PINK STEEL


   a band the world never knew


Pink Steel 1981 copy


A small but measurable degree of attention has been focused on the nascent music scene situated in Victoria, B.C. in the early 1980s. Pink Steel, formed in 1978 and lasting through the end of 1982, was one band from that era. What follows is a brief history of the band, with music files, gig posters, set lists and photos.

First, to sum up, here’s the complete version of the text submitted for the Victoria compilation/book All Your Ears Can Hear: 


    Growing up in the rarefied stratosphere of the mid-to-late 1970's meant that Monty Python and Steve Martin routines possibly had more daily relevance to the average teenager than any of the cape-wearing progressive art rockers, white wine California jazz noodlists, or harmonizing-lead-guitar over-achieving bar-bands then dominating the radio. It was popular music we pretended to like because we didn't know any better. Pink Steel was conjured from precisely this thin air on an April night in 1978 as a cancelled drama rehearsal led to a two hour comedy improvisation after Ian thought he sat on a slug on a rock beside the railway tracks behind the liquor store. The resulting tall tale featured a punk rock band named Pink Steel and an FM deejay known as “The Afternoon Ram” who secretly orchestrates their rapid success. So Pink Steel was, at its inception , an extension of drama class.

 

    In October 1978, our first "jam session" occurred, a clumsy if raucous affair which - despite a complete lack of musical knowledge, experience, and/or talent - nevertheless produced an actual two chorded song. Friends and co-workers were quickly added to the line-up to buttress the more obvious inadequacies. Painstakingly, chord by chord and bridge by bridge, we developed a repertoire of original songs and a few covers, learned by rote and rehearsed each and every time as though a song neglected for more than two practices couldn't be played or remembered again - which was, in fact, exactly the case. All I personally wanted, so I thought, was to one day have the experience of speeding down a deserted highway, stereo speakers cranked, just as a tune from our band - Pink Steel - blew in over the radio.

 

    By the summer of 1979 we had a sort of "set" - including acoustic songs, standup comedy, and bombastic, if simple, rock and roll - and embarked on a mostly uninvited yearlong tour of the house party circuit. By the summer of 1980 we had played a few real gigs - Camosun Pub, Dancer's Teen Discotheque - and had both expanded our repertoire and honed the by huge but unwieldy three-guitar attack. A Labour Day weekend show with the Infamous Scientists at the Party Destruction House was the first all-Lakehill pairing, note-worthy for the drunken audience and our overlong set. By the summer of 1981 we were a part of a burgeoning Victoria music scene and we had recorded and released an actual record. Pete and I were interviewed for CKDA and the night the show aired several of us got in a car and we sped up and down the Pat Bay Highway as Pink Steel blared from lame Datsun speakers.  By the summer of 1982 the band had consolidated to a particular autumnal period and personnel changes were imminent. By the summer of 1983, Pink Steel had finally disbanded months before and Pete and John were becoming The Wardells. But that's another story.



                                                             Reynolds High School PSA                                                                                                              

                                                                      CKDA Radio   

                                                                        May 1979                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


Ridiculously, the first seven months of Pink Steel’s existence was focussed on playing our high school’s Variety Show. And when this plateau seemed within reach, the show itself was abruptly cancelled. Apparently it had become known to the school administration that Pink Steel had written a certain song comparing certain detention policies and certain school officials to certain authoritarian regimes. The officials had decided that rather than risk an unsanctioned performance, the entire show should be scrapped. 




                                                                       Sat On A Slug

                                                              Live Underground demos  

                                                                      August 14, 1979



Seven weeks rehearsing in Jim Mazerolle’s tiny basement through the summer of 1979 culminated with a recording session - the entire eight song repertoire taped live off the floor into a quarter-inch reel-to-reel deck. We gained access to a rehearsal space in Esquimalt, a self-contained square concrete bunker insulated with a dark rough texture, which later in the evening assumed an earthy presence - as if the bunker were subterranean and simply dug in the ground. Hence the title of the tape. Jim Mazerolle and I hoped to deliver this tape to the Stiff Records office in New York City, when we visited the city ten days later (but never actually found the office).



