Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Sherri Decembrini

I did not know Sherri, but we were Facebook friends, and Art used her email address when I interviewed him, so we may have interacted a bit. What I saw of her online impressed me, and we were probably in the same room a few times during one of Art's shows, but to my knowledge, we never met in person. 

The news spread on FB yesterday that she died of a sudden fall. I don't know more. People on Facebook are really shook up - because many folks in Vancouver DID know her. 

I have nothing useful to say. I'm worried for Art and thinking about my own mortality (and my wife's). How do you deal with this? They've been together for three decades. It's incomprehensible. Both of them were posting RIPs for Ziggy Sigmund just a short while ago, commenting that he passed too young...

Nothing really that anyone can say in the face of this, but my condolences and love to Art and to Sherri's family and friends.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Of Astronauts and Marionettes: Paul Leary's A History of Dogs, plus other Butthole Surfers-related news!

Paul Leary and Milo, his pet furshark 

There's some happy news in the world of the Butthole Surfers - a reissued solo album by Butts' guitarist Paul Leary, a book about that's back in print, and a movie that is being made. We'll start with the album... 

Paul Leary's first solo album was 1991's A History of Dogs, the original cover of which had a photo of Paul Leary's now departed dog, whose full name was Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, as I understand (but Paul just calls him Mark Farner). Farner travelled with the band, guarded their gear, and once even growled at gear thieves who were menacing the van when Leary himself was sleeping in back of it. 

That album has been out of print for years, but I re-acquired it before interviewing Leary, and found it holds up pretty well, having more than enough interesting aspects to keep a thoughtful and musically sophisticated listener happily engaged, though by and large it is not as attention-grabbing, Dadaistic, playful or extroverted as, say, anything Butthole Surfer's vocalist Gibby Haynes has been involved with, which may have been what people expected at the time. It's more of an album for listening to, is even, uh, kind of mature - way moreso than Born Stupid, Leary's album from 2021; if A History of Dogs were a Led Zeppelin album, it would be Houses of the Holy - something you maybe can best understand by listening to "The Birds Are Dying," the album's opening cut, which is kind of what it would sound like if Zep had written "No Quarter" as an ecologically-themed protest song...   

Sadly, neither the press nor the public were very enthusiastic about the album at the time - I originally got it out of a delete bin for a buck a year or so after it was released - and some reviews (Paul remembers them vividly) were even kind of nasty. Leary tells about "taking boxes of it to the dump –  probably a hundred [of them]," because he "just couldn't stand looking at them anymore." At the urgings of Kramer and the newly-reinvigorated Shimmy-Disc, he tells me today via email, 

I remastered the album from the old mixes and added a couple of bonus tracks. I basically tried to make it sound better. I think I did. Hope I did…. It was a little weird putting myself back 30 years. That album came from a dark place that I do not miss.

The two bonus tracks on the reissue, due June 17th, are "Speedo Man" ("intolerably stupid but very dramatic - Kramer at Shimmy Disk wants a video for this. Yikes.") and what Leary tells me is the earliest recording of “The Adventures of Pee Pee the Sailor,” with Danny Barnes on the banjo (Barnes is from the Bad Livers, who recorded their own version of the song around the time when Paul was producing an album for them - as did the Meat Puppets. whose Too High to Die was produced by Leary, all of which we also discuss in the interview). This song is also on Born Stupid, and recently acquired a video - this from the 2021 album, which was Leary's first official release of the song, if not the original recording.

Probably my favourite song off the album is "Apollo One," the second track on that full album link above, about a fire that killed all three crew members on a manned spaceflight back in 1967. 

Left to Right: Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee

When I spoke to Leary for Big Takeover last year, I had to ask him about that song. I'm going to offer a teaser here, taken from part one (issue 88), but fans are encouraged to buy a backissue and to seek out part two in the current issue (89) in whatever good magazine store you  have access to (note that I also interview Sparks, with the help of David M. of No Fun).I was mildly surprised to discover, in asking Paul about "Apollo One," that Leary is a space geek, something that in fact makes sense; you can see traces of it elsewhere in the Butt's penumbra, from obvious places like After the Astronaut and "The Last Astronaut" to slightly more obscure ones, like Gibby Haynes' project with Johnny Depp, P, and their dub-inflected “John Glenn (Mega-Mix).” Leary was ten years old when the Apollo One accident took place, and ten year old boys sometimes have a fascination for space exploration:

I was hugely into the space program, growing up. I would run to the window of my house in San Antonio when they launched those old Mercury spacecraft, thinking I would see them out the window. And when John Glenn orbited the earth, they gave him a parade – across the nation there were parades, and he was in a parade in San Antonio, and I went to see the parade, and they were selling souvenirs. One of the souvenirs that my Dad bought me was a cardboard-tube Mercury rocket that you would pump up and it would shoot into the air. And the first time I launched it, it hit me right in the eye and gave me my first black eye. I was in school when the announcement came that the three astronauts had died aboard Apollo One, and that was just a really dark day. That was, to me, as bad as the Kennedy assassination. I mean, those were my heroes. I grew up in the Space Age, and I can remember watching John Glenn take off, and Allen Shepard even, taking off. To lose Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee – that was heartbreaking. Ed White’s being the first American to walk in space made him a hero. It’s still sad to think about.

