In the Summer of 1977 the first Vancouver punk shows were staged at the Japanese Hall on Alexander Street. They were organized by “You-Begged-For-It Productions,” who were Ross Drummond (RIP) and Kat Hammond. The Japanese Hall shows ended following vandalism at an Avengers/DOA concert in April 1978.
Concerts in community halls rented by promoters or bands themselves were common. They were a quick and convenient option that allowed bands to play for all-ages audiences. The trick was finding an affordable hall, whose management didn’t care easily. In Vancouver, shows were booked at Legion Halls, the Viking Hall, Arcadian Hall, and Oddfellows Hall (which hosted nearly as many concerts as the others combined). Other all-ages shows were staged in universities, community centres and high schools. Art galleries hosted their share of punk shows; beginning with the Furies playing at Pumps Gallery in May 1977. There were several shows at the Helen Pitt Gallery (1978-79), and a few at Gambado’s, a storefront gallery in Gastown whose shows were shut down by police.
As far as nightclubs, the Quadra Club, a lesbian disco formerly called Lucy’s, was the next regular venue following the Japanese Hall. But like the Japanese Hall, vandalism prompted management to eventually curtail punk shows. The scene found its next home late in 1978 at The Windmill, a Granville Street rock club that was convinced to book punk and new wave bands by Paul Wilson-Brown (who had also booked the Quadra). For several months the tiny club felt like the punk scene’s private clubhouse, but it didn’t last either.
In the spring of 1979 The K-Tels (later Young Canadians) found an old run-down bar at 109 East Hastings. The neighbourhood was sketchy, but back in the 1940s and 1950s the area was Vancouver’s entertainment district. The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret was a well-known venue back in the day. By the ‘70s however, the East Hastings neighbourhood fell into poverty and disrepair, and was dubbed Skid Row. In its heyday, from 1979-82, the Smilin’ Buddha with its iconic neon sign was the emblematic beacon of the Vancouver punk scene. It was too small, the PA system was lacking and the washrooms were a nightmare, but at least it was there. Eventually, nicer downtown clubs opened their doors to new music and the Buddha, abandoned, sank back into decrepitude.
During 1980-‘81 Gary Taylor’s Rock Room opened its doors to new music. It was a great venue for bigger name acts, but the attached strip club was the only part of the operation that broke even, and eventually live music was abandoned. The In-Concert opened in the early 1980s and hosted several shows, but it didn’t last either. In late 1980, the spacious all-ages Laundromat opened, hosting some memorable concerts, including Hardcore ’81; but it lasted less than six months. In the mid-1980s, John Barley’s opened its doors to local bands, followed by The Venue; but the longest-lasting new music venues in the 1980s were The Savoy, The Railway Club and the Town Pump: for decades these three bars formed the basis of a local circuit for alternative rock/indie bands.
“Underground” shows in warehouses, rehearsal spaces and band houses were a constant feature of the scene. Flyers were not produced and promotion was word-of-mouth. The exceptions were CitySpace, Stalag 13, and Luxury Bob’s, three early-1980s venues located in warehouses and lofts that were so far under the radar of polite society that organizers felt brave enough to distribute flyers.
The grand old dame of live venues in Vancouver remained the Commodore. The stately grand ballroom was the main destination for mid-level international touring bands. Starting in 1979, Vancouver hosted a parade of touring UK punk/new wave bands. A circuit had developed whereby UK bands flew to Vancouver to launch North American tours, and nearly every one played at the Commodore, thanks to promoter Norman Perry of Perryscope Productions. Perry worked with locals who were connected with the local scene, including Gerry Barad and Cathy Cleghorn, who procured local bands as support acts for touring international acts.
Les sez: The Smilin’ Buddha was a bucket o’ blood-style bar-nightclub before it became a handy place for punks to congregate. Owned and operated by a fellow named Lachman Gir, its boards had previously been trod by Little Richard and his then-guitarist, a young Jimi Hendrix. Lashman told Hendrix he was playing too loud, Hendrix didn’t turn down, and Lashman fired the band on the spot. Lashman was kidded about this nightly by one person or another. The Buddha’s punk phase was one of its most lucrative and even least violent incarnations.