Jaimie Vernon – Life’s A Canadian Rock: Part 11

THE TURNING PIT AND THE PENDULUM
For Swindled, 1982 came in like a lamb and not a lion. Performing the day after New Year’s Eve is not something I’d recommend to anyone. The Turning Point was hard to populate on the best of occasions, but we’d only played there a few days earlier and couldn’t muster up any of our own regular friends and family – most being at home nursing hangovers which is where me, Tim James, Ivan Judd and Jay Clarke should have been as well. We were saddled alongside two relatively green acts called The Truth Blues Band and Best By. I recall nothing about either act. The only memorable part of the show was the debut of our newest tune called ‘Hymn #84’.

It was a hardcore cowpunk ditty about the Moral Majority (think k.d. lang & the Reclines’ “Thimbelina” on amphetamines) – a theme we would progressively return to again and again. Let’s just say that our tolerance for the extreme Right during the reign of Ronald Reagan fueled not just our music, but our personal political beliefs. It would soon inform who and what we were to become as a band.

With the exception of one return engagement to The Cabana Room with Vital Sines, the next six weeks was a blur of repeat visits to what we now dubbed The Turning Pit with long-forgotten acts like The Disorderlies, The Vegetables, Bone Tripod and Garments On Hangers. It was a last minute call from co-owner Joe wanting us to do an entire night on our own that convinced us that we needed a new prison. But, we did the show mostly to see if we could pull three 45-minute sets out of our collective asses. Rehearsing three times a week was paying off. Few bands of our genre worked as hard as we did. Our work ethic, and lack of anything better to do, turned us into a tight performing unit. Though we’d been furiously writing new material, we revived a bunch of our earlier incarnation Swindle tunes, dug out some of Ivan Judd’s mid-70s songs when he was in the band Dole-Q and added CCR’s “Fortunate Son” to the set as our token cover tune. A 36 song set at the Turning Point was barely a challenge. We wanted bigger fish to fry. Tim was tasked with getting us better shows preferably at rooms we hadn’t played yet. We also needed some press coverage. Gary Pig Gold’s long-standing Pig Paper fanzine was nowhere in sight so we needed something local and accessible to give us a bit of leverage in the eyes of the people we grew up with before taking over the known universe.

Ivan’s girlfriend, Sharon, got us coverage in the Pickering Bay News and I harassed the Scarboro Mirror newspaper to give some ink to a local boy band. The premise of the interviews was to announce the fact that we were going into the recording studio that March. Sharon had bought Ivan some studio time as a Christmas gift and we were preparing to record an independently produced 7” single. This was apparently news worthy and got our name into print. We were hometown heroes for about 14 minutes and 59 seconds. What we soon realized is that you’re only as famous as your next press release. So it was up to us to continue making noise on and off the stage. Tim’s girlfriend and her sister had just started writing an anarchist ‘zine called Is It Working? which was slanted to turn a spotlight on social injustice. I began contributing Op Ed pieces and satirical drawings and cartoons with both military and religious targets as my fodder (my peeve du jour was a Christian magazine called ‘The Plain Truth’). I believe only a few issues of Is It Working?  ever surfaced as the work involved in printing and distributing it meant investing money – a capitalist venture that went against the grain of their whole agenda. It was something I had no ethical problem with when I launched my own Great White Noise music magazine in 1989. Sometimes you have to run contrary to your own belief system just to move your agenda forward.

We wanted to ensure there was enough money for the recording, mixing and pressing of the record so we took yet another demoralizing gig at the Turning Point because we had finally managed to squeeze a guarantee out of owners Joe and Anne. On the first of two nights of these paid rehearsals we were accosted outside the club by two guys wanting to do the opening set for us. Their names were Stewart Black and Evan Taylor and they called themselves “Blibber & The Ratcrushers”. There appeared to be no one else with them. They just wanted to play. It would make our night easier doing one less set and after we were assured they weren’t there to steal our equipment we acquiesced. They plugged in a drum machine and managed to turn out a broken, disorganized but extremely entertaining set of songs. We invited them to come back the following night. This time they brought a drummer with them. It was on this occasion that we started a mutual appreciation society especially for such witty sing-a-long classics as “Nazi Punks Go Bowling”. Blibber became legendary in Toronto after Swindled had long faded away. Evan Taylor eventually invited Tim James to join the band and it ultimately mutated into ‘Was Ist Los?’ featuring Ivan Judd on vocals. But that, too, is a story for another time.

