¡FORWARD, RUSSIA! at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (December 1), 9 pm. $13.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Considering the cold-war-style intrigue in England surrounding the horrific polonium poisoning death of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, ¡Forward, Russia! no longer seems like such a stellar band name choice for a boisterous post-punk bunch from Leeds more concerned with making kiddos dance than with state-sponsored assassinations.
On the upside, at least they didn't go with something like Sarov's Secret, but either way, a name that might seem Kremlin-positive probably won't make their conquest of U.S. airwaves and dance floors any easier, not to mention any border-crossing adventures that await them.
You'd think ¡Forward, Russia! would have picked up a few tips on the benefits of subtle subversion from their Leeds-loving forebears the Redskins, who imploded shortly after the 1986 release of their provocatively titled debut album, Neither Washington Nor Moscow. Evidently not.
"The Redskins?" wonders aloud ¡Forward, Russia!'s spaz-dancing frontman, Tom Woodhead. "Never heard of them. Until recently, there haven't been that many high-profile bands from Leeds apart from Gang of Four. I guess the Sisters of Mercy and some other goth bands came out of the Yorkshire area. Even though none of us have any connection to that, growing up in Leeds when we did, if you were into music with guitars you got called a goth at school anyway.
"We had a list of names we found from reading random things on the Internet, and the phrase 'Forward, Russia' was the most striking. Some strong image connotations come with that phrase, but choosing that as a name was in no way a calculated decision.
"We did a couple of gigs, one without a name and another with a different name, but before the first gig as Forward Russia, our guitarist, Whiskas, saw our name printed on a sheet of paper on the stage and added the exclamation marks on either side, and we've stuck with it ever since."
The exclamation marks have been a source of confusion in themselves, since a number of people read the inverted exclamation mark as an "i" and refer to the group as I Forward, Russia!
"We've tried to clear that up a number of times, but we still see it written incorrectly and people still call us I Forward Russia!. Until our last video release, we were still on the MTV 2 voting chart listed alphabetically under 'I' instead of 'F.' It's possible we could've had the most popular video every week if it hadn't been for that damn 'I. '"
As if the unusually punctuated band name weren't trouble enough, the group's decision to cryptically title each song on their debut disc, Give Me A Wall, with a number different from its sequence on the disc (i.e., the fourth song is called Nine, and the ninth song is called Seven) just adds to the confounding fun. Woodhead claims the numerical nomenclature seemed like a good idea at the time, like many of ¡Forward, Russia!'s brilliant schemes.
"We had four song ideas that came out of our early practices, but because they weren't quite finished, we decided to call them One, Two, Three and Four until they became proper songs, only those titles stayed. And we kept on doing it for various reasons, including the lyrics always being finished late and our lack of organization.
"Once we started doing it, we thought, 'Why not do the whole album like that?' I think when songs are named after a line in the chorus, that particular phrase loses all its meaning in the context of the song. If you can imagine the song being called something else, you may actually think about that one line a lot more."
Having said that, the band has now sworn off the number system, and what should've been song Twenty is instead being called Don't Be A Doctor, which is already causing controversy amongst their loyal exclamation-T-shirt-wearing supporters.
"Yeah, we're through with the number songs. From now on, all of our songs will have crap pretentious titles. Right now, the next album is still at a very early stage; we don't even know what direction the songs might take.
"I think we may have more electronic bits on it, but I won't know exactly until we start writing the new songs. We've got all of January and half of February set aside, so it should be interesting to see how the four or five song ideas we've got now develop."