Wouldn’t It Be Great?
On the eve of the debut performance by The Suite Sixteen — the post-Bum project featuring Andrew Molloy and Rob Nesbitt —murmurs began to spread of this proposed tribute album. The show itself took place last summer at the Queens in Nanaimo, The Suite Sixteen opening for Neko Case at Jack Tielman’s Blackball Records birthday bash. Only fitting, given Bum’s career-long affiliation with Jack T-Man and his label, Lance Rock Records. As Gareth ‘Magic Teeth’ Gaudin drove up the Malahat, a well-deserved break after pressing the latest release by po-mo minimalists Run Chico Run, a carload of Victorians were privy to the first tracks that would compile this full length tribute to Bum. Unfortunately, I was in the other car.
Catching a ride in The Suite Sixteen van, therefore unable to hear the initial Bum covers that rocked the Magic Teeth-mobile, I’ll admit I was beyond skeptical of this proposed tribute. While Bum has earned a well-deserved spot in the annals of Pacific Northwest rock n’roll, does the cult following for these Pac Rim popsters warrant a full-length homage? Most towns have a band or two that tours and releases music outside of their respective burrow, but do these bands deserve the revelry of the tribute album treatment? Jesus, what’s next? Just Buy It: A Tribute To FurnaceFace?!?
Sorry for the cynicism; along with the fluoride treatment, a healthy dose is mixed into Vancouver Island’s water supply. So, I will pop the pull-tab of my Lucky lager and recall the quote from the liner notes to No Idea (covered here by local punks The Jizz Wailers): “Living in the Garden City can be pretty STIFFLING. This goes out to the people who help make it that way.”
I don’t wanna be that stiffler.
A year later—after hearing nearly all the tracks recorded for this project—I realize my concern is misplaced. These cover songs, originating from far and near, stand on their own merit. The Bum faithful will hear renditions of old favorites that re-vitalize and contextualize the originals. New, curious listeners will be treated to a smorgasbord of rock n’ roll delights.
So here it is: my written word equivalent to a tribute track. The mandate? Some personal memories of the group, a little nostalgia, a dash of sentiment and some mention of the groups and artists that selflessly devoted themselves to this project. I am not attempting an exhaustive or comprehensive history of the group. If integral people, groups or labels from Bum’s hey-day have been omitted from this tapestry please forgive my oversight and feel free to hit me up for a beverage of your choice, if we ever shall meet.
This is my happening…
Victoria and punk. Red Tide. Nomeansno. The Dayglo Abortions. Where does Bum fit in to this lineage? I would suggest somewhere after these forefathers and before the nü-school stylings of recent Sub Pop signees Hot Hot Heat. Bum were Victoria’s melodic punk representatives of the early nineties.
I made the move to Victoria in the fall of ’92. After a week of West Coast re-climatization, I hit the downtown pavement in search of a job at a record store or comic shop of some sort…nobody can claim I didn’t reached for those stars.
I went to Island Fantasy, the long-standing comic shop in Market Square, and approached the counter with resume in hand. A young Gareth Gaudin hunched on his stool a la Matthew Modine in Birdy, fast at work on an early ish of his long running ’zine Magic Teeth. He sneered at me and my manila stats. It was years later before we would become friends. When Island Fantasy closed its doors, Gareth soon took a new perch at Legends Comics. A few short years later, Gareth would focus his obsessive-compulsive disorder on releasing records such as the one you are now palming.
So much for the comic book gig—on to Victoria’s bountiful selection of record shops. I heard that ‘everyone was going to Lyle’s Place,’ so that was the logical first stop. After I asked to see the manager, I was approached by a scruffy looking guy in his late twenties, salt and pepper hair, wearing a Bolt-thrower shirt and a look of complete disdain. I wanted to dazzle my potential boss with a keen knowledge of Euro-thrash, but the guy intimidated me. Yes folks, Jamie Fulton, original Bum drummer and all around puppy dog, intimidated the seventh gate of hell outta me. He put my resume “on file.” Years later, we would play together in The Stupes and continue a friendship based on all the important things in life (parenting, Carcass lyrics, Stampede Wrestling, not necessarily in that order).
Safe with the knowledge that my resume was on the top of the Lyle’s Place heap, I carried on down Yates Street. Next stop: the sorely missed Funhouse Records. I passed the neighboring Pizza Hut, entered the shop, and forced a resume to a guy with a great head of Kung-Fu Ramone hair. That man with the hair was Bum bassist Kevin Lee. He looked at his partner Rick Andrews, then looked out at the shop, empty, save for the three of us, just sort of shook his head in confusion to my enthusiasm, and handed back the resume. I pretended to accidentally drop it on the counter, paid for my Brood 45, and headed back to the street, starting to realize that things work a little different in the Garden City. Crestfallen, I walked into A&B Sound, the West Coast equivalent of a Virgin Megastore. I was hired twenty minutes later. My first day on the job, the floor manager led me to the cassettes tape kiosk where I was introduced to a funny looking little man who diligently priced Barenaked Ladies tapes with his cherished grease pen. I was to be trained by this chuck-clad, Crowded House T-shirt wearing feller, who answered to the name of ‘Rawb.’ By the end of my first week, the floor manager wrote me up three times for distracting Rob with chitchat; the sharing of embarrassing moments at our respective junior high dances, and talk of the band he co-fronted by the name of Bum. He brought in some of the group’s early 45s that week, and I first bore witness to the Bum aesthetic. I like bands with mascots, and while Iron Maiden has Derek Riggs and Molly Hatchet had Frank Frazzetta, I now wonder: what would a Bum release be without that little green mascot illustrated by Eisner-Award winning renaissance man Pat McEown?
