Friday, 23 February 2007

Jill's Fags


Protex Blue The Clash

I had always wanted a punk girlfriend, one that had spikey hair, bondage jeans, the whole makeup thing, but was still attractive and feminine. I met Jill `Option` through the various punk parties that were going on in and around Oakville. She came from the whiteoaks side of town, while I was from the Bronty area.
In the eyes of Gord and Kealan she lacked credibility, largely due to an incident at a Ramones gig where she allegedly chanted, ` we want the sex pistols - we want the sex pistols` all the way through the band's performance. The fact that the sex pistols were not on the line up seemed to be immaterial to Jill. We gradually drifted together and then about two years later we drifted apart. In the interm she came to manage zeroption although I remain to be convinced that she thought we were any good.

Our relationship started off as many do, friends, just friends. We attended a couple of gigs and messed around a little. Things became more serious after a Young Lion's show in Toronto. We had gone back to one of her friend's place and while listening to Gang of Four, I slipped my arm around her shoulder, it wasn't rejected, her friend raised his eyebrows at both of us and looked slightly disappointed. After that we started going out. To be frank I thought he was after her too, so I had to move fast. It later transpires he was more interested in me but I didn't know much about the gay scene in Ontario despite the fact that Toronto was known as the San Franciso of the North. The song that was playing at the time was `tainted goods` (as opposed to Soft Cell's `tainted love`) both, however, would have been a very apt description of the relationship. The irony ws not lost on either of us. She worked part time in a Chemists - which was handy!

In terms of her appearance she fitted the bill. She had fantastic spikely hair, occassionally dyed blue, a leather bike jacket, red bondage jeans, with the look beiong completed by a pair of black monkey boots I brought her back from Belfast, which in truth, were perhaps half a size too small for her. In terms of Canadians and my contribution to their foot related difficulties, I have done pretty well. Kealan, in particular, is scarred for life due to my attention to his digits. Not only did I buy him a pair of brothel creepers which were so small that he eventually pushed his big toe through the front of them, but I have also broken his ankle by repeatedly jumping on it as he drunkly crawled up Kirk Jackson's front garden. The cracking noise on my final attempt was a dead give away that all was not well. This was confirmed by his attempts to stand up right. Attempting to place any weight on the aforementioned ankle he immediately flipped over and groaned in agony. Initally I thought this was really quite funny, but soon realised that he was in real pain. I also managed to drop a beer bottle in front of him (which smashed) just as he was doing (a very poor impression) of the nutty dance, thus cutting open his foot. The problem was as our drummer, he kind of needed his feet. Anyway, I digress.

By this time we had rented a practice room above an office on the outer fringes of Oakville. Colin had left the band and Gord andI were sharing vocals, shouts, hysterical laughter particularly when he'd smoked too much of a certain substance.

We would trudge up to it most days after school and gradually put a set together. It also became a party place, which we shared with scared. Large volumes of alcohol was consumed - especially, when in season, superbock - illict substances were abused, as were any females that happened to enter the place. Chris X, one of the Oakville punk army, would frequently come round, grab the nearest female and attempt to perform incredible feats of sexual daring, often ontop of broken beer bottles and in full view of all asundry. Weeks later he would regail us with stories of his most recent trip to the clap clinic including going into lurid detail about the location, size and pain caused by whatever was growing out of or on top of his favourite body part.

Jill tolerated the parties but showed a healthy distain for the hangers on. She did begin to tap into the scene in Toronto and helped us get a few important gigs playing with the likes of Youth Youth Youth lead by the much moustached English guitarist Brian and the exceptionally talented and very good looking Young Lions, who later became pretty good friends of the zeroption and stole all our girlfriends!

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Momofuku Ando RIP

Momofumi Ando, the inventor of the instant noodle is dead. After serving two years in jail for tax evasion and running a largely unsuccessful salt processing factory in Osaka, Ando turned his attention to the challenge of creating the World's first dried noodle. He discovered that by flash frying noodles he could preserve them until they could be reconstituted and eaten at a later stage.

