Sunday, May 17, 2009

Interview: Tyranna

TYRANNA were a visually striking, lyrically provocative, second wave punk band from Toronto. They did several studio recording sessions, but only "Back Off Baby," which appeared on the "No Pedestrians" comp, was released back in that period. Despite this, the band had gained a loyal following and supported international acts of reknown. Last fall a record label named Boppa Do Down released a 5 song ep of the band's early recordings and the group did a reunion show to support the release. We had a chance to talk with them shortly after that about their place in the early Toronto scene. Interview by Stephen Perry. Photos by Don Pyle.

 Introduce yourselves and tell us what you do in the band?
C: I’m Cleave Anderson the drummer.
J: I’m Johnny Bubblegum the bass player and last founding member involved.
R: Ronnie Partridge on guitar.
How did you guys get into punk?
C: I had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. I remember reading about something going on in New York City. About a bunch of bands playing at CBGBs. This was probably in ’75 and it sounded very interesting because I was always very interested in rock and roll and how the history was unfolding. I always wanted to be part of something new so I took a little trip down and went to Max’s Kansas City which was also the other little hotbed for new music with an artier bent. When I came back to Toronto I was hoping that something similar might happen. I started to see some posters on Yonge Street. I think I saw a poster for the DISHES that said “…about to be a household name”. This sounded fun and interesting. It was all ‘do it yourself’. So I went and saw them at the Beverley Tavern and just kept watching for those posters. I think being a bit older than most of the people in the punk scene I had already had a little taste of the garage rock thing. It was a short lived moment around ’65 – ’66 and I always felt like I never really finished with that kind of excitement. That kind of raw rock n roll energy. It had almost seemed like this was a way of re-connecting and moving on into the future with something that I thought had been neglected.
J: I was a little later, of course. The same kind of thing though seeing stuff in Rolling Stone and Roxscene. Different papers coming out of New York and CFNY, as it was known then, Edge 102 as it is known now, actually was good back then and played some early stuff and my friend Doug and I heard the SEX PISTOLS for the first time. I had a brother who worked in Hamilton and I sent him to Star Records to pick up a French pressing of “Anarchy in the UK” for me. The first time I put that on that was it. I guess before that I had heard the RAMONES. Dee Dee’s down picking style had already affected the way I played bass, but it was really when I heard the SEX PISTOLS for the first time that I had to start a band and get into it from there. So that was early ’77. Luckily in the summer of ’78 I got a call from John Zeigler to come to Toronto and join a band. I was in from there.

R: For me I was the youngest guy in the band and I was in Grade 12. Like Johnny, I listened to CFNY and heard the SEX PISTOLS. It just blew my mind because I didn’t like anything I was hearing. There was TED NUGENT and crap music that everyone was listening to and I couldn’t understand it. I was listening to older stuff like old LED ZEPPELIN because I couldn’t stand the way it was going. This was just what I needed to hear. I went straight down hill from there right into it and the next thing I know I was auditioning for the VILETONES and going to DEAD BOYS shows. Vera put an ad in the paper and I replied. These guys were already together and I got involved with TYRANNA and that was about it.
It seems to me that it was a pretty big step to go from listening to music to playing in a band. It seems like people were taking quick steps early on in the punk scene just to make things happen.
J: That was true for me. I got a bass in Grade 9 and played to some records, but I probably hadn’t really played my bass, maybe even touched it, in several weeks and hadn’t played it seriously in several months when I got the call from Zeigler. So when I got the call I put on TEENAGE HEAD’s “Tearin’ Me Apart” and got my fingers going again. Two rehearsals later we had a band and TYRANNA had a gig. Then we did a demo.
That’s a bit of a whirlwind.
J: Yeah, it was a real whirlwind. It was such an exciting thing about punk to have it happen that fast. But I was out in Burlington in my teens. I was originally born in Meaford and moved around a bit, but I was out in Burlington when I got it. That put me closer to Hamilton so I actually got to see TEENAGE HEAD. They were my first live punk experience. That was before their 45 had come out. Some of the early shows at Kilroy’s Tavern and then I saw them in a high school in Burlington. So I caught the Hamilton scene before going to Toronto.
This is my next question. What were some of the shows that you saw when first getting into the scene?
C: Well I will go back to the garage rock thing, seeing the UGLY DUCKLINGS in Grade 10 which was in ’65 – ’66. I did go to that first RAMONES show that the Gary’s did at the New Yorker Theatre. Gary told me it was September ’76. I thought it was October. He should know. Not to split hairs but that show was a turning point. That was kind of an introduction for me. Crash ‘n Burn started after that and I was at the Crash ‘n Burn for a couple of those shows. I saw the DEAD BOYS there and TEENAGE HEAD and the DIODES.
R: For me I was younger and still in high school and the Horseshoe, I had missed so much. The Crash ‘n Burn and all that were before I was introduced to the music so I caught it a little later. It was the Horseshoe and then the Turning Point for me. I missed a good start of the wave.
C: And the Beverley Tavern was going even before the Crash ‘n Burn. That’s where I saw the DISHES and BATTERED WIVES, the original version of the band which I ended up joining. MARTHA AND THE MUFFINS, JOHNNY AND THE G-RAYS….
J: The VERBS. That was before my time. I heard a lot about them. I had friends who were coming in, but I didn’t get in. I was doing the HEAD.
A lot of people wish they were too. I’m sure people have envy over your experience. You guys are alluding to the band starting to form. What is the story? How did the band actually form? How did TYRANNA come together?
J: I never really got the story about how Zeigler and Vera met up, but I imagine just at one of the clubs. They started doing some rehearsals and song writing I believe in early ’78.
Was he the original guitarist?
And Vera was the singer?
Yeah. Rabies. She had a band performing around as a band called QUEENIE. Tony Brighton from the UGLY was in that band. Her and Zeigler got together and started writing some songs. The ones that continued into the band were “Unfaithful / Divorced’ and also “Shockface”. I imagine it wouldn’t have been too long after they started that John called me. I came in from Burlington in mid June.

How did they know you?
