Photographer Captured Birth of Vancouver Punk

Exhibition uncovers early home-grown scene

An early photo of Victoria punk trio The Dishrags

An early photo of Victoria punk trio The Dishrags

Exhibition uncovers early home-grown scene

Sometimes, you’re just in the right place at the right time. For Don Denton, that place was Vancouver, and that time was 1977. The upstart photographer had become enthralled with the punk rock movement in the U.K. and New York, reading magazine articles and tracking down singles from bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, when he saw an ad for a punk show happening in Vancouver. On the bill was the young all-female Victoria trio the Dishrags and the Furies, a short-lived group that is credited with being Vancouver’s first punk band.

“I took my camera and my buddy and I drove downtown,” recalls Denton. “These two bands played, and it was really loud and really rough and raw and I really liked it.”

That gig was Vancouver’s first ever official punk concert, and Denton sold a couple of photographs to then-Georgia Straight music editor Tom Harrison. It marked the beginning of Denton’s two-year stint documenting the early days of Vancouver’s punk scene — and, for the first time in Victoria, folks can get a glimpse of that loud, wild time at Punk Rock Rising: Vancouver 77/78, an exhibition opening at Talk’s Cheap this week.

The show will feature some shots of touring bands like the Ramones and the Clash, but mostly, the photos are of early incarnations of now-legendary Vancouver bands such as D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks. Denton, who works as a photo supervisor at Black Press in Victoria, says it was a dedicated, home-grown scene.

“Part of the attraction initially was there was this small group of people who had this interest in the same music,” he says. “Nobody was touring at that point, so there wasn’t that cross-pollination that happened later when D.O.A. started going down and mixing with the L.A. groups and the San Francisco groups.”

Denton left Vancouver around 1979, when he got his first real newspaper gig (“When I was doing this, I was working in sawmills and stuff to pay the bills … It wasn’t anything I made any money at,” he says) and the photos were essentially forgotten about for 30 years. But then a series of events — D.O.A.’s Joe Keithley asking Denton to take some shots for the band’s 30th anniversary gig, filmmaker Susanne Tabata tracking him down while making her Bloodied But Unbowed punk rock doc —inspired Denton to dust off the photos.

“There does seem to be a lot of interest,” says Denton. “I know I get a lot of hits on my website and it’s people going to those photographs.”

Now, folks have a chance to get up close and personal with Vancouver’s early punk scene. M

Punk Rock Rising: Vancouver 77/78Opens 7pm Saturday, April 9 to May 8Talk’s Cheap, 556-B Pandora • 250-381-9857dondenton.ca

 

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