I observed to Leary that it's a surprisingly driving tune - not exactly somber in tone, more of a rocker, such that you don't even notice how grim the subject matter is until you read the lyrics' Leary explained he was trying to capture "how frantic that must have been" during the eleven seconds when the fire was burning, the three men trying to contain it. 

Leary's revised cover for issue 89, as lifted off Facebook; I am amused 

And then there's the book - a numbered softcover reprint of the Butthole Surfers' coffee table book, What Does Regret Mean?, which features two photos from a show at the Vancouver PNE taken by local treasure Bev Davies. The book is beautifully-made, though highly image-centric, with art, photos, and ephemera taking up much more space than the writing. Even in softcover, it is one of those rare books that will likely appreciate in value; the equally limited hardcover was selling for a few hundred dollars online when I talked with Leary (as I recall, we had some chit-chat, possibly not printed in the mag, about the price of the thing), and as unreasonable as those prices seemed, they have all apparently sold since, so...   

I know less about the Butthole Surfers' movie, as yet unmade,save that it promises to be the "definitive documentary that will reveal the hole truth and nothing butt." There is a Kickstarter page for it, which looks to have surpassed its goal. Mostly I got excited to see - because I'd just been talking to Zander Schloss about his own marionette-centred rock video - that there was a Gibby Haynes' puppet made for the movie, for hte purposes of re-enacting some of the Butts' more demented shows (yes, Vancouver readers, I do talk to Leary in BT about the Graceland "stabbing" incident).

The remainder of this informative but brief interview can be read below, in Q&A style, with me in italics.

How was the marionette made? How will it be used? Has Gibby reacted to it? 

I’m not sure how the puppet was made. Gibby seemed very happy to interact with it and to operate it, so I’m guessing he likes it. It’s pretty badass. There will be puppets made of the rest of us. They could probably just use a bowling pin for mine.

Were you happy with the reception been for Born Stupid?

I am very happy. I released it sort of as a vanity record, but we’re going on a third pressing now, and it’s been fun making videos for the songs. [See here for one of several, the demented, vegan-friendly "Do You Like to Eat a Cow?"]. I’m looking forward to making another.

Is there any news about possible live shows or such?

I don’t believe I will ever perform live again with anyone. I’m very content to be a washed-up rock star. It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

Are you working on anything new, now, music-wise or otherwise?

Right now I’m producing an album for Carty Talkington, who wrote and directed the movie Love and a 45. It’s very different than anything I’ve worked on before. Also, I’m midway through a second album for my other band “Cocky Bitches” [hear a track off their first album here]. It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get it out.

Thanks, Paul! 

Monday, March 21, 2022

EXTC, the Rickshaw, and some thoughts on "No Thugs in Our House" (Plus Butthole Surfers/ Paul Leary postscript)

 EXTC by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Was thinking about "No Thugs in Our House" yesterday, as EXTC played it at the Rickshaw - doing so with anthemic vigour and (since frontman Steve Tilling is also from Swindon) a regionally-appropriate accent, and with hard-hitter Terry Chambers keeping the beat with stern concentration. It's off what for me is the musical peak of albums XTC recorded back when Terry was in the original band, English Settlement. I am only really beginning to appreciate the richness of it, but it's the XTC album I am most inclined to return to at the moment. Like "Jason and the Argonauts," which  comes just before "No Thugs in  Our House" on the album, it's one of those songs that requires a few listens and a good read of the lyrics to begin to come to terms with, and was the most driving of the songs that EXTC played in their first set last night ("No Thugs...," that is; "Jason and the Argonauts" is not on the setlist this tour, as far as I know).