J: John was a friend of a friend in Burlington and we had a rehearsal once, trying to put a band together in some kid’s basement. I remember the whole afternoon was spent trying to do “Paranoid”. The one time we got three bars into it and it was sounding good John stopped playing to say how good it was sounding and that was the most we got done the whole day and on the strength of that he called me up to join a band in Toronto. So I picked up my bass and got familiar with it again. Came in and did two rehearsals with John and Vera with all of us singing and playing through one twelve inch combo amp. The third time I came in John met me at the subway and told me we had a new guitarist. I thought that was great. We had a drummer and gigs Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This was a Sunday.
So that was the third week of being together.
J: And not even a full rehearsal until the Sunday.
So TYRANNA was actually a five piece at one point.
J: Yes. For the first three gigs. And then it is amazing how fast it changed in the beginning. Dave Porter on drums, John Tucker on guitar. He had the clean Telecaster sound and then
Johnny Zeigler with his Les Paul gold top, which he had dug out a hole himself with a drill and a chisel to put a third pick up, in which gave it a very distinct totally fuzzed out sound. It was as much the work he did on his guitar as well as his MXR pedal he used. So we had that five piece band and we wrote “Johnny”. I started that song. We wrote that in between the Sunday rehearsal and the gig that week. We rehearsed each of the next nights, just in the evening, writing songs, covering songs. Did the three gigs for the UGLY.
How many songs did you do?
It was six songs counting “Unfaithful / Divorced” as two. There was “Shockface”, “Johnny”, “12XU”, and “I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are”. It is terrible to put words in the mouths of someone who isn’t here, but Mike Nightmare did say that we blew them off the stage. That was the first night. I wouldn’t say we did the next two nights.
They were ready for you.
J: Yeah. I don’t think they had any idea what was going to hit them that night. Those were great gigs. The level of enthusiasm, because it happened so fast, was huge within this new scene in the city. I was just on fire about the whole thing. So we do the three gigs. We take Sunday off. I had been wearing the same clothes all week so I needed to go home and get changed. We come back in on Monday and we start recording the first demo. I guess Zeigler had it up his back that there was another guitarist now even though the two guitar sound was amazing and very distinct. But I guess this got under his skin. He showed up for the recordings of the original songs and then said he was going out for a coffee and never returned. So he doesn’t actually play on the two covers – “12XU”, and “Where the Boys Are”.
Who does?
J: John Tucker, Dave Porter,..
Okay so just as a four piece.
J: That four piece played two more gigs with the CURSE in August and then recorded one more demo with three songs – “Unfaithful / Divorced”, “Test Tube Babies”, and “T.O. Boys” as we called it. It was “London Girls” by the VIBRATORS. So that is the early days.

When did TYRANNA start? What do you think the date was?
J: I believe that DENTS / UGLY gig was June ’78. It was really only a band several days before that. I think it was the 4th, the 5th, and the 6th. The band really only came together the week before that.
And how long was TYRANNA around til?
J: The last TYRANNA gig was …. We did the IGGY POP show, we did the Piccadilly Tube in November after the IGGY POP show and then we opened for Jayne County at the Edge in New Year’s Eve 1980. We played three or four nights that week at The Edge because they were recording the JAYNE COUNTY live album. We supported them each night. Those were the final gigs. So it was like a year and a half from beginning to end.
So it was longer than I thought.
J: Everyone thinks that. It was a year from Cleave and Ronnie.
Okay so we were talking about the line up change. I want to revisit that. I want to get to the introduction of Cleave and Ronnie. So I guess we had left it at a four piece after the second recording. Were there other line up changes?
J: No just those. There was a woman who sat in on guitar on the second gig with the CURSE. I think Vera met her a couple of days before and thought it would be great to have another gal in the band. She had a real kind of Farrah Fawcet look so it would have been really cool to have her in with the punks. She played one song at one of the CURSE gigs. That’s a minor addendum to one of the line ups. Other than that it was the two CURSE gigs, the second demo that will be featured on the Rave Up record in September and then that band collapsed. I think it might have been in October when Ron met Vera.
R: That is hard for me to think back to. It was cold out.
C: I think it was after that because I didn’t meet Vera until ….
I have a note about February ’79 when Cleave and Ronnie joined the band.
J: That would have been the first gig.
C: I think I was already recruited and we were looking for a guitarist. I had agreed to join the band.
Cleave, you mentioned something about Vera approaching you at a Horseshoe gig.
C: That was the Last Pogo. December 1st and 2nd. I had been in the BATTERED WIVES and decided I wasn’t going to be doing that anymore. I went to the Last Pogo and met Vera there. I was just watching the Last Pogo film and seeing how many times she shows up in there. I had seen TYRANNA at one of the shows at the Turning Point and it was Johnny Bubblegum’s bass playing that I thought “I like that. He’s got the style down.” There was a lot of thought at the time about ‘What is punk rock? Is it a style or is it an attitude?’ I think it was an attitude but I was also interested that there was a new style of music emerging. I thought that was pretty exciting. Blues has certain characteristics and country and reggae and punk rock had this style of music that was emerging. I was looking for a band that had those ingredients so that I could be a part of that thing. TYRANNA was definitely headed in a direction that could be identified as punk rock.
J: Just to expand on that a little bit. That is one thing that I always felt about TYRANNA. We did play punk rock. We weren’t just a bunch of old rockers who got together and had toughened it up and put on different clothes and called it punk rock. The elements that came together – Vera had a very strong melody with a strong vocal attack. And she was really confrontational at this point with the audience and with her ideas and songs. Incredibly striking woman. Then you have the two guitars. You had John Zeigler with his completely fuzzed out heavy metal fuzz sound. Like an old BLACK SABBATH influence. John Tucker was very angular. I never heard of anybody playing alternate tunings before. I would pick up his Telecaster and tune it for him and then he would come and rage who screwed up his guitar. I had no idea what was going on? So he had this very angular style. Then the drummer was kind of loose and jazzy. There was this blend of elements that you wouldn’t think to put together really. I think that was very punk. And the choice of covers in that first week by WIRE and VENUS AND THE RAZOR BLADES which we changed up. We didn’t play it the way they played it. I really feel that TYRANNA was a band that was inventing something new. Maybe not globally, but in Toronto we had a unique sound. I said what Mike Nightmare said at that first gig, but Mohammed from the DENTS called us “Sophisto-punk”, which I took as a great compliment.
