Canada’s legendary Punk Kings D.O.A. are returning to St. John’s on Sunday, April 8.
That’s almost 23 years to the day of their last show here. Coming right from a European tour, the legendary co-founders of hardcore punk drove their van out to play a single gig in the city on April 7, 1984.
They were just as quickly off again, but in their wake they left a throng of young folks with their ears opened by the sound of hardcore punk.
How much of an effect did the show have? Elling Lien spoke with a bunch of people, including D.O.A. lead singer and guitarist Joey “Shithead” Keithley, and John Fisher, guitarist for the local band Tough Justice, to find out more about 1984.
WALLACE HAMMOND, DA SLYME
From Wallace Hammond’s “Quick History of Da Slyme…” (abandonstream.net/slyme/):
“When the [Bubonic] Plague members left for Toronto in the summer of ‘84 there was only The Riot and maybe two others to represent the punk scene in St. John’s. Others must have been germinating in basements and garages though, for when [I] returned in August 85 there were a half a dozen bands and a whole new scene.”
JOEY SHITHEAD, D.O.A.
How did your last show go here?
The reception was great, and I remember we had this big article in the [Newfoundland Herald], but it’s funny, the guy who wrote the article doubted all the information we gave him. I had sent him our press information and he thought it was all a bunch of bullshit that we made up: that we’d been all over the world, had a lot of good things say things about us …all that kind of stuff. “Their press release is impressive, but not necessarily believable,” or something.
Anyway, we played the show and it was great.
You guys have played some 3000 shows, I was a little worried you wouldn’t have remember it.
Well, it was really extraordinary. We had just come back from Europe, we’d been over there for about two and a half months and got into a friend of ours’ place in Toronto where the gear had been stored. We sat down and the NHL playoffs had just started. So we had a bunch of food and a bunch of beer and we went “oh, it’s great to be back in Canada!”
Then I pulled out a map and started looking at it, and I was like “You guys realize how fucking far away Newfoundland is?”
We had that gig booked in St. John’s a couple days from then. So we immediately got off our asses and raced off to Sydney. We’re used to ferries over here in BC, it’s a coastal province, but they had to bolt all the cars down so they didn’t play pinball inside the hull, and there were icebergs in the harbour in Sydney and we were going “What the hell is going on?” because we’d never seen anything like that before. It was pretty rough water too, and our bassplayer Wimpy was just as green as can be on the boat ride over.
Then it took 12 hours once we got to the rock and there was a sleet storm, like rain and snow mixed, and then we played the show in St. John’s. Then the next day the ice storm of ‘84 hit. All the power went out in St. John’s and that was it. One day later and there wouldn’t have been any show at all.
JOHN FISHER, TOUGH JUSTICE
How did Tough Justice start?
Tough Justice started in 1983 as a punk/oi band, playing a lot of british covers. They played a variety show at MacPherson Junior high, where they played three or four punk rock classics [laugh] and after that, they really got going after the boys snuck in to see D.O.A. It was after seeing D.O.A. that they got inspired and started booking shows and playing in bars and playing all ages shows and things like that.
JOEY SHITHEAD, D.O.A.
Although punk wasn’t at all foreign to St. John’s at the time, when you were here in ‘84 you seemed to leave quite a bit of influence. I mean, there’s a vibrant hardcore scene here now… Is this something you hear often?
Well, we were the first band like us to tour to a lot of places. We toured a lot.
It’s great that we left that kind of after-effect.
In Europe, I run into a lot of people who were like “Yeah, you guys were the first punk rock band I ever saw,” and it’s kind of cool. People say “You guys really had an effect on my life,” and then I go “Well, was it good or was it bad? Did you end up in jail or did you do okay?” [laugh]
But I like to think our influence is positive most of the time.
We play a lot of shows and we’ve been true to our beliefs and raised hell, and having a good time when we’re doing it. You can have a good after-effect if you’ve got that attitude.
JOHN FISHER, TOUGH JUSTICE
What did you hear from other people about that show?
I was talking to Rod, our guitar player who was actually at that show, and he was telling me he was 14 and he remembers getting downtown and there was a lineup going from Smitty’s Piano Bar going up past The Spur of people trying to get into the show. And he was a little freaked out, because he was seeing all kinds of different people there – there was this one guy who was dressed in all silver lame who had on a silver hard hat. [laugh] It really freaked him out as a young guy, you know?
And after a few minutes they thought about it and were like, “cool!”
I didn’t get to go to the DOA show, my mom wouldn’t let me go. [laugh] (I was still listening to mom back then.) But it was after DOA that people in town started to realize there was something going on in North America that was a little bit different than the British stuff…
After DOA came, we realized also that a lot of it was about networking, and talking to people in other areas. People would send us fanzines, and, pretty much right after the DOA show, Dave Sweetapple and the boys started up a local fanzine called Wabana Riot.
I don’t know how many issues they put out, but it was an interesting thing at the time. They interviewed Joey Shithead just after the show, and he asked him “What did you think of St. John’s?” And Joey said St. John’s was real, it was fresh, and what we were doing was new for everybody there. And that’s what they wanted when they came here, he said. They wanted to break new ground.
And they definitely did. I believe it one hundred per cent.
D.O.A. are playing two shows on Sunday, April 8 at Junctions. All Ages w/ Nerve Attack, Dig Up The Dead and Fireign (3pm.) Bar show w/ Dog Meat BBQ and Tough Justice (10pm.) $12 advance, $15 at door. available at Freeride, X-It Skates, O’Keefe’s Grocery and Gas Bar, Books-R-Us Plus.
To hear part of an interview with Mike Fisher of local punk band The Reaction, visit the podcast (new episode out later tonight [Friday])