Sound Seekers

SOUND SEEKERS: Rotter’s Club Nee’wollah Revival

BY FATEEMA SAYANI

Winston Smith
Winston Smith. “Soma Holiday” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, Ottawa punk sounded like this — that’s the Reverbnation link to a 1979 compilation album called Rot ’n’ Role, which features such bands of the era as the Bureaucrats, Vendetta, and Winston Smith.

Originally pressed on vinyl on a limited run of 500 copies, Rot ‘n’ Role has been remastered with six new tunes and is being reissued as a limited edition CD on Friday at Nee’wollah, a celebration of the ‘70s-era Rotters Club. Nee’wollah (that’s Halloween backwards) was an annual theme night at the club, which stood at the corner of Bank and Frank Streets from 1977-1980, and later moved down the street beside Barrymore’s, where it became — under the same ownership — The Eighties Club.

The anniversary party happens on Friday, Oct. 31 at Zaphod’s with a host of players from the era. Ted Axe of The Action brings his band Sister Hyde to stage, and comedian Mike MacDonald — a former Rotters Club playbill regular — will MC the event. Blackshirt Highwaymen — featuring Rotters Club co-founder Carl Schultz — and Arson are also on the bill. Tickets are $35 and include a swag bag.

At the show, expect an audio tour of the punk scene of the era along with a collection of archival footage and photos from the day, some of which appear here, below.

Strone at Rotters_1979
Strone (1979). Their song, “In with the in crowd” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.

The Rotters Club heyday was before my time — and maybe yours too, but apparently we all missed a helluva scene, according to the liner notes of Rot ’n’ Role, which locates the Rotters Club as the cornerstone for the punk movement in Ottawa, the way CBGBs was in New York City.

Bumpers - inc Carl Schultz
Bumpers. Their song “N/A” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.

Stuart A. Smith of The Bunker on Bay, and the other Rotters Club co-founder, says an alternative scene didn’t exist in Ottawa at the time. “What there was largely revolved around a somnambulant folkie singer-songwriter genre with a requisite nod to blues-based music that underpins rock and roll, or to the multitude of flash prog-rock bands fashionable at the time like Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and King Crimson.”

Bureaucrats at Rotters_1978
Bureaucrats (1978). Their song “Today And Everyday” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.

Smith notes there were exceptions to the rule. Early experimenters began to gather as like-minded musicians looking to bust out from the genre limitations of the time. This interest dovetailed with an unheralded technological upswing. Smith had one of the first synths in town, a Roland SH3, and he and Schultz were able to work with one the first semi-pro TEAC multi-track reel-to-reel recorders on the market.

Together Smith and Schultz ran the Double Helix Studio recording nearly everyone in town, while also running the Rotters Club to give punk rock a home base in Ottawa.

“It was this that provided the perfect context for the DIY and New Wave explosion that was to follow,” Smith writes, “and the demise of the prog scene as it rapidly disappeared up its own rear end.

“Entry of one’s younger siblings into music, desire to deflate the pompous, and make a basic frakking rock and roll racket to piss off one’s parents eventually broke out once again as it had in previous musical invasions — and will again.”

Vendetta (poster, 1978). Their song “Nine to Five” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.