As a tribute to this great man, I have written a haiku (Japanese poem) to celebrate his life and achievements (ahem):

Peel off lid,
pour on boiling water...
Wait five minutes, stir, consume.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Faster Pussycat...Faster (Educating Stuartie Magaks)

"There's too much heat, out on the street, telling us to move along...its gonna be a long hot summer from now on!" TRB.

It snowed here today and soon melted. It reminded me of Canada and particularly when the snow goes. You can smell it on the breeze, a sweeter smell on warmer air, coming up from the South. Then you know that the snow will go...eventually and that you can begin to live normally again and wait for summer. The summer of 1982 was a summer to remember. I had gone back to Northern Ireland in the summer of the previous year and was already infected with something a strong dose of penicillian just couldn't get rid of. I was walking around in standard punk issue uniform, bike jacket, bleached levis, you get the picture, but by this time I had added a patterned hankerchief that I wore as a headband and convinced Gaz to do the same. I am sure we looked like prats and would get various comments from the bouncers at the pub doors like - "cut yer head son?" I was also beginning to say "eh" a lot.

Punks that went to Canada from the UK often had a superior attitude to the locals and were of the view that the only good punk bands came from the UK. Naturally I assumed the same. In reality, however, punk was stagnating in the UK. The Oi movement was in full swing offering mediocre offerings from the likes of Chron Gen, The Partizans and the awful Becky Bondage and Vice Squad. Crass was doing what Crass did best, telling us that Falklands war was immoral, that we shouldn't eat meat and Jesus died for his own sins not ours. By this time we were all of the view that Crass was full of shit. Malcolm Owen was dead and the Clash were becoming mainstream in the US. I was first introduced to a new type of punk when Kealan and Gord convinced me to sit down and listen to DOA from British Columbia. At first I was sceptical, and why shouldn't I have been. With names like Chuck Biscuit, Joey Shithead and Randy `give it to me baby a-ha -a-ha`Rampage, DOA sounded like a collective of rejects from a kid's western, a teen comedy and a porno movie. InitiallyI wasn't that impressed until DOA brought out their seminal album Hardcore 81, which quite frankly blew me away. I need to qualify this by saying that there was a lot of awful punk music from North America. When I arrived the scene in Toronto was a mix of outdated punk and new wave that had merged together and was represented by the likes of Micky De Sadest and Martha and the Muffins. Just as the foundations of the punk /oi movement was being built on in the UK (by lesser beings), the awful punk / new wave scene in the US and Canada was also being torn down and rebuilt but by gods in bands such as DOA, the Subhumans, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks to name a few. One thing they all had in common was they played fast, very fast punk rock. With Colin's depature we no longer aspired to sound like the Clash, rather we sought to emulate the bands mentiond above - and play faster pussycat...faster.

I had two visitors from the Land of Puddles in the summer of 1982. Gaz has already chronicled his expriences with Canadian customs and immigration (if you could just touch your toes Sir - very good, this will only take a minute) but he enjoyed the rest of his stay. I introduced him to a special brand of Canadian cigarettes that made him "very aware of everything" as well as allowing him to experience the sensation of his hair.. "actually growing in my head." I also took him to see the Dead Kennedys in Toronto which was a great show where we met what were to become two good pals, Vince `PeeWee `Pauluchi and English Neil from Dorsett. There were a lot of people from across the pond knocking around the scene and they generally got a geographical prefix added to their first name, for example, English Neil, English Rob, Scottish Paul and of course...Irish Stu.

The second GBH reprobate to arrive was none other than Geordie `the HeadBanger` Hill. Geordie's brother had moved to Burlington just up the road from me and Geordie came over to visit his brother that Summer, just as his brother was preparing to go back to NI to visit Geordie and his folks. I guess communication was not Geordie's strong point. Geordie is currently living in Bangor and is working for... the Royal Mail. We hung out a lot together and he even forced me to take him to see Iron Maiden in Toronto. I retailiated by forcing him to go and see SLF at El Macombo, where we ended up having a Chinese with the lads.

