By Ned Bekavac
They may have been creative rivals, but they were united in sharing the same spot on Guelph’s musical landscape.
They were the outsiders.
“We were on the fringe,” says David J. Knight, recalling the local alternative music scene of back in the day.
“In many regards it was anti-mainstream, and so what happened was all of these different bands came together.”
Back then, it wasn’t so easy to find a joint in town that would let these unique bands perform, Knight says, and that was a factor in helping create a community.
“It was always difficult to play in Guelph. There were only a few places that allowed us to play,” says Knight, who adds that there were a “small number” of venues in town that “received us with open arms.”
“There was creative rivalry, but we were all in the same situation,” he says. “And there was a family feeling.”
That feeling is relived in a recently released book by Knight, a local author and musician, called Sound Guelph.
The book recalls the city’s alternative music scene from the 1970s to 2000.
Knight, who was a big part of that scene, credits about 20 people for helping the book materialize.
A pile of local archives were plowed through, and the result is a 360-page collection of photos and clippings that help celebrate those times.
The book is dedicated to the memory of three Guelph friends who were in the core of the scene: Al Clarke, Adrian Dunham and Chris Dowling.
On the heels of its release, we fired a handful of Qs Knight’s way.
• • •
Q:Give us the lowdown on your first-ever public musical performance?
A: I was an undergraduate student in Fine Art at the University of Guelph and had just returned from the London Semester in 1985 when Adrian Dunham and I created a performance art piece called Ten Minutes Of Your Life. We performed this in Zavitz Hall to a small group and were videoed by David Chevalier.
Adrian and I had pre-recorded an original piece of music for this. In the audience was Gordon Shimens, who invited me to a band practice in suburbia. The band was A Single Voice, and my first live concert was with them in October of that year at The Backdoor in Kitchener, opening for Maggot Fodder.
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Q: The Trib’s paying the tab. What’s your tipple and where are you having it?
A: Bloody Caesar (Clamato and vodka) at The Albion.
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Q:Your new book covers Guelph’s “alternative” music scene from the ’70s to 2000. You must have seen a lot of fun and wild things at that time. Care to share a particularly good tale?
A: In 1986 there was a large going-away party for Billie, a Greek friend of the Guelph underground scene.
It was a garden party at night in the old neighbourhood of downtown Guelph. Laissez Faire reformed to play live in the garden. Mayhem ensued.
The concert was recorded by Billie, and one of the songs by Laissez Faire, Barmy Army, appears on the 1st Gulp CD that I released with the Sound Guelph book launch in September.
• • •
Q: Alive or not, who are three famous people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?
A: John Galt, Brian Eno and Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins)
• • •
Q:When you think back to the local ‘scene’ covered in your book, versus things today, what are your thoughts?
A: I think that the Guelph underground music scene, particularly in the 1980s, was at full-tilt and vibrant.
Friendly rivalry kept us all pushing the boundaries, and music blurred with other art forms.
Ed Video was a fantastic creative hub, which encouraged visual and audio artists to explore new media.
CFRU, especially through the dedication of DJs such as John Bonnar, Mike Walmsley and Paul Ruta, embraced the local scene and pushed to have more integration between campus and downtown venues like Peter Clark Hall, UC103 (which is now a conference room) and The Woodshed (under The Diplomat Hotel – now The Great Western Hotel) and The Albion.
The Ontarion was, and is, committed to covering all of the exciting performances that happened.
Things today are very different what with personal devices, social media and more downtown venues.
But many venues still opt for prerecorded music rather than live acts.
The recent Musagetes Cafe weekend in Guelph demonstrated that Guelph is still a vibrant and lively creative place.
• • •
Q:Your home is ablaze and you have time to rescue three albums. Which three?
A: Ambient #2 Plateaux of Mirror, by Brian Eno and Harold Budd; Treasure, by Cocteau Twins; Aeon, by Dead Can Dance.
• • •
Q: What, specifically, is one thing you really like about Guelph? And one you don’t?
A: One thing I like is that it still feels like anything could happen here, but what I don’t like is that very often potential creative expressions are quashed.
In my opinion, there is a small town mentality that is trying to figure out how to save, engage with and embrace its heritage, new creative expressions from either established or newly arrived populations.
The concerted erasure of the surrounding, ever-encroached- upon agrarian heritage is extremely worrying.
For example, that it has become such a big issue how to save the Wilson farmhouse (which I grew up across the field from) or how to ensure the survival of the Petrie Building demonstrates important issues of past and future are being contested.
At this rate there wouldn’t be much material culture left to entice a potential Guelph tourist trade.
• • •
Q:What was the first concert you attended as a fan?
A: My parents and I went to see The Irish Rovers in Fergus in the 1970s, but the first concert I went to because I wanted to go was probably to see Robert Fripp at the University of Waterloo in 1981.
It was a concert/lecture on Frippertronics. The moment has stayed with me ever since.
• • •
Q:What is a current pet peeve of yours?
A: Gee, which one to choose?!
Here’s one: the downtown core could be so much more inviting.
At the moment it seems one is required to have a lot of money in order to shop for food and clothes there, and yet the socially deprived nomadic population seems to have great sway, so you get a very sharp contrast between those who appear neglected and those who have money to burn on imported chocolate.
Exclusivity brushing shoulders with neglect has all the hallmarks of an old- fashioned colonial flavour – very distasteful.
It creates an odd atmosphere and even more confrontational when on the weekends the university population is out in force partying.
Since the 1980s, the core feels less and less safe at night.
Q:You recently held a launch for your book, live bands and all. What was that like?
A: The entire event was heart-warming.
Much of the audience was the original ’70s and ’80s audience reunited.
They hadn’t seen each other for 30 years. Some of the acts also hadn’t performed together for as many years.
The happy, festive atmosphere was effusive and affecting.
• • •
Eleven either/ors with David Knight:
• Bottle or draught? Extra dry red wine: Italian Primitivo
• Poker or euchre? Solitaire
• Spring or fall? Spring
• Hockey or football? Football (what is called “soccer” here)
• Stones or Zeppelin? Bauhaus
• Coffee or tea? Cappuccino or mint tea
• Saturday or Sunday? Both, never Monday
• Chips or chocolate? Olives
• Long drive or short flight? Short flight, usually there are no other idiots on the road that way
• UFC or WWE? Not even sure what these stand for
• Facebook or Twitter? Facebook