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UNDER-APPRECIATED ROCK BAND OF THE MONTH FOR NOVEMBER 2011:  THE UGLY 

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I am looking over some mailorder sheet or other (usually it is Bomp!, but I have ordered from plenty more over the years).  I spot a compilation album called Disorder by a first-wave Canadian punk rock band called THE UGLY that was remastered by Chris Spedding in 1995, and I had to order it just on the strength of Spedding's having a hand in it.

The first thing I noticed was how clear the sound is.  I am used to the lo-fi quality of early punk records that normally ranges from muddy to unintelligible (and the last several tracks on Disorder are like that), but there was none of that on the main tape from which this compilation was taken.  Chris Spedding did yeoman's work to really bring out every last wrinkle of this band's work.

Punk rockers often pick out wacko names; frontman Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, drummer Rat Scabies of the Damned, and of course  Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols are examples.  Usually it is just one or two bandmembers who do that, but all of the Ugly did:   Mike Nightmare (singer), Raymi Gutter (guitar), Sam Ugly (bass), and Tony Torcher (drums), plus soundman Johnny Garbagecan.

Sam Ugly (who was only 16) and Tony Torcher had played together in a Anglophile band called the Markeys that played a lot of early Stones, Yardbirds, AnimalsKinks, and Who songs.  After they heard the first Ramones album, and after several of the early punkers came through town – Patti SmithTalking Heads, and Iggy Pop – a new direction was clear; and the band brought in lead singer Mike Nightmare and his brother Raymi Gutter (when original Markeys guitarist Brian Vadders wouldn't cut his hair) – good thing, too, because it is Gutter's guitar that really stands out here.  The band started out with the name Rotten and changed it when they heard about Johnny Rotten.  The Ugly are from Toronto; nobody has said so, but I have a theory that the name comes from shortening the name of the Ugly Ducklings, one of the best Canadian rock bands of the 1960's who are also from Toronto – else, they might have just gone with "Ugly".  After several weeks of practicing, they had their first public performance in August 1977.

As to the music, well, I can't say it better than the liner notes:  "Rivaled only by the Viletonesthe Ugly were the crassest, rawest, loudest and most obnoxious band on the Toronto scene".  Unlike those rivals (who were led by a spoiled rich kid who went by the name of Nazi Dog, and who had the support of some members of the music establishment that were also slumming), the Ugly were truly scary people who played what they termed "hoodlum rock".  Bassist Sam Ugly recalls:  "One of the biggest problems in the progress of the Ugly was that one of us was always in jail.  We had to cancel a lot of shows.  We'd play out-of-the-way joints so the cops had trouble finding us and [singer Mike Nightmare] would wear a disguise." 

That's Mike Nightmare on the CD cover photo with about as ugly an expression as possible, along with his equally ugly trademark yellow sunglasses.  As if that weren't enough, the back photo shows the Ugly shirtless, with one bandmember having his pants partway off and another having his pants completely off.

The Ugly compilation CD comes mainly from a tape that was discovered in a garage; none of the Toronto punk bands ever got a major recording contract, so it is a miracle that this music exists at all.  The songs were all written by the band except for the last two cuts that come from their final performance in the winter of 1978, "Hey Little Girl" and "Lust for Life".  ("Lust for Life" is the most accessible Iggy Pop song – sometimes misidentified as a Stooges song – and was co-written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie; remarkably, the song was used for several years as the theme song for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, starting right after Peggy and I had our honeymoon aboard one of their big ships).  At the end of that performance, Raymi Gutter smashed his guitar, shook hands with the other bandmembers, and split.

Highlights are "Disorder", "You Gotta Be Mean", "No Place to Go", "Hell Time", "Baby You Bug Me", and "Black Days" (that's one of the lo-fi songs, but you don't mind when the music is this good); actually though, this is one of those records that works best as an album.  Some of the chatter between songs is included also, with F-bombs flying the whole time.  On "Hell Time", about halfway through the singer does a mock confession to a priest – and I have never wanted to listen too closely to what he was saying.