And so the summer of 1982 was a great time. I had seen two good pals, I had made a few more good pals, I had seen a couple of great bands and I had been turned onto the emergent hardcore scene that was coming up from the South. Zeroption were becoming tighter as a three piece and were begining to gig. All we needed now...was a manager.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

M16: Pig Roast for Hippies

"I wanna wanna be a male model!"

Colin says, "Hi you look like one of the Undertones!" I think, "thanks a lot you fecker they all look like inbred Irish pig farmers from Donegal!" As far as I can remember these were the first words he ever said to me. Older than me by at least three years, he was very confident and affable. He had seen me in the Mall and had strolled right up to me and stuck out his hand. Dressed head to toe in black, black dyed hair in a quiff, black shirt (remeniscent of the Clash's give em enough rope period), a black leather motorbike jacket, black drain pipe jeans and a pair of black engineer's boots, Colin was black and proud! The product of two Scottish emigres, in terms of his dress sense and musical acumen, he had initially taken the route of most Canadian teenagers at the time, long hair, lumberjack shirt, GwGs and a pair of kodiaks and was into Genesis (the radical) in a big way, until he heard the Clash's first album and that had changed his life. If the Clash ever decided to reform and they called him up to replace their late, great frontman - he would be out the door and on the tour bus before you could say - "baaaaaaaaaaby, I'm your man!"

He worked as a chef during the day but had fronted a local band called the Vaguemen in his spare time. "Heeeello, before we start tonight's show, I'd like to introduce the er... group, band, umm...ensemble; on guitar, yes we have an axeman on guitar, on bass we have... a guy / girl or a person of indeterminable gender on bass, on drums... yes we have a drummer on drums and I'm the singer on... vocals and we're from... well we're from somewhere in central to central eastern Canada, yes we were, are and still are, the....Vaguemen. Canadians will tolerate a degree of alternative music as long as it is safe. I remember The Beat played at a festival in Oakville one year. Everyone loved the Beat. You could dance to them, impress your girlfriend with your moves whilst ignoring the subtle political messages that was woven into the fabric of their songs. They were followed by Killing Joke. The audience stood there in antipication, hoping to have some more of the same, only to have Jass Coleman, with a whitened face and large black rings painted under his eyes, leep onto them from the stage as the band tore into its first number. Girls fainted, grown men turned and ran, they called in the RCMP. Killing Joke were just too much for Oakville. The Vaguemen on the other hand were a band that were non threatening, were a band that your girlfriend would like and hence were considered to

But Colin didn't want safe, he wanted to front his own band that would pay a degree of homage to what he considered to be the best punk band in the world. Moreover, it didn't matter if that band were called after a general issue assault rifle, had an semi-illiterate and moderatley innumerate undertone lookalike on guitar, a gay icon on bass and a poster boy for the young farmer's of Ireland on drums. As long as they could bash out a couple of Clash covers then Colin was a happy man, at least that's what we thought.

Our first serious gig as M16 the four piece was at a pig roast held by a number of Colin's friends who hadn't quite had the `Paul on the road to Damascus` conversion when it came to music that Colin had had. Having set up and conquered my nervous stomach by wedging a cork between my cheeks, I saw Colin (frontman extrodinaire), bounce onto the stage (in sympathetic Clash attire) looking good big man, with a fender telecaster strapped around his shoulder. He then proceeded to kick off the show by plugging in his guitar and after a-one-a-two-a-one-two-three-four (I had been at school in Canada for 6 months by this time so don't worry I could cope) he let rip in magnificant fashion. The problem was that we had been practicing for the gig for about three months and we had never practiced a set ever with Colin on guitar.