Well I want to get into that. But first I want to ask about when Ronnie came into the band. Did you come in around the Last Pogo?
R: I think Cleave was already in the line up. They decided they were going to do this. She put an ad in the newspaper so she didn’t have anybody in mind. We met and the same night we wrote a few songs. Cleave came over the following day and I kind of auditioned for him. We did songs that were already written. Gerry had a Tiny Talent Time in Burlington so we had to wait until your schedule opened up. We were rehearsing in this old house where Vera was living with her dad. They put up with us. That’s where we did a lot of our rehearsing. It just went from there. We wrote songs together. Cleave wrote songs on his own and brought them in. We just did them as he brought them in and made them our own style.
C: And Ger, too.
J: Cleave coming in … he had way more experience. His drumming solidified our sound. The energy gelled the band into a much tighter, stronger outfit. He brought discipline into rehearsing.
R: He had the experience and if we were wasting too much time in between songs he would get us going onto the next song or have us rehearsing parts. Everything stayed together tight and he didn’t waste much time.
J: Yeah, if there was a part that was loose Cleave would have us go over it a few times. It really tightened us up.
C: Yeah, I had the whip out.
Was that rehearsal place out in the west end?
R: At Jane and Dundas.
J: Jane and St. John.
R: For me my car was hit and miss. Sometimes it would start, sometimes it wouldn’t. I was out in Scarborough. The very east end of Scarborough. I got into a lot of fights. I got beat up a lot. I wasn’t a very good fighter. I never lost my Les Paul, which is amazing because it was brand new when I got it. It took a lot of beatings. Nobody got that handle out of my hands no matter how hard they tried. That’s the thing. To go a little off topic, at the time it was very violent to walk around because Vera and I, after I left Scarborough and stayed in the west end, we lived the way we looked. We didn’t go ‘let’s dress up and go do a punk show.’ We walked around like that all the time because we were into it. But when my car wasn’t running there were a lot of people out there on the TTC who would give us trouble because we looked different. And we didn’t want to take any shit from anybody at the same time because the music kind of led you to feel more angry about things and intolerance.
Yeah. I’m sure it led to confrontations on the streets. I remember that happening with the rockers who would make us targets.
R: So getting back to your question we were in the west end mostly at St. John and Jane.
And Johnny, were you still living in Burlington?
J: Yeah at that point.
So that is also a huge commute.
J: Yeah, and I didn’t do it enough. I realize now I could have added a lot more to the band in that time. I could have been in with Vera writing songs but I kind of left it to her to get the band back together after the collapse of the first one. But I think it really happened fast after that. It’s not like I had a hell of a lot going on in Burlington to keep me busy out there. I guess I was just a lazy kid who didn’t want to get his ass in the city until the guys were bugging me. I was still living in Burlington when we got the call from the Garys to open for THE DILS because who ever were supposed to open that show cancelled at the very last minute. When you realize how fast things could happen that was my call to get into the city.
C: I think it worked well that Ron and Rabies wrote songs together. There was a sort of smattering of Johnny’s songs and mine too. It all blended in.
J: “Test Tube Babies” which came from the first four piece version of the band was a song written for the second demo and the CURSE gigs and Vera wrote most of the song but said “I need something a little more poppy and high energy for this section” so she brought that to me you know “Give me a bass part for this.” So maybe there was a little more interaction between Vera and I in the first band before Ronnie came in and then they were a really strong song writing team. I don’t think there was too much interaction in the song writing other than we would all bring our parts in.
Maybe she had already figured out she had worked things out with you and Ronnie was newer and …..
J: Yeah. It was not a negative thing.
No. That’s not what I am thinking at all.
R: Usually I would be there. I was living in the house with her and her dad. I would just be banging away making noise and she would say ‘Play that one again’ and she would say “Yeah keep that one.” She’d get her little cassette machine going and she would tape it. She did all the Lyrics. She might ask me for a rhyme to a line, but all the lyrics were from.
I wanted to ask where the name came from? Where did the name TYRANNA come from? At first I thought it was a bastardization of the name Toronto?
R: A lot of people seem to think that.

Well it seems fitting.
J: That’s what I thought. Vera told me that she asked her mother or father what would be a good name for the band.
C: She was the dominant. She wanted to be the dominant front person for the band. She was a tall woman. She wanted to come across like leading a gang of guys. She wanted to sound tyrannical and feminine at the same time hence TYRANNA.
J: And it is only since Google has been around and you put Tyranna in and see what you can find and you realize that there is this mythical figure coming out of Russian tradition called Tyranna and Vera’s parents were Russian so that might have been behind it as well. She was talking about how she wanted a name for this strong female personality. That may be why they threw out the name Tyranna. It existed in their culture. That is something I figured out more recently.
The sound. What was the idea behind the band when getting the band together in terms of a sound?
J: I don’t think any of us really sat down and thought about it.
Just a punk band mostly.
J: Yeah. We all had our influences and they gelled. The first band went so fast there was no time for philosophizing.
Okay well you mentioned something about the DENTS calling you sophisto-punk. What did they mean by that? What were they getting at?
J: I think it was the angularity. There were time changes in the songs. There were lots of stops and starts. There were intelligent lyrics.
C: What convinced me to join other than having seen you were she took me into the studio and played me the demos and I thought they were clever and the lyrics were interesting and I think the influences were like early XTC. Someone had mentioned this when I was there. That comes from an art background.
Andrew Partridge was considered an intelligent guy within the punk scene. He was the singer of XTC and they had a certain air about them. Okay. We mentioned the first gig which was with the UGLY. You played three days with the UGLY at the Turning Point. And the DENTS and ARSON and then the EXISTERS. Is that correct?
J: The EXISTERS came into one of those first three nights. I don’t remember ARSON being around on those ones. It’s possible. I think gigs were pretty fluid there. If all the band members of a band were at the show and everybody was agreeable they may jump on the stage. That is how the VILETONES got into the Last Pogo. That’s how the UGLY got …. Nobody wanted to invite them to gigs because they would get blown off the stage with the UGLY. It was pretty acceptable. Those first couple of gigs that weren’t on the list.
There is a flyer for that where Vera is coming out of a Toronto Star office. Is there a reference to something in the Toronto Star?
