Discorder Revisited

by Erica Leiren   

No Exit | |  Photo courtesy of the writer
No Exit | | Photo courtesy of the writer

Like a flash of phosphorus, they flared brightly and were gone. No Exit’s historical significance to Vancouver music far exceeds their brief, incandescent burst onto the scene.

No Exit’s Mark Hons (16), Bruce Wate (16), Scruff (15), and manager Vijay Sondhi (16), released Vancouver’s very first punk album in the Spring of 1980. Their independent release scooped D.O.A.’s full length debut by a mere month. Chuck Biscuits was choked.

Spawned in North Vancouver, No Exit exemplified teenage energy and disaffection. I caught up with No Exit’s Sean Newton (aka Scruff) and the band’s early champion and album financier, Grant McDonagh, in separate interviews this week.

“Mark and I met at school in Sept 1979,” recalls Scruff “and we started jamming almost right away. We got Bruce to play drums and Vijay to be our manager. We played our first gig opening for the 45’s on April 3, 1980. We played 11 shows at the Buddha that month!”

McDonagh (founder of Zulu Records, then at Quintessence Records) saw the potential in No Exit’s rambunctious, chaotic talent, and prolific live performing.

“After playing a gig opening for D.O.A., Grant and Don Betts — whom we knew from hanging out at Quintessence — came up to us backstage and said: ‘We want you guys to make an album. We’ll lend you the money to do it,’” remembers Scruff.

In April 1980, McDonagh put up the $800 it cost to produce the self-titled album. Song titles like “Downtown Weekend,” “Whose War?,” and “Parliament Swindle” still sound timeless and archetypal.

The vinyl LP was originally $3.99. Today it goes for $1,200 — the most expensive Vancouver record you can buy. Who would have guessed it when the band recorded, pressed, packaged, and sold out all 200 copies of the independent album in just over one short, memorable month in Spring 1980.

McDonagh recalls that when No Exit took the stage of Vancouver’s premier punk venue, the Smilin’ Buddha, at their release party, they were blown away by the number of fans. The place was packed. Before the record came out they’d been playing for 20 friends.

Remarkable for its cheeky wit, No Exit’s double-sided album art played off record covers by the Damned and the Clash. The hand-made record was a clever riff on both; the pastiche brought to life with the help of photographer Bev Davies.

One side was No Exit in the same pose the Damned strike on Damned Damned Damned. “We went out and bought a coconut cream pie and smashed it all up in each other’s faces,” recounts Scruff. Their haircuts were courtesy of Hons’ girlfriend Annette.

The other side was a collage: the Clash’s first record with the faces of No Exit pasted over top and a spray-painted “No Exit.” Another nice touch was the maple leaf overlaid on the Union Jack over Paul Simonon’s heart.

Later McDonagh met Joe Strummer at a party in East Van after a Clash concert. When he described No Exit’s record jacket to the Clash’s lead singer, McDonagh recalls that he appreciated the homage. “That is so punk rock!” Strummer said.

Scruff idolized the band Crass. According to McDonagh, Crass heard No Exit’s album and loved it so much they sent the band a fan letter declaring No Exit was the best band ever!

No Exit continued with various new members. The 1980-81 line up of Hons, Scruff, Jimmy-Joe Pearson (later of Toxic Reasons), and Kevin Lucks, had two songs on the Vancouver Independence compilation album released in 1981 by Friends Records. The band mutated several more times until the final No Exit line up played its last gig on August 13, 1983.

No Exit put out the first punk rock album in Vancouver, heating up a scene that generated some of the best music the world has ever seen. Rock On!