By Keith Sharp
If Carole Pope & Rough Trade‘s sold-out performance at Toronto’s El Mocambo Tavern Friday, April 29th seems to take the form of a Broadway musical, that’s because the concert is being set up, partially as a dry run for the music that will eventually form the basis of a new musical which is being created by Pope and co-writer Kate Riggs. The musical is based on the life of Pope’s late brother Howard, ‘Rough Trade The Musical’ and is already at the Workshop Stage in New York with noted actress Chilina Kennedy ‘Beautiful’ (The Carole King Musical) recruited to perform Pope’s character.
“We hope to open in Canada next year,” noted Pope, on the phone from West Side New York, before her April 29th engagement at the El Mo, explaining that the musical’s theme is intent on capturing New York’s Art Scene in the 1980’s when Rough Trade was a local revelation, releasing three hit albums ‘Avoid Freud’ ‘Those Who Think Young’ and ‘Shaking the Foundations’ between 1980-1983. And the whole musical is based on Rough Trade’s music.
During that period, Rough Trade’s theatrical performances combining Rock, R&B, and raw sexuality set the tone for Toronto’s budding LGBTQ movement, which also spawned The Parachute Club and would also pave the way for the likes of Peaches, Tegan & and Sara and Ria Mae. Certainly, the commercial radio success of “High School Confidential” with its lustful lesbian lyrical overtones created a significant industry impact and resulted in Pope winning the 1981 Juno Award as Most Promising Female and Juno Top Female in 1982 and 1983.
And although Rough Trade disbanded in 1988 with Pope and partner Kevan Staples going their own ways, Pope has maintained a creative profile, penning an autographical book; `Anti Diva’ in 2000 and recording two EP’s and two albums and a string of singles (the last one being her 2021 release “Speaking In Code” with Clara Venice).
It’s hardly surprising that Pope views Rough Trade as a musical production. Even before True North Records’ Bernie Finkelstein signed them for his indie label in 1980, Pope and Staples had created their first stage show; `Restless Underwear,’ which was performed at Toronto’s Massey Hall and New York’s Beacon Theatre (starring drag queen star Divine) in 1977. Another musical, `Shaking The Foundations’ created by Bryson MacDonald, was presented at Buddies In Bad Times in 1999.
But the majority of Pope’s time has been spent developing her musical, which she hopes will be a significant success. “I look at David Byrne’s American Utopia show for inspiration. ” I like the idea of some people who just keep coming back; they know all the lyrics; I want to create that kind of show; that’s what I’m striving for.”
Rough Trade might have been at the cusp of Toronto’s thriving Gay scene in the early Eighties, but Pope’s perception was that her band just captured the spirit of that time. “We weren’t thinking about commercial success. The beauty of the 80s is that we were all sexually androgynous. I don’t think that sexuality is so shocking; it was all about doing whatever you felt like.”
Pope still performs as a solo artist (and occasionally with partner Staples) and is aware Rough Trade still has a loyal following. “I like the fact that people still like the band; it’s very reaffirming. We were innovative at a time when we were ahead of our time. We could have been more successful if we had been less innovative and if I wasn’t so threatening,” she laughed.
Based on her April 29th sell-out, Carole Pope and Rough Trade will return to the El Mocambo for a return Saturday Sept 10. Ticket link below.
Rough Trade Sept 10th ticket link https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/rough-trade-tickets-321565851117?aff=ebdssbdestsearch.