Camosun poster 1980




January 1980, about fifteen months after the first “jam”, Pink Steel defies the odds and gets an actual gig at Camosun College. We were paid $75 and managed to fill the two hour time slot by including an Acoustic Steele and Elvis Vranjes component to the barely 50 minutes of original material. Camosun’s community-access cable TV show sent journalists with cameras, as they were piecing together an investigatory on underage drinkers at pub events. The hard-hitting report featured footage of our set and also of our friends, obviously underage high school students who were nevertheless not identified as such.


camosun set list

                                                     Camosun College set list



band 1980

                                                  Pink Steel February 1980



Dancer's poster



The August ’79 demo tape had made its way to the local rock ‘n’ roll booking agency, which was bemused enough to book Pink Steel for a slot at their underage “teen” discotheque, which had opened to rock bands on weekends. The battle lines between Rock and Disco were by then clearly established, so we considered the gig an opportunity to make a statement about our values. After the first night’s set, we were led into the venue manager’s small office and calmly but firmly dressed down for insulting his customers and business. We were still allowed to play the second night. There, courtesy of the booking agency, we were presented with a “manager”, who promptly hustled us to the alley in back of the club to witness an intense negotiation with representatives from another local “punk” band - the Sikphuxz - for an opening slot at the OAP Hall a few weeks down the road. Buoyed by this positive event, we proceeded to do combat with the teen disco audience once again.



                                                                   The Barbarian Song

                                                              Dancer’s Teen Discotheque

                                                                      February 9, 1980



On March 11 1980, Pink Steel opened for The Sikphuxz at the OAP Hall - a gig of some consequence. Not only did it establish a rift between the two bands, but an apparently invited punk legend did not show and did not baptise the nascent Victoria scene with his presence - as the disappointed reviewer for UVic paper The Martlet recounted:


PS - Sikphuxz review






                                                                 introduction / Live Life

                                                        Spectrum High School soccer field

                                                                       May 30, 1980



Guitarist Dean Shea and rogue sound man Glenn Kelly were both students at rival Spectrum, a school decidedly classic rock in tastes and manner. On this day, headliners White Hot closed their set with a note-perfect cover of the live version of Lynrd Skynrd’s epic Free Bird, complete with request to “play it pretty for Spectrum”, pronounced without the slightest irony. Earlier, a cassette tape recorder was plugged into the soundboard and the recording, like the performance, is a bit distorted. “Live Life” is from The Kinks Misfits album.


Spectrum report 1980




                                                                   Controlled Collapse

                                                              Party Destruction cassette

                                                                      August 31, 1980



The Party Destruction House was inherited through Dean’s connection with Victoria blues legends Uncle Wiggly’s Hot Shoes Blues Band. The house stood on the corner of an otherwise emptied block, waiting for redevelopment and later the apartment building which stands there today. Crucially, an incredible racket could be realized without any neighbour annoyance. This Labor Day weekend basement house party show also featured The Infamous Scientists - the first gig featuring both Lakehill bands.


PD set list




poster - roller rink




Norway House ticket






This eventually led to two shows with the Scientists in December - one at the roller rink and a few days later at the Norway House. Strangers showed up to check it out, the first overt sign that still others scattered across the city likely also had bands. That notion was soon affirmed, as activity picked up quickly in 1981.  Five bands appeared at the OAP Hall in mid-January (The Keys, Easy Money, The Alternatives, Infamous Scientists, and Pink Steel).


OAP 1981




Taking a cue from the formidable bands based in Vancouver, recording and releasing a 7” single  seemed like the next appropriate thing to do. Pink Steel spent an evening in March 1981, at our latest practice house, recording again our entire repertoire live off the floor to serve as demos. This tape was passed on to Rob Lifton, from Victoria’s excellent pop group Easy Money, who a few months later would help us produce in the studio.


                                                           (It Won’t) Come In Your Hand

                                                         Martha Crescent house demos

                                                                        March 1981



work sheet HWGA

           This was Pete’s version of a musical notation chart - just like Quincy Jones would use.



EP cover



Our 7” EP - A Taste Of Pink Steel - was recorded in June and pressed onto vinyl a few weeks later. A mere seven months before this, there was no visible Victoria music scene to speak of, and the prospect of recording any kind of record in any kind of studio seemed inconceivable. Now there were over a dozen bands in town identified  with a nascent “punk” or “new wave” scene and fairly regular shows. More than a few of these bands had released their own singles in the past months, and now we were being interviewed on the radio introducing songs from our new record. Deejay BJ Bennett of local AM station CKDA was a supporter of the Victoria scene, and he even put the Infamous Scientists on the air despite their signature tune which ripped his station.




                                                                     CKDA interview

                            (including EP tracks “She’s Not Mine” and “Here We Go Again”)

                                                                       August 1981



Rock Against Nothing




set the record strait



Setting the record straight - an event which has been wrongly portrayed in another forum.






