Anarchy in Kawartha Lakes: A local history of punk rock
Where there is young people and vitality, you’re going to find punk rock. — Henry Rollins
One of Lindsay’s most famous bar brawls and the start of punk rock in the CKL happened on the same time at the same place on the same night. It was the late spring of 1980 and Lindsay’s first punk rock band, The Lindsay Huns, were playing at The Central Hotel on William Street — a long gone Lindsay landmark.
Musicologists will argue about the exact start of punk, and who started it, but punk rock had been around, and had been a growing musical and cultural movement since 1977, and probably earlier. The term itself — coined in the early 70s — was used by a few musical journalists to describe the style known as garage-rock.
First emanating from New York City, punk involved playing rock and roll faster and with more anger. It was musically stripped down to a raw immediacy which was a direct reaction to what punk’s early adherents saw as the excessive nature and artificiality of ‘stadium’ rock. It was sometimes political and uniformly anti-authoritarian to its core, happening on the fringes and in the back alleys of culture.
Some people think of a certain aesthetic when they think of punk (safety pins, ripped T-Shirts, spiked hair, etc.) and while that was there at the beginning and throughout punk, that was not as important as it’s approach to music and culture. Because it was at its start, a movement of outsiders unsupported by mainstream culture, punks developed a DIY (do it yourself) ethos, an approach that would eventually change all culture and every form of design, fashion and most importantly music.
It was a truly transformative time, when all the rules of music and culture were being willfully and gleefully broken. No doubt for some it was mayhem for mayhem’s sake. But it was abrasive, loud and just so different than the music that was on the radio. I can still remember where I was when I heard my first punk album (1979, in a rec-room, just off Angeline Street in Lindsay, listening to a friend’s older brother’s copy of the Northern Ireland band Stiff Little Fingers).
I can still remember the feelings of both manic joy and focused anger toward a ‘system’ I disdained that this music elicited. It was a feeling of giving a middle finger to authority while wanting to dance with — or at least smash into — people who felt the same. It synthesized my nascent, negative experience of class and my youthful anger at Cold War absurdity: it was pure energy, offering thoughtful freedom with a form of music that I wouldn’t and couldn’t hear anywhere else.
It was the start of a tectonic shift in culture, probably invisible to everyone at the time, save the odd cultural futurist. And in Lindsay, it was the Lindsay Huns who first led that charge, starting a musical and cultural revolution that would weave its way through the decades and involve a substantial number of local players and fans alike.
The Lindsay Huns featured Larry Switzer on vocals; John Kesler on guitar, (now deceased); Chris Carter on bass, (now deceased); and Steve Jackett on drums. Switzer was a huge fan of acts now considered proto-punk like The Stooges and MC5 and Carter had actually seen the Ramones (arguably the most important early American punk band, in terms of their success). Switzer actually met Carter at the much-missed Star Records (c. 1976-1984) on Kent Street, where they had ordered the same Sex Pistols album.
Many bands — even some that go on to great success — are started for the sole reason of having something to do. As Switzer saw it, “there was nothing to do in Lindsay. And besides, this town was becoming way too disco. So we started a punk band.”
They were soon a trio, in search of a drummer. As luck would have it, Jackett had put up a poster saying ‘drummer available’ at Van Halteren’s Music Centre. Jackett was not an aspiring punk and not familiar with this new genre. “It was all new to me. But they said ‘show up.’ So I showed up,” he explains.
Rehearsing in the kitchen at Switzer’s apartment on Ridout Street, the set was put together for Lindsay’s first punk music. “Our setlist was probably 20-22 songs,” explains Switzer. And in keeping with an accepted format of early punk, the total running time for those 20 songs was about 30 minutes. “I could only play about 30 minutes anyway. My performance was, shall we say, energetic.”
I had always wondered about the origin of their name and before I sat down with Switzer, I had worried (given the WW1-era reference of Huns) if it was a vestige of an early sub-genre known as Nazi-Punk. Nazi-Punk was an ugly, offensive part of the early movement, reviled and resisted (often violently) by other punks even more than shocked members outside the punk movement. I asked Jackett if he knew the meaning of his former band name, but he did not. ”I was just the drummer,” he explains, smiling wryly. Offending and shocking people was a key part of the early punk motus operandis so that was always a possibility.