Perhaps it was guilt over the write-ups; Rob invited me to come check out his band at Harpos in the coming weeks. Harpos was THE live venue in Victoria. Booked by Marcus Pollard (who contributes with Bent On Being Bent-Alex Chilton, eat yer heart out), the club was a staple for all the day’s Canadian and American touring acts, the practice grounds for many a local band and a Thursday-night haunt for over-taxed (and often moronic) UVic students. On those early nineties evenings, campus and townie patron alike could catch local favorites like The Vinaigrettes, fronted by Carolyn Mark (who, along with The Room Mates, contributes an amazing rendition of The Eternal Ideal).
Speaking of Marks, nobody ‘marked out’ for Bum like Kent Bendall marked out for Bum (Kent Bendall, a troubadour of home recording, contributes not one, not two, but THREE tracks to this comp. The second and third come under the monikers of The Pixie Stix Six Six and Urgent Response). Kent, another A&B Sound casualty, was a sure bet to be front and center at every Bum show, hair bobbing, one arm dangling, the other resting on the opposing elbow. Near the back bar-rail, you would be sure to find Bart Simpson and the Phat Tank gang watching the action on the dance-floor, dreams of Ibiza on their collective consciousness… I believe the first time I caught the classic Bum line-up—Andrew Molloy, Rob Nesbitt, Kev Lee and Graham Watson—was during an opening slot for Pacific Northwest favorites, Girl Trouble. I was struck by near every aspect of their live-show: Andrew’s harmonizing vocals; Rob’s tigger-like pogo exuberance; Graham’s hard-hitting style; Happy Kev’s ship and anchor bass lines.
I wasn’t the only one. I remember once seeing the triple bill of a young Tim Kerr band named Everclear, plus guests Flop and Bum (of course). When Everclear returned the following year, much of the bassist’s banter revolved around Bum appreciation! And who ever said that attending an Everclear (or a Dishwalla) show makes one gay?
Our next stop is Langford, the hub of Vancouver Island’s West Com, the birthplace of Canadian Hip Hop sensations Swollen Members and home of Scott Henderson’s Sea of Shit Studios. Speaking of Swollen Members, it must be noted that way back in the summer of 1992, Bum played an open air concert in the Beacon Hill bandshell, sharing the bill with Sound Advice, an early incarnation of Swollen Members. Apparently, Sound Advice (Victoria’s first Hip-Hop crew) arrived at the bandshell on their customized low rider bicycles. Rob gently suggested to the posse that Bum should borrow their low rider bicycles for a photo shoot later that day. Rumor has it that Sound Advice busted out their gloks and bum rushed the show. I am happy to report that no shots rang out and Rob has since made amends with Sound Advice’s Rennie ‘Dubnut’ Foster. The two recently combined forces and produced the theme music to a local interest television program. And who says rock and rap can’t mix? I’m with Daddy Freddy; it sure ain’t me. But I digress…back to the Sea of Shit. A Victoria punk rock rite of passage. Many a local punk has been known to frequent these hallowed grounds, indulge in a game of table hockey, trip on an empty case of German import and enjoy the cacophony of rare Ornette Coleman A-Sides. Bum were no strangers to the digs of Alternative Tentacles recording artist Scott Henderson, whose Institute of Technology gives When She Walked the Pet Sounds treatment (and a far cry better than your average High Llamas track, I might add).
As we leave the bastion of clean livin’ that is Langford and begin our trek across the globe, the first stop will be short in geographical proximity—early nineties Seattle. While kids around the world got their groove on to Seattle grungsters like My Sister’s Machine, Bum joined the allied forces of Seattle labels such as Popallama, Lucky and Top Drawer.
Speaking of Allied Forces, here’s a little-known Bum trivia note: the working title to Bum’s opus, "Wanna Smash Sensation", was almost entitled Triumph! Here’s one true believer who feels they should’ve followed there hearts, and evoked the magic powers of Gil Moore, Rik Emmett and Mike Levine.
In the Emerald City, Scott Henderson’s American doppelganger is none other than Kurt Bloch (Trivia time again: members of Bum can be seen enjoying a backyard bbq on the cover of which Fastbacks single?) Not only did Kurt produce and engineer Bum’s full-length debut, but he also filled in for a recently-departed Rob Nesbitt when Bum were slated to play a Nationally broadcasted CBC radio show for the 1994 Commonwealth Games. A memorable show, not just for Kurt’s boundless energy, but for CBC’s own Smuggler, Grant Lawrence, being ejected from the stage and club during the encore. This was a scene that I myself would eerily repeat some years later at a Smugs show at the University of Victoria, the hapless victim of a Jaggermeiser/Wild Turkey one-two punch that resulted in yours truly being barred from the campus venue. Oh well, that stupid air hanger folded from embezzlement some six months ago, so huzzah! But back to Kurt Bloch—he represents here with his groups Marshall Artist and the legendary and sadly departed Fastbacks (R.I.P.)
