by Allan MacInnis
Almost all of bev davies’ photographs of the first generation of Vancouver punks are interesting, but while some of her photos – Dave Gregg burning his guitar onstage at the Smilin’ Buddha, say – have been around long enough to have almost disappeared, blending in with album covers and famous gig posters into the landscape of Vancouver music, what’s especially interesting is when you see a pic of hers that you’ve never seen, of a band you’ve never heard, nor even heard of, before. So it was at a Chapel Arts retrospective of her work some ten years ago, where there was a potent live image of a band called the .45s, featuring (it was obvious) a young Randy Rampage and a strikingly charismatic redheaded female lead vocalist.
Bev explained to me that the band was called the .45s, and the woman was a Vancouver poet and singer, whose name I had heard before, but whom I knew little about: Heather Haley. Then Bev, as I remembered it, turned and introduced me to a strikingly charismatic redhead a little older than the girl in the picture, who happened to be Heather Haley, standing conveniently not too far from her picture. Heather, I quickly learned, had also been the singer for a band the Zellots, and was currently quite excited because she had discovered that there were tape recordings of both bands, somewhat degraded but still playable, that had been unearthed and hoped to digitize. Neither band – and most unfortunately in the case of the Zellots, who had some following – had ever “officially” released anything, so they didn’t have much space in the annals of Vancouver punk, alongside, say, the all-female trio the Dishrags or Mary Jo Kopechne of the Modernettes. So what did the Zellots sound like?
The great irony is that, some ten years later, now that three of those taped recordings have finally been issued as a flexidisc on Victoria’s Supreme Echo records, thanks to the hard work of Jason Flower, I still can’t really answer that question: not because the audio is so rough, since the imperfections in fidelity will be forgivable to anyone who cares about such a heroic act of cultural salvage, but because the three songs are rather remarkably, pleasingly disparate.
The first song, “Let’s Play House” is sung from the point of view of a young girl on the cusp of selling out into a blandly hetero-normative, stereotypically suburban life. It’s infused with dry punk barbs (“cooking and cleaning is my destiny,” Heather sings at one point, later insisting that though “It’s beginning to show” she still wants to “wear a white dress, just like my mother did,” because somebody has to keep tradition alive!) None of it would be that surprising or even that brilliant if it wasn’t for the overwhelming, obvious influence of 60’s girl groups and doo-wop.
The song is only a punk song in the ways that the Dead Boys cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me” is a punk song; it has bite, and the lyrics have a rich sense of irony (the backing vocals, from guitarist Christine de Veber and bassist Jane Colligan, intone “going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married” over Heather’s pokes at the institution). But there is nothing ironic about the music itself: there is an obvious love of the form, here. So, “aha!” and “who knew?”, the Zellots sounded like teenage girls in their garage circa 1967.
Except they don’t. The next song, “On the Dole,” starts with fiercely tribal drumming (courtesy Conny Nowe) and a purely Ohio 1975 punk stance, akin to the fiercest songs of Chrissie Hynde (cf. the Pretenders’ “Precious,” of maybe very early, raw Blondie). Haley even sounds like she affects a fake British accent for one line. This is nothing other than punk – pre-hardcore and tuneful, but it ain’t no girl group.
So that’s what the Zellots sound like! Nope. “Vampire Love,” the final cut, comes closest to New York No Wave noise, with simmering rage, noisy angularity, and somewhat kinky lyrics. Heather doesn’t quite get as snarly or whiny as Lydia Lunch, but that’s not, um, entirely bad. This would have been remarkable music to see performed live, adventuresome and fiery and fun.
So having waited ten years to finally scratch the itch set into me when I met Heather Haley at Bev’s gallery show, what in fact I discover is that this – the first and likely the only Zellots release that will ever take place – only leaves me itchier, for an obviously remarkable band that would otherwise be lost to the mists. What was it that Burroughs said – “nothing left now but the recordings?” Three of them, in fact, and they’re all equally bloody cool.
Heather closes her liner notes with: “I am very grateful to Jason for his dedication, indeed zeal for music, bands and history.” Indeed so should we all be. What a fascinating artifact.