SHRAG with TWO KOREAS at the Silver Dollar (484 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, October 19), 9 pm. $5. And SHRAG performs as part of the BLACK OUT PARTY with SURPLUS SONS and DJ DAVY LOVE at the Silver Dollar, Friday (October 20), 9 pm. $6. www.myspace.com/shrag. Rating: NNNNN
If you happened to be in New York City this weekend for the closing of punk mecca CBGB and got screamed at by a limosine-ful of drunken English louts poking their heads through the sunroof pretending to sip champagne, it wasn't part of any prom-night celebration. That's just the Sussex Heights Roving Artists Group announcing the Shrag invasion of America.
The seaside punk cut-ups from Brighton had planned to introduce themselves on television, but despite scoring VIP seats for a taping of Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Thursday evening, they unfortunately failed to get any time on camera during the few pans of the audience, so shouting unintelligible blather at perplexed citizens during an early-morning limo ride through the boroughs had to suffice.
"Did you see us on Jon Stewart?" asks Helen Shrag excitedly over a cellphone while her four groggy bandmates holler out things she should say. "Anyway, after our gig we went to this party - there were actually only about 10 people there, so it wasn't much of a party - but we came across this limousine parked on the street, so we asked the driver how much it would be to get us back to the hostel where we're staying.
"We didn't realize it until he told us, but we were actually in Queens at the time, so it ended up costing a lot to get back to Manhattan, but it was totally worth the money. Standing up in a limo is a great way to see New York. We went over this amazing bridge, all the while holding these champagne glasses we stuffed with crumpled bits of tissue paper so people would think they were full. Wait a minute. Bob wants to say something now...."
Just minutes into the Shrag phone four-way, it becomes apparent that booze plays a key role not only in the group's après-show activities but also in their creative process. Ask a member of the band how any of their 11 songs were written and the story will invariably begin in much the same way Bob Shrag recalls how their edutainment classic, Punk Grammar, was composed.
"Well, we were all crazy drunk," chortles Bob Shrag, "and for some reason one of the members - I can't recall who or why - started singing the words 'Punk, punk, punc-tuation,' and then everyone else joined in, yelling different lines, and suddenly we had a song about the punk rules of proper language usage.
"The University of Sussex asked us if they could use it for this library video they were making, and we said, 'Oh, yes, we'd love to for you to use our stupid song, and we don't want to be paid for it,' and they happily obliged us. Apparently, it was shown to new students as part of their orientation program."
It shouldn't be at all shocking to learn that a night of elbow-bending was also behind Shrag's charming underground smash Mark E. Smith, which would probably be John Peel's favourite tune and would be getting non-stop airplay on the BBC right now if the late, great champion of hyperactive indie foolery were still around.
But since Shrag's self-titled 7-inch for the Where It's At Is Where You Are label (www.wiaiwya.com), on which the Mark E. Smith track appears, is sold out of its strictly limited pressing, the only place you can hear it is on Shrag's myspace page www.myspace.com/shrag. Evidently, if fearless Fall leader Mark E. Smith has heard it, he hasn't yet conveyed his joy and gratitude to the group.
"I'm sure he'd hate it," says Bob with certainty. "At the very least, he'd get the wrong idea about why we did it and think we were just trying to cash in on his name, but nothing could be further from the truth. The song isn't even about him really. The funny thing is, I met him at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival and found him very affable and polite, not at all what people might think.
"Hang on a minute. Everybody is saying I'm just trying to show off by telling you how I met Mark E. Smith and that you shouldn't put any of that in your story about us. They're saying I should shut up now, and Stephanie is pulling the phone from my ha...."