La 1a Internacional
From the shores of the Puget Sound, lets take a quick globetrot… The first stop on this journey must be in Spain, no question. A country well known for rock n’ roll stalwarts, it was in Spain that Bum enjoyed the most international success. Full-lengths were released on labels such as Munster and Impossible that resulted in a pair of well-received tours (that latter with the often-overlooked Nick Thomas/Terry Russell line-up), and (gasp!) Bum actually making the pop charts!
The Spaniards’ love for Bum must endure, as this compilation features EIGHT Spanish combos. Biscuit do Mallory justice in their breezy Urge Overkill style; The Feedbacks deliver an ode to Mrs. Rock N’ Roll while The Holdens worship the muse of The Right On Girl; P.P.M. rock the early single I Wanna Be and No Crom tackle O Cookie. The senioritas crank it ‘one louder’ as well, evidenced by Juniper Moon’s take of the Kev Lee-penned Vitamin V and The Spanky Darth Vaders have no reason to apologize with Don’t Ever Be Sorry. Of course, there is also No Picky with a faithful rendition of Really Outta Tune, my personal favorite from songwriter Andy Molloy. This post-Nesbitt number—an ode to the departure of Rob after their first Spanish tour—is a heartfelt lament that conjures the aching vocal refrains of Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street.
Before heading back to Canadian soil, a shout must go out to a pair of rock n’ roll nations; namely Japan and Australia. Japan—where Bum enjoyed relations and releases with the likes of Teengenerate and Fifi and the Mach III—is represented by Japanese punk sensations The Wimpy’s. Australia is well represented by a pair of Australian castaways from Japan: the fabulous Mach Pelican (check out those backing vocals to the chorus of Wedding Day) and The Stinky Bugs who deliver a rendition of Debbiespeak that demands multiple listens.
En Guard for Thee
My earlier Furnaceface quip aside, there is something truly magical about like-minded musicians coming together across vast Canadian distances, being thrown together on compilations and live bills, only to find that they share in common the same intrinsic sensibilities and influences that inspired them to play music in the first place. Au-Go-Go records of Australia are hip to this cold-road notion, and they once released an excellent compilation of Canadian acts entitled On Guard For Thee. Bum represented the Maple Leaf on this particular comp with Mrs. Rock N’ Roll. Funny enough, some of the other On Guard groups have shown up on this here comp as well, albeit under different banners. Take the legendary cuddle-core of Cub. Now on her own, The Lisa Marr Experiment delivers a haunting and wistful rendition of Bum’s first single, A Promise Is A Promise. Jim Bryson, whose previous group, Punchbuggy, offered the brilliant track Swimming Pool to On Guard, now pays tribute to a watering hole of a different sort with his downtrodden, acoustic rendition of I’m Not One. Speaking of watering holes, there’s always High River, Alberta, host of the 1992 Highwood music festival. At High River some ten years ago, Bum shared a stage with such illuminaries as Aragathor and Krül fuckin’ Hül. High River figures prominently in FUBAR, my new favorite movie. I’m certain The Deaner would’ve approved of Aragathor and Krül Hül, but how would Bum have faired under the high fallutin’ criticism of ‘turn up the good, turn down the suck’?
It was the following year at the 1993 Highwood music fest that I first met Glengarry’s finest, The Stand G.T. Chris Page and the boys were impressed with my ‘Bum Go Crazy’ T-shirt and regaled me with stories of playing acoustic renditions of Bum tunes during their long drive from Ontario to Alberta. Their generous offering of stickers, shirts, records and tapes proudly remains in my collection to this day. Their decade-long admiration of Bum shines on like a crazy diamond with their rendition of I Hardly Breathe.
While old hands like The Stand G.T. continue to slog it out, what of the up-and- coming Canucks who have taken the time to pay respect to their predecessors? Well, Terminal City antes up three members of the new guard: The Chick Magnets, The Spinoffs, and Magic Teeth recording artist The Ewoks.
Steel Wheels Keep on Spinning
If you recall my introduction, I mentioned that the conception of this tribute CD coincided with the debut performance of The Suite Sixteen. At this show, fans from Bum’s hey-day converged up front, sharing elbow space alongside youngsters such as Jack Teilman’s newest signees The Crusties. As Andrew MacGregor of The Amarillo Stars took the stage to introduce the boys, I couldn’t help but view the show as both a fitting epilogue to the Bum saga, as well as the promise of new beginnings. Andrew told a wonderful tale of teenage summers, aimlessly driving the Island Highway to the soundtrack provided by Rob, Andy, Kev and Graham. Wanna Smash Sensation playing on the tape deck. Heartbreak and blurry lines. The wonderment of youth. The fable of teenage searchers. I raise my glass to all those hangers-on.