The Story of The Gentlemen of Horror
What do you do in small town Kelowna BC in 1980 when you’re a teenager with nothing to do except hang out at Porcos Pool Hall? You form a punk band, cut off all your hair and get chased around town on Friday nights by red necks.
The Gentlemen of Horror were formed by Tom Hooper ("Casey Casem") on guitar and vocals, Chris Hooper ("Nigel Watts") on drums, and a friend of Tom’s from school, Donny Walchuk ("Friendly Giant") on the bass. Their ages at the time were 14, 15 and 16.
The band formed in October '80, after the demise of Kelowna's first Punk band, the 'Kill Pigs', of which both Tom and Chris were founding members. The Gentlemen of Horror would practice in Donny's bedroom at his Parent’s house which was located on one of Kelowna's finest golf courses. Golfers were often entertained by the band who frequently practiced with the doors open so the public could enjoy their music. G.O.H. released their first and only record in Jan.1981 -- a 5 song 7 inch 45 of which they pressed only 200 copies.
G.O.H. probably only played 20 shows in their span mostly due to the fact that there was nowhere to play in Kelowna at the time. As Tom recalls, "We would put our own shows on, mostly at a place called the Kadac Hall, but the the only people who ever showed up were our 6 friends". "The most memorable Kelowna gig was an outdoor show in August of '81 at the local city park bandstand. I was 14 at the time and I had booked the show over the phone with a city rep. I told them it was a rock band. We then proceeded to put up poster's all over town announcing the big punk rock show in city park. Two day's before the show I get a call from city hall asking me to come down for a meeting. I had already received the contract in the mail and knew that they could not cancel the show without 72 hrs notice or something like that so I went to meet them. They must have been a little surprised to see this little kid with a shaved head who's voice hadn't changed yet confidently telling them that they couldn't cancel the show because of the contract. They were concerned because they didn't know it was going to be a PUNK rock show.The night of the show the park was jammed with over 500 people out to see the big punk show, including the mayor."
"First, Penticton's own 'Sick Society' took the stage. The audience who were unaccustomed to anything other than the usual Doobie Bros. or Air Supply fare were taken aback at the sheer sloppy noise of it all and started to boo and throw beer bottles (stubbies). Next up Kelowna's quirky, arty 'Empty Set' really got the crowd angry, as the bottles started to come fast and furious. Lastly, the Gentlemen of Horror raged through our set of minute-long speedcore songs, all the while screaming and ranting about religion and old people -- guaranteeing to piss off all the hippies and rednecks and mostly everyone else in the crowd. Soon the crowd was chanting as the bottles flew, the cops had arrived as well, it was our dad who thought that we should get our stuff loaded in the cars as soon as possible for safety reasons. After returning to Donny’s folks house for an after gig swim and a couple bottles of Pop Shoppe pop, we got a call from Bruce Mitchell, the music reviewer from the local paper who wondered who we were and to say what a great time he’d had. He would become a big supporter of ours over the years."
The Gent's would have to drive the 7 hours to Vancouver or Victoria to play gigs and buy records. "We borrowed my dad's car when Chris got his license and played the Smiling Buddha in Vancouver, the mecca of Vancouver punk rock, backing up our heroes 'The Subhumans'. A very enlightening time -- the Smiling Buddha was not what I expected. It was way smaller and not as scary as I had imagined, although I do recall on the second night someone got stabbed outside."
2002 saw the re-release of their 1981 e.p. on American label Dionysus Records, and after 21 years of obscurity, The Gentlemen of Horror e.p. is charting on university campus radio.
Band History from the Smash the State vol. 3 LP written by Frank Manley (some corrections made July, 2006 by GOH)
It's 1980 in small town British Columbia. Imagine Kelowna, a postcard-pretty middle class town nestled in the interior of the province - a seven hour drive from Vancouver. Now imagine out of this unlikely locale one of Canada's most vibrant punk scenes. A gang of 10 or 15 kids formed around eight bands, did mail order, put on shows, including Gentlemen Of Horror's Tom Hooper doing a fanzine called Indecent Exposure, and exchanging tapes and letters with labels and bands across North America. The Hooper brothers were at the center of this energized bunch of teenagers, feeding on the Clash, X-Ray Spex and Stiff Little Fingers records, plus disks by fellow B.C. punkers D.O.A. and the Subhumans.
Still, this wasn't even the beginning of the Kelowna punk scene. Before Gentlemen Of Horror the Hooper brothers were in a band called Kill Pigs, which had a phenomenal 50 songs. Tom was 12, Chris was 14 and the singer of this outfit was some crazed 25 year-old guy from Scotland who believed he was the reincarnation of Jim Morrison. However, after playing one house party, Kill Pigs evaporated, leaving only 1 tape for posterity.
