The Last Pogo (1978, Director: Colin Brunton): In 1978, I was too young to get into bars, but I was a huge fan of punk rock. Of course, at that young age, I thought it all came from England. It wasn’t until a year or two later that I got into a punk/rockabilly band from Hamilton called Teenage Head. But in 1978, they headlined a rather infamous gig at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street West in Toronto. Concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier (“The Two Garys”) were well-known for promoting the best new music, and were booking punk bands into the Horseshoe from the beginning. But by December 1978, they’d lost the lease and were set to move to a new venue, the Edge. They decided to stage a going-away bash with all their favourite local bands, and The Last Pogo is the visual record of that wild night. Featuring The Scenics, The Cardboard Brains, The Mods, The Ugly, The Viletones, and Teenage Head, it was a legendary show which ended with the cops breaking up a near-riot. The film had not been screened theatrically in 30 years, so I was really looking forward to the screening (part of the annual North by Northeast Music and Film Festival), and Brunton had promised that several special guests would be in attendance.
On my way to the screening, I had to pass by the Much Music studios, which for some unknown reason were surrounded by screaming teenage girls. Queen Street was closed off and there was a stage set up as well. Before long, some band of scantily-clad women jumped onstage and sang some forgettable ditty while shaking their junk in perfectly choreographed time. It was ironic that on my way to see some punk history, I had to be subjected to some of the unspeakable horrors of popular music.
I took my seat at the NFB cinema behind a group of rowdy fifty-something punk ladies, who proceeded to hoot and howl all through the film itself. It was rather disturbing. The special guests included Dave Quinton who drummed for The Scenics and later for the Dead Boys, Vince Carlucci from The Cardboard Brains, and a few others, but alas, no one from Teenage Head. And the film itself, though a treasured document of the event, proved to be slightly disappointing. The reason is that as the concert wore on, the club reached and then exceeded its capacity, and just before Hamilton’s finest took the stage, they were notified that they were only permitted to play one song and then the police would be shutting the place down. Understandably, the place went nuts, and so the footage from their performance isn’t the greatest. I even think the audio is out of sync.
Interestingly enough, Teenage Head would be at the centre of another riot a few years later, and for the same reasons. When they played the Ontario Place Forum, hundreds of fans were locked out after the venue reached capacity, and the resulting riot caused the management of Ontario Place to ban rock concerts for many years. Luckily, I was prepared and had arrived early. It was one of only two times I saw the band live. The other was at my high school, and was forgettable because in my excitement, I’d consumed an entire mickey of rye, became separated from my friends, and peed my pants. I was so mortified that I ran home, missing most of the show.
In happier news, director Brunton has spent the past two years filming and editing an expanded version of the film, to be called The Last Pogo Jumps Again. He’s revisited many of the players from that night and I’m eagerly looking forward to the film’s release, tentatively planned for Hot Docs 2009. It was also through him that I found out that writer Liz Worth has written what looks to be the definitive history of punk in Toronto. Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1976-1981 should be released this year. I’ve been wanting to write this book since reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s incredible Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, but at least now I’ll be able to read it.
After the screening, I was hoping there would be a Q&A with the director and maybe some of the participants, but no such luck. I was able to speak briefly with both Colin Brunton and Liz Worth, and hope to conduct some short email interviews with them in the next several months.
P.S. It seems strange that it was at this very time and place last year that I was seeing Nightclubbing, another document of those years which is being made into a longer retrospective documentary.