J: No. Outside of me being a paperboy when I was a kid. Those photos came out of ….Don Pyle lived in the same neighbourhood and knew Vera before any of us. He would show up at our rehearsals during all periods of the band. He did these great photo sessions with us at our second rehearsal, which is why we have such great documentation. That’s all it was. We were just goofing around in the streets.
C: Birds of a feather flock together. He was a local guy in the west end around the high school …was it Runnymede Collegiate? Did he go there?
Yeah he did. He was talking about that when he was in here.
C: I remember we would be rehearsing and we would go around to the little corner store and there would be the high school kids and there would be the confrontation.
I think one of your second shows….well in May it looks like you were doing simultaneous shows the same night. There were some shows with the FORGOTTEN REBELS at the Turning Point and you guys were also playing at Larry’s Hideaway with JOHNNY AND THE G RAYS. How did this end?
J: The REBELS gig would have been set up with a good amount of time. A four night gig with the REBELS.
C: Where was our first gig? Do you remember?
J: Yeah Ron’ got the first poster. February 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th with the DENTS. That is the second time with the DENTS and that’s the Turning Point. That was the first gig with Cleave and Ron. Then we had the gig with the FORGOTTEN REBELS again at the Turning Point. It’s kind of surprising me that it is May 3rd, 4th, 5th. I am surprised that there doesn’t seem to be any indication of playing between those.
C: Well it was a little slow getting going maybe.
J: Here we have…one of those nights we were also at Larry’s Hideaway on the Saturday night with the G-RAYS.

C: We played with the G-RAYS and then went over to the Turning Point. FORGOTTEN REBELS opened for us I am assuming.
J: Yeah we traded nights headlining.
C: Sometimes. We were as big as FORGOTTEN REBELS weren’t we.
J: In Toronto. That gig was when they put out their first EP. They were probably known in Hamilton, but not that well known in Toronto yet. They got well known the because the CRTC immediately banned three of the four songs on the EP.
Yeah. Tell us about this. There is a story that goes along with this about a gang.
J: The REBELS put out the EP and the CRTC immediately banned it and “Third Homosexual Murder” was on there and an alleged gang called the Spearheads called the club up early in the week and said that if the band plays that song on Saturday night were taking Mickey out. So the club called Rabies and told her all about it and Rabies decided to call down the Blake Street Boys just to make sure things were okay on Saturday night. The Blake Street Boys, who were the VILETONES entourage, showed up looking for a fight and of course the Spearheads never showed and all hell ensued.
C: They were all psyched up for a fight.
You were telling me something about chairs going into a pinball machine.
J: Into the pinball machines, into the walls, all the tables….
C: Did the P.A. go over?
J: Chairs went into the P.A. I remember that. None of the tables ever stood properly after that night. That’s why. When we were looking at this with playing Larry’s on the Saturday I was thinking I don’t remember if we ever played the Saturday night. Once that riot started that was it for the night. I don’t know if Sunday happened either. There was somebody who was almost killed in front of me at that show. A full beer bottle went into the guy’s head and he went down onto the floor. Three or four guys went at him with boots and chairs and then the cops came in and the place was cleared out. The guy was lying there immobile for a long time. I never did hear what happened to him. So I don’t know if the Sunday of that gig happened or not. It’s all hazy to me now.

I have in my notes that you played a show on Friday July 13th with ARSON at Larry’s Hideaway. Was that with this line up or an earlier line up?
J: That’s this line up.
Anything memorable at that show?
J: I can’t say there was anything memorable at that show. That was May as well.
C: By then I think we were managed by the Gary’s. We started to play a lot. We did a lot of gigs actually.
R: It was at the Rock Palace.
C: The Rock Palace and the Edge we played regularly.
Well two weeks later there is a gig with the VILETONES at the Rock Palace. This is when the VILETONES had gotten a bit more rockabilly. The Rock Palace. That’s Lee’s Palace right?
C: Upstairs. I guess it was the Dance Cave.
R: You had to go up the stairs just like at the Turning Point.
Was it an old Chinese Restaurant at that point?
J: Yeah. Kind of fancy.
So you were playing in a restaurant?
C: Yeah. But it had been designed as a dinner club or something. It wasn’t a functioning restaurant upstairs just a nightclub. It was a big room with a big stage, but it had dining and traditional Chinese entertainment of some kind.
That seems like a weird culture clash to me.
R: Johnny Lovesin ran the place. It was his band that played there every night almost.
So he kind of worked it in for everybody.
R: He got the DEAD BOYS playing there.
C: I guess whoever owned or managed it before had a band in that format so that’s when Johnny came in and the punk bands started playing.
In August you played a Femme Fatale gig with ZRO4 and the BUNS. Tell us about that gig?
C: Who put that on? I guess it was Johnny Lovesin and he wanted to have a theme of bands with women in the band.
J: ZRO4 was the fourth band.
And who were the BUNS?
R: I remember the BUNS. They did the demo at the same place we did in Hamilton. All three of us did our demo at the same place.
C: That would be interesting to look into that.
R: They had a song called “Break out of your Shell” that I thought was a cool song.
J: Was it all girls?
R: No. Female singer.
C: Same as the rest of us.
You did a second gig with TYRANNA on August 18th and 19th with the EXISTERS and the CURSE.
J: That was the original band so that was in ’78. The missing link here is when was the DILS gig? I would guess that it was July or August. I was pretty sure it was the summer. That would have been when things really heated up with the Gary’s I guess. I was looking through these newspaper clippings to see if there was the DILS gig and it was on Thursday June 14th and it was TYRANNA’s first gig at The Edge.
Did you also play a show with the MEMBERS at the Chelsea Nightclub maybe?
J: “At the Chelsea Nightclub” was their album and it did quite well. It doesn’t give the month on the clipping. The HI FIVES played that. And we played with the TARTS on the 12th. August 12th. So we are in August there. The MEMBERS show was early August or early September. It unfolds. And then the Gary’s gave us lots of shows. JOHNNY AND THE G-RAYS. There was another international band we opened for that I can never remember who it was.
J: They were a local band.
I was going to ask you about a gig that you did near York University. This seems like an odd place but it also has a story. There was a place called Queen’s City Second Stop. Where was that?
