Whenever Toronto’s punk scene of the late 70s is discussed, it’s usually the Diodes and the infamous Viletones that get name-checked, while other important bands of the era are overlooked.
In some cases, there are good reasons why groups that regularly played the main punk venues of the era like the Turning Point, Larry’s Hideaway and the Crash ’n’ Burn are now largely forgotten.
Tyranna’s best work wasn’t released on singles at the time, and they rarely ventured outside the city during their brief run in 1978 and 79. This explains why the energetic pop-punk crew led by the snarly Vera “Rabies” Skye, who split bills with Iggy Pop, Jane County, the Members and the Dils, isn’t better known today.
It may be 30 years too late, but Tyranna’s long-rumoured early demos, finally being released this week by the Boppa Do Down label as a four-song 7-inch EP, show the band’s tremendous promise.
“I’m really excited to finally be getting this early Tyranna material out there,” says bassist Gerry “Johnny Bubblegum” Smith, also of the Wayouts.
“For years, the only thing that’s been available is the song Back Off Baby from the No Pedestrians (Chameleon) compilation, which was later bootlegged for the My Girlfriend Was A Punk collection. So now people will finally get to hear the sound of the early band.”
When Smith refers to the early version of Tyranna, he’s referring to the the lineup that played the group’s first shows at the Turning Point in the summer of 78, when he was still a teenager.
“In my last week of high school in Burlington, I got a call to audition for a band in Toronto. I showed them I could play bass to Teenage Head’s You’re Tearin’ Me Apart, and that got me the job. So it was Johnny Ziegler, Vera Skye and myself in the band for the first two rehearsals.
“At our third rehearsal, Johnny told me we had another guitarist, a drummer and a three-night stand booked at the Turning Point, opening for the Ugly, at the end of the week. We took the Sunday off and then recorded our first demo.”
To celebrate the EP release, past members of Tyranna, including drummer Cleave Anderson, who would later join the Hi-Fis and Blue Rodeo, will be reuniting for a one-off gig at the Silver Dollar. Unfortunately, the group’s snarly lead singer, Vera “Rabies” Skye, won’t be performing.
On the upside, filling in will be Zoe Dodd of the Bayonettes, who’s well equipped to provide the appropriate sneer and swagger.
“Vera was such an important part of the band that it’s kinda heartbreaking that she won’t be able to make it to this show,” says Smith. “There are some health issues involved, and I’d like to just leave it at that. I hadn’t seen her for years – nobody had – so we had to find her when we were getting the EP ready for release.
“I remember her being really into things like parapsychology and alternative health practices – common now, but not in 1978. This was reflected in her songs, but beyond that there was a sophistication to her lyrics that you didn’t hear from other local bands of the period. It may not sound like cutting-edge music from today’s perspective, but I think we were doing something unique in Toronto.”
Cleave Anderson (Battered Wives): drums
Ronnie Partridge: guitar, vocals
Sam Sinatra (Secrets, Viletones): bass
Vera "Rabies" Skye: vocals
Gerry "Johnny Bubblegum" Smith: bass
John Ziegler: guitars
Dave Porter: drums