For a few years there, Black Halos/ Bonitos frontman Billy Hopeless was scarcely seen on stages in Vancouver, or elsewhere; and his return to action last year didn't immediately pay off for this city. He recorded a 7" single, "Gutterball," that he co-wrote with former Halos' guitarist Rich Jones, then did two new Black Halos songs - "Fossil Fuel" and "Geisterbahn" with Jones, hearable on the Black Halos bandcamp page, but with no local gigs in sight, Hopeless packed up his snarl and headed to England and Spain.
The experience of being onstage again was "incredible," Hopeless tells the Straight. "As always there was some crazy SNAFU moments but hey it wouldnt be a Halos' tour without them, right? I can never say enough about my eternal torrid love affair with Spain and its people."
Come spring 2017, and Hopeless has another new 7" - or, as with "Gutterball," one side of a 7", distro'd by Snap Records out of Madrid; the song, Hopeless tells the Straight, is "East Van Morrison," and this time Jones is not involved. "No, on the new single I'm joined by the soulful Vancouver garage band known as the Bad Beats, featuring once-Halos roadie and band mate with me in the Bonitos, Adam Payne." Hopeless-taking a page from the Joe Keithley school of self-promotion-describes the song as a "true classic," albeit one that has "been injected and molested with the Billy Hopeless loving touch".
He's dropped copies around town-specifically, at Neptoon, Red Cat Main, and the SBC Cabaret-so Vancouverites have a chance to "get infected" themselves, if they're so inclined.
Better yet, Hopeless returns to local stages with three upcoming shows so far this spring: a show celebrating the Savoy and Railway Club's Stan the Doorman; a benefit for former bandmate Jay Millette; and a JFK "fuck band" extravaganza, the JFK "May Day R'n'R Blowout" at the Revel Room, featuring a tribute to departed luminaries Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble and Howard Rix.
First up is Stanfest, this Saturday at the Fairview. Not to be confused with Nova Scotia's annual Stan Rogers festival, this is a Northern Electric show in honour of Railway Club doorman Stan Heisie, who has health issues. (The Facebook event page clarifies that this is "not a benefit" and that proceeds will be going to the performers, as "Stan does not want/need charity."
However, it continues, "we want/ need Stan, so this is a celebration filled with some of Stan's favourite bands (to lure him from his reclusiveness)." Performers will include shameless accordion-slinging chanteuse Ana Bon Bon, vintage-Replacements-channelling SLIP~ons, and Vancouver's own reinvigorated rockabilly kings the Nervous Fellas, among others. Hopeless describes the gig as "a way of everyone being able to say thanks Stan for being the Best Doorman ever, and that we stand by Stan."
Does Hopeless have a favourite memory of the vintage Railway? He says that's "a tough one, as usually it went beyond the last call, but probably when they got the hot nuts machine in, that was just so epic," he recalls. (Hopeless is a sucker for neat nostalgia items, it seems; the last time we spoke, he challenged me to vintage pinball, which I was beating him at until our balls got jammed). "I was there long before bands of my ilk were playing there, or really hanging out there, but later played there with the Bonitos and JFK. I remember how stoked Stan was to find out I was playing a festival in Spain with Arthur Lee and Love. He couldn't have cared less about Danzig being on the bill, it was all about the Love!"
As you might expect for a man with a taste for the vintage, Hopeless is unsure about the reincarnated Railway, which he refers to as the "McDonnelly's caboose." "I bet they don't even have a hot nuts machine," he growls, "and I know they dont have a doorman like Stan cause those are one of a kind." But he hasn't been yet, and doesn't seem particularly excited about the prospect. "I'm sure its as exciting as all the other attractions at Donnellyland," he shrugs.
Closer to Hopeless' heart is Jaystock 2017, a benefit he has organized for former Black Halos/ Spitfires/ Midnight Towers man Jay Millette, who lost his possessions and two cats in an apartment fire. Besides Hopeless, the lineup for the show-April 28 at the SBC Cabaret-includes the Spitfires, the Ramores, Sunday Morning, and Stab'em in the Abdomen. "Jay once gave me a card that said 'I'm Jay Millette, buy me a beer sometime' on it, and I say now that my brother is in need, I think I can do a bit more than that!"
There will be a raffle as part of the show, too: "I got all kinds of killer prizes that have been donated by such amazing companies/ artists/ all-around nice people as Skull Skates, the Bayside Lounge, Red Cat and Zulu Records, I Braineater, Blim, Vintage, and many many more." These include a framed gig poster for a show that the Black Halos played in front of the New York Dolls at the Commodore, signed by all the members of all the bands-a pretty cool item, we must admit.
Two shows of this nature a week apart is unusual, but "how could i say no to helping out or paying tribute to my allies and family?" Hopeless says. "When it comes to friends with benefits, I can really get behind or on top of that. I'm a frontman for all occassions: weddings, funerals, stagettes, sweet sixteen parties, orgies for the elderly." (Is it just me or does Billy seem horny today?).
Finally (for now), on May 1st, Hopeless will submit to the guiding hand of Jack "Fucking" Keating for one of his "fuck band" showcases-a Vancouver tradition that Keating himself describes here. The evening will feature a tribute to Howard Rix and Brian Goble, themselves bandmates in the Trespassers. Both men are also viewable on Youtube with one of the most celebrated of Vancouver fuck bands, Rude Norton, covering vintage Iggy Pop.
"I visited Howard on his death bed in the hospital twice," Hopeless remembers, "and gave him a book on the Stones which i believe later influenced his last still unreleased recordings. I'm just going to do a couple numbers for my departed brothers out of their repertoire, and show those people at the Revel Room that if you want Rocker Billy, you got it."
Also on hand will be the Judys' Dennis Mills, Eddy Dutchman, Joanie Kepler-with the "Joanie and Johnnie" show, which Keating raves about-and once again, Ana Bon Bon, who clearly gets around.
For those wanting more of Hopeless, he has a regular gig at Chinatown artspace Blim (115 East Pender), where he sells fashions "for those in with the far out" and helps with the silk screen and worshop studios, while supplying the venue "with the best tunes and free candy in downtown Vancouver."