C: Finch and Keele. It wasn’t far from York University. It was just in a little industrial plaza. It was just a bar. How we got there; I had played there with Jasper a full year before TYRANNA and I don’t know how …. He must have known somebody. It was really a weird place for us to be playing. We were just looking for …. When TYRANNA formed there weren’t really very many places to play. I think there was a lull between David’s and the Crash n Burn. I don’t know what was going on at the Beverley but we never played at the Beverley Tavern. Maybe it was too small. But there weren’t many places. We just had to hustle gigs. That is how we ended up in Tottenham. Any connections that we had I just called up because I had played there before and I called him up and he was like “Sure, come on up”. I don’t know if he paid us anything, but we just wanted to play.
But this show in particular had a story about borrowing a P.A. system didn’t it. Up at Atkinson College at York?
J: No that was the very first band. Dave Porter, the first drummer had some tie with Atkinson College. I don’t know if it was a friend or if he had done classes there. They lent us a Peavey or a Traynor column P.A. set and that was just for rehearsal.
Okay. Something unrelated. I just figured it was related because of location.
J: No. But that same booker that got us the Tottenham gig and the Queen City Second Stop and the East Bar and Grill as we called it. He got us in the Piccadilly Tube in one of our very last gigs. It would have been in November after the IGGY POP show.
November 24th.
J: This was significant because as Ronnie mentioned earlier about being on the subway and getting attacked by people because you had hair that looked different than theirs it was kind of unheard of for any of the punk bands to play the Piccadilly Tube. That was the Yonge Street strip. The home of Max Webster and Rush and all those bands. It was the rock scene.
That was the enemy.
J: Yeah. There was TYRANNA playing to the rock scene crowd.
That is weird. That’s very weird. And this is somewhere around College Street in a basement.
C: No it was Yonge Street but it was closer to Bloor.
R: No it was very close to the Edge.
J: Yeah because we went over there from the Edge after New Year’s Eve.
R: That’s where I got beat up pretty good going down those stairs.
J: I worked with a girl who went out with one of the guys from The KINGS who did quite well and they were playing the Piccadilly Tube that night we played with JAYNE COUNTY. It was just a completely different crowd and scene and I think we actually were okay at the Piccadilly Tube.
That was with WILLY ENGLISH.
J: Yeah and WILLY ENGLISH were definitely a new wave-ish kind of British invasion kind of sound.
Someone was in a cast at this show.
J: That was me.
What appendage was broken?
J: The right leg. The knee still bothers me. I popped it at a rehearsal and was in a cast. That was the only gig I ever stood still at.
Yeah you said that was uncomfortable because you couldn’t move around.
J: Yeah. I felt like a total lame ass. I thought you put on a show. That was your job. It was significant because there was beginning to be some crossover between the punk and rock scenes.
At least from a club standpoint.
J: Some clubs were willing to give us a chance.
You mentioned something about Tottenham, what was that show like? The place is like a redneck bastion. How did you survive that show? How did that show come about?
J: Cleave and I got out of ‘Dodge’ right away and Ronnie and Vera hung around.
R: Well they offered us a room for the night. We went up to the room and went “Oh My God”. It was pretty low end for a room. We went back downstairs for a drink and the bar was pretty much closed, but they gave us another drink and these guys invited us to a party and so we went. Once we got to the party I could tell it was a mistake coming. These guys were really rough and I wasn’t sure how this was going to end. I just wanted to get Vera and I out of there. They realized we were getting ready to take off. I said to Vera “Let’s get the fuck out of here”. We got out to my car and it started. I had an old MGB. It started but it was revving really fast. I didn’t care. I backed out and got out of there and later I found out that they had taken off a couple of spark plugs, but luckily it did start and it got us out of there. We were so happy to see that room after all. It looked wonderful.
C: And the gig itself was probably a mistake. I don’t think there were a lot of people there. They didn’t get it at all. It was uncomfortable.
R: Nobody got what we were trying to do.
J: It was definitely hostile. Guys sitting there with their motorcycle helmets on their chair and directly baiting the band. The only song they responded to positively was …. We had to play more sets then you would play at the downtown clubs so we threw in a lot more covers. We ended up doing “Needles and Pins” because the RAMONES had covered it and we just got this idea that we would all trade instruments for one song. Vera took my bass and Cleave was on guitar with his left handed SG and Ronnie was on the drums and I was doing the vocals. Because they knew that song that was the only song they gave any positive response for at all. It was outright hostility and we had never encountered anything else like that. Ron and Vera went to the party afterwards just flabbergasted me.
R: It was a bad move.
J: It was an hour and a half to two hours out of town so Cleave and I had to get back. There was only the one room offered so Cleave and I booted it back to the city in his car. It was a different world. Punk was not appreciated by anybody other than the clan.
R: Everything was like that. I had this fixation with razor blades. I liked to wear one as an earring. I was wearing one for a while and I had all these cuts on my neck and Vera went “What are you doing?” I liked the look of the razor blade. That’s why it is one some of those posters. I remember sitting at that little house at the front and we got a rock and we were trying to dull it so it would stop cutting my neck. But now you can go to Wal-Mart and you could buy any of that shit. You couldn’t get any of that until New Rose opened up. You might be able to get something like that there. But now you can get stuff like that everywhere. It’s commonplace.
It’s crazy.
R: Nobody nowadays would grab a razor blade and dull it down.
J: That was one thing that was very exciting about the time. Cleave was there at the very earliest days but even the Turning Point when I got in mid-‘78 it was exciting to see who would show up in what.
R: Mickey had the most amazing clothes. You could just study Mickey and see all the things he would pin on himself. There would be a story behind every little thing like a bottle cap to anything he had on him.
J: Little rubber fetuses. People would show up in a garbage bag shirt or a formed plastic vest. Everybody was doing something unique to spin the fashion. It was very exciting and there was a lot of artistry going into that and thought. It is all so cookie cutter now and uniform. I remember feeling that with the hardcore scene. I went to ‘The Fort’ one time and there were 200 people in leather jackets with paint and studs and nails and they all looked exactly the same. Mohawks.
There was a gig you guys did around Labour Day weekend that Johnny Lovesin organized.
J: Yep. The end of summer bash.
That was with his band the NEXT. Tell us about that show.
