The Headstones are one of my all time favourite bands, Canadian as well. I discovered them from a compilation cassette that was circulated around my friend’s campus at YorkUniversityin Toronto back in the early 90’s. The cassette contained the song Heart of Darkness and we played it over and over again, loving the dark energy of the track. It had even come with a window sticker of the Headstones logo that over the next several years spent time in many an automobile window of mine and might even still be around here somewhere. The band consisted of Hugh Dillon on vocals, guitarist Trent Carr, bassist Tim White and drummer Mark Gibson and was one of the most commercially successful Canadian bands of the 90’s.
Finally the Picture of Health album was released and we all purchased it. What an amazing, solid rock record. With a high energy, the whole thing kicks ass and leaves you wondering just what happened, but then you play it again and all is well. When Something Stands for Nothing hit the radio airwaves and was often heard on local stations Q107 and 97.7HTZ FM. Tweeter and the Monkey Man took the Travelling Wilbury’s song and made it a balls out rocker that became huge in concert. This 1993 disc still sounds just as fresh today as it did almost twenty years ago.
We became groupies, seeing a Headstones show whenever we could. I can’t tell you how many times we saw them or even where and the ticket stubs are almost all gone, lost in the drunken stupor and excitement of the evening I imagine. I know that we saw them open for the awesome band The Four Horsemen on Sept 17, 1994, that stub seems to have survived the great ticket stub massacre. I also remember that we saw them at The World Nightclub in Mississauga one night around this time, probably before The Four Horsemen show. We’d been given free tickets to the show and five or six of us attended. There were only about fifteen people in the club, extremely disappointing to see the lack of support for this great new home-grown band. I can only assume that it was due to poor promotion as it was presented by 102.1CFNY, the new rock/alternative station in Toronto. Hugh Dillon even commented on this by saying something to the effect of “it’s nice to be presented by a radio station that won’t even play our f**king music”. We did not let this poor attendance stop our enjoyment of their show. We loaded up on beers and when they came on stage we presented ourselves front and centre, singing, cheering and creating our own little mosh pit, we had all the space in the world down there that night. During Tweeter and the Monkey Man, Hugh held down the microphone to our little group as we sang/shouted/screamed out the chorus to the whole song and he even passed my buddy his harmonica! Hugh pointed to us and personally thanked us for coming out and that we were real Headstones fans and to stick around after the show. He came out after with shirts for us all that had the big “H” logo on the front and the question “Where’s the fuckin’ money you owe me?” on the back. We had some beers with Hugh and were all on an incredible high that night.
Two years later, the follow-up album was out and our excitement was immeasurable! For Teeth & Tissue drummer Mark Gibson had departed and Dale Harrison had stepped in behind the kit. While Teeth & Tissuehas its rocking moments and tracks that easily surpass some of those on Picture of Health, the song writing shows a bit more maturity and diversity than its predecessor. Tracks such as the two openers Hindsight and Unsound are pure scorchers, but the album seems to lose momentum for me after that, although still a fine recording and treasured in my extensive collection.
By this time we had also caught wind of the movie Dance Me Outside, directed by Canadian Icon Bruce Macdonald and featuring none other than Hugh Dillon in his first acting role. Also we continued our groupie habits, taking in as many Headstones shows as humanly possible, sometimes getting in for the admission of food bank donations, a very cool way to help those in need. For sure one of those shows was at RPM Nightclub on August 2nd, 1995 and while I don’t remember specifically, I’m sure that the Headstones stage behaviour and high energy that we had all come to expect was out in full force as usual. Hugh was known for his stage antics by this time, something that we had witnessed in its development and loved every minute of it. He always wore a black knit sweater on stage that became more and more spotted with holes from age or perhaps cigarette burns. In these days smoking was still allowed at venues and Hugh always had a smoke going, often bumming from the audience during shows and then throwing the lit stub into the crowd. He also regularly bummed Budweiser beers from the crowd during performances and it was not unusual to find everyone in the first few rows of the general admission venues drinking Budweiser, ready to pass it up to Hugh when he was ready for a new beer. In later performances, this practice seemed to have disappeared and I can only assume that he had grown understandably weary of consuming half drank beers from audience members. Hugh was also known to spit on the crowd during the set.
Having to wait three years for new material from the Kingston originating quartet was not problem at all as the guys delivered their finest creation to date in the Smile &
; Wave CD. The track Cubically Contained was played on radio prior to the CD release and while it was a slower tempo track was incredibly well written and an enjoyable song. Once I got hold of the album I was blown away. Every song is amazing opening up with the blistering Renoand followed by the radio hit Smile and Wave. Other standout tunes include Pretty Little Death Song, Picture Frame of Rage and Supersmart.