bev taking that photo, pic by me

In truth, before I get too far, I should say that I am still a relative noob to the whole XTC canon. Like Sparks and Frank Zappa, my other big musical enthusiasms of the last year, they're a deep pool that takes some swimming in. The stuff of theirs that I love tends to be earlier - the albums that I heard as a teenager and still know best, like Black Sea. Yes, there is astonishing sonic sophistication to some of their post-touring albums, especially Skylarking, for instance - which I listened to a couple of times through in the hospital on headphones, and found beautiful and soothing (I was high as a kite on pain meds and lingering anaesthesia, note). It was also well-represented in the EXTC set last night, more than any other album of the post-Terry catalogue, with the band playing "Sacrificial Bonfire" and "Big Day" in their first set, and "Dear God" and presumably "Grass," "The Meeting Place," and "Earn Enough for Us" in their second, all of which they played a couple of nights ago in Seattle. [No setlist was contributed to Setlist FM for the Vancouver show, as I wrote this, but it looked to be identical to Seattle's to me for the portion of the night I stayed for]. The pleasures of Skylarking, plentiful though they are, are unlike the pleasures of everything up to and including English Settlement. There's nothing anthemic on it, nothing you can really walk or drive or do housework to, nothing you can put on a mix beside the Gang of Four (playing Vancouver later this week) or the Clash or the Members or the Slits or such; the level of detail and richness, the delicate textural layers to Skylarking make it very clear that it is meant to be *listened* to - maybe not necessarily with the opioids I was on, post-surgically, but very near in a state like I was in, completely relaxed, eyes closed, music in my ears, half-dreaming to it, being soothed, healed, comforted. If I'm putting on an XTC record do do housework to or to keep my pace up as I walk down the street or dance around the living room, patting the cat to the beat - which are the three main things I use music for, most days - it won't be Skylarking

Also by me - Rickshaw proprietor Mo Tarmohamed is the second head up on the left

But English Settlement? Maybe. It's a really interesting album. It has some of the sophistication, the layering, that you hear in later XTC, has a genuine ambitiousness to it, but songs like "No Thugs in Our House," well, Tybalt could get a real good petting to that. The album makes sense as a bridge between the two phases of their career, *is* a headphones album like Skylarking, with a very sophisticated palette, but it also has energy, a beat to it... a beat being played by Terry Chambers, at that! I don't think it's just a coincidence that my current favourite of their albums - the one I find most compelling, am most likely to play - is also the last one he was on. One of the cool things about the EXTC show was being given a chance to kind of imagine how later XTC material might have sounded if the band had continued to tour, continued to write arrangements that could be delivered live, continued to have Terry as their drummer.... Now here's what "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" might have sounded like if Terry had drummed on it! Okay, I'll bite (note to Steve: I didn't "hooray" on cue as requested the first few times because I didn't know when to come in, exactly, but one of the people hooraying out in the audience was Dennis Mills, so that's pretty fuckin' cool...).   

...Now, I must confess, I left the show last night at the mid-point break, but it was no fault of the band's, nor should be read as a comment on their music. It's true that I hadn't figured out 100% how to fit into it yet, since I also haven't yet figured out how to fit, 100%, into the XTC catalogue in general, and there is a bit of a neither-fish-nor-fowl feeling with EXTC; they're not a cover band, but they aren't XTC, either, and I found myself thinking things like, "So since Terry is the original member, should I listen more attentively to the drum parts?" (which, for a time, I did, as if the rest of the players had come along just to enhance hearing the original XTC drummer doing his thing - which is a bit of a foolish way to listen to a band, really, but I did catch some very cool flourishes in Terry's drumming that I'd not noticed previously, and was, as I say, impressed by his intensity - though a bit worried that he might have been pissed off about the show having started so late,more on which below). No question that they did really good renditions of the songs, which I enjoyed the most when I just shut my eyes and listened. Weirdly, my favourite moments, the ones that grabbed me hardest, came in a TC&I song, presumably written by Colin Moulding, called "Scatter Me," and another of those later songs, "Wonderland" off Mummer., that they'd played just before it. I didn't know either song before last night, but there was real beauty to their playing, especially the lead guitarist's (Steve Hampton, the guy who looked most likely to have been an original member next to Terry).  

...But things had started over an hour and a half late due a border SNAFU and I still had to a) commute for an hour to get home and b) be awake and functional at 7am to make breakfast for my working wife, who c) probably wouldn't appreciate my rolling in at 1am on what for her was a worknight. I'd kept her up late this past week for Sparks (which she was actually at) and Bison (which she wasn't), so I would have been pushing my spousely luck in being much later than I was last night - at it was, it was close to midnight when I got in. Plus Bev Davies, who I was with, also had a long commute back to her home, and the band starting around 10pm on a Sunday means there is a good chance that by the time you get to it from the Rickshaw, the Skytrain will be shut, the last train rolling out of Waterfront at 12:15; any suburban concertgoers like us will have had the experience of arriving at Main Street Station on a Sunday to a locked gate, and having to grab a late night drunk bus to get home; neither of us wanted to deal with that last night. With many audience members in such a position, the band probably would have been wiser, in the circumstance, not to take a break at all, so as not to give those of us concerned about such things an excuse to duck out (because if you're going to duck out of a show, it feels better to do so when the band isn't actually playing). Without the break, I probably would have held out for "Dear God," for sure - the first song of the second set, according to the Seattle setlist, anyhow - though I don't think, given the train situation, that there's a universe in which I'd have ever gotten to see the encore... 

