Resort Town Punks: Sons of Ishmael

Back when the only surfable wave in the Blue Mountains/Georgian Bay region of Ontario was the New Wave onslaught, you had to buy your records at Becker’s convenience or Stedman’s department stores. Or you could press your own at World Records in Bowmanville.

 

Centre label of the Hayseed Hardcore reissue. Courtesy
Centre label of the Hayseed Hardcore reissue. Courtesy Schizophrenic Records.

 

By Tom Thwaits.

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In the summer of 1985, while most opted for buying Duran Duran, five high school students from the small town of Meaford calling themselves Sons of Ishmael (SOI) were mailing out their own 7” EP record entitled Hayseed Hardcore at a rate of six per day. Three months later the band had sold out of all 550, more than half of which crossed the pond to Europe.

Three dollars or a trade got you what the seminal San Francisco punk zine Maximum Rock n’ Roll called “fast, aggressive, thinking material which has become known in hardcore circles as ‘the Meaford sound’.” By the end of the decade, the work of Kenny Campbell (bass), Andrew Brideau (guitar), Dave Nanderam (drums), Glenn “Ditch Dog” Poirier (guitar) and Tim Freeborn (vocals) had made Thrasher magazine’s Puszone Unofficial Top 100 of the eighties.

Since its first pressing (which will now run you anywhere from $50 to $130 online) on SOI’s own Death Enema label, Hayseed Hardcore has been reprinted twice: in ’87 to fund a 64-day Canada-U.S. tour, and in 2010 by Hamilton’s Schizophrenic Records in both stock and deluxe editions. This EP and its opening track “Small Town Mentality” at once skewers Meaford and puts it on the hardcore map of North America, if not the world.

The band rehearsed only a half-dozen times and performed just once with the original dual-guitar lineup. Most went their separate ways after graduating Meaford’s Georgian Bay Secondary School. Tim and Ditch Dog (named for a quote from the outcast lunatic Poor Tom in King Lear) moved to Toronto, kept the SOI name, picked up new musicians, and signed deals with American, German and U.K. labels. On their ’87 American tour, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, then in a band called Bliss, opened for them in Tacoma, WA. They put out two full-length albums, appeared on numerous comps, and mounted European tours in ’90 and ’91. Ditch Dog donned the guitar for his last show with SOI, opening for SNFU in ’89. Tim and the rest of the band kept shredding until their last show in ’92.

 

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North American tour stop in Kent, Ohio, 1987. Courtesy Facebook.com/SonsofIshmael

 

What’s it like to know that your music, inspired by social isolation, has spread so far?

Tim Freeborn: It does blow my mind that we were able to get the band together in the first place: most of the people in the band had no knowledge of or interest in hardcore but agreed to play with us because they were our friends and probably appreciated having something to do that didn’t involve sports or underaged drinking.

Andrew Brideau: I was touring with another band I had formed shortly after leaving SOI and a childhood friend of the singer came up and said “Chris says you’re the Andrew in [earlier band] ATB and SOI.” I was still a teenager then but realized SOI did have an impact on some people. Maybe due to the area of the world we came from. 

Ditch Dog: It’s humbling to think of others identifying with us worldwide; there’s more small towns out there than cities.

Kenny Campbell: I guess it largely reflects the nature of the underground hardcore punk music scene.  I think that the DIY approach really resonates with some people.

Did Meaford have its own brand of “Small Town Mentality”?

Ditch Dog: Add Red Deer, Alberta to the list of towns where local hicks will shout obscenities at you because of your looks…the mentality appears to be widespread.

Andrew: Meaford wasn’t a great place to grow up looking the way I did.

Tim: Playing a show in The Soo did involve a chase, but the abuse there was mutual.

How busy were you with correspondence?  Did you get a lot of trades for the EP or did most people pay for it?

Kenny: I remember that Tim would share any trades with us if one of us liked it more than him. It’s a great way to get to know other bands at similar stages. I remember a British band called Napalm Death who traded their record/cassette for ours.

Tim: I traded records with a lot of people in the States and Europe, and some of those people helped us with shows when we played in the States during the summer of ’87.  I suppose that I spent a lot of time on the correspondence, but I was young and at loose ends, so I had a lot of free time.

Tim, the 1983-84 GBSS yearbook calls you the “son of the criminally insane Henry Rollins.”  Where’s this coming from?

Tim: Black Flag had a powerful hold on our imaginations in those days, especially Damaged and Everything Went Black; they were also the first punk band that I saw. They played Toronto three times between December ’83 and December ’84, and I went each time. They were doing [record label] SST package tours, so the opening bands were stellar: Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust, and St. Vitus.

Andrew: [Dead Kennedys singer] Jello Biafra was another influence if for nothing else than his politics.

How often did your politics get you into hot water?

Ditch Dog: Our generation was exposed to [the] Iran–Contra [Affair] and the realization that our governments are and have been capable of massive fraud and deceit. The inner rot was exposed to all the public then.

Andrew: I can only assume the lyrics to “Social Drinker” and “Service To Your Country” may have ruffled a few feathers.

Tim: 1984-85 was an interesting time politically but, by and large, politics—whether Central American death squads, subway vigilantes, cruise-missile testing, or Satanic panic—didn’t come up much in daily conversation.

Ditch Dog is named for a quote from the outcast lunatic Poor Tom in King Lear, and in your yearbook’s graduation blurb, Tim, the writer hoped that you ‘would finally at least make one friend.’ Were you guys really that shunned and vilified by your peers?

Tim: Not at all. By playing that music, we were shunning and vilifying the monoculture—what was there? Three radio stations and if you lived in town maybe a dozen TV channels, one of them from Wingham. But I didn’t feel shunned. Bored, angry, and alienated, maybe, but what teenager doesn’t feel that way?

Andrew: I was teased and harassed by more than a few teachers.

Ditch Dog: There were a small group of punk/metal folks around. I did get our soccer team to enjoy Venom [British metal band who, according to Metallica, were the world’s fastest and scariest] as a pre-game mood setter. We were a violent team…

Kenny: I don’t think that we were really that much of outsiders but our tastes and preferences were rather distinct: loud, fast and aggressive music when New Wave or mainstream hard rock was big with most kids.

Finally, any motivating words for today’s local teenaged musical aspirants?

Tim: Treat indifference with indifference. Find and connect with your people!

Kenny: The trick is still finding the right audience—that’s where the highly connected underground hardcore punk scene was helpful for us.

Ditch Dog: Stay true to your course. Play it like you mean it.

Andrew: Don’t be afraid to try harder than you think you can. Music is hard work, so is factory work. Only one is rewarding.

SOI’s longest-running lineup reunited for shows in 2011:

Tim Freeborn is now a Professor of English at Western University. Kenny Campbell is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and is still married to his Grade 7 sweetheart, Christina, who drew the original cover for the Hayseed Hardcore EP. Glenn ‘Ditch Dog’ Poirier lives in Barrie and plays in a band with Tim’s younger brother Rob called Generation Hexed and another called Shades of Sunday. Andrew Brideau teaches guitar in Cambridge, Ontario. SOI’s Rush- and Genesis-loving original drummer, Dave Nanderam, remains elusive.

Buy Hayseed Hardcore at Schizophrenic Records.

Article from fall 2016 issue of ML Blue Mountains.