WE DID IT OUR WAY
On March 21, 1982 Swindled entered a suburban basement studio on Harwood Avenue in Ajax, Ontario called Earthbound Sound run by a likeable fellow named Tom Jardin. Tom had bought the facility from the previous owners who recorded jazz and blues demos. He had an 8-track Tascam recorder and a 24 channel mixing console so to our untrained eyes and ears he was George Martin. Ivan’s gift of studio time at Christmas was the equivalent of two days recording and mixing. We didn’t know how many tunes we could record in that many hours, but after telling Tom our plan to press a single he suggested we stick to only the two tunes we were going to need and use the remaining studio time to ensure we were happy with all the overdubs and mixing. This seemed like a sound plan and we did as he said.

Looking back at it now, he didn’t so much produce us as direct us. The problem was he had never recorded a rock band before. His biggest claim to fame was capturing a live performance by Toronto bluesman Morgan Davis that was released on LP. A loud, snot-nosed quartet screaming about the assassination of figure heads and telling religious leaders to fuck off was way out of his comfort zone. He approached us with the same audio ear he approached the blues. Straight up and crystal clean; there wasn’t a distorted instrument or ringing feedback on either of the tunes we laid down. To be fair this was our own fault. We had no idea what we were doing. All we were told is that when the mixboard’s V.U. meters were in the red, that was a bad thing (as opposed to The Beatles who used that ‘no-no’ to their advantage in capturing the song “Revolution”). So we dialed it back, he compressed the crap out of anything that wasn’t nailed down and what we ended up with was the equivalent of Michael Bublé singing the Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk To Fuck”. Like Teenage Head before us, our ‘sound’ failed to be captured on tape with the same energy as our live performances. We sat and chewed on the mixes for a few weeks – mainly to stall until we had all the cash to pay for the pressing of the vinyl.

Ivan was tasked with finding an independent pressing plant and did so out in Oshawa (or Bowmanville, I think) called Impact Records. Coming from our anti-establishment based political position, shopping our songs “Who Wants Guns?” and “Hymn # 84” would have been the ultimate sell-out; Even if we could convince a label to put their necks on the line for two, obviously, incendiary and decidedly non-commercial songs…we just didn’t want to. Every Toronto punk act before us – save for The Diodes and Teenage Head – had gone the Do-It-Yourself route. We wanted a non-compromised piece of ourselves on 7” vinyl that could sit in a record rack alongside The Viletones’ “Screaming Fist” or The Forgotten Rebels’ “Surfin’ On Heroin”. The artwork for the single was Tim’s project and would feature an 8” wide by 16” long double-sided poster that could fold into a tidy display piece to fit comfortably onto store shelves. When folded, the front cover was merely our logo with a tiny bit of subliminal writing before and after our name that read: “Products are SWINDLED throughout the world”. The back cover was a collage of some indiscriminate sheet music for bass & tuba called ‘Music For a Ceremony’, our logo inverted, the song titles, the lyrics to “Who Wants Guns?” and a declaration from “Hymn # 84” that said simply – NO LEFT. NO RIGHT. Inside the cover was the logo again, band credits, thank you’s, and the full lyrics to “Hymn #84” written as a punctuation-less, non-stop, run-on sentence which is how Ivan sang it. The record label on the vinyl itself featured our logo on the B-side, and on the A-side, a photo of Ronald Reagan shouting “SWINDLED!” with the small spindle hole placed directly in the middle of his forehead representing a bullet hole. I seem to recall that this and not our music – which included an expletive riddled run out groove – was contentious with the pressing plant staff at the time and we had to pay extra for them to swallow their outrage and get on with stamping the record.

