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pogo2posterFINAL2The Last Pogo Jumps Again studies the evolution of Toronto from small town to big city and it’s pop/counter-culture lifestyle during the early and mid-70s.  It centers around the first wave of Toronto punk rock and new-wave music, from the Ramones playing the New Yorker Theatre in ’76 through the police shutting down Teenage Head and causing a riot at the Horseshoe Tavern’s infamous “The Last Pogo” concert in December 1978.

London had the Sex Pistols, New York had the Ramones, but Toronto had a punk movement all it’s own.  The Toronto landscape by the late ’70s was forever changed with the infusion of the DIY/Punk/Alternative Culture(s) movement.  Six years in the making, The Last Pogo Jumps Again successfully explores the whys and wherefores of what was arguably one of the most exciting but misunderstood movements in Toronto’s history.

The DVD contains the 204 minute documentary, plus over a 100 minutes of added material, and a snazzy 24-page booklet.  Check the Shop for details on where you can purchase it.

The Last Pogo (1978) is the documentary that chronicled the last punk rock show at the Horseshoe Tavern when it was run by legendary Toronto promoters The Garys (Topp and Cormier) featuring The Scenics, Cardboard Brains, The Secrets, The Mods, The Ugly, The Viletones and Teenage Head. The Last Pogo was released on DVD in 2008 to great reviews.  Available at the Shop.

The Horseshoe Tavern 1978

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The Horseshoe 1978.

In May, 1978, after they left the New Yorker Theatre, partners Topp, Cormier and Silverman took over management of the Horseshoe Tavern, a dive bar that featured country and western music that was at the down-on-its-luck corner of Spadina and Queen. Opened in the 1940’s by Jack Starr, the Horseshoe had a massive main room that could hold five hundred people, and was a favourite hangout of bank robber Edwin Boyd of the notorious Boyd Gang. Stompin’ Tom Connors once played twenty-five nights in a row there. Willie Nelson. Conway Twitty. Waylon Jennings. A drunk Hank Williams.

In 1978, Queen Street West was a ghost town of industrial kitchen supply stores, boarded up storefronts and used bookstores, edged on to the then still largely Jewish Spadina Avenue, with it’s delis, milliners, and tailors. The Beverly Tavern, the local watering hole of students from OCA (Ontario College of Art) was four blocks west and offered an open stage to the new-wave bands coming largely from the college. The Peter Pan restaurant, in business since 1927, was across the street and a block west, and had been given a major do-over by Sandy Stagg two years earlier, in 1976.  The seeds of the Queen Street West scene were planted.

Checking out the venue out for the first time, Topp and Cormier were confronted by the rounders sitting at the bar downing cheap draft beer. “You’re not going to kick us out, are you?” one worried patron asked. Gary Cormier assured them they would always be welcome.  Jeff Silverman didn’t like music or “the smell of beer,” and left after only a couple of months. The 3-D King Kong bust from the New Yorker was stashed in a back room and eventually sent to the dump. Topp and Cormier would start to become nicknamed “The Garys.” They began an eight month run of some of the best shows Toronto would ever see.

(NB: Despite what the “official history” on both Wikipedia and the Horseshoe Tavern’s website says, it was ’78, not ’76, that Topp and Cormier took over. Neither the Ramones nor John Cale would play there, and neither would the MC5 because they couldn’t get across the border. )

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The first line-up of acts.

The line-ups were as eclectic as the film programming had been at the New Yorker and The Roxy, and many of the same people who were regulars at the Roxy and The New Yorker became regulars at the Horseshoe. While the punk scene will forever be regarded as the brand of The Garys’ time there, there was much more:  jazz, reggae, folk, comedy, films. The audience who might come to see Richard Hell and The Voidoids or Rough Trade or The Dead Boys would also come to see R&B/jazz singer Etta James, folk icon John Martyn, or avant-garde jazz musicians Sun Ra or Cecil Taylor.  Leroy Sibbles played regularly. Toots from the Maytalls did a show. The strength of the Horseshoe was the Garys’ excellent taste. Most of the the time they booked out of their record collections.

They were full of surprises:  presenting the obscure comedy band Darryl Rhoades and the Hahavishnu Orchestra, top-notch players fronted by the hilarious and witty Rhoades (click here to see them on James Brown’s show in 1977.) Topp contacted Edith Massey, who played “Edie the Egg Lady” in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, the film that had it’s Canadian premiere at The Original 99 Cent Roxy. She had done a few shows in the US with various back-up bands. Topp and Cormer booked her for three nights, and teamed her up with The Viletones (less singer Steven Leckie.) Dressed in a tight-fitting leather outfit, she screamed out her songs and poems, and her chatter between songs praised both the Garys and the audience, who all clearly loved her. Jeff “Nash the Slash” Plewman escorted her around town to various gay bars on her time off, where they were welcomed like queens.