The rest of the band stood there... mouths open, aghast. I looked at Gord, he looked at me, we both looked Kealen...Kealan looked a the roasting pig and licked his lips. We then proceeded to launch into the same song in an attempt to catch up with Colin. I remember as a kid being taught to sing Frère Jacques, as a round, by my teacher. She split us into two groups and then taking on the role of conducter she started the first group off, "Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormez-vous, dormez-vous, " whereafter she got the second group to sing exactly the same thing as the first group
had moved onto the, "morning bells are ringing" bit. Well this is exactly what had happened to us except we were attempting a version of brand new cadilliac and there wasn't anyone conducting. Ironically, Colin hadn't cottoned on to the fact that were totally out of time with him. He was standing at the front of the stage bashing away on the tele, head nodding in time to what he was playing, sweat dripping down his face, leg out, foot pounding up and down - "My b-aaa-by showed up in a brand new cadilaaaaaaaac...!" He looked great, he sounded great - but together we sounded like a pack of foxhounds unleashed on a group of feral cats mixed with a drunk toppling over a set of dustbins! Finally we managed to pull it together just as the song ended. Colin looked round at us and grinned...then proceeded to launch onto the next number. And so the gig went. I heard that Elvis' back up band used to take the cue that the song was about to start because Elvis would twitch his arse... in our case Colin was communicating with us telepathically - the problem was none of us could read minds.

M16 played a few more gigs - one in the turning point in Toronto. I screwed that one up as I couldn't get my guitar in tune. Colin convinced me to buy new strings by removing the original set with a pair of tin snips.

Finally he broke the news to us that the band wasn't going in the direction he wanted and that he was quitting. I was gutted. I am not sure the reason behind his departure. He cited musical differences - but I suspect that a lot had to do with peer pressure (not as good as the vaguemen was a comment he got after the pig roast gig) or maybe he just wanted to do something else. I can say two things about the M16 experience. The first that Colin was a really great guy. He was cool, charming, very funny but also incredibly kind (he once gave his entire month's salary to a charity, because they needed more than he did). I was genuinely sorry to see him go.

The second thing I learnt is that no-one is inexpendible. Faced with Colin's departure the three `am egos` had to decide what to do. Quitting was not an option` and we had `no other option` but to keep going. Hence we decided to become a three piece, play harder and faster punk rock and change our name to...zeroption.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Hey Buddy Punk Sucks, Rock and Roll Man!

"Go buddy, go buddy, go buddy, go buddy...go go go!"

I have never worn a white boiler suit (well actually I did but I would rather not talk about it - just coming officer) but I did own a 1969 Gibson SG and still have dark hair (just). Like Pete I jumped around a lot of stage in zeroption, unlike Pete it was more to do with hiding my lack of ability on the guitar (see Gaz's comments on the first time he saw zeroption play - kind words my friend, will you take a cheque or do you prefer cash?). Kealan and Chachi, sorry I mean Kealan and Gord, had been in a few garage bands - the first was named FLQ which was a nod in the direction of a Quebecois (French Canadian) separatist movement which was most bizarre as the boys couldn't speak French, had no intention in assisting in the dissolution of the Canadian state and lived in Ontario. It was bit like coming from East Belfast and calling your band... The IRA.
The other punks at Blakelock at the time also had a band with an equally interesting name, the Canadian Revolutionary Army, or CRA to their friends. What four middle class suburbanites wanted to revolt about I have no idea..."hey man, the beer store is closed early, dude hockey night in Canada is on an hour later than usual,... its snowing...!"

