To be a fan of punk or new wave in Winnipeg in the late 1970s and early 1980s was to be an outsider. Looking different and listening to music that wasn’t played by Top 40 or FM rock radio stations was literally dangerous in a closed, suburban world of feathered hair, Nike All Courts and flared jeans.
Nevertheless, the loud, jagged music of London and New York did make its way to the Prairies. Strange records hit the front racks at downtown stores. Brave DJs played the Ramones and Sex Pistols on CJUM or late-night CBC Radio. Kids who travelled abroad came home with new sounds and new attitudes. Soon enough, bands were formed, gigs were staged and misfits from across the city jumbled together into what became "the scene."
Not all bands lasted and not many were good, but by the early 1980s those playing shows were supported by a broad cross-section of fellow outsiders. Hardcore skinheads, arty downtowners, hip students and curious suburbanites all could be spotted at shows by the likes of Dub Rifles, Monuments Galore, Personality Crisis, Ruggedy Annes, Stretch Marks and the Unwanted, to name just a few.
Many of these groups recorded their music, releasing DIY singles, EPs and albums that captured the sound and spirit of the day. A lot of these recordings have been lost to time, but in recent years, four of Winnipeg’s best punk and punk-inspired acts have had some or all of their material remastered, remixed and re-released. A Dub Rifles collection called No Town No Country came out in 2014, and Monuments Galore’s Colour Depth & Field was launched last November.
Just last month, Sounds Escaping, a label run by local music-lover Patrick Michalishyn — who hadn’t been born when this music was committed to vinyl — issued two deluxe collections of material by Stretch Marks and Personality Crisis.
Today we review the three most recent of these releases by Monuments Galore, Personality Crisis and Stretch Marks.
Colour Depth & Field (Personal Records)
Of all the Winnipeg acts that came out of Winnipeg’s nascent, early-’80s, punk-inspired scene, Monuments Galore was the only one to sign a recording deal with major-label distribution — Eureka Records — which was distributed by BMG. It was big news, too, when producer Mitch Easter, who had made R.E.M.’s first record, agreed to come to Winnipeg to record the quintet. The sessions went well and the group was excited by Easter’s final mixes of the 10 songs
However, when Monuments’ self-titled debut was finally released in 1989, the band was shocked to discover it had been edited and remixed by Eureka and, worse, that a session player had re-cut a guitar solo. The band made a pair of videos and toured in support of the record but privately disavowed it. For years afterward, a CD dub of the "Mitch Easter mix" was the preferred version.
Colour Depth & Field is essentially that Mitch Easter mix, re-sequenced and remastered (by Richard Duguay of Personality Crisis, no less) with two additional songs, Peace and Harmony and All Inside. The CD comes in a yellow cardboard gatefold featuring a band photo, track listing, production credits, a vintage caricature by Frank Reimer and a simple statement: "Here is the CD, the way Monuments wanted to sound — enjoy."
Today’s listener should find it easy to understand Monuments’ appeal (full disclosure: I worked with the band as a stage tech/roadie from 1984 through ’87).
This was a hard-driving, two-guitar rock band with catchy melodies, a solid rhythmic base and the unique ability to get audiences off their butts and singing and dancing to live original music. Singer Kevin Mears wrote anthemic, sing-along choruses, and guitarists Brad Hrushka and Eric Loewen traded off lead and rhythm duties with well-practiced precision, while adding soaring backing vocals. Bassist Art Pearson and drummer Doug Dobson, meanwhile, could play just about anything, from the funky dancefloor vibe of Nations of All Kinds to the Big Country-ish lilt of Tell Me a Story.
These songs were catchy as hell then and they’re catchy as hell now.
Personality Crisis (Sounds Escaping)
Oh man, oh man, oh man. The story behind the making of Creatures for Awhile has been told and retold many times but, despite three different vinyl releases of this legendary Winnipeg album, its music has never sounded quite like this.
