Thursday, November 25, 2021

Age of Majority: Mount Pearl’s First Hardcore Punk Band (1989-1991)

Blog Post by Kris Hamlyn of the Secret East

Age of Majority at the LSPU Hall, 1990. Photo courtesy of Doug Jones. 

The biggest impact that the punk rock movement has had on small towns and cities like Mount Pearl has been the do-it-yourself spirit that it instilled in young people. If you couldn’t access the big cities and musical hubs, punk taught you to make your own scene, in your own backyard.

It has become a pop culture trope that with the rise of rock & roll music in the 1950s and 60s, there was a generation of kids who stood in front of their bedroom mirrors and lived out pipe dreams of being rock stars through fantasy and mimicry. For the punk rock scene that started in the 1970s and 80s, the raw energy and basic tenets of the fiercely independent community offered far less of a barrier between the bedroom mirror and an actual live audience. Punk music not only encouraged kids to get involved with the art, but it also offered them the basic instructions of how to claim the culture for themselves.

Punk landed hard in Newfoundland & Labrador. Only a few short years after the first punk rock bands formed on the island in the late 1970s, the scene had evolved into a youth-driven movement that created its own art without the frivolities and profit-focused interests of the mainstream music industry. The all ages punk scene in St. John’s gradually stretched beyond the capital city, and by the late 1980s, the community inspired its first hardcore punk band from Mount Pearl. This band was called Age of Majority.

Like the songs themselves, most hardcore punk bands moved fast and ended abruptly. Mount Pearl’s Age of Majority were no exception. Though the band never officially released any material, Age of Majority’s live shows created memories that changed the lives of those involved, and made way for many other young bands in the years that followed.

 Age of Majority was co-founded and fronted by vocalist Doug Jones in 1989.

Today, Doug Jones is a proprietor of Flip Side Music, an online record store based in CBS, as well as an organizer of Record Fair NL. But, in the 1980s, Jones was a kid beating the streets of Mount Pearl with a skateboard under his arm, eagerly seeking out new sounds emerging from the pockets of punk rock scenes around the world.

Doug Jones fronting Age of Majority at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, 1990

Accessing punk in Mount Pearl in the 1980s…

“My uncle introduced me to stuff like Stiff Little Fingers, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Ramones early on,” said Doug Jones. “As kids we were into metal, and we started getting exposed to crossover and hardcore punk through magazines like RIP.”

RIP was a California-based music magazine that predominantly covered hard rock and heavy metal bands from 1986-1996. RIP was more widely distributed than other underground music magazines as it was the first non-adult publication by Larry Flynt Productions, the controversial American enterprise behind Hustler Magazine. Heavy metal and alternative youth culture had reached such a level of popularity in the 1980s that big business wanted a piece of it.  

Jones recalls these music magazines hitting the shelves of shops in Mount Pearl, such as Carol’s on Moore Drive and Ashford Drugs in Centennial Square. While these magazines may have been more mainstream in their coverage, the youth-targeted publications also acted as a gateway to more subversive and underground music movements, such as hardcore punk.

“You’d see James Hetfield [of Metallica] with a Misfits shirt or whatever and then go search those bands out, and find more from there,” said Jones.

The subgenres mentioned by Jones of “crossover and hardcore” represent two important intersections of heavy metal and punk rock. Crossover was a term coined for the combination of punk rock and thrash metal, while hardcore was the younger, louder, and more abrasive take on the traditional punk rock & roll sound

Though the more commercially popular heavy metal albums of the 1980s were becoming increasingly available at big record stores, punk and hardcore records were still harder to come by. Luckily, local shops like Fred’s Records in St. John’s had their ear to the ground for new and exciting music.

“You could occasionally get some punk stuff from A&A [Records] and Sam’s [Sam the Record Man],” said Jones. “But Fred’s always had a good selection there.”

Dubbing albums to cassette was the most effective way to collect, trade and distribute music that was more difficult to access in those days. For kids with limited musical resources and a teenage budget, hand-dubbed cassette tapes were key to staying in the know.

