Views / Backstage Pass London

The graphic story of punk music in the Forest City

London desperately needed to throw a punch.

“It was so ultraconservative that anybody that had any kind of life in them were sick of it and just wanted to let loose. People were bouncing off the walls looking for something to do,” says Brian Lambert, 36 years after the birth of London’s punk culture.

Lambert’s book, Graphic Underground: London 1977-1990, documents the fascinating history of the punk scene in London through its rare unpublished photos, posters, zines and personal accounts.

The book launch happens Saturday at APK.

“I didn’t care what the music was. I’d never heard of punk at that point. It was just the energy, when you played in front of the crowds, at the Blue Boot and that — it was like a drug,” remembers Lambert, bass player of former punk bands The Enemas and Nach Dem Tode.

“You could get the dance floor hopping in front of you and it was such a rush,” says Lambert, now the art collections manager at McIntosh Gallery.

“I knew most of the people from the early part of the scene so I just started making calls saying I was looking for posters and zines.

“We put out requests on Facebook too, and we collected over 1,000 pieces.”

Although slightly behind New York, the London scene took off pretty much at the same time as Toronto, partially because of our ties to British music, says Lambert, now 57.

The Demics, once a London staple, was one of the first Canadian punk bands to make a record. They recorded Talk’s Cheap in 1979 with students from Fanshawe College’s music industry arts program.

Other local bands like Uranus, Napalm Babys, Sheep Look Up, Bits of Food and The Black Donnellys played at venues like the Blue Boot (later called the Cedar Lounge), the York Hotel (now Call the Office) and Forest City Gallery.

Poster production reflected the same rebellious do-it-yourself spirit of the music. Bands used scissors and glue to collage posters for their shows.

Self-expression and the immediacy of an idea were more important than meeting technical criteria.

“It was cheap to photocopy, and the first time you could do any kind of graphics without paying for photography and making plates,” says Lambert.

In the late 1970s, pressman Mike Neiderman was an important part of zine culture in the city. He would get to work early and stay late to secretly photocopy hundreds of pages of artwork for himself and friends.

Lambert’s one-of-a-kind book launches Saturday with DJs Lucky Pete and WWDave spinning period music on vintage vinyl.

The event runs from 2 to 7 p.m. at APK.

Around town

  • Eye Level. A collection of black and white portraits by Beal Art students. At the Arts Project until Dec. 14.
  • Tunes. Planet Smashers, Mustard Plug, the Fundamentals play Call the Office (216 York St.) on Friday. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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