Anyhow, I hope the room wasn't noticeably thinner for the second set, because the band had had to work hard to even get there last night. Apologies that I had to duck out when I did. Incidentally, the SNAFU at the border apparently involved two members of the band having gotten the wrong COVID tests or something, requiring them to drive back to Seattle or such to get new tests; there was a moment or two of fear, where we were hanging on Mo's every status update, to see whether the band would ultimately be allowed across. And the show, which was supposed to have doors at 7, ended up having doors at 9, which actually meant for most people in line not getting in til 9:30 or later (the  music started not at 8, as previously planned, but at 9:45). This led to an interesting and unfamiliar experience for those of us out of practice at concertgoing - which means, basically, everyone - where a fair number of people were lined up outside the Rickshaw for half an hour or more. I got a good long look down an alley that I don't think I have ever been lined up on the other side of before, for all my concertgoing at the Rickshaw...

...and got to watch people clean up after their urban pets, and gave two perfectly good laundry loonies to one of the spare-changers working the line, while some other fella smoked heroin? meth? coke? out of a folded up piece of tinfoil in the doorway adjacent to me. (For obvious reasons, I did not take a photo of him!). 

All of which was worth the trouble, even if I ended up having to leave. The real compliment to the band, here - the best one that I can give - was that they provided the "Aha!" moment for me in listening to "No Thugs in Our House" (lyrics here). The song tells a story of parents being visited by a police officer who has found their son's wallet at the scene of a hate crime. The art for the 7" encourages a more general reading of the "house" as not being just some Swindonian flat, but the UK itself, put "on stage" by racially-motivated crimes; the lyrics themselves rise above treating the crime as an isolated incident, implicating the British justice system as well (the family returns to "normalcy," the incident having blown over, because the father is a judge!). If were to ask Andy Partridge a question about the song, it'd be if there was any particular incident that inspired it; it feels moored in specificities, from the name of the kid in question - Graham - to what the mother and father are doing when the cops come to the door, to the young constable's failures to grow a moustache. It may just be great storytelling-in-song, but I wonder if I'd been reading British newspapers in 1982, if it would have any deeper resonances?  

Anyhow, there are a few things I still don't understand about the song, like what papers the father is burning at the beginning (evidence of some other questionable past judgments on his part?). But here's the ultimate testament to EXTC (and, in a broader sense, to bands playing their catalogue live, like XTC ceased doing shortly after that song was released): it was only last night, listening to the song nice and loud at the Rickshaw, that the pennies fell from my eyes about one of the choruses. I had always wondered what Andy was saying by talking about Graham "dreaming of a world where he could do/ just what he wanted to." It's interesting phrasing - because there doesn't seem to be anything particularly bad about dreaming about a world where you can do just what you want to do - people do that all the time! ...But where what you want to do is attack people because of the colour of their skin... it feels like Partridge's lyrics depict Graham experiencing himself, almost sympathetically, as if he were sweetly innocent of any wrongdoing; it seems to let him off the hook just a bit! There was something lingering there, some nuance that escaped me... 

...which I finally figured out last night. In fact, Partridge phrases the chorus thus not to let Graham off the hook, but to put the rest of us on it. Not only are the parents in denial that their son is some sort of neo-Nazi - "We can't believe our little angel is the one you picked!" - but Graham himself is innocent of that knowledge; he has no idea that what he's done is wrong, he just wants to have fun, to bond with his mates, to keep England for the English.. "I don't see what the big deal is, the guy was only a ____" (insert appropriate racial epithet there). By framing Graham's own self-absolution, we're invited as listeners to question in ourselves the things we absolve ourselves from - our entitlement, racist attitudes, etc. It's a very clever chorus, preventing us from taking it just as a song about "them," the bad guys. We're implicated. What kind of world do we want, anyhow? ...It's a testament to how powerfully the band played the song that instead of thinking about what it meant to be seeing EXTC, and not XTC, doing it, I just thought about the song itself...

Anyhow, despite a few setbacks, it was a great night. Great to see Bev again, too - been too long. She gave me a copy of the softcover version of the Butthole Surfers coffee table book that some of her photos appear in - back in print, but in a limited edition, so if you're craving it, act now. I had used a photo from the same show - but not one of the same photos as the book - to illustrate a Big Takeover interview I did with Paul Leary of the Butts recently, whose debut solo album from 1990, The History of Dogs, is also coming back into print soon via Shimmy-Disc. 

Bev, looks like I will be able to join you for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, after all...

