The Furies, 42 years later: Vancouver’s first punk band keeps on rocking

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      It’s a big deal to see the Furies. Back in July of 1977, the band headlined the first local punk rock gig in Vancouver (with Dee Dee and the Dishrags opening, at the Japanese Hall, on July 30, to be precise). That show inspired, among others, no less than Joe Keithley, whose band, DOA, would go on to become Vancouver’s most famous punk rock export.

      In July of 1977, Keithley was still in his classic rock cover band, Stone Crazy. Apropos of a 2007 gig when the Furies opened for DOA at Richards on Richards, Keithley remembered that “I was just 18 or something like that, and they had this big ‘Punk Rock!’ poster on the wall, and it said something like, ‘You Won’t Believe It!’ or ‘We’re Out of Our Fuckin’ Minds,’ and it said, the Furies and the Dishrags. And I was goin’, wow, punk rock! I had heard about the Ramones and the Sex Pistols a little bit, and I thought, wow, this kind of stuff’s in Vancouver, is that ever weird!”

      With the 42nd anniversary of that first Vancouver punk show fast approaching, the Furies have a new gig booked for July 6th at Pat’s Pub. Even four decades later, they’re a powerhouse live act, as Youtube clips will amply confirm.  

      Frontman Chris Arnett caught up with the Straight on his cellphone to fill in blanks in the Furies’ story. For example, how did the man who introduced Vancouver to punk rock first himself hear of it?

      Arnett had already told the Straight that, before that fabled 1977 gig, he’d been reading about bands like the Stooges, the Ramones, and the New York Dolls in Punk magazine, an American zine  co-founded by Leg McNeil back in 1975. “That was the only kind of information out there, because there was no internet, none of that, so we had to kinda get the stuff in dribs and drabs,” the sinewy axeman recalled. “We knew about the fashion way before the music, but you could kind of tell that the music they were into was the same stuff that we liked.”

      But how did he get turned on to Punk magazine in the first place?

      “Just through this crowd that we met when I put up this little notice at Lifestream”—a “hippie health food store on the corner of 4th and Burrard,” he explains. “Now it’s like a furniture store, but back then, I was living in Kits, and Long and McQuade was just on the same block. I thought, ‘I’ll put a little note up here, and all the musicians who go to Long and McQuade will see it, and I’ll get a band happening!’ I got some responses from different people—a bass player from the West End and this woman Kat Hammond, who was plugged into the Gastown PUMPS gallery art scene, with Richard Hambleton and all these great street artists and experimental artists. It was sort of West meets East: we were from West Van, and we met all these East Vanners who were into the MC5 and the Stooges and the fashion/music scene in New York. They were tuned in to what punk was becoming or would be—the slick look, the hard sound, and the anti-establishment stances.”

      Hammond initially wanted Arnett to form a band with her, “but I didn’t want to, because she wanted to be the singer. I said, ‘no, you know…’ So she said, ‘Well, I’ll manage you guys,’ but I didn’t have a band!”

      That changed soon enough—though the road to the Furies takes a few turns, yet. “I hooked up with the bass player from the West End, who was kind of an overweight guy with no hair who was really enthusiastic, and he had a drummer in North Van who was a court reporter for the state. I said, ‘okay,’ because I was dying to play, and it was really hard to find musicians. And they wanted to play with me, so I would go over to North Van for awhile. Then they decided they didn’t like my guitar playing too much, because I was still a novice, so they put an ad out for a guitarist. So I showed up one day, and there was Simon Werner. At first I was a little pissed off, because, you know, it was another guitarist, but he was incredible, and he really helped me get my chops up. But this band didn’t really work out, and Simon started putting ads out, and that’s how he got in touch with the Keithley crowd, and Stone Crazy.”

      Arnett actually played a gig out in Port Moody – “maybe in April 1977?” - with Stone Crazy, before the Furies had even formed; by that point, his previous bandmates were out of the picture. “Simon Werner, Joe, Brian [Goble] and Ken [Montgomery, AKA Dimwit] played. They weren’t a punk band or a garage band at that time, they were a cover band into Steve Miller and the Rolling Stones, the usual stuff – long hair and baggy pants.”

      Future Furies bassist Malcolm Hasman showed up at that gig  – “he and I were inseparable,” Arnett remembers – “and he and I did a few songs of mine, with Ken drumming, and I think we did ‘Sweet Jane,’ and we made, like, eighty bucks! I was going, ‘hey, this is pretty cool.’ Shithead”—that is, “Joey Shithead,” Keithley’s now-retired punk rock stage name—“and these guys were always well organized with making money, and it was fun, but I wasn’t into their sound. So I left that, and Simon introduced me to Jim Walker, because they were all living together, the Werner brothers and Jim. He was in a country band at the time, and he was very quiet, mild. So Malcolm and I invited him over to my place in Kits, and we jammed there, and just hit it right off. We were like, ‘this is it!’ Then I contacted Kat, and she came and heard us, and said, ‘you guys are fucking great.’”

