“I think what the city wants to do is go straight from a slummy downtown to a gentrified downtown without the little shit that goes down in the middle," says Will McGuirk, a local music promoter, writer, and artist. OshaWhat's Erwin-Michael Meloncoton sat down with McGuirk to chat about his new night of music, and the regenerative potential of dirty pub rock.
Talking with Garrington Begner at the back of Murphy's pub, it was clear that being in Oshawa brought back memories for the former member of Lame.
Lame was a big band in the local Oshawa scene in the nineties and they happened to live, at one point, above the Grand Central Coffee Shop, just a minute away from where we were sitting.
“You would walk down the street and [think] ‘I lived there for years’,” Begner said. He now lives down the 401 in London, Ontario. “We used to rehearse [next to his apartment] and you would look out the window of the rehearsal space, and there would be kids lined up, listening to us.”
Since departing from Lame more than 15 years ago, Begner hasn’t been involved in Oshawa’s music scene, or really any music scene. But he wasn’t at Murphy’s pub just to reminisce about his old band days, he was there to play a set.
On this Thursday night in August, it was the first time Begner would emerge from his absence, all because it was Ziggy Pop Night.
“It’s been fifteen years since I’ve strapped on a guitar and played for anybody,” Begner said.
Started in May 2012 by Will McGuirk, a local music promoter, the Thursday night slot at Murphy’s known as Ziggy Pop Night has become a home for local musicians starting up, or, in Begner’s case, starting up again. It’s meant to grab bands and artists who aren’t part of the heavier punk scene or the lighter folk scene. It tries to encompass everything that fits between.
“I’m sort of trying to find this niche not being covered,” McGuirk said. “It’s something for new bands and new touring bands coming through, and for the younger bands as well. For the ones who move beyond the all-ages shows they have at the cafés around here.”
[Ed's note: If an all-ages cafe music scene is news to you, check out our article Underage Bands Just Wanna Play.]
At the same time, McGuirk talked about the tradition of "pub rock" and how it influences the philosophy of Ziggy Pop Night.
“At the moment there has been a resurgence in that sort of sound. Something like Joel Plaskett Emergency,” McGuirk said.
“It’s melodic, not too loud, but aggressive. It’s not old school, but there is a movement of a bunch of pub rock bands around, and we don’t have a house for them. So the idea was to see if we could build one. But then again, we’re not specifically focused on that genre. It’s a starting point.”
On this night, Begner was playing a power pop acoustic guitar set first while Elk would finish the night. A four-piece from the St. Catherine’s area, Elk’s sound would be fitting of the traditional rock-and-roll attitude McGuirk said he was looking for: dirty, distorted, garage art-rock.
“We’re trying to get some dirty, dirty, rock-and-roll animals to come out here and just have a good time,” McGuirk said.
McGuirk’s philosophy, which carries into everything he does including Ziggy Pop Night, centers on traditional art-rock, counter-culture ideas: that art is the catalyst for living our lives.
To McGuirk, art and pub rock’s tradition of intelligent, lyrical and adventurous ideals spreads to how we live our lives and see ourselves. It’s the key to spreading this type of culture, something Oshawa he feels is lacking. Ziggy Pop is another way he is trying to help do that.
“It’s a massive hole this city has, a massive loss that this city doesn’t have that Warholian sort of economy,” McGuirk explained. “The city needs to push and promote, aid and facilitate in myriad different ways, getting people here to come downtown.”
Other cities similar to Oshawa have found ways to enliven their city’s cultures. Decreased-manufacturing communities like Hamilton, St. Catherine’s, Peterborough and Brantford, in some respects, have tried to find ways to help their downtown nightlife economy by supporting local arts and music scenes. Oshawa, according to McGuirk, hasn’t been as active.
“At one level there is such a community of artists and musicians who really want this downtown to work and have bent over backwards to do stuff and help businesses,” McGuirk said. “But the City of Oshawa has sat back and allowed that to happen without rewarding them in any way. That has slightly changed in the last year-and-a-half.”
“I think what the city wants to do is go straight from a slummy downtown to a gentrified downtown without the little shit that goes down in the middle. Artists and small businesses facilitate and create really kind of cool vibes where people want to come down and be part of a culture.”
In the overall schemes of Oshawa’s grassroots art culture, Ziggy Pop Night serves as another outlet among the limited venues there are for musicians. Not only to play and get their name out, but also to meet up and discuss their art with one another, no matter how someone defines it.
“It’s a big word, art,” McGuirk said. “When you say it though, everybody gets it.”
“Come down here, sit and have a conversation with some artists and musicians. This is an opportunity for artists to talk to other artists . . . That’s my vision, a place where people artists, musicians, whatever, this is where they come.”
It’s why Garrington Begner came out, to support other artists and see if he still had the urge to play. And if nothing else, you’ll get to hear some new music.
“For me, it was more I wanted to play because what Will (McGuirk) is doing is great. I wanted to start playing to see if I wanted to pick up a guitar again and play for people. This gave me an avenue.”
Just as Ziggy Pop Night served as another chance for Begner to play, it does for a lot of other musicians as well.
Find out about upcoming Ziggy Pop Nights on Facebook.
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