The Horseshoe hired a couple of bouncers, but luckily they never had to put up with much trouble. One was a huge fan of philosopher and spiritualist George Gurdjieff. The other one was a Bajan (a native of Barbados) who, upon hearing that The Garys had booked a group called The New York Niggers, promised “big trouble, big trouble” if there wasn’t “at least one black guy in the band.” The Garys scoured copies of New York Rocker and Rock Scene magazines desperate to find a photo. When the band finally showed up – complete with one black member – everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  Across the street from the Horseshoe was the speak-easy The Elephant Walk. The owners would frequently pop over to the Horseshoe late at night to get ice. They seemed intimidating.

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The Last Pogo Jumps Again co-producer/director Colin Brunton had worked with Topp since the Roxy days, and was offered a job at the Horseshoe. The job description was vague (“Do you want me to bus tables?” “No, they’ve got people for that.” “Do you want me to take tickets?” “No, I don’t know. Let’s see what happens.”) Brunton basically got paid to hang out for a few months, and then left to start driving cab and figuring out how to get into the film business. He started designing the handbills, basing them on a template that featured a man (rumoured to be Gary Topp during high-school) holding a horseshoe decorated with flowers. He’d alter the face to suit whatever bands were prominent on the handbill.

The handbills were made with Letraset, rubber cement, and exacto-blades. Letraset would be pressed onto the page, then distressed with the knife. If Brunton wanted the colours reversed (i.e. black on white rather than white on black) he’d ride his bike up to Midtown Reproductions at Davenport and Yonge, pay ten bucks and wait a day to get it back. Brunton had to switch printing houses at least once because of complaints by the owners that he used too much black ink. Once a handbill was completed, hundreds of copies were made and then stapled to telephone poles and construction hoardings downtown, careful not to cover up any other current handbills. The favour was returned by film buff and theatre owner Reg Hart, who would LSD and spend the day on his bike putting up handbills for shows at his small theatre on Mercer Street.

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When the triple bill of Teenage Head, Suicide and Destroy All Monsters played, the Garys decided the only fair way to present the bands over the three nights was to rotate the order, so each band got a chance to headline. When it was Suicide’s turn to be the featured band, Teenage Head had just left the building as had most of their fans, leaving only about a dozen or so drunken college students. They didn’t like the intensity and grand weirdness of the two-piece band, and their loud drunken chatter didn’t endear themselves to Suicide singer Alan Vega. At one point during the show, a frustrated Vega jumped off of the stage and onto the table of unsuspecting drunks, got three inches from their faces and screamed “I WANNA FUCKING KILL YOU!”  The table was dead quiet the rest of the night. The band were amazing, a top ten concert for sure. (Check them out here.)

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The mainstream press and culture bureaucrats of Toronto still regarded the punk scene as a passing fancy and not worthy of their recognition, despite the artistry and growing popularity. The Ramones had switched management from the brilliant Danny Fields to a large international firm, and The Garys couldn’t get near them anymore. A major agency told the Garys they’d never get any “really big bands” because the Horseshoe “wasn’t carpeted.”

An exception to this secret carpet rule was made when a scheduling fuck-up forced The Stranglers to move from the upper scale but mediocre El Mocambo to the Horseshoe. The Stranglers were a tight & loud pub-rock band from England who had latched onto the punk movement in England based on performance, great hooks, and great looks, despite breaking two big punk rules:  they had a keyboard, and the player had a moustache.  The show was packed, two hundred people over capacity, and kids were in danger of being crushed against the stage.  Ducky, the big softie Greek “muscle” from the Roxy days dropped in for the night but had to join Brunton at the front of the stage. They leaned against the stage, facing the audience, and pulled audience members who were in danger of being squished up onto the stage, where they’d dart by bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel, and off the stage to safety. One of the girls in front of Brunton kept her thigh jammed in his crotch of and on during the show while her friend wiped the sweat from his brow.

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Nash the Slash loved to play loud, and Gus the Greek who ran the snack bar was not a fan. When Nash had cranked it up during a sound check, Gus ran up to the front of the stage brandishing a foot-long butcher knife: “Turn down your fucking music!”

During The Cramps show, lead singer Lux Interior spun around and ripped off the horseshoe, embroidered by Cormier’s wife Martha, that hung on the black back drop at the back of the stage. Like the horseshoe in the handbills, it was hung upside down (if the tines of the horseshoe are pointing down it’s supposed to be bad, and mean that “the luck runs out.”)

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One of the most infamous concerts at the Horseshoe was The Police. They had earned a reputation in their homeland of England for not having “street cred,” possibly because they had all dyed their hair blonde and performed as a punk band in a commercial. And they knew how to play their instruments. Today, hundreds of people would claim to have paid the four dollar cover charge, but in reality, there were more people working at the Horseshoe that night than paying customers.  Best guess is that there were maybe fifteen people. And whether you liked the band or not, you couldn’t help but be impressed with their workmanship: they played tight for a solid two hours, got to know some audience members by name, and left a strong impression on Garys Cormier and Topp.  They told the band that they could come back and play anytime they liked. The next year The Police would play The Garys’ new venue, The Edge, and ultimately headline a massive concert called The Police Picnic in 1981. They became huge. When Toronto promoters CPI landed the rights to promote them a few years later at Maple Leaf Gardens, the members of The Police insisted that it had to be a co-production with The Garys and that The Garys wouldn’t have to lift a finger.