Chris from that band is currently playing in a band with Gord and Kealan called the young mothers A complex person with an ego bigger than mine and just slightly bigger than Kealan's, Gord wanted to take leadership or put his stamp on the direction of the group. Therefore I spent time thinking about a name that would reflect his importance as group leader. For example, I suggested using the title from the Jilted John classic, "Gordon is a Moron" or alternatively something with a Dr. Who flavour but "The Dr and the Timelords" was taken, so I suggested "Gordon and the Gaylords." He finally got fed up with my infantile offerings and came back with a few of his own such as "Stuartie and the shitheads." Finally after much bickering we settled on the name "Kealan and the Klu Klux Klangers". Seriously though, we opted to name ourselves after a semi automatic rifle issued to US forces - M16, why? I have absolutely no idea. In terms of who played what, things were pretty fluid to begin with. Finally, I took on the role as lead guitarist, Kealan liked to hit things and settled on the drums (although he didn't have a kit) and Gord opted for the bass guitar and became the group's most accomplished poser. All we needed was someone who could sing.

Oakville is a very suburban town. Miles of similarily constructed dwellings, built on streets designed along a grid pattern, punctuated by trees of varying specis, with the main focus of the community being the local Mall, the closest of which to me being Hopedale Mall. I would mooch around the mall and frequently be harassed by stoners. The most common encounter would go something like this. "Hey Buddy, punk sucks - rock and roll man!" The most common response would be, "don't call me Buddy I'm not your friend, also I don't know how something which is essentially inanimate can actually suck and if you like rock and roll so much, cut your fucking hair you hippy!" Niave, what I hadn't quite fathomed was that popular music came to Canada in 1969 and had not moved on. For your typical Canadian stoner - rock and roll wasn't Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis or the king...Alvin Stardust, but rather Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin. Hanging around outside the men's toilets in the mall, however, gave me the opportunity to bump into someone who would become the first and last lead singer M16 ever had. His name was Colin and he thought he was Joe Strummer...absolutely perfect.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Punk Rock High School - Zeroption (pictured below) is Born!

"Ah-ah-ahh-ah, ah-ah-ahh-ah----- (open wide) "We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow...!"

So there I was stuck in Canada, shovelling snow from the drive way (how novel), watching endless mind numbing US TV shows and taking long walks on my own. I would wander out dressed in a light beige parka (with a fake fur lined hood) and these enormous kind of yellow fur lined wellies with laces at the top and grooves along the toes. I was beating the girls off. Worse still my girl friend in Northern Ireland dumped me and had shacked up with the bass player of the Co-ordinants. Well water under the bridge and its best to forgive and forget..."Benson you're a dead man!!!!"
With March came a thawing and my opportunity to attend high school, Blakelock High School.
I trundled along (with my Mum) and toned down my dress sense a bit, only the docs gave any hint of my punk credentials and I had also borrowed a lot of my cousin's clothes (these days I only borrow my sister's). My student counsellor advised me that my dress was appropriate (apparently he was a cross dresser too) and that I should fit in, but could I please slow down when I spoke as he didn't understand a word that I said. "Whaddyameanareyousefeckingdeeforwat?"
School was a shock. I mean it was just like high school musical but without the singing. Take the canteen... in one corner there were the football jocks playing with the cheerleader's pom poms, who reciprocated by playing with their helmets (sorry this was just so predictable). In another corner there were geeky kids, usually being bullied by the jocks. The punks in the far corner were not speeding like a jet and the stoners were usually in no corner at all rather outside in the getting high man and listeningto Led Zepplin. And there were preppies - please.
This was my first experience of these strange sub groupings, who compared to my peers in Northern Ireland, had by the look of things, led pretty sheltered lives...well it was Canada after all. Morever, increasingly I came to realise that Canada was not a classless society but was very class conscious except you tended to be judged on what labels you wore rather than what school you went to. No points scored there for me then, no one had heard of primark in Canada. I remember walking into class on my first real day of school. I had cropped hair, was wearing a white fred perry shirt and a navy v-neck fred perry jumper, a red harrington jacket, bleached levis and ox blood coloured high leg docs. Sarah `pom pom` Montgomery (one of the cheerleaders that I lusted after before I went to spec savers), said, "Oh my Gaaaaaawd, what is that...?" Alas in a sort of distainful-I have just stepped in dogshit-manner, rather than the (breathy sigh) - "Oh my G0D - what is.... that (big boy - meeeow - purrrrrrrrrrr)?"
My natural gravity was to the punks but even here there was evidence of something distrubing. A couple of guys were floating around that looked the part (shallow aren't I), but it was during history class that I was accosted by two others who accused the other guys - that actually did look like punks - of being psuedos, which was ok by me as I didn't know what psuedo meant. It transpires the accosters were Messers Kealan D and Gord F who went onto play drums and bass in zeroption. Kealan (aka Kiki D) had come from Irish farming stock and it showed. The big checked shirt was a dead give away, despite the turned up collar. Gord was a good looking guy. Dark haired, a gay icon even to this day, he dressed in tight jeans, sneakers and cap sleeved t-shirts. He also had the habit of walking in a very erect manner, maybe to make himself look taller, which at times gave the impression that he had once sat on something conical and it was either still stuck up there or that it had come out but had left him in permenant discomfort. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to a teen US heartthrob from a well known US sitcom. Yes Gord had the look of a `Chachi` about him. And so the three of us got together to form what was to become...zeroption, as the long dark Winter turned to the Spring...
"Goodbye grey skies...hello blue - nothing can hold me when I hold you, feels so right it can't be wrong, rocking and rolling all week long!"