Switzer sets the record straight, unexpectedly perhaps citing ancient history: “The Huns destroyed civilization when they sacked Rome. We were the Huns. From Lindsay. And Toronto was our Rome.”
“Besides, I wouldn’t have been able to get away with any of that Nazi bullshit anyway in this town. I knew too many guys from the Legion who fought Nazis in WW2. They would have kicked my ass,” he continues.
The Lindsay Huns’ first gig was at Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern — still an impressive first gig for any band of any genre. The principals in this first era of CKL punk are a little hazy in the details and chronology (it was almost 40 years ago) but there were two Lindsay shows; one at the Wagon Wheel (where the Lindsay Rugby Club is now) and the infamous show at the Central Hotel.
What was clear is that there was a scene developing around the band. And the scene had a reputation for heavy partying, that would be revered by and even scare the generations of partiers that came after them. Switzer seems to agree with this sentiment when he says, perhaps understatedly, “We had a lot of fun.” Jackett remembers realizing after the Wagon Wheel gig that something was happening and that a scene was developing. “There might have been a hundred people there. The accolades were amazing,” he says.
But it was the infamous Central gig that will forever be a part of Lindsay lore. It is Lindsay’s version of Toronto’s first concert by the Police: only 35 people were there but thousands have claimed to have been there over the years.
The night started innocently enough. Switzer had gone in to talk to the owner about playing at the Central’s amateur night. Switzer promised that the Huns would pack the place, telling the owner that they would need more chairs. According to Switzer, a deal was made: The Lindsay Huns would pack the place and in return they would get 24 free beer.
The Huns no doubt regaled the crowd with some of their original songs like ‘She’s So German,’ “No Government,” “Safety Pin,” and ‘DDDamn.’ Most of their set was party punk although a few songs like “1867” got into political territory. The place was packed with Lindsay’s first punks — and then things went south.
As Switzer explains, “the bartender cut us off at six beers total.”
“The crowd rioted. Drinks were flying. I got drenched in Southern Comfort and Coke which is a very sticky drink. It turned into a full-on brawl. People were punching and spitting. I never understood the spitting part. We didn’t mind though. We were pretty tough guys.”
I was curious, though. Just how did the crowd know about a beer deal gone bad? I ask Switzer if he mentioned this over the PA to the crowd.
“I might have.”
Jackett remembers the evening as “wildness in its rawest form.” He remembers, “looking at the dance floor and seeing a sea of vomit and broken glass.” According to Jackett, the bartender eventually turned off the power in the bar and called the Lindsay cops. Ever the bystander, Jackett was packing up, minding his own business when the cops arrived.
I’m not sure what it says that one of the most infamous nights in a Lindsay bar started over a disagreement over 18 beer (less than $20 at the time). But the night’s shenanigans definitely announced, however belligerently, that punk rock had arrived in Lindsay. It also guaranteed that it would be quite some time before a Lindsay bar would ever dare host a punk band again.
Unable to play anymore in their hometown, they moved the scene to a rented farmhouse outside Woodville which they dubbed Wood Vile Studios. Legend has it (and to be clear, this is unconfirmed legend), Wood Vile was another crazy scene. For his part Jackett only remembers it as a practice place. “I heard rumours of acid chainsaw parties and insane goings-on, but I never witnessed any of that myself. I was just the drummer,” he repeats.
So The Lindsay Huns concentrated on Toronto, where they had a booking agent. They would play with some now historically famous bands from the early punk scene like the Viletones. They were supposed to play at a big punk festival but a festival-goer had died in their sleep the night before the Huns were to play and the event was cancelled. In the end, they played about 15 shows over two or three years.
Eventually the Lindsay Huns would wind down. “We were just having too much fun. And some of the members had started families,” explains Switzer.
Unfortunately, no recordings survived of Lindsay’s first punk rock band. There were a couple of hours’ worth of recordings, but they were lost in a flood. Switzer thinks that there is some film somewhere when they played with the Viletones in Toronto, but hasn’t seen it in years. That was the night that the Brock Street Boys, an anti-Nazi punk gang (precursors to today’s antifa movement) met the band in a hallway to ‘discuss’ the meaning of the Lindsay Huns’ name. “We didn’t mind though. We were pretty tough guys,” repeats Switzer.
