People have always been a bit snobbish about Surrey.
In local lore, it’s where the gay bashers who cruise Davie Street looking for people to insult come from. It’s the home of the dreaded “Surrey girl”. (You know, like in the jokes: “Where does a Surrey girl go in the morning?”/ “Home.) The Golers, Vancouver’s heavy-metal “in-bred militia”, named after incestuous East Coast hillbillies, with lyrics from the point of view of psychotic, pig-humping white trash, include a “Next stop Gateway Station" Skytrain announcement on their debut LP.
It’s got enough of a rep that you used to see “I live in Surrey by choice” bumper stickers around. They were funny.
It’s an interesting neighbourhood, though. For one thing, it’s as diverse a community as you’re likely to find in the Lower Mainland. Craving fried plantains? Want to get some Auntie Bev’s all-purpose Caribbean spice mix for your eggs? Need a cheap source of halal meat? Want to cruise pawnshops for stacks of $1 DVDs? Surrey probably has your back.
Sure, it has its East-Hastings-ish aspects along the Whalley Strip, but there’s an unpretentiousness, even a friendliness in Surrey that you don’t find much of in other bedroom communities of Vancouver. Unlike, say, the strip mall feel of the tri-cities, where people live because rent is affordable, but commute to Vancouver for nights out, people out in Surrey are just cut off enough from the big city that they make their own culture. The community vibe you get in the area around Guildford Mall is quite striking. You could feel at home in Surrey, which is a good thing, because rents being what they are in Vancouver, you may soon have to.
But for everything nice you might say about Surrey, what there isn’t, at present—at least since the Java Joint closed—is much of a music scene. Or as Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks puts it: “It’s the third largest municipality in the province with no place for original rock music!”
That all might be about to change.
With the aid of Donna Mabbett (“Who booked the Town Pump during the glory years from 1983 to 1994” and “sound guru”/Profile Studios man Cecil English, the Pointed Sticks are poised to play the Byrd, a refurbishment of the Flamingo Hotel, which used to be a pretty seedy place to see strippers, and now may actually become—if this works—a live music venue for a community of 500,000 who are just far enough outside Vancouver that they probably don’t get out to many gigs. It means braving the walk from Gateway. Or Surrey Central, but fans of the Pointed Sticks might actually enjoy the chance to see the band in a different context. (And if you're a music fan in Surrey, what other options do you have?)
Vocalist Nick Jones took time to answer a few questions in advance of the band's show on Friday (March 23).
Georgia Straight: So you were supposed to be touring Germany this spring! I know, because I got an article on you in a German magazine. What happened? Is it guaranteed you'll re-book? I really really want to hear how Germans respond to "The Marching Song".
Nick Jones: It was a personal reason involving a family member. So, we did the right thing, and everything is fine now. Our agent over there has already started re-booking the dates for the same time next year. Fingers crossed, we'll be flying to Europe next March! And yes, there were about five German dates on the schedule, so we will get the answer to your question about "The Marching Song" then.
What's the band's history with Surrey, anyhow? Anyone from there or have ties there? Any thoughts on the snobbery about Surrey that has been around for years? Does it seem like classism, racism, or...? (Even those "I live in Surrey by choice" bumper stickers you used to see are kind of a backhanded insult to the place, but I've been working in Surrey, and I actually quite like the sense of community and diversity you get there.)
Pointed Sticks have a very long history with Surrey. Gord grew up there, and attended Princess Margaret high school. I lived there with my folks in '76-'77 while going to SFU, and I think everyday life in Newton in the '70s was what drove me to quit school, move to England and become a punk rocker! We didn't play in Surrey proper very often back in the day, in fact, the only date I can clearly recall was at the Scottsdale Inn, which was a top 40 room that occasionally sacrificed a punk or new wave band to the jackals on a Monday night. We did okay, the guys weren't too keen on us, but their girlfriends liked us and thought we were cute. Which we were. But I sense that things have changed a lot in Surrey since then, and with all of the development in the Whalley area, perhaps things are ripe for a new musical scene to develop. Lots of young people are living in that area now, so hopefully this works. I live in Nanaimo, which has suffered many of the same preconceptions about being a redneck/greaseball/biker/lowlife town that Surrey has, and its simply not true anymore. I absolutely love living there, and I can be in town in two hours whenever I choose. And besides, from my point of view, Vancouver doesn't offer much to be snobby about anymore; an over priced, overrated place (by itself and its residents, anyway), that bears little resemblance to the frighteningly vital place that it was pre-Expo. As Bud Luxford says, "We invited the world, and they all stayed". The result was a city that grew way too fast for its own good, and never developed a sense of how that was going to change the urban dynamics. (Answer: for the worse.) And now rent for an average two bedroom apartment is now way beyond the reach of most working joes. Sad.
