Dishrags guitarist-vocalist Jade Blade—in real life, Jill Bain—meets the Straight at a coffee shop on Dunbar, and while she’s ordering her latte, spills that one of the people involved in the label Supreme Echo’s new Dishrags compilation, Three, Nancy Smith, was actually the woman who recorded the album’s live material. “She was a member of the scene back then,” Blade says. “She was in a couple of bands herself, and she recorded tons of bands on cassette. Sometimes it was hand-held, and sometimes it was a board tape. Unfortunately, she moved to California, and had a flood, so she lost almost all of these. But we’re pretty good friends, and she had given each of the three Dishrags a copy, so Dale (Powers, Dishrags first generation bassist) loaned hers to Jason.”
Blade is referring to Jason Flower, the man behind the label, pictured above with the Dishrags outside of a 2007 reunion at Richards on Richards. That’s a copy of All Your Ears Can Hear: Underground Music in Victoria, BC 1978-1984 that he’s holding, the essential, two-CD-and-book compilation that he curated. It features two Dishrags songs on it: a studio recording of “Bullshit,” also featured on Three, and a 1979 live recording of “High Society Snob,” from after the band had relocated to Vancouver.
Unlike some of the archival material Flower is working with for his various punk and psych archival projects, the live tapes used on Three haven’t degraded much, Blade says. “They were pretty pristine, because I don’t think we ever listened to them! You very rarely want to listen to yourself at home, playing live on a cassette," she says, laughing. "I like the Windmill stuff on the first side especially though." That was recorded in 1978, during a period where "for six months or something, [the Windmill] was the punk club in Vancouver."
The Straight can’t hear it, but to Blade, the live material on side two is slightly less confident than side one’s. “We were pretty nervous, because it was the first time we had played the Commodore, and it was with the Clash, so it doesn’t quite have the same energy. It was huge —we were big fans of theirs, and they were wanting women bands to open for them, so that’s how we got on that bill. We opened for them again in Seattle at the Paramount, and then a few years later, for a different version of the Clash, and we were doing backup vocals for Corsage.” (The back-up band for Phil Smith.) The Dishrags can be seen providing uncharacteristically cute background vocals on Phil Smith’s song “The Shame I Feel” on Youtube here.
In fact, the writer was at that show; the Cut the Crap tour, at the Pacific Coliseum, where Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon were the only founding Clash members present. But in all honesty, I have no recollection of the Dishrags' contribution to the night, or even that there were women onstage with Corsage. “People didn’t like us very much,” Blade recalls. “People booed and threw things, but we were used to that!”
People who have seen Susanne Tabata’s Bloodied but Unbowed know what Blade is talking about. There’s footage of the band receiving some pretty nasty heckling. “That was one way that we couldn’t help but be political, because people objected to us just because we were three young women onstage. And it was also because we were a punk band. I should preface that by saying that it wasn’t the punk crowd that didn’t like us. If we were playing somewhere like the Windmill, that kind of stuff wouldn’t happen, the hurled abuse and name-calling and things.” The footage in Tabata’s documentary “was from Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, where there was a mainstream audience. It was like a battle of the bands, so people were voting for whoever else was playing." That sort of abuse happened often enough that Blade doesn’t have any particularly vivid stories. “It wasn’t memorable,” she says. “Though when I saw that footage, I thought, jeez, that isn’t very nice!”
Coming back to the Clash at the Commodore, side two of the album closes with a cover of the Clash’s “London’s Burning.” Does that mean that the Dishrags did a Clash cover when opening for them? “We played that as our encore. We were really hoping we’d get an encore, and we did, and our plan was we’d play a Clash song, because we always played Clash songs in our earlier sets.” (Also heard on a previous Dishrags compilation, the equally essential but out of print CD, Love/ Hate is the band’s version of “Janie Jones.”) “It was a bit of a dare, but we were thrilled, because halfway through, we looked over and the Clash were on the side of the stage dancing, and then when they came on they dedicated their version of ‘London’s Burning’ to us.”
Blade says the Clash "got progressively less friendly as the years went by. That first gig they were really excited themselves because it was their first North American appearance, and so they came out to the Windmill the night before the show and hung out with the local punks, and then we had dinner with them, too, backstage at the Commodore before the show, which was totally nerve-wracking, meeting your idols. I couldn’t eat anything, I was so nervous. And Bo Diddley was there, too, because it was the Dishrags, Bo Diddley and the Clash. The Clash requested him, too, because they had a lot of Bo Diddley-inspired riffs! And then the next time we saw them at the Paramount, they came out and shook hands, and were friendly enough, and then by the time of the Coliseum gig, they might not have even known we were in Corsage, but we were completely isolated and didn’t see them at all. Completely separate dressing rooms and whatnot.”
The Dishrags won’t be doing any performances this time around, Blade says apologetically. The three members live on separate land masses now, and it’s just too much of a hassle to get together and practice (unless, say, someone wants them to tour Japan again or such; that sort of gig, they're available for). However, they will be doing various in-store meet and greets throughout Saturday (May 24) with appearances scheduled at Music MadHouse in Burnaby, Neptoon, Dandelion, and Zulu, before heading to the Railway Club for the album release party. Check the Supreme Echo Facebook page for more information, and for news on upcoming Supreme Echo releases.