Pointed Sticks singer Nick Jones offers up sharp jabs

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      Given the Pointed Sticks' tendency towards bouncy, peppy pop tunes, a slogan that declaims that "Pointed Sticks are Fun," and a marked preference for songs about relationships over songs about politics, you might not expect singer Nick Jones to be an opinionated, outspoken punk at heart. 
      But get him talking about Canadian content laws, and you'll quickly discover how wrong you are. 

      The vocalist - who also has long experience as a rock merchandiser - is quite clear on the point: CanCon regulations, which mandate that 30 percent of the songs played on the radio be by Canadian artists, "breed mediocrity" and have led to "some astonishingly terrible music over the last 40 years".

      Jones is speaking to the Straight from his home base in Nanaimo. He doesn't seem particularly pissed off, but nor is he inclined to pull his punches where CanCon is concerned.

      "It was an engineered reality for the Canadian music industry, and it worked out pretty well for some Canadian record companies, that's for sure, and for some Canadian bands. It seems to me a particularly Canadian quirk - basically we're saying, 'Okay, you guys aren't good enough, so we're going to legislate it so we're going to play your music over and over and over again.' But in the long run - it's like Tony ['Balony'] Walker says, 'if you're not good enough, you're not good enough.'"

      That's not to say it doesn't always work. "You and I both know, if you're exposed to music often enough, it doesn't matter how bad it is, eventually it will get in your brain, and you'll start humming it, and you'll start thinking you like it, even though you probably really don't. Especially if it's something you don't choose to listen to. People listen to the radio at work, and they hear 'Switchin' to Guys' by the Kings or whatever that stupid song was. They hear that all day long, and eventually, they think that they like it!" 
      Actually - I don't say this to Jones - I always kind of liked "Switchin' to Glide." But there's enough shitty CanCon out there that I can concede Jones's point and fill in my own blanks. Like, why is it always the very worst of Doug and the Slugs' output that you have to listen to in doctors' waiting rooms? Would it kill them to play "Not on the Corner" once in awhile? 

      Further, Jones feels, CanCon, as practised, does an injustice to truly great Canadian pop songs. Take, for instance, Martha and the Muffins' "Echo Beach": "It's a great song," he says, "but people think, 'Oh, CanCon, it's just another shitty Canadian song,' lumping it in with Rough Trade and Parachute Club and all the other nonsense that came out of Toronto around the same time, because that's when it came out." 

      He's even willing to take a wee shot at Vancouver's own Payolas - a band whose first EP featured Pointed Sticks' own current drummer, Ian Tiles. 

      "The first EP is great, the one with Ian and Gary Middleclass [AKA Gary Bourgeois]," Jones admits. "But once they started making albums and things like that, egggh... I dunno. I feel the same way about most of the bands that came after them, 54/40 and Images in Vogue and all of them. They rode the coattails of a lot of people who did the work before them, but who were never really rewarded for it. I'm not bitter about it or anything," he adds, anticipating where some people will go. "I still have a better band than any of those guys, and we still get to play gigs, so he who laughs last, right? But I think it's just the case."

      Mind you, Jones isn't completely without regrets. He acknowledges that during the Sticks' initial run, circa 1979-1981, they should have done things differently, from a business perspective. "We should have made sure we had the Canadian market locked up before we went anywhere else," for one thing. He's referring to the band's ill-fated attempts to release an LP on UK label Stiff Records, to whom they were briefly signed.  "Bands like these all had hits in Canada, which we could have done." It "bought them their houses and cemented their careers". 

      By contrast, the Pointed Sticks "sort of overstepped our bounds; we were like, 'Fuck Canada, we want to be big all over the world!' So we kinda left that behind, in favour of chasing another brass ring, which we never achieved."

      After breaking up in disappointment, the band remained silent from 1981 to 2006, when interest from Japan coaxed them to regroup and tour. They've since played dozens of shows, returned to Japan once, and recorded two new albums, each with its own strengths, Jones thinks. 

      "Three Lefts Make a Right is very much closer to being a continuation of what the Pointed Sticks were when we broke up in 1981. Which is kind of understandable. There's a few really, really great songs on that record," he says. "'Anytime' is a great song, 'On Fire' is a great song." 