Friday, 5 January 2007

Ho ho ho Canada

"I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I like to press wild flowers. I put on women's clothing, And hang around in bars."
I arrived in Canada on the 17th of December 1980 just before Christmas. It was cold and they wouldn't let me into the country. "Take off eh, you hoser!" said the immigation officer, "you look kinda weird and smell funny!" Actually he didn't, he just informed me that I was a stupid paddy, with a chip on my shoulder, that didn't have the right entry papers, he was right on all three accounts. My uncle had to file a bond that would guarantee that once allowed into the snowy wastes of Ontario, I wouldn't do anything abnormal like ride mooses (which I believe is still legal in the more remote parts of Canada, even to this day). In truth the immigration officer did pass comment on my fashion sense. Now I have travelled a lot and in my experience my eligibility to enter any sovereign state has never been questioned because I looked different... except in Canada. Gaz had the same experience one year later, they keep him in immigration for three hours. What should I have learnt from this? That my adopted homeland was not only quite quiet but also quite conservative, with a small c of course.
Mike, my cousin, picked me up and took me to my new home on Selgrove Gardens, Oakville Ontario. I began a new life with my partially sighted uncle who had just got divorced to my Auntie Pat. Pat came out of the house as Mike and I pulled into the drive way, draped in furs and whafting of gin (Pat I mean, not me and Mike). She gave me a huge kiss on the lips and then disappeared into the night. The next day I woke up with the mother of all coldsores on my upper lip. "Hi I'm your weirdly dressed cus from Norn Ireland, I have greasy hair, talk funny and last night your mom gave me... herpes! The house was a split level affair that needed a clean and a lick of paint, but at least it had a pool...which was frozen. My mum joined me on the 24th and we spent our first Christmas together in Canada. I had and as far as I am aware still have, four Canadian cousins, Andy the eldest, Mike, Owen and Russ the baby of the bunch. Only Owen lived with us and was one of the nicest guys I will ever know. He also had one of the most comprehensive collections of porn I have ever seen, but I didn't find discover this until years later.
January and February of 1981 were awful. I was homesick and terminally, mind-numbingly bored (if only I had found the porn collection sooner). I missed my friends and being blown up or shot at. To begin with I spent hours watching repeats on American sitcoms. I have seen every episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show, Mash, Happy Days, Shirley and thingy and Joanie and Chachi.
There was one channel I was particularly fond of, UTV Buffalo. Not only did it share the same call letters as an independent televison channel in Northern Ireland, but Buffalo was particularly badly affected by arson attacks and hence the news on this chanel often showed images of burning buildings...I was beginning to feel more at home.