In addition to having tape recordings of his uncle’s punk collection, Jones would swap tapes with friends and other music enthusiasts. Festered Corpse were a Newfoundland metal band that featured two members — Chris Turner and Darren Ford — from Mount Pearl. Jones was friends with Ford’s younger brother, Stephen.

“Darren [Ford] had a great record collection and still does,” said Jones. “We’d sneak in when he wasn’t home and dub stuff or listen to whatever we thought looked cool.”

Incidentally, the band photo for Festered Corpse featured on shows Chris Turner wearing a Misfits t-shirt, reminiscent of the James Hetfield of Metallica photo that Jones recalled seeing in RIP magazine. The metal and punk connection was a solid one, even on a local level.

Festered Corpse band photo as featured on the database

What punk rock and heavy metal also have in common are their ties to the street culture of skateboarding. Besides offering another common interest to connect kids in the community, watching skate videos also offered another source of punk and metal music as kids took note of the bands that were the soundtrack to the videos.

Hardcore, Skateboarding, and the Age of Majority in Mount Pearl

In small towns such as Mount Pearl in the 1980s, the niche interests of punk rock, heavy metal and skateboarding were as equally bonding as they were alienating for young aficionados.

“There were small groups of like-minded kids at the various schools,” said Jones. “I went to Mount Pearl Junior High and lived by St. Peter’s, so I knew a lot of the kids in the area and you’d just meet up and hang out, whether it was the video game room at The Reid Center, or one of the many playgrounds.”

Being a kid that was into punk in Mount Pearl wasn’t easy in the 1980s. Besides the task of hunting down the bands and records, there was also the social struggle of being a kid infatuated with a music and culture that wasn’t considered conventional.

“At the time there wasn’t the acceptance there is today,” explained Jones. “Sports kids and metal kids and alternative kids didn’t really intermingle a whole lot.”

“It wasn’t a great scene for anyone who was outside the mainstream, and I ended up going to school in St. John’s in grade 10.”

It was Jones’ submergence into the St. John’s punk scene in the late 1980s that inspired him to take his fandom to the next level and get involved in the culture for himself.

“Tough Justice, Malpractice, Schizoid and Fish n Rod were mind-blowing to me,” said Jones of the St. John’s punk bands that were breaking ground at the time. “The energy and intensity was appealing, but it was also my introduction to DIY culture.”

“These were kids renting halls, putting off shows, playing in bands. It was amazing and something I just had to be a part of.”

While going to school in St. John’s and living in Mount Pearl, Jones connected with some kids close to home. One of these friendships was with Kyle Power, whom he met through “skateboarding and mutual friends”. Power, originally from Mount Pearl, has operated Top Notch Skateboards since designing his first skateboard press in 2003. For the first time in Newfoundland & Labrador history, Power has produced 100% hand-crafted decks for the local skateboard community. In many ways, Power’s work continues to embody the DIY spirit from his early days of the punk rock scene.

Together with Power, Jones followed in the footsteps of their favourite St. John’s punk bands and started a project of their own in 1989. This project became Age of Majority.

“SNFU, Bad Brains, McRad, Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, Misfits were what we were into, and we wore those influences on our sleeves,” said Jones. The band name was inspired by the idea of youth being a spirit and attitude in punk rock, not necessarily a specific age.

“It was kind of a play on the ‘Young Til I Die’ theme that so many hardcore bands at the time had,” said Jones. “We were kids who didn’t want to grow up, or become the Age of Majority.”

The original lineup of Age of Majority featured Doug Jones on vocals, Kyle Power on guitar, Leon Rideout on bass, and Dave Cook on drums. After moving away from NL, Cook was replaced by Rennie Squires, a drummer who would go on to play with Jones in Potbelly, as well as Newfoundland & Labrador’s internationally cult classic hard rock band, sHeavy. 

Much akin to the loud, fast and frantic sounds they were listening to, Jones describes Age of Majority’s sound as “mid 80s style hardcore punk and skate rock”

Kyle Power on guitar with Age of Majority. LSPU Hall, 1990.

