Rough Trade (band)
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|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Associated acts||O, The Bullwhip Brothers, Wild T and the Spirit|
|Past members||Carole Pope
Rough Trade was a Canadian new wave rock band in the 1970s and 1980s, centred on singer Carole Pope and multi-instrumentalist Kevan Staples. The band was noted for their provocative lyrics and stage antics; singer Pope often performed in bondage attire, and their 1981 hit "High School Confidential" was one of the first explicitly lesbian-themed Top 40 hits in the world.
Early years (1968-1979)
The band began in 1968 in Toronto, when Carole Pope (vocals, guitars) and Kevan Staples (keyboards, guitars) began performing in a group known as "O". Their musical partner in this venture was Clive Smith.
In 1970, Smith left the group and Pope and Staples changed their name to "The Bullwhip Brothers",performing as a largely acoustic duo at Toronto art festivals and at private events. In 1974, they added Jo-Ann Brooks, Rick Gratton, Hap Roderman, John Lang, and Marv Kanarek and became Rough Trade. The band, through their combination of hard-edged new wave rock and raw sexuality (Pope often performed in bondage attire), became a popular draw on Toronto's live music circuit through their regular shows at Grossman's.
They were the first rock band to record a direct to disc album with 1976's Rough Trade Live, which despite the title, was actually a studio recording. Each side was performed live (without an audience) all the way through, and cut directly to the mastering disc for greater audio fidelity. By this time, the band's line-up was Pope, Staples, Brooks (vocals, percussion), Gratton (drums), Michael Fonfara (keyboards, arranger), and Peter Hodgson (bass). As would be the case throughout the band's entire career, the vast majority of the album's songs were written by Pope and Staples.
On December 19, 1977, the band presented a newly-created live musical called Restless Underwear which co-starred Divine alongside the band (who by this time had added an additional back-up singer, Luci Martin-Keyes). The show, which played at Toronto's prestigious Massey Hall, was noted for its outrageous (for the time) sexual satire. However, aside from Pope and Staples the rest of the band quit after Restless Underwear had completed its one-show run, in a dispute over payment.
After a six-month layoff, Pope and Staples rebuilt the band, adding Sharon Smith, Jon Cessine, Bucky Berger, Patricia Cullen and Terry Wilkins to the line-up at various points in 1978 and 1979. The group resumed playing regular Toronto shows, most often at the Horseshoe Tavern.
Also in 1978, Tim Curry would issue a cover of the Rough Trade song "Birds of a Feather". Pope and Staples were also at the time involved in writing music for film and television soundtracks, and in 1978 they picked up a Genie Award for their work on the made-for-TV film One Night Stand.
On February 14, 1980, the band performed their musical revue Restless Underwear at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre. However, the event was promoted by the venue as a show by Divine, who in fact only sang two songs in the revue, both in act two. As a result, the show was poorly received.
Later that year, the band line-up was again reshuffled, settling into a stable five-person line-up of Carole Pope (vocals), Kevan Staples (guitars, keyboards, etc.), David McMorrow (keyboards), Terry Wilkins (bass) and Bucky Berger (drums).
Commercial peak (1980-1983)
This new iteration of Rough Trade landed a record contract with True North Records in mid-1980, and recorded the group's second album, Avoid Freud, which was released in October 1980. The first single was the deliberately controversial "What's The Furor About The Fuhrer?", but radio stations flipped the single over and the B-side "Fashion Victim" became a top 40 hit in Canada.
The controversy surrounding the raunchy lesbian-themed second single "High School Confidential" helped propel the song into the Canadian top 20, and made the band stars. The band sang this song on a notable 1981 appearance on SCTV, a prominent Canadian comedy show that also aired in the US.
The band's next album was 1981's For Those Who Think Young. (The title was originally meant to be "For Those Who Think Jung", a play on their earlier Avoid Freud LP as well as a reference to Carl Jung.) Although not as widely remembered as "High School Confidential" today, the LP's first single (the sexually-charged "All Touch") was the band's most successful single on the Canadian charts during their career, peaking at No. 12. "All Touch" also became their only US chart hit, peaking at No. 58.