      It was all executed a little more spontaneously than the band's eponymous 2015 album, he tells the Straight. "We really laboured over the self-titled record. I mean, Gord [Nicholl] and I spent months on that record. I'd be away working and then I'd come back and we'd spend three days working on it at a time, change a bunch of stuff that we'd already had before. It was very labour-intensive. I'm really happy with that record."

      But if the Pointed Sticks deserved more recognition than they got back in 1981, it wasn't entirely their own fault, Jones feels. The deck was stacked against any of the bands in the first wave of Vancouver punk from ever succeeding, as is attested to by a November 1979 gig that never happened, at former hippie venue the Retinal Circus, with No Fun, the Pointed Sticks, and the Subhumans on the bill. 

      Before it closed in 1968, the venue - located at 1024 Davie, near where Celebrities nightclub now stands - had housed shows by local notables like Mother Tucker's Yellow Duck, Painted Ship, and the Collectors; it also featured touring acts, from Muddy Waters to the Velvet Underground. "The Doors played there, too," Jones notes, though online references to that gig seem a bit nebulous.

      "We had the idea that we would reopen the place; Gerry Barad was kind of instrumental in that, and he was promoting that gig. And it was closed down. The fire marshall stepped in a few days before, which was something that happened," even though, for that show, "all the permits were in hand."

      That's where punk politics comes into play for Jones. "We weren't fighting injustice in the south of the United States or wherever, we were fighting injustice from the authorities and the music industry in Vancouver. The music industry in Vancouver did everything in its power to squelch all of the bands like us, and the Young Canadians and the Modernettes and the Dishrags and DOA and the Subhumans. They did everything they possibly could to make sure that this never really got out of the bag."

      If "the music industry" might seem a bit vague, Jones is happy to clarify. He emphasizes first off that it wasn't a matter of the press, which did support the bands mentioned. "First and foremost" on the list of press allies "would be Tom Harrison", then with the Georgia Straight, he says. "Then Fiona McQuarrie, Neil Hall, John Mackie and Vaughan Palmer, who was a music critic before he became a political bigwig, those were the main writers." And there was television too, with cable access shows like Nite Dreems and Soundproof and even the Vancouver Show. "Every single one of those bands got a shot on the Vancouver Show."

      But it only helped so much, because other aspects of the Vancouver scene were locked up tight. "I'm talking about CFOX radio, Bruce Allen, club owners....They made it pretty clear that we weren't welcome in those places, and weren't really welcome on the radio. The only time 'The Real Thing' got played on the radio was when Quintessence bought an ad. JB Shayne did an ad for 'The Real Thing' and that got played on CFOX radio, but the song itself never did. They waited til it was safe enough to actually promote this, waited for the bands that came after us who were all a little more malleable, shall we say, to the corporate interests, and they were the ones that reaped the benefits of all the work that the people that came before them did."
      Jones doesn't seem angry as he says any of this; it's in the course, in fact, of a longer conversation, the full text of which you can read here

      Jones also directs readers to an "eloquent" online piece by Marc Godfrey that covers some similar ground. 

      Meantime, people who have never caught the Pointed Sticks live can see them in New Westminster at the Columbia on Saturday, (July 2). By coincidence, David M. of No Fun, also on the bill for that Retinal Circus show that never happened, will be doing his "small salute" to David Bowie at Music Madhouse Records, near Lougheed Mall, for free at 3 p.m. that very afternoon - a perfect stopoff for Vancouver commuters on the way out to New West.

      "I don't have any No Fun stories," Jones says. "But I do admire David. I think he's a super smart guy, very sarcastic, very observant. I saw him last year at the Kits [Khatsalano Street Party] fest, and he's pretty funny! He sorta has declared himself to be not commercially viable. He wanted to poke fun at the whole idea of being commercially viable,  so the whole thing with his Gorgo ads and his sponsorships... I never played on a bill with him," after the Retinal Circus show got shut down, "but I always followed them and thought they were pretty damned good. And also, he had Paul Leahy in his band, which says a lot there!"

      The Pointed Sticks play the Columbia (530 Columbia Street, roughly across from Columbia Station, near the Army and Navy) in New Westminster on Saturday (July 2)