Is Richard Chapman involved in this? I know he's buddies with Ian and doing some cool stuff in New West at the Heritage grill.
Richard does all of our graphics, and generally operates as the sixth Stick, but in terms of promotion, it is David Geertz and Donna Mabbett (ex Town Pump) who are driving the train. I think they are hoping to build something similar to what Richard has started, and is flourishing in New West. From all accounts, the Flamingo has three great rooms to operate in, ranging in size from 125 people in the small room up to 700 people in the big room. The one we are playing, the Byrd, is in the middle, and holds about 250. Great sightlines, great sound, and, apparently, a good dance floor, which we aim to have filled on Friday night!
So how exactly does the Flamingo go to—what's it, the Byrd? Tell us the backstory. I gather it used to have live bands at some point in the past, before it was a strip bar, right? (By the way I had friends who called it the "Flaming O" when it was a strip club...)
Ha! Well, I know that Gord played there in his first band, Broken Arrow, when he was about 17. It was called the Rusty Nail or some such thing then. The big room I know had been Ponchos for ages, and was a top 40 club for most of the '70's/'80s/'90s until that ship sailed. I'm not too sure about the other two rooms, aside from the fact that the room we are playing in, the Byrd, was a peeler bar up until last year. But for us it is the future of the place that is exciting, and the fact that David and Donna are trying to create a live music scene where there has not been one for many, many years. From all reports, things are starting to take off, and every weekend brings in a few more new people.
There WAS a time when there was a little music scene at the Java Joint, pretty much across the street from the Flamingo.. Did you ever go there? I think DOA played there, Dog Eat Dogma (or Dogzilla or whatever they were called) used to play there. It seemed like a pretty organic scene, but—do you have any worries that there won't be enough music fans who are aware of the Pointed Sticks to draw a decent crowd? Are you taking any interesting measures to connect with music fans in Surrey? (It's kind of a brave move, since it's kind of a groundbreaking event, with no existing scene per se to support it).
Aside from visiting Paul Leahy last year, I haven't been to Surrey since the '80s. We're doing everything we can, including talking to you and a few other sites to promote this gig, but I guess we'll find out if we were successful next Friday. One thing I will guarantee is that those who do show up will have a great time, and that's really the only aspect of things that we have 100 percent control over. But yes, it is kind of a groundbreaking event, and if we pull it off, then it opens the door for D.O.A., Slow, Art Bergmann, Eddy D, and any number of "Vancouver" bands looking for an alternative to the somewhat restrictive Vancouver circuit. Don't get me wrong, I love the Rickshaw, Fox, LanaLous etc, but this has the potential to open up a whole different audience, which is very exciting to us.
Last I saw you at Keithmas the band was in perfect costume for a set of very old Rolling Stones songs (and you taught me some great ones that night. "Down Home Girl" is a favourite of mine now.) Will any of that—or other fun covers—make it into the Surrey set?
In a word, yes! We are going to play two sets that night, which gives us a real opportunity to play some songs we don't normally play, and that includes a couple of the songs we did at Keithmas, and a few others. Keithmas was a real gas for us to play, by the way, and we'll be back in a couple of years for more.
If I recall, you actually turned to social media to get an opening act for this. Who did you pick, and why?
We did do that. We wanted a young band from south of the river to open. It just seemed as thought that would be appropriate for this gig. So we sent out the call, and the Poolsharks, who are from Delta, were amongst the first to respond. They are a three-piece, and the songwriting is kind of quirky, almost a bit prog rock at times. I think people will really like them, and hopefully the friends that they bring will like us, and also continue to support the Flamingo.
Any news from the Pointed Sticks? Is the band recording or writing?
This is the only thing on the cards for right now. I have a busy work year, and the only real time off I have is in September, so maybe then, or maybe not till christmas. We do have to do something, though: its our 40th anniversary this year. And the writing part is ongoing. Slow, but ongoing. We will keep you informed...
Pointed Sticks play at the Byrd (Flamingo Hotel) in Surrey on Friday (March 23)