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Best of Bison and the SLIP~ons: some photos

Jammed my wrist when I got hit from behind from the mosh pit... wrists were already sore from clapping at the Sparks show, so that wasn't so good... left early... Didn't see the Dreadnoughts... Sat out ATD. But I took some photos. Got hellos from James of Bison (showed him my fucked-up tongue) and Brock. Great sets, but blown away that I got to hear "Wendigo" again - it's been over ten years (I know they've played it now and then but it's no longer been a regular thing; I haven't heard it since I brought Erika to see part of a show on Vancouver Island, maybe in 2012?). Got vid of the Slips, as Brock calls'em, but it ain't up yet. Very active pit, very fun vibe. Unannounced first band = Princess Die from Kelowna. Whole different lineup tonight (but I won't be there). 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Punkstravaganza at the Rickshaw!

Bison at the Astoria (photo Allan MacInnis)

Anyone else going to the Rickshaw tonight?

The Dreadnoughts are a great band - and a great live band, especially. I have a few of their albums, a book about them, have interviewed them and have seen them live more than once. I am looking forward to catching them tonight for the first time in years. If you miss seeing anything with a Celtic flavour yesterday, if you like the idea of polka punk, if you just want to get loose and bounce around to high-energy, catchy music played on accordions, fiddles and mandolins (and more traditional rock instruments) - they're well-deserving of their local legend status... 

...But to be clear, personally, I am just as much going to the Punkstravaganza Night One tonight for Bison and the SLIP~ons, and am even excited to see ATD for the first (?) time - and I totally love having bands as diverse as these four on a bill together. In fact, more than any combination of acts, all four bands are the draw, for me - and how often has it been since you've been at a show where that was the case? (Brock Pytel opined, when he first told me about the shows, "I love the idea of disparate bands - sort of like a Cheap Trick album cover," and while the last part of that comment went completely over my head, I place it here in case someone else might understand it.).

SLIP~ons with Tony Lee, covering "All the Young Dudes" at the 2020 Bowie Ball

If Brock's comparing tonight's bill to a Cheap Trick cover is deeply gnomic, there is no question that tonight's lineup - moreso than tomorrow's, in fact - sure is disparate. In ATD we have lean-and-mean, catchy hardcore with songs that seem to be more about human experience than politics; in the SLIP~ons, we have a loose-limbed, Dollsy rock band (see here for my interview with their leader, former Doughboys drummer/ vocalist Brock Pytel); Bison, meanwhile, is a sludgy metal band that taps as deeply and profoundly into human melancholy and pain as I've heard a metal band go, to the point that their music is both ugly and beautiful at the same time time (and who I have interviewed more times than I can easily count, but try here for the most recent); and headlining, the band who recorded Victory Square,  which, apologies to the Dreadnoughts because it's pretty early and raw, is still my favourite album of theirs...

Anyhow, I've talked to Brock pretty recently, but I interact with Dan and James of Bison fairly regularly on Facebook, and hadn't bugged them lately, so I shot them a message - Dan, specifically, because I almost always talk to James. He tells me that band is "really excited to be playing again but it’s really more the Dreadnoughts’ show than ours. It’s sort of a 'co-headline' deal where we’re still going to playing for an hour but we’re on second to last. We’re kind of anticipating the crowd will be more their fan base though I could be completely wrong." As for the post(?)-COVID circumstances of the show, "It’s gonna be my first time out anywhere near a crowd this size so I’ll see how my anxiety is. Might see you there but might end up hiding the whole time!" 

Dan And of Bison by Allan MacInnis

With Dan potentially in hiding, I am kinda sad to read that a Facebook buddy and fellow Bison fan will be dodging the show entirely tonight (he tells me he's not ready for "a big room full of maskless folks"). We met by amusing circumstances, on the bus up Main to the the Skytrain, the second-to-last time I saw Bison back at the Astoria in 2018 (where I shot this video.) One of us - I guess me - speculated, "I wonder what happened to ____" (former band member who I miss), and the other said, "I read in an interview James said he was on a 'personal journey.'" And before we got to unpacking that, I grinned and replied, "Oh. Heh. I did that interview." Which was kind of a fun way to start a conversation.  We haven't had a chance to actually hang out at a Bison show since, but people's reasons are people's reasons - people have to feel safe. Personally, I do; I am now guessing, not having gotten sick yet, that in fact a long illness I had before the lockdowns even started - in December of 2019 - must have been COVID, which is entirely possible, as I was working with lots of students from China at that point, including recent arrivals. In any event, my COVID precautions since that time have been mediocre at best - despite masks and vaccinations, I've been plentifully active over the last two years, thrifting, eating in restaurants, going to movies, and going to every show I could - including THIS potential superspreader; I feel like I can safely conclude my total "illness-less" through this whole time (except for, um, cancer) means I am not gonna get sick now (someone knock wood for me, my wrists are still sore from clapping at the Sparks show). 

But like I say, people gotta feel safe. 