Despite never being a self-described punk (he in fact was playing for a couple country local acts at the time) Jackett could tell that punk rock was going to be important. “I just knew that punk would have an impact. It had this message and goal to let those in charge know what’s happening.”
While The Lindsay Huns were exerting their form of musical mayhem, a young Steve Carpenter (or ‘Heady’, as many people knew him) was watching and dreaming. Switzer thought that Steve was outside the door at the Central gig, but that isn’t true. What is true is that Carpenter, like tens of thousands of kids in Canada, was being drawn to the manic energy of punk rock.
Carpenter only knew the Lindsay Huns by reputation. “I had only heard of the folklore of The Lindsay Huns. This was notorious to us. It kind of scared me. At the same time, it made me wish I was older,” he explains.
Because of its disdain for authority and tradition, punk rock, upon its birth, immediately formed into any number of sub-genres. For Carpenter, who also fed his habit at Lindsay’s Star Records, it was the LA punk scene and bands like Crucifix that were his passion. LA punk was known as an even faster, more aggressive form of punk and would also be described as D-beat, hardcore punk and anarcho-punk.
Carpenter formed Lindsay’s second punk band, The Slam, at L.C.V.I. in 1982. It featured Carpenter on bass, Darryl Adams on drums, and Glen Fraser on guitar (later replaced by Kevin Martin and then Matt Denelco).
“It was all about looking cool, playing fast and not knowing where you fit in. And after our first rehearsal, we knew we weren’t going to be Rush [known for their musical virtuosity],” explains the affable Carpenter.
By this point there was an identifiable and growing punk scene in Lindsay and area. Carpenter remembers that scene as being very inclusive and just about the music. “In Lindsay, punk was a mix of smart kids and drop-outs. Jocks, honour roll students, rich kids and those from blue collar families, rejects, and army cadets. It was a different kind of clique. Punk was relateable. It had an anger and energy we could relate to,” explains Carpenter.
The Slam’s first gig was in Toronto, opening for the seminal punk band bunchoffuckinggoofs (about whom a book and documentary have been produced). Their biggest gig was opening for punk stalwarts The Forgotten Rebels in Oshawa. Carpenter estimates that there were 300 people from Lindsay at that gig. (Side note: the author Andrew Kaufman recently commented in a Globe column on going to see a Forgotten Rebels concert after so many years, noting that “At my age, just existing is punk.”)
Unable to secure a Lindsay gig — no doubt thanks to The Lindsay Huns — The Slam employed the DIYism that punk was known for and created their own gigs. They held three “Beer, Brawl and Basherama” parties from 1983-84, gigs that are still remembered by certain locals of a certain age. They would also host no-alcohol events, renting the I.O.O.F. hall.
Carpenter has vivid memories of the first Lindsay punk scene: “It was a Lindsay phenomenon that ran into the late 80s. It was amazing that so many kids from all the different cliques were into it. And they liked us.”
Long-time Lindsay resident and former business owner Jim Pilkington agrees. Pilkington recalls that at this time, LCVI was the school where most of the punks came from. “But I was a Weldon student, so I got to hang out with all the LCVI punks. It was great. And I just loved the energy,” he explains. Pilkington, now in his 50s, is still a punk fan and still attends reunion shows of the bands he liked. He notices that he always bumps into Lindsayites at these shows, further testimony to the local scene that the Lindsay Huns ignited and the Slam solidified.
The Slam quit playing in 1988. “Music was changing, our crowd had grown up,” explains Carpenter. And while they never recorded at that time, they themselves would inspire younger local kids to carry on the local punk torch [to be discussed in Part 2].
And perhaps proving the adage ‘once a punk, always a punk’, the Slam reunited in 2017 with three original members. The reunited band is a celebration, almost a love letter, written in Punk, to an important period of popular music.
Explains Carpenter, “we decided: let’s play all those punk cover tunes we should have in the first place — the songs that got us all into this in the first place.” In fact, after 37 years, The Slam are in the studio, working on a new recording.
As for that infamous start of punk rock In Lindsay, it is now just a memory. The Central Hotel would become the Irish House, which would burn down. It would eventually become the parking lot with the no parking sign. Which is pretty punk rock, when you think about it.