The Hooper brothers were through with self-deluding old-timers and drafted a friend, Donny Walchuk to play bass in October 1980. They started rehearsing in their basement. "Mom kindly wore earmuffs while we raged downstairs. Our parents didn't get it, but they thought it was cool that we were into music." They named themselves after a horror film, and each of them took a nom de punk: Casey Casem (the idiotic American host of a pop-music television show), Nigel Watts (a character in a Monty Python skit), and the Friendly Giant (a ludicrous stalwart of 1960's and 70's Canadian children's television). Soon they were making cassettes and sending them out from their thriving punk outpost in Kelowna. Too young to play the bars the band rented a community centre called Kadac Hall. Around 10-20 people would come to the shows plus a few drunks eager to beat up the local punks.
One incredible gig took place in the Kelowna's main park in the summer of 1981. Tom signed the contract to rent the bandshell (he was only 14) by posing as the front for an ordinary rock band. Then they quickly plastered the town with posters announcing a punk rock concert. The city fathers were outraged. "They called Tom up and threatened to pull the plug on the show. 'We've got a contract', Tom countered. 'There's nothing you can do about it.'" The big day arrived and there was a traffic jam to get to the park. "Everyone was there, including the mayor. They couldn't wait to find out who these freaks, these punk rockers were. When we took the stage it was great. People were throwing bottles at us."
After then show they packed up the gear and the excitement continued. A crowd started hurling and charting "kill the punk rockers." They'd obviously stirred up the hypocritical citizens of Kelowna until they were ready to commit violence to keep the peace. That was the first and last time Gentlemen Of Horror tried to bring punk rock to the general public in Kelowna.
Another memorable gig happened in Cranbrook (the band called it Cranfart), another B.C. hicktown. "We played a roller skating rink there. The skaters would make faces at us every time they went by." After the gig the band was accosted by a bunch of pissed off kids weilding hockey sticks, and saying "We're going to kill you." Just then a cop showed up. "The cop advised us to get out of town. We didn't argue. We jumped in the van and he escorted us to the edge of Cranbrook and flashed his lights when it was safe to head back to Kelowna." This was typical of early Gentlemen Of Horror shows. "Generally we played for hostile crowds; we'd get them riled up and pissed off at us."
By December 1980 it was time to capture the raging Gentlemen Of Horror sound on vinyl, so they cracked open the Yellow Pages and found a guy with a four-track tape deck. They hauled their equipment to Donny's basement where the recording took around an hour. Total cost: $60. Oddly, the record was pressed by a Christmas press (IRS) during the Christmas holidays of 1980. "They were the only press doing business over the holidays, which is funny, so is the fact that the record contains an anti-relgion rant: 'God Knows You By Name.'"
They pressed 200 copies (the smallest number that IRS Records would make). The Hoopers' borrowed $500 from their parents. "We saved money by not making up labels, so we had our friends hand-letter and design them." This included takeoffs from majors such as Virgin and Capitol Records. The first 100 copies came with the Skeletons sleeve in January 1981. When the guys tired of that design they put together the Sterling Death sleeve, scooping the art work from a comic book. Distribution was by the traditional DIY methods, plus they sent a few copies into the punk world. Not surprisingly it was favorably reviewed in Ripper, a big American punk rag. A friend of the band can be thanked for making the Gentlemen Of Horror single the rarest Canadian punk record. He was heading to Vancouver so they gave him 100 copies to consign in shops there. He put 50 copies in various stores on his tour around the city, but then jumped off a bus leaving the other box of 50 to travel on into some obscure future. (Has anyone checked the Vancouver Transit lost and found!?)
The band finally made it down to Vancouver several times to play, including backing up the Subhumans at the Smiling Buddha in 1981. However, the gig almost didn't happen when Igor the bouncer caught Chris (aged 16) drinking rye and 7UPs and tossed him out of the club. He managed to sneak back in just before show time.
With the influence of bands such as the Subhumans, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, and the trend in the punk scene to speed up the aural attack, Gentlemen Of Horror started verging towards a hardcore band. Around this time they put out a four-band tape called "Canadian Cassette" that featured such tunes as "Urban Killboy" and "Someone's Gonna Die". Other bands on the tape wee a thrash outfit with the charming name of Hitler Youth and an electronic outfit called "Blubber". Late in 1981 or early 1982 they slowed down a bit and renamed themselves the Dogs Of War. By this time the American hardcore scene was well under way. The Dogs Of War had one track- "Crime Watch/Block Parents"- on the Charred Remains cassette, brought out by Noise fanzine and Version Sound, the label that also released the first records by Articles Of Faith, Die Kreuzen and Toxic Reasons. Also appearing on Charred Remains: Husker Du, Void, and fellow Canadians Personality Crisis.
By mid-1982 the Dogs of War were finished and the Hooper brothers "retired". By 1983, however, they were back with a vengeance as Gentlemen Of Horror. Their pinnacle was playing a show in Victoria B.C. that also featured Victoria legends the Dayglo Abortions, Red Tide and the Neos.