on a surprising detail when I asked him if he had any special memories of that gig. “Mostly I was thinking about Jonestown,” he chuckled. “It was at the Geary Street theatre. That was where Jimmy Jones used to have his parish... That was pretty cool!” The Sticks also opened for Devo, the Clash, and many others.

Every Stick you talk to has a different interpretation of why the band broke up. “I think we all wanted too much too quickly,” Tony offers (though he notes that he wasn’t actually in the band when they finally called it quits, in 1981). “Nobody had the patience, nobody had the foresight. We made a big mistake with Stiff, obviously, because we had no Canadian release [other than the independently produced Perfect Youth, on Quintessence, which disappeared when the label folded]. There was nothing guaranteed at all, and certainly no American release, whereas if we’d gone with Sire, you’d find us in the Value Village or the Sally Ann with a hole in the side of the record. You know, there’d be tons of them, thousands of them, all over the place. Maybe in retrospect it was good, though, because if the record had been all over everywhere, who would give a shit about it now?”

Tony Bardach by Cindy Metherel

There was a lot more from Tony – including a terrific anecdote about being chased through London by angry, glue-sniffing skinheads (“they really reeked of the glue, too – it was just gross”) to play with the Soft Boys and the Psychedelic Furs in front of a “sea of Adam and the Ants fans” in full punk regalia at the Electric Ballroom, during the band’s one tour of England; but there is simply no more room. Check my blog,, for more as the date approaches, and while you’re online, look for Torontonian Mike Ramone’s Pointed Sticks video clips on Youtube, of the band performing in Japan (Mike was at all three shows). Also be sure to check out Slowpoke and the Smoke, Tony’s solo project, where he sings as Tony Twilight. “It’s a mixture of doo wop and Frank Zappa.”

Tony says hi to Japanese fans, photo provided by the Pointed Sticks

One final note for Pointed Sticks fans: Todd Taylor, formerly of Flipside magazine and now the editor of Razorcake, has been a long-time fan of the “polished bone snap (with sweet candy marrow)” of Pointed Sticks songs. He will be devoting nine pages to an article on the band in Razorcake #36, due out in mid July; it includes in-depth interviews with Nick, Bill, Ian, Toshio, Dale, and Joey, and reports from both Canadian and Japanese fans who saw them play during their brief overseas tour. Local record store owners might want to take note and place orders now. Tony sends out a shout to Nardwuar, who also regularly publishes in Razorcake; Nardwuar has been a longtime Pointed Sticks advocate, and will serve at the Sticks MC on the 6th, tho’ he is not the author of the upcoming article. Thanks to Todd for permission to lift a couple of quotes as a teaser!

As for the Vancouver gig, Ian Tiles is delighted that it’s come together. “We’re excited as heck, we’re just really stoked!” he tells me over the phone. “It’s gonna be great!”

(A well-attended show - from the closing songs of the 2006 homecoming gig. Photo by Cindy Metherel).

* Okay, yeah, sure, Bill and Tony performed “The Marching Song” with the Dishrags on backup vocals at the Vancouver Complication gig last February. It was one song, it wasn’t the full band, and the Dishrags stole the show, anyhow! Don’t be anal.

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