J: It was hard to get people out to clubs. So we thought about doing this big end of summer bash so the poor kids who don’t get to go up to Muskoka they got to have something to do too. So we put on this show that was six bands for six bucks and somewhere I have the stage list.
There was the FORGOTTEN REBELS, N.F.G. from London, which was early 63 MONROE right?
J: Yeah and they were awesome. These longhairs with hair down to their waist.
R: With the cowboy hats. It was just such an odd mixture for their sound.
J: They were like IGGY AND THE STOOGES or something.
There was POWERHILL.
J: I have no idea who they were.
J: The WATTS were a cool mod outfit. Ben Wicks’ son Vince was the singer. The BASICS were a new wave, angular arts scene.
C: The BASICS was Fergus Hamilton who went on to the SATELLITES. They were a new wave kind of thing.
So he has his roots in the punk rock scene.
C: Yeah. I think he played in a 60s band. He’s got a pretty rich history. He also worked at the Peter Pan which was a significant Queen Street location where people gathered. Who else was on that bill?
J: THE FICTIONS. I think they put out some vinyl. I don’t recall a lot about them. That was a great party. Two sets. It was an afternoon set with all the bands and then an evening set. Twelve noon till one am. I remember that being a really good time. That was again at the Rock Palace upstairs at what is Lee’s Palace now and it was a very cool club. It was a big open room and there were booths lining both sides of the hall and a nice big stage. They had those paper Chinese lanterns. The kind you would see in the upscale Chinese restaurants. They had a huge paper globe in the middle of the room. It was a classy place.
R: There was a candle in every booth.
C: Too classy for us.
R: It was pretty classy for the bands that played there. It was nice.
J: Yeah and it was trashed by the end of the run of the place. When you would see the Beverley Hillbillies TV show where they go down to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and you would see some band, that’s what it felt like playing at the Rock Palace. It wasn’t the Turning Point with syringes and blood and broken glass all over the washrooms.
Tell us about the IGGY POP gig. November 9th and 10th. How did that come about? Was it a Gary’s show?
C: Oh yeah. That was a Gary’s show. The G-RAYS were on the bill.
Was that the show where David Bowie was playing with the STOOGES?
C: No but he had a cracker jack band. Glenn Matlock from the PISTOLS was on bass, Brain James from the DAMNED was on guitar, who else?
R: Tangerine Dream on drums.
Where was this gig at?
C: The Music Hall on the Danforth.
J: Two nights. It was sold out.
C: I think it was probably our finest moment.
R: He was kind of promoting “New Values” at the time. It wasn’t the same band from the record either. He had a little from the record like he did “Dog Food”.
C: But the band was great. For TYRANNA I think we played our best ever. It was really exciting, it was a full house and we were at our peak I think. Totally memorable night for us and I remember Wilder Penforth III chose it as one of the top shows of the year.
J: Yeah he listed it as one of his top ten concerts of the year and he mentioned it was because of the opening bands. He didn’t mention us by name, but he said the high rating was because of the opening acts.
I remember you telling me about this actually.
J: As Cleave said, we totally rehearsed for that gig. As Ronnie just mentioned, the sound was significant.
R: It was the first time we could hear each other.
J: When we were on stage it was like hearing a record of your band for the first time.
Well it was a music hall so you would think they would have the sound down.
J: Proper monitors and you could hear yourself. We rehearsed for it so we were tight.
C: We liked being on stage and it was like a show.
R: It was a huge stage. Probably the biggest one we have ever played on.
J: And we worked it. Vera was leaning down talking to people in the crowd, getting photographs. People were handing her polaroids. We all did our part working the stage. And then the second night … The first night was kind of a little damper because it was pouring rain and people were in out of in the rain. We were the first band on and they had just been soaked so they were just getting used to it. The second night we came on and we were very powerhouse and got a strong encore.
C: There was two nights?
J: Yeah. Friday and Saturday. And the Saturday we did our set, an encore was called for, they sent us back out there to do it, which just thrilled us of course and then JOHNNY AND THE G-RAYS came on and didn’t get an encore which thrilled us even more. We were back stage celebrating with our case of beer. Wow we got a case of beer and a dressing room.
R: I have one picture that I took of IGGY from the side of the stage.
J: Yeah with Glenn Matlock there.
R: What a terrible camera I had at the time.
J: It was a total thrill to be doing that gig. I remember we were up in the office at The Edge when the Gary’s asked us if we wanted to play it and my jaw hit the floor. I had been in a band for a year and a half and here I am talking to Glenn Matlock. We were both loading our basses onto the stage and I am talking to this guy who had written “Anarchy in the UK”, the song that started it all for me. I was loosing it. Never mentioned the SEX PISTOLS, just mentioned his new band.
The proper musical protocol.
J: Yeah. Ron was sitting with Brian James down in the audience while we were doing soundcheck.
Weird eh.

R: It was interesting. I got in trouble for “Revenge”. The first night I did “Revenge” I had this thing where there is this middle part that dies out and I grab a beer and down it and then I do a slide thing and everything goes quiet and then the songs starts again. We didn’t do that song in soundcheck and I was told later that “Mr. Pop likes a dry floor”. Of course I drank the beer and most of it went all over me. I did my slide thing and I was told by the Edge staff “Mr. Pop likes a dry floor. You just made it all wet. He won’t be able to slide in that area. Don’t do that tomorrow night. So the next night I had an empty beer bottle and I just used it?
J: Iggy said “hi” though.
R: He was very pleasant.
J: TEENAGE HEAD showed up. I just flipped to a picture of them in the scrapbook here. Yeah TEENAGE HEAD filed down and were standing there as the primo band of the day. They were all leaning up against the wall of the hall waiting to go in and see IGGY and I remember I went up and said “Hi” to Nicky. They weren’t there in time to see us. They probably had no idea that I was in a band and he kind of brushed me off. Then when I was headed back stage before IGGY’s set they were all lined up to get in and I looked him in the eye and waltzed by. That felt good.
Yeah. Getting snubbed like that.
J: I still love those guys but I wanted them to know that I was playing there with IGGY. They did go in and meet him so that was great that they had the chance to meet IGGY POP.
Okay tell us about … there was a gig that we mentioned on December 31st that you did at the Edge with JANE COUNTY. Tell us about that gig.