Also in 1981, Pink Steel won a local Battle Of The Bands competition. We were certainly not the most competent group in the contest, but the timing was right. The prize included more recording time, and so we marched into a downtown studio that autumn and recorded two more songs for another 7” single.



single cover copy



                                                        Some of the Things That You Do

                                          b-side of the Won’t Come In Your Hand 7” single

                                                          recorded November 12, 1981



Pink Steel 1981b

                                                                          Pink Steel

                                                                       Autumn 1981



In many respects, the second vinyl release was the last hurrah for the original Pink Steel concept. Bassist Tim Russell was drifting away from the band, and the massive hole in the rhythm section - as established by himself and drummer Dave Robbins - would necessitate change. At the same time, Jim Mazerolle had been writing more and more material which tended to quirk rather than thunder. Vocalist John Robbins took up the bass duties.



set list Fernwood 1982

                                                     set list Fernwood Community Center 

                                                                      February 1982

                     only five of these thirteen songs had been part of the set list a year earlier




Dean won some kind of raffle, giving us six hours in a recording studio. This is one of Jim’s songs and a fair representation of the direction Pink Steel was heading in 1982. Rob Wright of NoMeansNo helped us out with the production.



                                                        Say Goodnight  studio recording

                                                                      April 25, 1982




alandhiscar party ticket



Alandhiscar Records became the label name for a few loosely affiliated Victoria bands. Needless to say, there was no Alandhiscar (i.e. “Al-and-his-car”) office address, no post office box number, and no entertainment expense account. Al’s celebrated car barely got a few of us over to Vancouver for Hardcore ’81 and then back again, and for that we are surely grateful.


cover




Both Dave Robbins and myself left both Pink Steel and Victoria behind in September 1982. The remaining members found a new drummer and carried on. Dave and I were both back in town for the holidays in December and had the very odd experience of being spectators at a Pink Steel show. Also, The Infamous Scientists had split, and Andy Kerr was now appearing with NoMeansNo. The Victoria scene as we had known it was rapidly fading away. 



XMAS 1982



The Alandhiscar Christmas Show was not the final Pink Steel gig - that would come a few weeks later, in the calendar year 1983. At the sound check, Jim Mazerolle announced his intentions to relocate out of Victoria. Pink Steel played a final dispirited set and that was that.





Notable Side projects:


ACOUSTIC STEELE

John Robbins had a way with an acoustic guitar and a ballad. Early in Pink Steel’s existence, John took some stray lyrics and came up with Dreamer, which struck everyone as something pretty good, as in better than anything else cooked up to date. This introduced an acoustic “unplugged" element which became part of the Pink Steel house-party sideshow throughout the first year. Acoustic Steele consisted of both John and Pete, with their own set of covers and a few originals. They  recorded a professional demo tape of this material in May 1980. The John and Pete connection would later be more fully realized as The Wardells.


                                                                           Dreamer

                                                              Live Underground demos  

                                                                     August 14, 1979




JAMES JAZZ AND THE LIGHTNING BOLT FOUR

Jim Mazerolle arranged a demo recording session in July 1982 to capture some of his songs with his own vocals, joined by Jeff, Dave and John. We rehearsed a couple of times before the session, which occurred on a Friday night featuring a rare electrical storm (hence the name).



                                                                   Sarah (She’s A Star)

                                                                recorded July 30, 1982




Other side projects included Van Tomo, Two Fuckups and a Dead Horse, and The Goans.




JR




                                                      R.I.P. John Robbins  1961-1999

                                                                         “our city is in ruins"












           Addendum #1

A great resource for more Victoria punk rawk was the Reynolds Rocks website, which featured cool photos and awesome music downloads but seems to be offline these days.


            Addendum #2

When Pink Steel demised, John and Pete formed The Wardells and continued to rock through the ‘80s. Pete then carried forth with The Sweaters. 

Music videos for both bands can be viewed via this web site’s Music Video Page.


            Addendum #3

Coincidentally, just as this page was first going online, the Killed By Death website had somehow found and put online the “Won’t Come In Your Hand” 7” single.


            Addendum #4

Pink Steel is mentioned in the pages of Chris Walters’ biography of The Dayglo Abortions -  Argh Fuck Kill. While the gist of the stories are basically correct, a number of factual details are not. It doesn’t really matter. Congrats to the Dayglos for three decades of being themselves, and props to Chris Walters for flying the flag of punk rock literature.


             Addendum #5

Sam Sutherland’s book Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk is published and available. Pink Steel figures in Chapter 14, on the Victoria scene. Sam did a great job, both in contextualizing Victoria experiences  and, more importantly, writing a fascinating history of scenes across the country and giving credit where it is due (i.e. the crucial role of D.O.A.). This book is highly recommended.




© Ocular Tip Media 2016