By December, the owners of the Horseshoe were getting tired of the bands the Garys brought in, and gave them their notice. Unlike their quiet departures from the Roxy and the New Yorker, this time Topp decided to go out with a bang.  They asked their favourite punk bands to perform one last time at a show called The Last Pogo (December 1, 1978) and their favourite new-wave and reggae bands the following night, an evening dubbed The Last Bound Up. There were no handbills made for either The Last Pogo or The Last Bound-Up.

Dropping in during a night of driving taxi, Brunton overhead Andy Paterson of the band The Government talking to Topp about “The Last Pogo,” and high on pot, Brunton blurted out “I’m going to make a movie about that!” The next morning, clear-headed and sober, he thought it still sounded like a good idea, so he called up Patrick Lee, a filmmaker who had taught Brunton a weekend film-making course a year prior to see if he wanted to help. Lee was into it. Brunton bought “short ends” of 16mm film from a shady producer on Church Street which Lee would switch for brand-new stock from Sheridan College where he taught film-making. While Lee rounded up equipment and a crew, Brunton approached the bands to get permission to film them. Of all the bands, only Carole Pope of Rough Trade declined. “I don’t want to be included in this whole punk new-wave thing.”

Record label Bomb Records were to make a live recording of the two nights, and with rumours that a film was being made as well, The Last Pogo started to become a big deal. Steven Leckie of the Viletones, who originally refused to play, crashed the show and did a set with a new line-up. Bassist Sam Ferrara had to borrow Teenage Head’s Steven Mahon’s bass (and play it upside down; Steve was a leftie) and struggled with a faulty connection; you couldn’t hear the bass. Leckie ended his set by yelling out “Kill the hippies,” which nasty street gang The Blake Street Boys would take to heart only a few hours later.

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On the street after The Last Pogo. Photo by Edie Steiner.

Brunton doesn’t recall much of went on the night of The Last Pogo, but the ending was memorable. With eight hundred people crammed into the five-hundred capacity bar; draft beer running out and only hard liquor available, and the stench of pot and tobacco smoke creating a cloud over the crowd, a fat detective drinking at the bar thought that enough was enough. He waddled up to the stage, and told headlining band Teenage Head that the show was over. Bassist Steve Mahon, on a rare night that he’d been drinking, wagged his finger in the cop’s face and warned him that there would be trouble if the band didn’t get to play.  The cop relented and said they could play one song. But when Teenage Head only played a shortened version of their best known song, Picture My Face, and walked off stage, the crowd didn’t know what was going on.  And they went crazy.  As Gary Topp would describe it, “It sounded like a hundred chainsaws ripping down Algonquin Park.” Tables were overturned, chairs and bottles were thrown, and the nasty Blake Street Boys, prompted by Leckie’s war-cry, beat the shit out of someone unlucky enough to have long hair. Swollen Members’ lead singer Evan Siegel, in a wheelchair as his persona Dr. Strangelove, never broke character and wheeled his way to safety.  Brunton and his crew were literally kicked to the curb where they joined hundreds of others. Yellow cop cars pulled up and hauled  people away. Somehow sound recordist Dave Gebe managed to stay inside and capture the sound of the destruction.  Brunton, Lee, and the two camera operators managed to sneak back inside and capture images of the destruction, stopping only when a heart-broken Horseshoe regular from before the Garys’ time pleaded with them to stop.

With the Horseshoe a mess and no more film stock left, Brunton and Lee weren’t able to film the Last Bound-Up. In later years this would stick in the craw of some of the bands, who felt slighted that there weren’t involved. Grudges were held for decades. The Last Pogo film would become somewhat infamous, if only because it was some of the only film shot of the punk scene at the time.

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For the thirtieth anniversary of The Last Pogo, Brunton put together a handbill reminiscent of the old ones, but this time by computer. It was far easier to make them with rubber cement, knives, and letraset.

The Garys would be out of action for only a couple of months, eventually opening The Edge at Church and Gerrard, where they would arguably book even better shows, and win a Toronto Arts Award for their efforts.

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The Last Pogo Jumps Again studies the evolution of Toronto from small town to big city and it’s pop/counter-culture lifestyle during the early and mid-70s.  It centers around the first wave of Toronto punk rock and new-wave music, from the Ramones playing the New Yorker Theatre in ’76 through the police shutting down Teenage Head and causing a riot at the Horseshoe Tavern’s infamous “The Last Pogo” concert in December 1978.

London had the Sex Pistols, New York had the Ramones, but Toronto had a punk movement all it’s own.  The Toronto landscape by the late ’70s was forever changed with the infusion of the DIY/Punk/Alternative Culture(s) movement.  Six years in the making, The Last Pogo Jumps Again successfully explores the whys and wherefores of what was arguably one of the most exciting but misunderstood movements in Toronto’s history.

The DVD contains the 204 minute documentary, plus over a 100 minutes of added material, and a snazzy 24-page booklet.

Buy The Last Pogo Jumps Again here

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