Over the past few months here on Rave and Roll, you have read about the criminally underrated group Vis-A-Vis, and lead singer Rude van Steenes (“Angelic Voices Part II”). Today, it’s my pleasure to bring you an additional piece of related history: ARSON. Deep gratitude to Rude van Steenes who graciously allowed me to use the biographical information that he provided, much of it in his own words.
ARSON began its foray into the Toronto (and beyond) punk scene in the summer of 1977. Drummer/vocalist/composer Rude van Steenes morphed into Rudi Tuesdai and, along with an eclectic mix of acquaintances, recorded an original french punk song he wrote called “je tenais” (I’m fed up). Recorded live onto a TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel, the song was a spare mix of guitar, drums, bass, and vocals reminiscent of one of Tuesdai’s early influences, the MC5. Unfortunately, a self-proclaimed“manager,” claiming to have contacts, took the master tape presumably to make dubs to shop around, and promptly vanished.
Shortly after, Tuesdai had the good fortune to meet up with Marcel La Fleur. The match produced lyrics by Tuesdai, music by LaFleur, and a friendship that would last more than 30 years. They picked up bassist Crazy Alex and a drummer named Gary and began rehearsing in the back of a junk shop/former theatre (The Rose) on Queen and Bathurst, Toronto that had burned out long ago. It was dirty and dark with two light bulbs hanging on frayed wires from the ceiling, but it provided then with the necessary and vital place to hone their craft.
Late Spring of ‘78 saw their first live show guesting at the local start-up for most bands called The Turning Point. That was followed by opening stints for The Ugly and later, The Viletones. At that particular show, ARSON played with such intensity, the capacity crowd gave them 3 rousing encores. Two weeks later, the Garys offered them The Dead Boys shows at The Horseshoe along with friends, The Demics, from London.
During that period, ARSON shows consisted of 12 original songs and a few select covers, with their opening signature being The Stooges’ Raw Power. ARSON material was socially motivated and influenced by the likes of American forerunners The MC5, The Stooges, Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, New York Dolls, Television, Richard Hell, etc., and from overseas, early versions of The Animals, Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Vibrators, John Cooper-Clarke, The Stranglers, The Cure, and Chris Spedding. Other covers ARSON performed live were The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place, The Kingsmen’s Louie, Louie, and The Dolls’ Vietnamese Babies.
The band toured successfully and encountered a few personnel changes over the next couple of years. Van Steenes recounts the following:
The Chicago dates were another turning point for ARSON where the inspiration for the song ‘COHO COHO’ was born. In the words of ‘Shades’ writer, John Hamilton;
‘It was at Mother’s in Chicago that the band took the stage to cries of what they thought were “GO HOME, GO HOME”. What didn’t fit was the cheering and applause after every song. Later on they discovered it wasn’t “GO HOME” but, “COHO” the crowd of rabid maniacs was screaming.
COHO, for the uninitiated, is a group of anti-disco fanatics in the mid-west. Led by head loon D.J. Steve Dahl of WLUP radio in Chicago, they’ve begun an all out war on Disco. ARSON was so affected by the meeting, they’ve produced a single, ‘COHO, COHO’, which would become the anthem for the emerging army.’
ARSON was gaining serious traction in America, actually breaking even or better, and promoting/booking themselves at sold-out venues as they went along.This was amazing for a band with no financial backing or a recording contract.
ARSON recorded their first single Livin’ With The White Folks B/W Coho COHO at Cottingham Sound in Toronto, in the Fall of ’79. They self-produced and financed approximately 1,000 copies which promptly sold out. A mini-tour followed with dates in Toronto (Rock Palace) and a 10 day promotional jaunt to New York City where the band played dates at Max’s Kansas City, Stickball, and Club 88, as well as being guests of The Plasmatics at a Long Island gig on Halloween. Return dates in Toronto at ‘The Horseshoe’, ‘Hotel Isabella’ and ‘Larry’s Hideaway’ to promote the single’s release followed before the band decided to take a well-deserved break.
In 1980, ARSON continued to make the rounds at various local clubs before going back into the studio to record a cover of The Animals song, We Gotta Get Out of This Place for the No Pedestrians compilation on Chameleon Records. The album was released in July and was critically acclaimed as one of the best compilation albums highlighting the ‘new’ music. Unfortunately for this version of ARSON, undoubtedly the best, this would be the end of a successful run.
Over the years that followed, both Rude and Marcel pursued different projects. Their paths crossed sporadically which would include some creative collaboration and putting ideas on tape. Recently, they have been writing and arranging the old and the new for both recording and performing projects. The result: be sure to watch for a return of ARSON, better than ever. Rude van Steenes reports:
We’ve been working on arrangements and new material for a while now. Everything is moving nicely through the planning stages and everything sounds fresh and alive. The best part of our writing and friendship is that we’re like two kids getting excited and having fun being creative!
ARSON was a special project for me as it was my first foray into lead vocals and being stage front as opposed to hiding behind a drum kit, my first instrument. For Marcel, it was his very first real band.
Lucky for fans of the original punk and post-punk scenes, ARSON is rising from the embers that never stopped glowing. For more information, and to listen to some great tracks, check them out here. Also, contact Rude van Steenes via Facebook here.