...for those who DO feel safe, and who are hankering for a show, who are not able to go tonight, do note: the lineup for Punkstravaganza Night Two is completely different, with only the Dreadnoughts repeating; support acts include the Still Spirits, who do a delightfully high-energy oldtimey perfect for drinking and dancing, with Jonny Bones of Maple Ridge ska punks the Bone Daddies fronting; I interviewed them here. Then there's Balkan Shmalkan, whose "funky brass dance beats are rooted in the aural traditions of the Roma and Klezmorim of Eastern Europe and blended with a mixture of pop and jazz," according to their website. They also apparently also can get a pretty fun dance floor going. Finally, there's The Corps - the night's punkiest band. [Note - no idea who is going on first!]. There's maybe a bit less variety in tomorrow's show - with three out of four bands playing folk-based musics primarily on traditional, non-rock acoustic instruments - but if that's what you're craving, tomorrow might be the better night for you! 

POST SCRIPT - Dan just announced on Facebook that this is an early show - doors at 7, first band is at 7:30, and the curfew is midnight. Bison is on at 9:30. Good to know!

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Shane's Teeth, the Pogues, and a fine excuse for drinking: an Aaron Chapman interview apropos of tonight's gig

Shane MacGowan with the Pogues, 1986, coming to terms with how little champagne was in the bottle given to him (lifted from this clip)

Celebrated Vancouver scribe Aaron Chapman devotes a page of his book, Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom, to the times the Pogues played the venue - "legendarily beery affairs," as he describes them, which included a 1987 show where former Clash frontman Joe Strummer filled in on guitar (and sang a few Clash songs - "London Calling," "Straight to Hell," and covers of "I Fought the Law" and "Brand New Cadillac") and a 1991 show where Strummer took over entirely for "besotted lead singer" Shane McGowan, out of the band for a time due to his excess drinking. "By the late 1980's, the original energy of punk rock was arguably all but dormant," Chapman writes, "but if it could be found anywhere, it was in the anarchic spirit of the Celtic folk rockers from London." (That's on page 146, if you want to read more. What, you have the book, right?). 

I don't know about the 1991 show, but I was at the 1987 gig - 19 years old, singing happily along (sorry, Mr. MacColl) to "Dirty Old Town," and seeing things I had never seen before, like Shane - staggering a little, but definitely functional, even cool - passing a half-full bottle of whiskey, which he'd been swigging from, down into the audience - something I've never seen since, either, and proof that Shane didn't have THAT much of a drinking problem at that point (or he'd never have let the bottle go!); and a girl, riding her boyfriend's shoulders, hiking up her top and flashing her tits, more on which below. 

Chapman will be onstage tonight at the WISE Hall (1882 Adanac) with Shane's Teeth, a tribute act to the Pogues, also featuring local showman extraordinaire Rich Hope in the role of Joe Strummer. Aaron graciously answered a few questions, and Rob Thomson provided a gig poster; I'm in italics, below, and Aaron is not.

Allan: Did you ever see, meet, or otherwise interact with the Pogues? ...Were you at that epochal 1987 Pogues/ Joe Strummer show at the Commodore? (Shane was the first & only person I've ever seen pass a half a bottle of whiskey, which he'd been drinking from himself, down into the audience. Also the first and maybe the only tit-flash I've seen - as I recall, Shane had on sunglasses and tilted them up to see better, raising his eyebrows and pointing at the girl, who was riding her boyfriend's shoulders when she pulled up her top...).  

What a classic memory of that show! I did meet the Pogues the times they came here, and Shane separately. A bunch of other guys in the band saw that 1987 show you’re referencing that I believe the Nervous Fellas opened, but I was too young to get in! (Little did I know even the stupidest looking fake ID near guaranteed you entry into the Commodore in the 1980s, otherwise I would have at least *tried* getting in somehow.

I caught the band on that 1991 tour, and saw the reunion tours they were doing in the 1990s. I would have loved seeing some of those shows they were doing in the mid 80s. Maybe that’s why I like doing these Shane’s Teeth shows so much because it’s a chance to try to capture a bit of that energy, hear those songs and the audience sing along to them. Just the fun of it. Maybe it’s easy to forget how different, raucous, and unexpected the Pogues were when they first came out. In an era of hair metal and synth music, a bunch of guys who came forward dressed like the Krays brothers, playing music that way was very refreshing and against the grain. The energy of that original punk movement was suddenly showing up in ska and Irish folk music. It got me thinking lately in regards to a book I’m working on about what was happening musically around the world then and that suddenly there would be such a bold answer played with accordions, mandolins, and whistles. That scene birthed the Pogues and The Men they Couldn’t Hang, and Billy Bragg might be included in that time as well. In Australia you have Weddings, Parties, Anything. Even here in Vancouver we had Spirit of the West, and dare I even include the early days of the Real McKenzies there, or the next step of it—I was shocked to hear the Dropkick Murphy’s count the McKenzies as an influence. So something globally in those years was happening surely—with the Pogues as the flagship band. A lot of the later imitators have not been as interesting as they were.

