By Tiina Liimu
VANCOUVER — At 109 East Hastings Street, a piece of Vancouver culture is resurrected from a building that was left in complete shambles for the better part of the millennium.
Between the Main St. and Columbia St. intersections you will now find a restaurant, café, gallery and an indoor skate park in that spot. This very location, in the early days of Vancouver’s first wave of punk rock, approximately late ‘70s and early ‘80s, played a formative role for Vancouver’s music community. It was the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret. Artist and photographer Bev Davies captured these early moments and the people, in her images. On Friday, March 13, 2015, SBC Restaurant hosts an exhibit of Davies’s photographs, which will be plastered along the interior brick walls by a local and prolific poster hanger. On the 14th, D.O.A. gear up for a show at ‘the scene of the crime’ where they hit the ground running so many years before. Together with Skull Skates, the Vancouver Heritage Federation, and a documentary premiere, a Living History Series Screening, “The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret” is brought to you by the Hastings Crossing B.I.A. at 7.30 p.m.
All of the photos were taken by Davies, either at the Buddha or just outside. At that time, the Downtown Eastside was a very different place. Loggers and labourers would come into town on a break from working up north or at sea. They would stay at the many hotels, which lined Hastings St. On weekends they would stock up on goods from Woodward’s Department Store. Davies described it as a “working man’s weekend away,” and the area had a “party alcohol vibe.”
Early March 2015, Davies was busy choosing her final photos for the exhibit. She would point out photos like ones with early Black Flag and Ron Reyes or his later project called Kill City. She talks about hybrid bands like Rude Norton, which came together out of other musical projects to create some diversity. Then she turns to a photo of local punk figure Paul McKenzie, who is now touring around the globe with The Real McKenzies, “one of him without a kilt on, he has pants on, just the kilt is missing,” she chuckles. Another image catches her eye, one of artist/performer Jim Cummins, “the original or second group of I, Braineater people,” Davies remembers, “the first time I saw them was with Dave Gregg [playing with them.] The next time I saw them, it was with the techno people.” In other photos, she points out the sparkly Christmas garland wrapping the low hanging pipes by the stage. “There is something perverse about what is hiding behind Christmas decorations,” she laughs. In another photo, she points to those pipes, it either looked like the “tinsel” was eaten away at. “Or something was added, to something to stop it from leaking!” There would be unique band characters like Chuck known for his ever-present paper bag, filled with whatever he needed to carry around, sandwiches, smokes, etc.
Then a grin lights up her face. She was thinking of the band Mount Fuji, who donned self-made costumes, “an ‘early in the evening’ band. Dim Wit was drumming and he was Mount Fuji. Todd was a Building in Tokyo and Bob Montgomery was the smoke machine,” she recalls while smiling. She explained that he would operate the toaster, burning loaves of bread to create smoke. One night Montgomery’s brother created a scene on stage accusing his sibling of trying to kill him, ripping the costume off his head. Apparently far too much burning smoke had collected inside the hood of the costume!
Davies always knew she found the Smilin’ Buddha era photos by the hummingbirds and floral motif wallpaper. Not an appropriate thing to associate with a punk club, but it was a clear indication that it was home base. The Buddha shows, were a very different atmosphere from Commodore Ballroom at that time, because of the proximity of the audience to the stage. “You cannot really tell where the audience end and the stage begins. It tells you a lot about the Smilin’ Buddha,” says Davies. At the Buddha, underage people were allowed inside but only at the stage or the side stage area.
This exhibit stays up until April 21. Davies will make herself available to talk to people about the show. Either contact her by Facebook or talk to the folks at SBC to set up a time. Davies will come down and walk you through the show. Prints will also be available for purchase.
Bev Davies (on March 13th) and D.O.A. (March 14th) Return To the Scene of the Crime at SBC Restaurant on 109 East Hastings St.BC, Bev Davies, British Columbia, D.O.A., Return To the Scene of the Crime, SBC Restaurant, Smilin' Buddha, Smilin' Buddha Cabaret