Saturday, September 18, 2010

Slow: a Family Tree

For the uninitiated, Slow was one of the greatest, most chaotic bands to ever stalk the Earth. They're also quite possibly ground zero for what would later be known as grunge, but I'm sure the band themselves would sneer in disgust at such an accusation. But the fact is back in '85 there really was nothing else that sounded like them. This was punk rock, played with the genre's typical fuck you attitude, but Slow extended that fuck you to include punk itself by simultaneously embracing rock 'n' roll past while pushing the envelope into the future and the needle deep into the red. They only released a single and an EP in their short existence (oh, and a perverse Christmas tune on a Zulu flexi disc - check out my Xmas '09 mix if you're interested), but they tore shit up every step of the way.

As befitting a legend, 25 years later stories of the band are still told (usually complete with factual errors or exaggerations). The Vancouver Expo '86 debacle is the best known, but anyone who saw them probably has their own story to tell. The above picture, for example, comes from their show with the Cramps in the summer of '86. My girlfriend at the time brought a friend of hers along to the gig. The friend had never experienced anything like this. She turned up wearing an evening gown, and the most recent concert she'd attended was Kool & The Gang. We arrived at the show just as Slow hit the opening chord to "Looking for Something Clean", so loud I felt my hair blow back. The band was dressed in bloody nurses uniforms complete with surgical tubing (I'm not sure why, other than they encored with a cover of "Pills", aided by Buck Cherry of the Modernettes on guitar). Anyway, the friend never spoke another word after that first chord. Didn't speak after the show. Didn't speak in the car home. And when we dropped her at her place, she wordlessly opened the car door and sprinted to her apartment. We never saw or heard from her again. Such was the power of Slow.

When Slow inevitably exploded they splintered into a small handful of equally interesting bands. Singer Tom Anselmi and guitarist Christian Thorvaldson formed a unit they insisted only be known as ©, and they were signed to Geffen on the basis of a truly awesome demo tape that made the rounds locally (I've never owned a copy, so if anyone out there can hook me up I'd appreciate it - it's become my personal holy grail). © did everything they could to piss off Geffen, until Geffen responded with complete vitriol: they only pressed 7,000 copies of the album (produced by John Porter, who'd helmed albums by the Smiths and the La's) and buried © with the full muscle of a major corporation. That was 1991; it took six years before the band crawled out from under the legal battle, and by that time everything had changed. It's a tragic story, and not merely because the © album was easily one of the best of the decade, but also because I remember seeing them at the Penthouse Gentlemen's Club just before the album was released and they were BETTER than Slow had ever been. They really seemed ready to take over the planet. And for years after that, they'd play gigs with outstanding, immediately striking new material that ultimately never saw the light of day.

When they finally reappeared it was as Copyright, and the album Love Story was a huge disappointment. It felt over-baked, polished to the point of lifelessness, and lacked the invention and originality of the years of gigs that preceded it. There's no mystery about it either: the time Copyright needed to put out two albums was equal to the time the Beatles needed to go from Meet The Beatles to their break-up. An entire band's lifetime and development, in other words, was never recorded. Copyright took another kick at the can in 2001, but the less said about that album the better. Let me put it this way: © is undoubtedly one of the best albums in my collection, The Hidden World ranks among the worst.

Slow's other guitarist, Ziggy Sigmund, formed the Scramblers. They were almost as good as ©. I remember dragging friends to gigs in the early 90s with the promise that "it's like seeing the Stones in '63" (not that I saw the Stones in '63, but hey, sometimes you need a little bit of hyperbole on your side). Fronted by the ultra cool Howard Rix, the Scramblers seemed like they were about to blow up on an international scale - the timing seemed perfect for their style of raw punk mated with Guns 'n' Roses old skool rawk moves - but they made the mistake of signing with Bruce Allen's Penta label, who probably never quite understood why they didn't want to sound like Bryan Adams. Penta screwed the band royally, and they never released anything other than demo tapes while they were a going concern. It took until 2005 before they managed to put out a cobbled-together collection of tweaked demos and live cuts - the rest apparently lost forever or simply non-existent.