The last issue to be settled around the record was joining the Canadian Authors & Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC). I was tasked with finding out how to publish our music. CAPAC sent out a package and I had to introduce the concept of handing our songs over to an organization that was going to oversee the collection of our royalties and pay us if we ever got radio play. Tim, now paranoid of all organized capitalist businesses and governments, was suspicious from the word go. He thought it was a government organization trying to tax us or leverage ownership of our songs. When we read the propaganda it became apparent that they were not-for-profit (other than covering administrative costs) and were there to protect the rights of songwriters and publishers. We quickly registered every song we ever wrote under the name SWINDLED MUSIC STUFF INC. Years later CAPAC and PROCAN – another similar organization – merged as the national singular entity SOCAN. It’s a service I recommend every Canadian songwriter join if for no other reason than to help in establishing a start date for your copyrights and the off-chance your music ever makes it onto terrestrial radio and some revenue is generated.

THE LEFT IS AS BAD AS THE RIGHT
In the meantime, we headed back out to play more shows. Tim had managed to get us a three night stand at Queen Street’s Beverly Tavern. It paid $325 which was a fortune for an original band with no track record. Rick Winkle from Vital Sines ran the soundboard for us and we managed to fill two of the three nights. To amuse ourselves on the third night we invited the sparse audience of 19 people to join us on stage to sing-a-long to our new anthem “I Believe in Anarchy”. A round-robin of “Hey Jude” na-na-na-na’s this was not. We also squeezed out one more three nighter from The Turning Point for $150 featuring my old school pal Tim Turner’s band Urban Warfare and Chronic Submission opening one of the shows.

Meanwhile, Tim’s cast of downtown characters had gotten us a gig at a political rally called ‘Fight the Right Festival’ which was held at Harbord Collegiate in Toronto. It was a confab of disparate political viewpoints by people with the common goal of bringing awareness (i.e. plotting an overthrow) of the Conservative Right Wing. A trifecta of Western conservatism had created the perfect storm of fear and paranoia at the hands of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Leonid Brezhnev. Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was feeling the pinch and the over-all fear in Canada was that the Progressive Conservative Party was gaining more support in light of the swinging pendulum around us; as history recalls, this proved true when the PC’s Brian Mulroney became our next Prime Minister in 1984. The ‘Fight the Right Festival’ brought together Anarchists, Gays, Lesbians, Rastafarians, Pacifists, Atheists, Environmentalists and every other special interest group leaning as far to the left as humanly possible such as The Mothers Against Nuclear Proliferation. The Neo-Nazi skinheads, eternally confused about which side they were on, would show up just to see who they could get into a brawl with.

We were given 15 minutes to entertain the masses following some reggae performers and the requisite rallying cry of the outraged organizers. To me, it seemed like overkill to scream at an auditorium full of people seated in theatre chairs with a bullhorn…but I digress. Our secret weapon, and new stage ‘show’, was something we’d experimented with at the Turning Point. We talked Ivan’s girlfriend, Sharon, to dress up as a cloistered nun ‘protesting’ in front of the stage carrying a placard festooned with slogans about repenting and going to hell while she handed out copies of the Christian cult magazine ‘The Plain Truth’. It was timed so that she’d start her parading when we played “Hymn #84”. As at the Turning Point gig, Tim would jump off the stage at the end of the song and ‘pretend’ to kick the crap out of her which would elicite cheers and applause from all those like-minded in attendance. However, we hadn’t counted on the Neo-Nazis who couldn’t resist the chance to dive in and administer a good stomping as well. The band and several of the attendees had to come to her rescue, saving her from potential harm. She was shaken but unstirred. The incident scared the crap out of me but seemed to galvanize Tim’s resolve.

From there he got deeper into the movement. Ivan and I, who believed in justice and a future without fear of nuclear annihilation tagged along for entertainment value. Jay, meanwhile, stayed home in his safe suburban environs and told us to call him when we had another gig. Out of curiosity we went with Tim on a clandestine meeting of pro-activists at a Quaker House near Varsity Arena in Toronto where they were organizing a protest of Litton Industries – the manufacturers of guidance systems for American cruise missiles. The night was spent training the activists how to aggressively taunt authorities and passively resist arrest. Ivan and I walked out realizing we were way over our heads and passed on the protest. It proceeded without incident and only a modicum of arrests. Tim had gone down as an observer and out of boredom headed off to the local pub to drink with his fellow radicals.