Shane's Teeth, provided by Aaron Chapman (top left)

Who, precisely, is in Shane's Teeth? I have only seen "members of" listings. I gather Rich Hope is Joe; is any one person tasked with being Shane, or do you wrestle each other for lead vocal duties? 

The band is a group of Vancouver all-stars no stranger to many stages and bars you’ve been at. You’ll spot a number of Hard Rock Miners in there, former Real McKenzies, Spirit of the West, Town Pants, etc. We kind of restage the Pogues at their height at a famous show in London at the Town & Country, where guests like Joe Strummer joined them on stage, and Kirsty MacColl. Even Lynval from the Specials joined them in an encore for a big rave up—a tremendous party.

In regards to the full retinue: I suppose Rob Thompson from the Hard Rock Miners is our Shane since he’s singing most of the songs, but he’s on guitar too so I guess he’s a bit of Phil Chevron. Austin Space is our Terry Woods I suppose, Doug Kellam our Jem Finer on banjo, but he also sings a Phil Chevron song. Keith Rose is Darryl Hunt. Those are all Hard Rock Miners. I’m Spider Stacy on whistle. Ike Eidsness is Andrew Ranken—Ike is a Hard Rock Miner too, but we’re both ex-Real McKenzies, and I played with the Town Pants for many years. Tobin Frank is our James Fearnley and he of course played accordion in Spirit of the West. And yes, our pal Rich Hope is our Joe Strummer for the night, and Diva MacDonald is Kirsty Macoll. They’ve done the gig with us before.

Rich Hope at Richards on Richards, 2007, photo by Cindy LeGrier

We’ve also got a horn section for the night. Alex Jackson on sax, Dymitri Hanna on trombone—you’ll know him from Roots Roundup. Plus a couple of other horn players I believe if they can make it. You know horn players: they all started out normal like us, but became horn players and just got a little different. 

Has Shane, to your knowledge, ever remarked on the band's name? 

No, I feel a bit bad about that, because the name was my suggestion. I’m in touch with a couple of the Pogues now and I wonder if they wince when they see I post something on social media about it. They are all of good humour though, so I think the name rolls off. It’s a bit of a hat tip to the Mojo Nixon song "Shane’s Dentist" ["Shane's dentist don't work too  hard/ always at the pub"]—and it started one night in the late 90s when Shane MacGowan and The Popes were supposed to appear in Vancouver at the Commodore and they cancelled the show, or didn’t get across the border or something. We all gathered at the Railway Club that night for a few pints to at least get together and somebody suggested we ought to do our own Pogues show just to hear the songs for ourselves if they weren’t going to play them. When I met Shane when he was last here years ago one night, I never brought any of this up!

Are you a drinker, yourself? What are your favourite drinks? Any recommendations from the WISE Hall bar? (I have never had green beer. Is that something people serve there, or just cheesy pub stuff? I am actually not much of a drinker. It's just beer with dye, right?). 

I’m not a beer drinker. A gin and tonic always has stood me well. Especially after four of them—which is what I call a Sirhan Sirhan, because that’s what he downed before he shot Robert Kennedy. Did you know that? A few of the other Teeth are non-drinkers now, or just keep it to a pint or two, though you’d never know as they all seem like madmen on stage to me. I’m not sure if the WISE has any such things like green beer or the kind of “shamrockery” that you see at the Blarney Stone or something like that. I get that some people like that stuff, whatever. But I think this is a more alternative, sardonic crowd. You’re more likely to see somebody with a “Fist Me I’m Irish” t-shirt than something corny with a WISE Hall audience—and that’s a good thing.

Is the setlist all Pogues songs (or Clash songs that the Pogues did live with Joe, like "London Calling"), or are there other seasonally/ culturally appropriate songs imported into the set? Ewan MacColl, the Clancy Brothers, Nipple Erectors, or...?

They’re all Pogues songs, but included are the Clash songs that Joe notably played with the band when he lead them, or was a featured guest - three Clash songs in total. I fondly remember Strummer leading the Pogues in "London Calling" at the PNE Forum in 1991. I still have the poster for that. He played "Straight to Hell" and "I Fought the Law" and Rich Hope will lead the charge on those too. Ewan MacColl’s "Dirty Old Town" is done too, of course played as the Pogues did it. No Clancy Brothers stuff, but I think one Dubliners song is in there. It would be fun to have fit in a Nipple Erectors song, we’ll have to think of that next time.

James Joyce, left, and Aaron Chapman in Dublin

Having only a wee amount of Irish blood in me, I've never really associated St. Patrick's Day with anything other than a pretext for drinking, partying, and maybe the odd parade. Does it mean more to other members of the band? (How many of you have Irish blood?). 

