John Catto has taken a brief time out to from a scrambled Diodes rehearsal to spill the dirt on the band’s latest reunion tour which launches Friday at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.
Having just flown in from England with band lead vocalist Paul Robinson to join up with original bassist Ian McKay, and drummer John Hamilton who is now playing keyboards,( John Andrew is now taking over behind the drum kit), the five-date mini tour is billed as multi-media event to pay tribute to their original Crash N Burn punk night club venue.
Aside from a Diodes’ performance, the night will also feature the showing of Ross McLaren’s 27-minute black and white film of The Diodes, Teenage Head and The Dead Boys performing at what had been billed as Toronto’s first Punk Nightclub along with a photo exhibit from the band’s long-time manager, Ralph Alfonso with rare shots of The Ramones, Blonde, Patti Smith and The Talking Heads on display. Teenage Head guitarist Gord Lewis is also set to perform along with former Teenage Head guitarist Dave Rave and Time Damage IPA beer, a special brew produced by Bowmanville, Ontario craft brewery, Manantler Brewery will also be available.
“I`m terrible, but otherwise, rehearsals tend to go smoothly,” laughs Catto who acknowledges the band has executed a number of reunions over the past few years. “We got back together for The Mike Bullard Show in 1998 and then for our 30th anniversary in 2007 at NxNE. We staged a brief club tour in 2010 and we also performed together in 2011 so things come together quite quickly when we reunite.”
[quote]“Because of the closeness of the Ontario and New York punk music scenes, New York bands were always playing in Toronto and Toronto bands were always playing in New York”[/quote]
Catto is enthused that the theme of this year’s tour reflects on their Crash N Burn venue which only functioned for a couple of months during the summer of 1977. “The place was actually our rehearsal space, we had done a bit of a deal with the CEAC but they kicked us out of the Annex so we said, right, we will use your basement. So we had been there about three days when John Hamilton, the drummer said `I think this would make a great speakeasy. As it turned out we didn’t need to make it a speakeasy as they already had a liquor license, but as a club it didn’t last long.’
Identifying with the punk/new wave movement which was sweeping North America during the mid-seventies, The Diodes became the first Canadian punk band to sign to a major label in 1977 when Columbia Records released a self-titled debut record , the first single being a cover of Cyrkle’s Red Rubber Ball, “A song we had never heard before we recorded a version that is nothing like the original,” allows Catto.
“Because of the closeness of the Ontario and New York punk music scenes, New York bands were always playing in Toronto and Toronto bands were always playing in New York, we were more aligned to New York than we were to England. But unfortunately for us, Columbia had no idea what to do with us,” Catto explained. “We happened to be around when Columbia Canada came looking to sign `one of those bands’! That first album did quite well in Canada and also when it was circulated inAustralia and Europe but the only way it got into the States was via Jem Imports, a shady distribution deal when you consider that Columbia U.S has no accounting of any records being imported – yet we know thousands were exported to New York, California and Texas.”
“Then “Red Rubber Ball” appeared on a CBS US Permanent Waves compilation record CBS U.S and did really well so when they realized we were still contracted to another record, they released “Revisited” in 1979 with “Red Rubber Ball” again on the record,” noted Catto. “That record also had “Tired of Waking up Tired” and we purposely put it out as a pop record which really confused them – they had no idea what to do with us.”
For the band’s third album, The Diodes went the indie route, releasing their 1980 “Action/Reaction” release on Orient Records, produced by the THP Orchestra pair of Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison. And although the band toured Canada with the likes of a young U2, Ultravox and Split Enz, the punk scene had been replaced by the New Romantic movement.
Catto moved back to his native England with former Boston native Robinson in 1981 but the Diodes’ recording legacy continued with the Italian release of a 1978 Time Damage, Live At The El Mocambo concert which is now available on iTunes. A new version of The Diodes with Catto and Robinson and two British musicians toured Canada in 2008 with an outtakes album called “Survivors”.
Looking back, The Diodes’ guitarist has always felt the band had left a special legacy in Canadian music and when the Diodes returned after a lengthy hiatus , they were delighted to find their roots following was still intact.
“It’s fun to do. We like to keep our material out there, its not a great effort and we just have a great time when we do get together,” Catto explained. “The thing that blows me away sometimes when I’m putting a set list together is how strong our material actually is and how many things we have to leave out . There are so many songs off that first album that still hold up.”
Catto confirmed the band is committed to future recording plans with a new record set for release in the near future. Dates for the current tour include their Phoenix date on Friday, a concert at the Manantler Brewing Company in Bowmanville on Saturday September 12th, a date at Hamilton’s This Aint Hollywood on Sunday September 13, the Brantford Station Gallery September 15th before closing out the tour September 17th at the Phi Centre in Montreal.
You can stay connected with The Diodes through their new website www.thediodestoronto.com
Photos: Ralph Alfonso
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