[Sadly, in October 1982, a group of extreme activists from Vancouver – who were later given the handle The Squamish Five – loaded up a stolen pick-up truck with 550kg of dynamite and detonated the vehicle in Litton’s front parking lot injuring 10 people. Fortunately, they were caught the following January and spent many years behind bars.]

THE RECORD…A RELEASE

Having lived with the single mixes quite a while we decided to take another crack at remixing the tunes at Tom Jardin’s studio. Ivan’s vocals were buried and the slickness of the track needed to be addressed. To get the mixes to the point where you could hear Ivan’s words, it was necessary to forget about making the track more gritty. It was something we had to live with. We noted this on the record sleeve with the words: “Overproduced by Tom Jardin”.  [I took another crack at remixing the two tunes in 1995 and it is those mixes that ended up on Swindled’s reunion album ’It’s Only Peace That You Want…’ in 2011.]

On June 16, 1982 we had the freshly pressed single in hand and thought it only appropriate that we do our record release party at The Turning Point – who we owed at least an acknowledgment in their roll in getting us that far. Our usual suspects showed up, everyone had a great old time and we bid a fond adieu to the club. Or so we had hoped.

We managed to get the single into a bunch of the independent record stores around the Greater Toronto Area including Records on Wheels, Record Peddler and the three Star Records locations – including Bob Bryden’s Hamilton location. Soon we were getting complaints about the record. Not from its content (though my Dad ran up and down one side of me because “Hymn #84” had a revolving series of choruses with “fuck off” in it) but because of the packaging. The poster we’d created for the single was open sided. As  it was years before the cheap commercial availability of plastic record sleeves or comic book bags we, stupidly, stuck paperclips at the top of the package to prevent the vinyl from falling out. Every copy we’d delivered to retail was now warped. I ran around, gathered them up and we replaced them with fresh copies sans paper clip. Star Records in Scarborough was kind enough to supply us with the requisite plastic dust sleeves. As far as I recall we ended up selling out everything we’d stocked in stores with a little help from another article in the Pickering Bay News. That left 975 copies still to sell minus the warped ones.

The single was anti-climactic for everyone. In terms of elapsed time it was now four months since we’d cut the tracks – a lifetime in teenage years – and we’d already started changing musical direction with new songs, new attitudes and more speed. In fact, we were asked to play at the Drake Hotel one weekend for a two day hardcore festival being hosted by Brian Taylor’s Youth Youth Youth, The Young Lions, The Ugly Models and other similarly power charged bands at the time. Jay was having none of it. It seemed beneath him as a ‘recording artist’ to continue doing gigs gratis. Ivan, Tim and I took the stage and put the request out for a drummer. It took 7 drummers to do eight songs improvised. No one could keep up. We were a Speedcore band before the term had ever been coined. When we left the stage the host of the evening declared us the ‘Fastest Band in Toronto’.  It was bittersweet as we were only half a band – Jay was absent and I blew out my eardrum from the extreme volume on the very first song. A follow-up doctor’s appointment revealed that I had damaged my hearing on top of having an existing infection. To this day I only have about 70% hearing in my left ear. The band had to take a few weeks off while I recuperated.

I had given up my car wash job back at the beginning of the Grade 13 school year so I could focus on my ‘studies’. What I actually did was skip off 92 classes and just barely eeked out a diploma in exchange for more time with the band. My folks had taken care of my cash needs while I completed the year. As school was now over I was living with my girlfriend and her mother and had to go back to my folks and grovel for enough money to pay for the antibiotics. It was a tense conversation because they expected I would have a new job to pay for such things; and if music wasn’t paying my way, why was I bothering? Stubbornly, I wasn’t going to be guilted into conforming to their view of how my life should be run. I had sex, rock and roll and free room & board. Where was my motivation to give that up for a day job? My folks refused to give me the cash. Instead, I stole a box of rolled coins my Dad had stashed in the garage to pay for the ear-infection meds. My parents and I didn’t speak again for the rest of the summer.

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and is the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. He keeps a copy of Lightfoot’s “Sundown” under his pillow at night.

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