Frankie Venom and Teenage Head rocked The Last Pogo back in December 78.
When Frankie Venom succumbed to throat cancer last week at the age of 51, the Toronto punk scene didn't just lose a gobbing godfather - Canada lost one of the most engaging entertainers ever to stalk a stage in a rubber-legged frenzy.
The charismatic frontman of Teenage Head, born Frank Kerr in Glasgow, Scotland, was the snarling embodiment of that ignoroid rock 'n' roll spirit that's rarely been seen or heard since.
Venom and his sidekick, songwriter/guitarist Gord Lewis, deserved to be much bigger stars than they were. They likely would've been if not for a streak of bad luck that turned triumph into turmoil at every stage of Teenage Head's three decade run.
It all started with The Last Pogo in December 1978. The punk and new-wave showcase was the big send-off put on by Horseshoe Tavern bookers the Garys (aka Gary Cormier and Gary Topp), who were leaving the legendary club. Teenage Head's wildly energetic performances made them the obvious choice to headline the event.
"At the time, Teenage Head was at the top of the heap. Although some people within the scene considered them outsiders because they were from Hamilton, they were an amazing live act and just a great band," says filmmaker Colin Brunton, whose cameras captured the event for his 26-minute punkumentary The Last Pogo, just released as a DVD by Dream Tower Records (available at thelastpogo.net).
"In fact, they were the only group listed on the tickets for The Last Pogo, and a lot of people were there just to see them."
But what should've been Teenage Head's crowning achievement turned into a riotous disaster when undercover cops abruptly shut down the event due to capacity concerns, allowing the group to play just one song.
"By the time Teenage Head started playing, it was already getting Altamont-scary in there, with people jumping on tables and hanging off the light fixtures," says Brunton.
"When they only played one song and left without a clear explanation, things started getting really out of hand."
While Teenage Head's brief appearance at the Horseshoe that night has been preserved on film, regrettably the room-shaking sound of the one song they played, Picture My Face, was barely audible.
"It's really a shame that the sound isn't better for that one song," says Brunton. "All we had to use was the Nagra recorder that my soundman brought because Teenage Head's manager wouldn't let Comfort Sound record the band's performance."
In 1979, Teenage Head released their storming self-titled debut to rave reviews, but the Inter Global Music label behind it went bankrupt shortly after, destroying all the sales momentum the group's rigorous performance schedule had built up. Another opportunity missed.
Bloodied but unbowed, they signed to Attic and recorded Frantic City the following year and the sound of Let's Shake booming out of college dorms across Canada appeared to be the breakthrough they were waiting for.
But when more than 13,000 fans showed up for their Ontario Place gig in June (rather than the hundreds that were expected), a riot erupted and dozens of people were arrested. Rock shows were subsequently banned at the lakeside venue and the flood of negative national news reports did little to enhance Teenage Head's reputation with promoters. It may, however, have helped spark stateside interest in the group.
Unfortunately, just days before embarking on a series of important showcase gigs in New York, guitarist Lewis was seriously injured in a car accident and the shows had to be cancelled.
Fast-forward to 2008 and a major comeback seemed imminent. A hot new album, Teenage Head With Marky Ramone (Sonic Unyon), received widespread critical acclaim, and an appearance at next month's Grey Cup in Montreal had been scheduled.
Then, on October 15, Frankie Venom lapsed into a coma and died in a Hamilton hospital, hours before the announcement that Teenage Head would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hamilton Music Awards held at Hamilton Place on November 16.