Nfld. & Labrador

Pioneering punk band back in the groove with new vinyl EP

It's been four decades since the Reaction helped usher in the punk era in N.L.

It's been four decades since the Reaction helped usher in the punk era in N.L.

Mike Fisher — left, some time in 1979-80, and right, from a more recent gig. (Submitted by Mike Fisher)

One of Newfoundland and Labrador's first punk bands lasted just a few years and released just one 45 rpm record during their run, but a new record has thrust them back into the spotlight.

The Reaction formed in 1979 and was done in 1981, but their music recently caught the ear of a music archivist in British Columbia who has put the band back on new vinyl.

All those years ago, it never occurred to lead singer and bassist Mike Fisher that the music he was doing then would still be kicking around four decades later.

Yeah, back then, let's all be big rock stars, but of course life hits. Different directions, different jobs. There's never a thought, how the future would be.- Mike Fisher

"At the time we were doing it, you don't think about that. You just want, 'We've gotta record something and have something to sell offstage,'" he told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"Yeah, back then, let's all be big rock stars, but of course life hits. Different directions, different jobs. That's never a thought, how the future would be. It's really for the moment."

The band formed in 1979, with Rick Harbin on guitar and Terry Carter — an alumnus of fellow local punk band Da Slyme — on drums.

About a year later, Carter was replaced by Danny Ralph, and then Steve Jackson joined as the band pursued more of "a Eurobeat kinda techno thing," according to Fisher.

The Reaction play outside the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's on July 25, 1979 — a 'horrible outdoor show,' according to a note scribbled on the photo. (Submitted by Mike Fisher)

The band recorded more music than it released during their original run, said Fisher, with only a single 45 — On the Beach (b-side: The Kids Arrived) — hitting record shops.

"The 45 was the only thing we could afford. In hindsight, we should have done more vinyl EPs, but at the time you don't think about that. It's more a matter of survival and trying to play the next date to date."

Fisher credits Da Slyme with kickstarting the local punk scene, one that was a little less confrontational than other places where punk groups were sprouting up, like in Toronto or London, England. 

We didn't get hurt too much. A few threats, here and there, but a lot of people just didn't know what to make of it.- Mike Fisher

"There wasn't any throwing bottles or spitting, like the Viletones in Toronto or anything," said Fisher, referring to a pioneering Canadian band that drew attention with an infamous 1977 gig where bottles were thrown and singer Steven Leckie — aka "Nazi Dog" — intentionally cut himself with broken glass.

The Reaction's first gig was at Memorial University of Newfoundland's Thomson Student Centre in St. John's, with Da Slyme.

"It was just great late nights, lotta lineups, in very small bars," he said.

But the stage show did involve gunpowder and cigarettes — the result of the band trying to put on an exciting show on a limited budget.

The Reaction promoted itself with buttons, including one, bottom right, for the sole recording the band released during its original run. (Submitted by Mike Fisher)

"We used to get Pepsi cans, cut 'em half, put gunpowder in it, which you could buy, in this shop on Gower Street," he said, laughing.

"You can't do that now. I smoked at the time, and I'd talk about the song, and when the butt was about ready to crush, I'd count in the song and throw the butt in the gunpowder."

The result? A big whoosh and smoke throughout the bar. Everyone loved it, said Fisher, even if it made everyone in the place cough and choke.

'A few threats here and there'

"We almost got hurt many times," said Fisher, but it wasn't because of the cheap stage effects.

"We were going around the bay, and they were used to hearing country. Maybe the biggest rock thing they'd hear was Trooper, and we'd be doing things like the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols, plus some early Rolling Stones as well, just to try and placate.

"We didn't get hurt too much. A few threats here and there, but a lot of people just didn't know what to make of it."

They also had pockets of fans who would follow them around.

Supreme Echo Records has released a new four-song EP, called East End Rockers, by the Reaction. (Submitted by Mike Fisher)

"There was no scene back then, no independent network like today. We literally had to drive to a bar somewhere and say, 'Oh, can we play here? This is what we do,' and then drive to another bar and set up a mini-tour."

The band split up in 1981, but reunited in 2004 and recorded new material to go with unreleased songs for a CD — teasingly titled The Reaction: 1978-81, 2005-?? — the following year. 

Now, nearly 40 years after the band called it a day, a label based in Victoria, B.C. is putting its music on the shelves again. Supreme Echo specializes in archiving old metal and punk music, and label owner Jason Flower said he wanted to release some Reaction music on vinyl. 

The band members gave him the green light, and the resulting four-song EP, East End Rockers, was released earlier this month, with Mike performing a solo show at Fred's Records on Thursday to promote the rock record.

There aren't any plans for new music right now, while he focuses on promoting the new release.

"You never know what will happen. Maybe in another 20 years. No, we'll be gone by then," he said, laughing.

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