      As Arnett remembers, he wouldn’t see the members of Stone Crazy again until after that first big Furies gig, when he went to see the Ramones at the Commodore, for their first ever Vancouver show. “It was 1977, and it was maybe two weeks after our July 30 show, so maybe it was early August.” He remembers seeing the Lewd open, and later, hanging out with Johnny and Tommy Ramone amidst an “artsy crowd” at an after party, where they were a bit freaked out by the hostess’ collection of penis photos. But more to the point, Arnett was shocked to see that the former hippies from Stone Crazy “all had short hair! Thus formed the Skulls…”

      The Furies sound was unique, but not unprecedented—and not really all that punk, compared to what the Skulls (or DOA, or the Subhumans, or the other bands that formed from the Stone Crazy diaspora) would do.  “Our stuff was, what do you call it, sui generis,” Arnett tells the Straight. “It emerged out of here, out of the Northwest garage rock sound, which was something I was always into in high school. And it was influenced by the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed and David Bowie and the New York Dolls and all that stuff, but it was just a sound we liked. Like I tell people, it was just a critical mass, around the world, of people fed up with the status quo of, you know, overblown stadium shows and all that kind of stuff, with tons of stacks of amps. You could never afford stuff like that! We wanted to strip it down and get back to the basics.

      “And we didn’t self-identify as punks, originally, because we were pre-punk,” Arnett continues. “The label got foisted on us. Like, this is what these artists and scenesters from East Van saw, that we had this sound that nobody else had, and it was eventually labeled punk, but it was not that much different from the Kinks’ first stuff, or the Troggs.”

      The poster for that 1977 gig was designed by Kat Hammond. “She took us downtown and did a photo shoot in the alleys and stuff, and they put out one run, and then they put out a second that had the words ‘punk rock’ on it. And they really promoted that show. They spray painted in large letters on plywood in construction sites, ‘punk rock hits Van July 30th’—that’s why we got a great turnout. It really surprised me. We got successful really quickly, right away. It was our first show—not counting one PUMPS show; Richard Hambleton had an art show, so we’d played there. But our first sort of organized gig that was heavily advertised was the July 30 one. And it was so successful—400 people showed up, and then we had a full page that Tuesday in the Vancouver Sun, and a full page in the Georgia Straight,” writing about the gig. “It was like, holy crap!”

      It was more than Arnett was prepared for, at the time, and there was soon turmoil in the band. Drummer Jim Walker (later of PiL) “didn’t like Malcolm (Hasman)—‘We’re too good, and he’s not a good musician, and we’ll get John Werner in.’ John, of course, had way better chops, he was more professional, but that began the end of the band, because my buddy Malcolm was out and all of a sudden we had these two other guys in there who I didn’t really know, and they were really gung ho musicians, and I was unsure about it. I had always thought of myself as a rock artist—I wanted to perform, but I didn’t think of myself as a professional musician; in fact, I didn’t like professional musicians!”

      To a young Arnett, “professionalism” was associated with cover bands and a lack of creativity; he wanted music to be a vehicle for expression, he tells the Straight—that was the whole point.

      Between Arnett’s uncertainties and Werner and Walker’s ambitions—which soon saw them heading over to England, which the Straight discussed with John Werner a few months ago, apropos of the first of two Pack reunion tours—the original incarnation of the Furies didn’t last a very long time. “The Furies played about nine shows, six with Malcolm and then we kicked Malcolm out and we did three shows with John, and then we broke up.” They recorded one single – “What Do You Want Me to Be,” which went unreleased until the Zulu Records Last Call compilation came out; then Arnett “went back to school and back and forth between academe and rock’n’roll for the rest of my life.”

      Arnett would eventually get a PhD in anthropology, but punk remained a driving force in his life, and there have been sporadic Furies shows since the band got back together in 2007, with (Payolas/Poisoned) drummer Taylor Little on drums and John Werner on bass. 

      It’s not that he’s particularly political about it – he’ll occasionally get topical in his songwriting, as with his his anti-Olympics anthem “Olympic Madness” or an anti-pipeline tune, “The End of the Bridge”, for the compilation CD Clogged Arteries.

      But the importance of punk, to Arnett, is more about the overall aesthetic than the lyrics.

      “I think the type of music we play is political, in and of itself,” he says. “Even in the Furies—we have structured songs, but there’s a lack of structure, too, and there’s always a constant battle between the structure and the lack of structure. I’m really exploiting that in my new band, Salt Spring Underground, because we really get into that a lot more, a lot more improvising and soundscape and drone and stuff. The Furies do a little bit of that, but it’s more of a hard rock, banging, relentless sound, inspired by the furies”—that is, the Greco-Roman goddesses of vengeance—“who were always going out and making sure that order prevailed in the cosmos, who sought out evil and destroyed it. I kind of like this image of us, because we have nothing to lose, nothing to gain, except our sound.”

      “That’s what I’ve always been into,” Arnett concludes. “Sound to me has always been of the utmost importance. Everything else is kind of secondary.”

      The Furies play Pat’s Pub on July 6, with Alex Little & the Suspicious Minds and the Fatalz. See the Facebook event page for details.