Vocalist Hugh Dillon also appeared in his second Bruce Macdonald feature film in 1996. This time starring as Joe Dick, lead singer for punk band Hard Core Logo in the movie of the same title. The film won several awards and is regarded as one of the best Canadian made films of all time, drawing the attention of Quentin Tarantino, who purchased the US distribution rights. It also spawned two soundtracks, A Tribute to Hard Core Logo in 1996 and Hard Core Logo in 1998. The first was comprised of Canadian and international bands, including The Headstones, recording covers of the film’s songs while the second was a more conventional soundtrack featuring music composed by Hugh Dillon. The Headstones were also nominated for Juno Awards in 1996 for Best Group and Best Rock Album. During the live shows around this time we were occasionally treated to a different track from The Headstones, another cover tune, this time in the form of ABBA’s S.O.S. I never thought that I would crave hearing an ABBA song, but the guys made this cut rock! Unfortunately it was not often played and never showed up on a recording. By some oddity of fate on February 4th, 2000 The Headstones ended up playing a small bar/club in my hometown of Newmarket, about 45 minutes north of Toronto. No band ever played in Newmarket, this was electric and I seized the opportunity to get some of my friends out and introduced to the energy that is The Headstones live set. The guys did not let me down that night and they gained some new fans, one of whom would accompany me years later to see them again. Even though I quit smoking three years ago, the Headstones “H” logo Zippo lighter that I purchased at that show still sits on display on my mantle and the “H” logo keychain still holds my keys together.
Nickels For Your Nightmares was released in 2000, spawning two radio hits in Settle and Blonde & Blue, both cracking the top ten on Canada’s Rock Charts. I remember before the CD was released, I think, 97.7HTZ FM was playing it in a radio preview track by track and they had to time it perfectly to slot track #10 to be aired after midnight. The song is a total in your face rocker and I’ve had the desire on a few occasions to play it for someone as a good description of my feeling towards them. #$%! You is full of piss and vinegar and sounds great in a live setting.
2001 saw the release of The Greatest Fits a collection of popular tracks as well as two new scorchers leading off the parade in Blowtorch and Come On. The latter was featured in the video game Triple Play 2002 and also as the theme song to the Canadian version of the sketch comedy show Comedy Inc.
Unfortunately I started to lose touch with my Headstones groupies, the band and with music in general around this time as “life got in the way” so to speak. I mean, I still saw the guys and we talked regularly, but the availability to hit all or even any of the shows had begun to wane a few years earlier. As a result, the 2002 output of The Oracle of Hi-Fi went largely unnoticed amongst our group, so much so that when I found it in a bargain bin a few years later I was shocked of its existence. Only upon spinning the disc did I realise that the second track Reframed (Every Single Failure) was something I had heard on the radio.
The Headstones went their separate ways in 2003. Hugh Dillon formed the Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir drawing on influences of country, pop, punk and new wave music. The first CD The High Co$t of Low Livingwas released in 2005 and was a radical step away from The Headstones. Hugh also released a solo effort, Works Well with Others, in 2009 that I’ve not been able to find easily. Dillon concentrated on acting and appeared in the critically acclaimed series DurhamCounty and presently Flashpoint. Flashpoint is the first Canadian television show since 1994’s Due South to air on network primetime simultaneously in Canada and the US.
The band reformed in 2011 and I had the pleasure of catching the show on December 23rd, 2011 accompanied by my friend that I had introduced to The Headstones back in 2000 at that little bar in Newmarket. The crowd was electric and there was a lot of buzz and excitement about the re-united Headstones as we entered The Sound Academy in Toronto. After purchasing some ice cold adult beverages, we hit the merch booth to acquire some Headstones wear in the form of a t-shirt each and pushed our way towards the stage waiting for the opening band. Spitfist, a local and now unfortunately defunct, all female punk band blistered through a hot opening set and they displayed a great stage presence. The crowd tightened up as the guys came out and they hadn’t lost a step at all musically. Their energy was even higher now and they had clearly missed this. Gone wa
s Hugh’s black sweater, his cigarettes, his beers, his spitting on the crowd and even his black spikey hair and I didn’t even notice that these former staples were not present until I thought about it afterwards. They rocked the crowd through a setlist encompassing all their albums and played for what seemed like an eternity as they blew through track after track. Setlist: Tweeter & The Monkey Man, Pinned You Down, Binthiswayforyears(a new track even), Settle, Where Does It Go?, When Something Stands For Nothing, Cut Me Up, Cut, Mystery To Me, Losing Control, Cubically Contained, Blonde & Blue, Fuck You, Smile & Wave, Unsound, Oh My God (with Sympathy For The Devil medley), Encore: Heart Of Darkness, Take It, Three Angels, S.O.S., Cemetery.
Recently posted on their website, www.headstonesband.com, “You have waited a long time for this. We are done making you wait. Headstones are making a new record. No bullshit. We’re cutting out the middleman, and giving you back the band.” That’s awesome news for a diehard Headstones fan such as myself. They have teamed up with a site called Pledgemusic, where you can pledge to the band to help them with recording costs and receive merchandise for your contribution, digital downloads and behind the scenes videos of the band in the studio plus more. Check it out at https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/headstones. It took a mere 48 hours for the band to reach their goal, but the exclusive merchandise for pledgers is still available while quantities last. You can also listen to the full track Binthiswayforyears at their website. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting the new album, check out some of their music and I know you will be too!
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