Of all the Slow splinter bands, the one that sounded closest to Slow was probably bassist Stephen Hamm's Tankhog. Oddly, that same fact rendered it the least interesting as well. Tankhog was a lumbering beast of a band that really made overt the connection between Slow and grunge - if Hamm's unit had been in Seattle instead of two hours north they may have found themselves with the same sort of reputation as Mudhoney. But instead they wailed in futility for a while, although their cover of the Partridge Family's "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" was a moment of perverse brilliance.

Hamm also put together Jungle, a band that blatantly went against the prevailing trends of the time by fully embracing '70s AM rock. Jungle looked like they might beat the odds, but on the eve of their record release party vocalist Mark Kleiner announced he was heading back home to Saskatchewan to dedicate himself to the church. Or something. He reappeared just over a year later heading the Mark Kleiner Power Trio. Regardless, Jungle was done.

Since then, Hamm has been around in a few bands, possibly most notably (if that's the right word) as one half of Canned Hamm. Christian Thorvaldson played with the Matthew Good Band. Ziggy Sigmund hung around with Econoline Crush for a while and more recently started his own band called Zigmund (can't wait to hear it!). Tom Anselmi has a project called Mirror that, as far as I know, further mines his interest in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

A Broken Ladder

1. Slow I Broke The Circle
2. Slow Have Not Been The Same
3. Slow Looking For Something Clean
4. Slow Against The Glass
5. Tankhog I Woke Up In Love This Morning
6. © The Climb
7. © Dust
8. The Scramblers Ain't That The Truth
9. The Scramblers Outta Sight, Outta Mind
10. The Scramblers Solitary Man
11. Copyright The Flesh Is Weak
12. Copyright A Frame
13. Jungle It's So Fuck'n Great To Be Alive
14. Jungle Long Time No See
15. Copyright Into The Light

Track 1 from I Broke The Circle single (1985)
Tracks 2 - 4 from Against The Glass ep (1986)
Track 5 from Tankhog House of Beauty (1994)
Tracks 6, 7 from © (1991)
Tracks 8, 9 from The Scramblers Good Gone Bad (2005)
Track 10 from Last Call: Vancouver Independent Music 1977-1988 (1991)
Track 11 from Copyright Love Story (1997)
Track 12 unreleased
Track 13 from Jungle It's So Fuck'n Great To Be Alive ep (1997)
Track 14 from Jungle Long Time No See (1999)
Track 15 from Copyright The Hidden World (2001)


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Roy Pearl said...

Welcome, dugabowski! Checked out your blog and it looks awesome!

biopunk said...

Thanks for this post!

Slow was totally 'urban-mythic' in my high school days and still ridiculously difficult to get a decent copy of.

And a Scramblers gig was also the first (and last...) time I attempted to use fake I.D. to see a rock show!

Duncan said...

here's a link to a Circle C song that was a Demo I believe...

Roy Pearl said...

Thanks for the link, Duncan - awesome to hear! Sounds different than the sessions I'm thinking of, which were part of the multi-media interweb portion of the "Love Story" disc. As far as I can tell, that site is long gone, but it was great. A virtual tour of the seediest part of downtown Vancouver, and the user could find their way to the Copyright practice loft, where you'd find piles of treasures, including the original demos.

Thanks again!

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Jus said...

Great read! I know 3 of the Slow guys, and my band opened for Copyright once! Ziggy was also in GG Dartray for awhile.

Roy Pearl said...

Welcome Jus! And if your band opened for Copyright, chances are decent that I may have been there. What were you called?

Brown said...

Great blog! John Porter didn't helm the Stone Roses debut album...John Leckie did.

Roy Pearl said...

Dern, Brown, you're right. It was the La's and the Smiths that Porter produced. Guess I'll just chalk that up to a senile moment.

Al Campbell said...

I managed Tankhog for one eventful year - put out a cassette EP, and album and toured with Skinny Puppy - then they sacked me. Ingrates. But they always rocked - Mr Ed Banger, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Roy Pearl said...

Cool to hear from you, Al! Thanks for posting!


Anonymous said...

Actually Ziggy didn't form The Scramblers - he joined the band about year 2 or 3. The band was formed by the lead guitarist Jon Doe and lead singer Howard Rix. Great blog tho.

Al Campbell said...

The photo is when Slow backed up The Cramps at the University of British Columbia - great band - Ed Banger