It comes as a shock to me, but Pointed Sticks never played the Smilin' Buddha in its initial incarnation, making this Friday’s SBC Cabaret gig—“the Pointed Sticks Storm the SBC”—a first.
Sticks' vocalist Nick Jones explains that, by the time the Buddha got going, the Pointed Sticks were already headlining hall shows, and even Commodore gigs. However, he tells the Straight, "We all played there lots in other bands, mostly fuck bands. Buddy Selfish [AKA Pointed Sticks drummer Ian Tiles] played there a lot, and obviously Rude Norton was on almost every second weekend!"
Jones's attendance at the Buddha goes back to the very start of the Vancouver scene, when he saw the Art Bergmann-led K-Tels at the East Hastings venue. K-Tels then-bassist Jim Bescott had talked then-proprietor Lachman Jir into hiring punk rock. "My guess is that would have been in April-May of 1979," Jones says. His last show there, meanwhile, "was a Grooveholics show sometime in the mid-'80s when there were about five people in the room."
His fondest memory of the place?
"Just to have a place that was ours," he says. "The Buddha was the third club to host punk rock in Vancouver, but both the Quadra and the Windmill had had pretty short life spans, maybe three or four months each. The Buddha really felt like home, it was in a part of town avoided by jocks and greasers so we felt safe there most of the time, it had skid-row prices on smokes and alcohol, and it had a proprietor who wasn't too precious about his club. I also think the Buddha had seen better days, and Lachman was happy for the business. And of course there was Igor the doorman.
"As for the downside, it got pretty scuzzy in there sometimes," Jones continues. "Especially on Welfare Wednesday nights, including one night when there was a fight in the girls’ washroom between two street people, not punks, that ended up with a throat slashing and a ridiculous amount of blood on the floor."
The upcoming show is “all down to Donna Mabbett and Cecil English,” Jones says. “We've known both of them for 40 years. They own the sound system at the SBC, they were involved with the sound at the Flamingo in Surrey, RIP, and they've decided that a little promotion business on the side is also a good thing.”
Pointed Sticks have recently returned from their first European tour, which Jones says was amazing.
"We played 14 shows in 16 nights, which is by far the most shows we've ever done in such a short space of time. We travelled everywhere in a van with rented gear and a driver/tour manager. Obviously, doing that either makes the band a lot stronger and tighter, or you kill each other and break up. We did not crumble. We played in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, anywhere from 50 to 200 people at our gigs, and one festival called Fuzzville that had 1,000-plus in the crowd. We played with our old friends the Zeroes that night. We played some anarchist co-op kind of venues, some clubs, even a brew pub in Spain. Crowds liked us, and seem eager to have us back again, which is likely to happen sometime, judging by how much fun everyone had!"
In honour of their first SBC gig, and their first show since returning home, they have a least "two new songs, and four to six songs we haven't played in ages, or haven't ever played live at all. And maybe a few covers at the end, which we've done since our very first gig, when we only had three songs of our own. That night we played 'Fiction Romance', 'Psycho Killer', 'It Hurts to Be in Love' by Gene Pitney, 'Another Girl, Another Planet' by the Only Ones, and maybe one or two more. That was at the Quadra Club on Homer in August of 1978. Subhumans played at the same club at least twice that month!"
The Subhumans, of course, are pretty much permanently defunct, now that vocalist Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble has died, but Gerry Hannah is still active musically, recording with the New Questioning Coyote Brigade, which the Straight interviewed Hannah about at length here.
Hannah’s new outfit presents a more roots-rock rendition of songs best known off his prison cassette—mostly as rearranged and better-produced on his CD Coming Home—as well as the odd cover (“Never Born to Follow”?!) and some Subhumans classics, including versions of "World at War" and "I Got Religion", which are substantially different from the Subhumans’ recordings of those songs.
So what’s Hannah up to these days? Last I spoke to him face-to-face, at a gig over a year ago at the Fairview, he was talking about covering Steppenwolf’s “The Ostrich”, and schooled me in the pleasures of John Kay’s more political side, which led to my checking out Steppenwolf’s Monster. The cover has yet to happen, however.
“Although I love the song, I’m not sure if we’ll end up playing it or not," Hannah says. "The long term plan is to write more ‘topical’ rock songs and play more shows both in Vancouver and out in the Fraser Valley, but you know, as Neil Young said, ‘The Devil fools with the best laid plans....’"
In aid of promoting those shows, Hannah is working on “a New Questioning Coyote Brigade music video on YouTube featuring the band's current lineup and some of his new songs.
"We've already shot the video with Cecil English and Donna Mabbett's help and we're in the process of mixing the audio right now.” The video will include, he hopes, seven songs, including new titles “Chasing the Dragon” and “Your Promised Land”, as well as versions of “I Got Religion”, “Living With the Lies”, “World at War”, “Half-life”, and “In Good Company”.
With Pointed Sticks and Gerry Hannah sharing a stage for the first time in a long time, it seems apropos to ask about the Sticks scooping Subhumans’ original drummer, the late Dimwit (a.k.a. Ken Montgomery). That's something Jones says the band did easily.
"We had always been ambitious in terms of finding the right musicians to make our sound develop, starting with stealing Gord [Nicholl] and Robert [Bruce] from Active Dog," Jones says. "Dimwit seemed a shiny prize, a terrific drummer who looked so different from the rest of us. For him, I think it was a combination of getting to play more melodic music, a chance at success on a higher level, and also a bit of doubt in the altruistic nature of the Vancouver punk scene at the time. Despite his fearsome appearance, he was actually a loveable goofball.”
Hannah doesn’t recall the Subhumans having animosity towards the band for purloining their drummer.
“It was a long time ago," he notes. "I know some of us were annoyed with Dimwit for seemingly ditching us for a band that had better economical prospects, but the truth is, Dimwit was never that happy being in the Subhumans. I don't think he cared much for my ‘unprofessional’ attitude towards making music, or the rest of the band's ‘party hardy’ approach to the punk scene. Dimwit had a hard time socializing and hanging out with people in the scene other than with other musicians primarily interested in making music. And truth be told, we were finding him fairly difficult to work with by that time as well. He was very opinionated about how things should be done and could be quite grumpy and disruptive when he didn't get his way. We weren't entirely heartbroken to see him go.
"Having said that,” Hannah adds, “I miss him a great deal and he was inspirational to me in many ways. At several points in my life he was one of my closest and most important friends.”
No doubt the evening will contain at least a couple of references to the departed Montgomery brother. But speaking of history, and touching on Hannah’s past with Direct Action, the radical group sometimes also called the Squamish Five, does Nick Jones have any stories from back in the day?
Turns out he does. “We were in Toronto with Buddy Selfish in 1982 right around the time of the Litton Systems bombing,” Jones says. (That was the group’s largest action, and one which Hannah has said he had no involvement in.) “We ran into [Squamish Five member] Brent Taylor on the street there. We did not put the two occurrences together. I did go to their arraignment hearing in Vancouver, such a tense day and atmosphere in the courtroom.”
Jones never did pick up Hannah’s prison cassette, however. Hannah’s website contains a load of videos of some of the best songs from that, and can give people also in the dark as to Hannah’s solo work an excellent taste of what’s in store.
For more information about the “Pointed Sticks Storm the SBC” gig, see the event page here.