C: Well the Gary’s had booked JANE COUNTY in for the day before New Year’s. the idea was that they were going to record a live album. The angle was it was going to be the first album ever to be recorded in the 80’s. We were all so era conscious and all that. You know, we were moving into the next decade and all that. We were asked to do the opening slot for that.
And would this be the last TYRANNA show?
J: The last set of shows which lasted four or five nights.
Did you guys get an opportunity to record as well at this?
R: Yeah the story to that was after we played the first night the company that recorded JANE COUNTY offered to record us the next night. We were fine with that except for the night before we went to the Piccadilly Tube and I got beat up pretty bad. I could still play. My fingers were all fine so we showed up there but it turns out that we were going to go on after JANE COUNTY. As she was opening for us she was going to leave and so she left but she also took all the good recording microphones so the Edge used their own microphones out of the goodness of their heart and unfortunately they are just standard Shure mics and they just bled all over the place so the recording was very poor. So it wasn’t used.
Unfortunately thanks to JANE COUNTY. There is some scene camaraderie, eh. The one song that did get released around that period was a song called “Back off Baby” on the “No Pedestrian” comp. Tell us about that song. Where was it recorded? What’s the song about? How did the compilation come about?
C: Well there was this guy named Tom Adam who had Cottingham Sound. There wasn’t that many recording studios around at the time and he was pretty street level and inexpensive. He was in touch and connected with all the street level bands and a supporter of the punk rock scene. So he decided he was going to choose a song for a bunch of different bands and put them on a compilation. TYRANNA was asked and we had given him some demos that we had done. He chose “Back Off Baby”.
J: Cleave’s song.
That’s a song that Cleave wrote?
C: Yes.
Did you get to play on it?
C: Yeah. I play the drums on that one.
I wanted to ask you a bit about the recordings that you had done. You had mentioned that within two weeks you had done a recording at a place called Wade Avenue Artist Collective. John Tucker had a four track studio or something.
J: John was in the original band. He had his own four track and it wasn’t a Fostex. It was a high end four track which was very rare. I can’t tell you the name of it. That was a whole artist collective. Robbie Rox lived there. Maybe some other bands, photographers, painters. It was a very cool scene there. That was where the first demo was done and the second demo with the four piece, the five song demo we all did here at the basement studios in Hamilton that Mickey de Sadist introduced us to.
So there was a demo recorded in the early days and then there was a demo recorded in August?
J: Yep.
That was another demo where you did “Test Tube Babies” and “Toronto Boys” there. And that was without John Zeigler?
J: Yep.
And then Cleave joined in December. You did the recording in the summer of ’79 at that Hamilton studio.
C: Do you remember what month that was?
J: I don’t remember what month, but it was the three of us here with Rabies.
And Mickey played a part in this right?
C: He was hanging out in the studio with us. He lived nearby. He did some background vocals on “My Neighbour”.
And then the live recording at the Edge.
C: Yeah there is not too much documentation of the band was there?
J: Well I just discovered in the last couple of weeks that I think is from Nucci’s Bar and Grill at the North York show unlike the other one we had from Nucci’s which wasn’t anything you would want to broadcast. It was really badly recorded. But there was this one tape that for being taped on a cassette on a live stage sounds pretty damn good and we were smoking. I was amazed at how hot we were in this recording. I never remembered it. Didn’t even know it existed. I just found it the other day. We may try and get that to see the light of day.
Do you know which recording session “Back Off Baby” came from?
C: It was done at Cottingham Sound and we just did the one song.
So you only recorded one song at that session.
J: So it was either December or January. As soon as I found out I hadn’t been invited to the recording and it had happened, that was it. I was out of the band. I quit.
So did that lead to the break up then?
C: Yeah that lead to the break up. I left soon after that. I was not very happy about Johnny not being on that. Screamin’ Sam Ferrera who had been in the UGLY and the VILETONES was on that and I had played a lot with Sam and he is a good buddy of mine now, but it wasn’t the right thing to have him play on that song.
R: It wasn’t his style either.
J: No hard feelings against Sam.
C: No. He’s a sweetheart.
J: It didn’t represent the band well. We all agree. It wasn’t the sound of the band.
As the only thing that got released by TYRANNA it wasn’t an accurate reflection.
C: And as a song writer, I was a drummer but I play guitar and have written lots and lots of songs. I was interested in playing a certain style of songs. I wanted it to be a staid one chord for a long time thing. Be it simple and really accessible, but have a little twist on it. Stylistically I had something in mind and Johnny was doing the job on that so … We do have a version that’s on our little ep that we have recently put out. That’s the one that Johnny Bubblegum plays on. That’s more indicative of the song and of TYRANNA then the “No Pedestrians” version.
How did the ep come about?
J: Just to finish with this, Shades Magazine, which was the journal put out by the EXISTERS of the day, when they reviewed the “No Pedestrians” record they singled out TYRANNA and ZRO4 as the best cuts on the record, but they themselves said somebody should release the original TYRANNA demos because this one wasn’t really indicative of the band. So then thirty years go by and I am hanging out at Mitzi’s Sister playing with SADOCEANSPACEBEAR one night and Fred Robinson from UIC introduces me to this guy who is talking about starting a record label. I was playing in SADOCEANSPACEBEAR at the time and I am trying to get it for them and he was like “I don’t really understand this new stuff. I want to do some vintage punk rock so…” Don Pyle looks at me and says “Why don’t you do TYRANNA?” That is how the beginning of the ep came together. It took maybe a year to come out but it came out in 2008 the 30th year anniversary of punk rock and TYRANNA. That demo was recorded in ’79 but he got a track from the very first one week old band demo and several tracks from the Hamilton demo and it was pretty smokin’. Well received. Maximumrocknroll gave us a very strong review. Many of the editor’s singled it out as the top record that came into the magazine of the month. Then a guy over in England wrote me about getting a signed copy of the record and he was really excited about the record and he said you should get more of the stuff out there. He put me in touch with Rave Up Records. This is Dave Disaster over in England. Thanks Dave. He took it upon himself to send some songs over to Rave Up in Italy and Pierre at Rave Up immediately said he wanted to do us guys. We’ll have a full LP coming out this fall with Don Pyle photographs and Don Pyle has designed the cover.