Their most infamous moment came when a punk rock concert called Outrage was being filmed in Toronto, and the Ugly were excluded from the bill.  About midway through the concert, they threw a flaming guitar at the Viletones while they were singing "Danger Boy".  Nazi Dog put out the fire; after a while, he busted up the guitar and threw it into the crowd.  But the Ugly had the last laugh when they stormed on stage and snatched up the Viletones' instruments for an impromptu performance of "Disorder" that lasted less than a minute.  After they pulled the plug, Mike Nightmare then fought it out with the ViletonesFreddy Pompeii until Mike was literally thrown back into the crowd by the bikers who were on security detail.  It is all still on the film though, to this day.  (Ironically, Mike Nightmare also got beaten up pretty badly by one of the musicians who worked with Chris Spedding on War of the WorldsPhil Lynott).

So why was Chris Spedding called in anyway to clean up the music for this CD?  Well, as it turns out, Spedding was the producer on the first demos made by the Sex Pistols, back in May 1976 – the Ramones album that had also fired up the Ugly was released in the previous month.

The Sex Pistols demos have recently been reissued on CD; according to Spedding though:  "They are not the same mixes that I did.  Dave Goodman, the other producer besides Chris Thomas, went in and re-did them and added a lot of echo to them and added stuff to them. . . .  The mixes I did sound better.  I'm quite proud of the Sex Pistols demos, especially when compared to their other later recordings. . . .  Part of why they ([manager Malcolm] McLaren and the Pistols) didn't like my demo was because I like R&B. . . .  The whole point of my demo – to prove they could play – that's what I pushed. . . .  And that's what McLaren wanted people to think:  that they couldn't play, that was just an idea, a way of making all this anarchy stuff happen."

Actually Sid Vicious – a late addition to the Sex Pistols – was the only member who couldn't play his instrument.  And there is also no doubt that the Ugly are accomplished musicians, nihilistic though they might be.

Toward the end of the liner notes are quotes from the bandmembers: from Sam Ugly and Raymi Gutter in 1996, and from Mike Nightmare and Tony Torcher from 1977.  Three of them talk about their place in the Toronto punk rock scene and such, while Torcher simply says:   "F--- the Viletones."

I can't explain why, but the purity and no-apologies tone of that last quote has really impressed me over the years.  Many times I have thought to myself that if (God forbid) I found myself in the hands of a gang of terrorists, sharpening their knives to lop off my head, the first thing I would say when they turned the camera on me would be: "F--- the Viletones!"  Assuming I got another shot at the camera, I would then say:  "Death to Videodrome – long live the New Flesh!"  (That's a line near the end of one of my very favorite horror movies, David Cronenberg's Videodrome). 

Do I wake up every day thinking that I just have to have my daily Ugly fix?  Not hardly.  But every now and then (like today!), the music sure does feel just right! 

(November 2011)

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Flashback #2:   The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for November 2011 – THE UGLY 

This band is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea; the Ugly is the only rock band I have ever heard described as "Hoodlum Rock".  The original version of "Disorder", as taken from their CD that is also called Disorderis available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTMnaWon6nE .  It turns out that the band released a single after all, "Stranded in the Laneway (of Love)" b/w "To Have Some Fun"; both sides of the 45 are on YouTube at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_vOQt--ZCc .  While "To Have Some Fun" is on the CD that I have, "Stranded in the Laneway" is not, so that song is new to me.  These songs are audio only, though the latter clip includes several stills of the band.  
 
Other news is that the Ugly has evidently reformed, and several recent live tracks are given on YouTube also.  Try this live set from 2010 of the song "Revenge" (f-bombs flying as usual!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEazcLXbhB4 .  The original lead singer, Mike Nightmare has passed away. 
  
A more recent band called the Ugly that has a 2009 CD called Slaves to the Decay is not the same group; they are from Sweden
 
(November 2013)
 
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PICTURE GALLERY:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Artist of the Month for November 2011 – THE UGLY

 

Here is the CD that I have: 

 

 

 

This is their only single to my knowledge: 

 

 

 

Here is a shot of the band in all their, um, glory (with some fuzzing out): 

 

 

And a shot of the band playing live: 

 

 
 
(November 2014)
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