I think there are a couple of people like me whose ancestry is strongly Irish, but some others with German or French background in there too. Scottish. But the Pogues of course for the most part were never an Irish band—they were from London, and just played a form of the music that they shook by the scruff of the neck. The Irish-ness of the date I suppose hold some significance to us, but it’s by far not a precursor to attend, or even if you don’t know any Pogues music, I think you’ll still have a good time. Drink or not, wear a mask or not. The show is being put on responsibly. Whatever you want to do is fine. But I think it’s a good time to come out and see each other again.

Anything else we should say about the show?

We’re all looking forward to it. People have told me who’ve seen the show in the past how much they thought it was a great night out, and all things considered these days, that’s a small good thing to appreciate. Seeya there—or Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. Whichever comes first.

Facebook page for tonight's show here! Read about Shane MacGowan's new, improved teeth here

Wednesday, March 16, 2022


Jeez, was anyone NOT at Sparks last night? I don't think I've seen more musicians in a single room unless they were playing it, and the ones I didn't see, like Tony Lee, I saw comments from on Facebook. Notables included members of Vancouver bands No Fun, the Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, China Syndrome, EddyD. & the Sex Bombs, Tankhog, Bif Naked's band, and... who knows how many others? And then there were journos like myself, at least two people who promote shows locally, and probably at least one taxi driver... It wasn't *quite* a sold out house (there were a few seats left up in the rafters with us) but it was as full as I've seen the Vogue, and man, were people enthusiastic...

...which makes sense, because it was a great show. Apparently NOT, contra Russell, their first in Vancouver, if Setlist FM is to be trusted, but their third time here, as shows are listed for 1975 and 1983. [Note: the Pointed Sticks member mentioned above, Bill Napier-Hemy, was going to gigs back then and weighs in on Russell's side - he's pretty sure last night WAS their first time; I've yet to find anyone who says otherwise, besides Setlist FM, so... dunno]. Either way, the first Vancouver show in 39 years is still pretty noteworthy, though. I mean, I was 15 in 1983; I'm 54 now. Probably a good portion of the audience wasn't even alive in 1983 - though the overall demographic seemed to be at least my age or older, so maybe a few people saw at least the 1983 show, too? (Please comment if you did!).

No opener, which was kind of welcome - who would possibly have fit, and why did we need one? Show started at 8:15 and lasted til 10-something, treating us to around two hours of Sparks, with Russell high-energy and dancing throughout and Ron taking the mike for a couple of verses here and there (and dancing during "No. 1 Song in Heaven," but I had seen video of it and, much as I love Ron, chose the moment to sneak out to the merch table, where I scored what seemed to be their last copy of Hippopotamus on CD, so good move, me!). Very smart representation of the soon-to-be-reissued Lil' Beethoven, which I gotta get - it actually was more present than either of their most recent albums, Annette (two songs) and A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (three songs), with a whopping four songs on the setlist (not online as I write but it's been the same through the tour so far, which you can check on if you care to; it was exactly the same as Seattle, for instance, I believe). No other album had as many songs played last night as Lil' Beethoven; A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip only had three, while some like A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing and Big Beat got no representation at all. Many albums (Propaganda, Indiscreet, Hippopotamus) got only one song each, and none of their other coming reissues were represented at all, that I noticed...

...which might poke a hole in my theory here, that they deliberately were trying to get people like me, who came late to the party, post-documentary, to buy Lil' Beethoven... If it were just a savvily Machiavellian business move, they'd have represented each of those albums, too, surely, but they didn't, so maybe it's just that they really LIKE Lil' Beethoven. And even if it was a ploy, it worked, because I now absolutely need the record with "I Married Myself" and "Suburban Homeboy" on it, neither of which I knew before beginning to prep for this show. "Suburban Homeboy" in particular was hilarious, and occupied prime space, being the first song post-encore, and "I Married Myself" briefly saw Russell singing into a hand-held mirror, which got big laughs. There was also a delightful tune off their first album - the Halfnelson one - which I think is also being reissued, but not through Sparks' current label: "Wonder Girl," also one I had never heard before beginning my show prep, and also really charming.   

The most surprising album for them to have more than one song from, meantime, was Music That You Can Dance To, which got two songs (the title track and "Shopping Mall of Love"): the album seems to be pretty unheralded, and is long out of print. In honesty, I hadn't dug what I heard of it until last night, but both of those songs - especially during Ron's part in the latter - really worked well live.

It was unfortunate, given COVID, that the band was shy about meeting people - I gather they won't be signing stuff at shows, have put up a public apology about the same on their site, so I left my album covers at home - but they seemed very warm and friendly and enjoying their renaissance, which they amply deserve. Erika and I were up in the rafters, but I took a few photos anyhow. 

Great night, Maels - good luck with the rest of the tour!