Expertly remastered by Craig Boychuk, the 12 songs from Creatures have picked up both clarity and bottom end that were missing from the original 1983 Risky Records release. The transfer and remastering process reportedly uncovered studio and vocal details that surprised even the band members, and the end result is a gleaming new version of an album that was ahead of its time when released and which — even taking rose-tinted hindsight into account — doesn’t sound at all out of place today.
PC was never a political punk band and it never quite fit the hardcore scene; instead, it was simply a five-headed rock ’n’ roll beast — the perfect amalgam of screaming guitars, a magnetic frontman and pulsating, propulsive rhythm section. They wrote expansive, exquisitely arranged rock tunes and performed them with a fury that left audiences sweat-drenched, shaking and shattered.
All 12 of the original Creatures tunes explode from this disc and, while the dual, duelling guitar attack of Richard Duguay and Jimmy Green was always the album’s main attraction, this version of the record reveals just how much bassist Duane Froslev’s fluid versatility added to the PC sound. Jon Card, once described by Free Press reviewer Frain Cory as the best rock drummer in the world, lives up to those words.
Most impressive here, though, are singer Mitch Funk’s unique bass vocals and his arsenal of lunatic screams and guttural growls. Those who’ve wondered for years just what Funk was singing on this album are finally able to hear every crucial word.
Completists will marvel, too, at the inclusion of the songs Case History and Piss on You, as well as a second disc that captures 15 demo tracks by two earlier iterations of the band. A major bonus is a 28-page, full-colour booklet featuring vintage photos, gig posters and excellent, insightful essays by punk historian Chris Walter and Winnipeg scenester, ’zinester, band manager and show promoter Matt Vinet.
Who & What: The Complete Studio Recordings (Sounds Escaping)
Stretch Marks were an unyielding quartet of road warriors who waved the flag for western Canadian hardcore like few others. Because singer Dave McCombe (a.k.a. Dik Savage), guitarist Bill Jackson, drummer Kelly Jackson and bassist Mark Langtry (a.k.a. Sikby, a.k.a. Mark Stretchmark) were more organized than most other bands, they formed their own record label, Headbutt Records, and released a six-song EP called Who’s in Charge in 1983, followed by the 13-song album What D’Ya See in 1984. They even had a booted, circle-dancing cartoon alligator as a mascot!
The Who and What records gave the band a reason to tour to all points west and south and so they did, relentlessly and purposefully, playing any venue that would have them, from garages for less than a dozen people to Southern California auditoriums for thousands. These two recordings are thus snapshots of a specific time and place, and this Sounds Escaping collection, which features all 19 tracks from those releases, plus two songs released on compilation albums and one previously unreleased cut, is an essential document of an age.
It’s also a very real encapsulation of the Stretchies’ evolution as both writers and players. The songs from Who’s in Charge are short, sharp bursts of rage, with nihilistic lyrics that howl at the insanity of Cold War politics (this was the Reagan era, remember), the possibility of nuclear holocaust (Barren Cities) and the posing of inauthentic scenesters (Professional Punks). The band also had a sense of humour that was an important part of their live act and which surfaced on Dogs World ("Arf! Arf!").
What D’Ya See captures Stretch Marks at their best. They were a taut, well-oiled unit by 1984 and left audiences breathless with the sheer pace and brutal force of their sonic attack. Songs such as Time in Black and Deaducated were guaranteed to fill any pit, while other cuts, such as Another Tragedy, Lookin’ for Danger and the fabulous Preacher, featured arrangements and tempos that hinted at new directions. The rousing Turnbuckle Stomp, a hilarious tune about AWA wrestling, quickly became a fan favourite wherever it was played.
Like the PC package, the Who & What collection comes with an exhaustive, full-colour booklet (this one’s 24 pages) featuring a band history by Chris Walter and a funny piece by Matt Vinet, who managed the Stretchies from 1981 to 1985. It’s been worth waiting 33 years to finally hear it all in one place.
John Kendle has been writing about Winnipeg music and musicians since 1986. These re-releases have made him feel very old.