Mount Pearl punk hits the stage in St. John’s

In the July 6th, 1990 issue of the The Muse, a headline emblazoned on the entertainment page of MUN’s student newspaper read: “Hardcore at its tightest: City Food Index Benefit kicks ass

The article is a review of an all ages music showcase of local alternative bands that took place on July 1st, 1990 at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s. The show was a fundraiser for the City of St. John’s Food Index which operated food banks throughout the capital city. The bands on the bill included the aforementioned thrash metal band Festered Corpse, a reunion of local punk heroes Tough Justice, and the St. John’s hardcore band Tumblebug. The opening set for the show was a premiere performance by Mount Pearl’s Age of Majority.

The review of the 1990 LSPU Hall gig was written for The Muse by Fred Gamberg. Gamberg was an admired force in the St. John’s scene as a musician, musical enthusiast and organizer. You may not have known Fred Gamberg personally, but if you’ve ever taken a walk down Duckworth Street in St. John’s, you’re likely familiar with the mural of his likeness that still stands tall next to the stairs of the LSPU Hall. The mural has had multiple iterations, but it has remained an unmistakable presence in memory of Fred Gamberg for the last 25 years. Gamberg tragically passed away while swimming in Flatrock in 1995. 

For many, including Doug Jones and his Age of Majority bandmates, Fred Gamberg was an important connection to the St. John’s music community.

“We can’t do an interview on the 80s and 90s punk scene without Fred,” responded Jones when asked about the 1990 review in The Muse.

“Fred Gamberg is one of the reasons I was drawn to downtown. I’d met him at Fred’s Records, he approached me and commented on my Bad Brains pin, which I bought in Grand Falls of all places. He told me about the scene and piqued my interest enough to come down more and hang out. He was a massive part of it and is greatly missed.”

Doug Jones, Kyle Power and Age of Majority live at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, 1990.

While Jones describes Age of Majority’s initial reaction to their own first set at the 1990 gig as “just being happy with ourselves for pulling it off and getting a decent crowd reception”, he admits in retrospect that the show is still one of his “favourite memories”.

“The LSPU was packed, there was great energy from the crowd, Steve from Tumblebug ended up dancing on stage with us and I got called up to sing with Tough Justice,” said Jones. “I’m not sure they knew how much that meant to me, but all these years and bands later, it’s still a thrill when I think about it.”

Note: While we haven’t been able to track down footage of Age of Majority, there has been some unearthed video of St. John’s’ Tumblebug performing at the LSPU Hall in 1990. The video was uploaded by photographer and musician Ritche Perez from his personal collection. It gives a pretty good snapshot of what a show at that time and place looked like.
You can watch it here.

The End of Age of Majority, the Beginning of so much more...

Age of Majority came to an end in 1991 before the band officially released any of their music. “I guess like a lot of first bands, it burned out quickly,” said Jones. “I still love those guys and we chat whenever we get a chance.”

Doug Jones went on to form another short-lived hardcore band called Undermine with members from St. John’s, and he spent the 1990s playing shows and releasing records as a member of indie power pop band Potbelly.

“Looking back, I feel pretty fortunate to have been a part of the scene at that particular time,” said Jones. “It was very creative and supportive with a lot of different ideas being put out there.”

From dubbing cassettes and trading records in the 1980s, to presently running Flip Side Music and organizing events for Record Fair NL, Jones love and involvement in music has never waned. Jones’ family has also owned and operated Serenity Nursing & Home Support Services from Mount Pearl for the last 25 years.
“Now that our kids are getting older, we’ve been getting them involved. Our oldest just started his first band, it’s a trip to see things come full circle through them.”

“Young people were at the forefront of it all -  bands, shows, social justice movements, Peace A Chord, etc. - it instilled a sense of DIY, independence, and open-mindedness that I’ve tried to hold onto,” said Jones. “Serenity, Flip Side, and Record Fair NL all come from that same spirit.”

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