During the recording of Rough Trade's 1982 album Shaking The Foundations, Wilkins and Berger left and were replaced by Howard Ayee (bass) and Jorn Anderson (drums) as unofficial members. (By this point, the group was explicitly identified in the album credits as simply Pope and Staples, augmented by other musicians as needed on a track-by-track basis.) Shaking The Foundations spawned a top 20 Canadian hit in "Crimes of Passion". Dusty Springfield sang backing vocals on the album, and would also cover two Rough Trade songs that same year on her album White Heat. Many years later, Pope would reveal that she and Springfield were in a relationship around this time.
In 1983, Rough Trade were offered a Pepsi commercial to air in the Canadian market, but the ad was soon pulled from the airwaves as Pepsi had featured people wrapped in bandages and wearing tuxedos and sunglasses similar to Canadian musician Nash the Slash without his permission. The same year, lead singer Pope duetted with Paul Hyde on the Payola$ top 10 Canadian hit "Never Said I Loved You". However, Rough Trade's own 1983 album Weapons failed to place a single on the Canadian charts, marking the beginning of the group's commercial decline.
Winding down (1984-1988)
In 1984, the duo of Pope and Staples were paired with new producer Terry Brown, after having previously co-produced all their True North material with Gene Martynec. The duo was augmented by session musicians in the studio, including Berger, Wilkins, Ayee, and Anderson, as well as guests such as Dalbello and Neil Chapman of Pukka Orchestra. The band's 1984 album O Tempora! O Mores! spun off two singles that brushed the lowest rungs of the Canadian top 100, but it would prove to be Rough Trade's final full-length original release.
Rough Trade returned to a stable five person line-up in 1985 for performance purposes, with Pope, Staples and Ayee joined by Tony Springer (guitar) and Tony Craig (drums). This line-up would record a handful of new tracks for the 1985 greatest hits compilation Birds of a Feather, and their final full scale tour took place in 1986, although they continued to perform occasional concert dates in Toronto until 1988. Around the same time, guitarist Springer changed his stage name to Wild T and found modest fame as a solo artist in Canada.
Reunions, solo activity (1989-present)
After the final break-up in 1988, Rough Trade subsequently performed several reunion shows, with varying personnel supporting Pope and Staples. The first reunion show was in Toronto in December, 1994; a handful of one-off shows later took place at various times through the late 1990s and into the next decade, mostly in Toronto. In 2001, Rough Trade undertook a mini-tour of a several venues in eastern Canada.
Since the break-up, Staples has busied himself as a composer for film, television and theatre, and still lives in Toronto. Pope lived in Los Angeles for a time, and has issued a few solo singles and EPs; her full-length solo debut album, Transcend, was released in 2005, 21 years after her last full-length album with Rough Trade. Pope continues to play occasional shows and street fairs in Toronto and Montreal, and now lives in New York City.
- Rough Trade Live! Direct to Disc (1976)
- Avoid Freud (1980)
- For Those Who Think Young (1981)
- Shaking the Foundations (1982)
- Weapons (1983)
- O Tempora! O Mores! (1984)
- Birds of a Feather: The Best of Rough Trade (1985)
|Release date||Title||Chart peak||Album|
|1980||"Fashion Victim"||25||Avoid Freud|
|1981||"High School Confidential"||12|
|"All Touch"||12||58||For Those Who Think Young|
|"For Those Who Think Young"|
|1982||"Crimes of Passion"||18||Shaking the Foundations|
|1984||"Sexual Outlaw"||92||O Tempora! O Mores!|
|1985||"On The Line"||91|
|"Birds of a Feather"||Birds of a Feather|
- Peter Goddard, "Pope peep show needed direction", Toronto Star, December 20, 1977, p. C1.
- Craig MacInnis, "Rough Trade took care of business the way it performed -- outrageously", Toronto Star, January 24, 1986, p.D12.
- "RPM 50 Singles". Volume 35, No. 2. RPM. June 20, 1981. Retrieved 10 July 2011.