Wow. That will be great. That’s amazing news. So is this the rest of the recordings?
J: I believe it will be all the complete studio recordings leaving some room for … we have to make a final decision on that but I think that is what Pierre at Rave Up wants to do. That leaves the door open for maybe a live LP if somebody wants to do that.
There is some of that still there. Amazing. This is great news. I wanted to ask you about some of the songs and their meaning. You did a song called “Johnny” on the ep and a couple of you were named “Johnny” in the band. Is there a story behind this song ?
J: Yes and no. The band was only several days old when we did those gigs. We did have two legitimate Johns in the band and I called myself Johnny Bubblegum, so we called the drummer Johnny as well. Vera was very much into confronting the audience and being a provocateur. I always felt she was going tongue in cheek at the whole “Johnny” culture and just trying to find some way to provoke an audience. The famously bored Toronto audiences don’t respond. Vera was trying to get some action happening between the band and the crowd. It did work. I always felt that was part of that song. The tune was mostly mine and Vera did the lyrics on that. “Shock Face” was another kind of confrontational song. Vera is looking at street culture and bums on the street and people going downhill in their lives and saying she wanted no part of that.
I think it ends something like “Kill the Human Race”.
J: Really ? “Shock the Race”. It wouldn’t surprise me. Vera was an outstanding woman. Very interested in all kinds of things from the paranormal to alternate medicine. I had never heard anything about alternate medicine, alternate healing, alternate food ideas…. Vera was into all of this way before anybody I ever knew or heard of. That kind of insight went into her lyrics.
There was some good critics to of the straight people who live beside you. The song “My Neighbour”, which sounded like it was tongue in cheek. Like my neighbour has all these great things, but really who cares about driving these fancy cars and things like that. Is that accurate ?
R: I don’t know. She would just come up with lyrics and …
There was a song called “Dying in the Suburbs”, which I think had a similar theme.
R: That was Cleave’s. I don’t know where she came up with her lyrics. With myself I would just be making noise with my guitar and she would say “Keep that” and she would come in with her lyrics and work with this and tape it. But the more songs she wrote the more she started to sing about the environment and space. She started with very street level songs and by the end they were all about the future and space. She just changed her direction.
Are those songs like “Test Tube Babies” ?
R: No that was an older one as well.
“Sex Ray Eyes” maybe ?
R: No there was a lot of songs that you are not aware of because we didn’t record them. But a lot of them were about space and cancer and what the environment is doing to us and things that are important nowadays. It was started to weigh heavily on her mind. She was starting to write more and more about that.
It’s unfortunate that they never got recorded.
J: There is some live recordings. “Subway” was a song that uses subway as a metaphor for going between different states of consciousness or different ideas for how you could lead your life. After Cleave and I left the band they did a couple of more gigs and it was TERANNA then.
I saw a poster like that. So the name changed.
R: There was a UFO on the flyers. Her mind was going in that direction.
J: But another important element with Vera is if you look at “Johnny” there is that “Na na na na na na” and in “Divorce she uses “Did not, Did to”. She could bring these child world elements in. Definitely not going to be pidgeon holed into ‘this is punk,’ this is a tough dominant woman who can’t act like a child. Nobody told Vera what to do and she defined her own ideas.
You did a show last year with Zoe from the BAYONETTES filling in.
J: Yeah. The record release.
But Vera was noticeably absent. What happened to her?
J: Vera has some health issues. She is still around. She is alive. She’s in the city but she didn’t want to take part in the live gig. She hasn’t sung in a long time. I think she gave up on music after the TERANNA band with Ron. She didn’t feel like she wanted to be involved. She is aware of the record and very proud of it but she didn’t want to go back.
I wanted to ask you about some press that you might have got back in the day. You mentioned the Shades review. You mentioned the MRR review recently, but there was a review in the Sun.
J: The Wilder Pendrith review.
I saw a Jonathon Gross write up with pictures and stuff.
J: That was another Toronto Sun write up. He was a write interested in the Toronto music scene. He did an article on musician’s and their day jobs. He put a picture of Cleave in their in his Postie outfit.
You were in it too.
J: I was just hanging around that day.
Was Vera in it too?
J: No. That was the same week of the Nucci Bar and Grill. I was crashing at Cleave’s house that week which is why I just happened to be there. The New Music show on CityTV, the beginnings of that was a print journal that they actually sent out. You could subscribe and get free copies sent out and they did an article Steven Davies of the DISHES wrote the article and it was a survey of the top bands and in the end he talked about watching out for new bands coming up and he mentioned us in that. That was it for press. There were maybe two or three street level fanzines. Johnny Garbagecan had his T.O. Punk in ’77 or ’76 but there was very little press and no airplay. You didn’t even have college radio at that time. Ryerson maybe broadcast to its own campus. There was nothing. There was no support. No press, no airplay. It was just what happened on the street level.
R: It was pretty common amongst the scene.
J: People say well TYRANNA didn’t really release anything outside of this song. Well we turned down a record contract from England because we were worried we would get ripped off and it was proven true that we would have gotten ripped off, though we would have had a single in England. I think we were holding out for …. With the IGGY POP show we got the review in the paper and managers were starting to come around and looking at us. We were holding out for a good release that hopefully would have taken us somewhere. It was not as if we couldn’t get it together. There was lots of bands that somehow managed to put out a single. A lot of those singles don’t stand up and don’t hold up historically. I thin the TYRANNA recordings stand up for themselves and the fact that we didn’t release something at the time doesn’t matter. We were just waiting for the right release and wanted to re-record in a proper studio. Unfortunately it didn’t happen until now. The recordings are still there.
It has had an impact. Now there is a lot of punk rock archaeology going on where people are finding these bands like TYRANNA and it’s had an impact I think.
J: Rave Up has had about 80 releases. Just like what Lenny Kaye did with the “Nuggets” collection. People are going back and pulling out all the things that were recorded. With “Nuggets” they were actual releases. When you survey all the actual recorded sounds and take a look at who is playing the new punk rock and who was playing warmed over rock ‘n roll I think TYRANNA’s place in the history of Toronto will find it’s right level.

There are still copies of the 7” available through Boppa Do Down care of Tim Hanna at 123 Ossington Avenue / Toronto, ON / M6J 2Z2 / Canada.

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