As the core of one of Canada’s most innovative, avant garde groups, Carole Pope and Kevan Staples were a constant fixture of the Yorkville coffeehouses during the late ’60’s. The duo’s aggressive sound was trademark long before the advent of an actual ‘punk’ or ‘new wave’ sound. They combined raw pop with political overtones & sexual innuendos and in 1970 changed their name to O (after the sexually-provacative book and subsequent movie “The Story of O”), and then The Bullwhip Brothers a year later.
By the mid 70’s they’d incorporated a full band and in ’75, Rough Trade was born. The music however was going in a direction too ‘cultish’ for most bars, and definitely not for the predominately folk coffee-houses they’d played before. Despite this, the group DID find gigs in the Toronto club scene and honed their sound, developing a motley crew following, consisting mainly of radicals, gay activists and the like in the process. They cut an independent record – underground live shows called UMBRELLA in ’76, which helped spread the word there was a new group on the block.
After Jack Richardson, most noteable for his work with The Guess Who, Bob Seger and Alice Cooper took notice of the group, their fortune turned for the better, culminating in a deal with True North Records in 1980. Later that same year saw the release of the band’s debut, AVOID FREUD. With David McMorrow on keyboards, drummer Bucky Berger and Terry Wilkins on bass rounding out the band, the record was an instant underground hit. Produced by Staples and Gene Martynec, who’d worked with such Canadian hard rockers as Queen City Kids, the release of “Fashion Victim” was soon followed up with one of this country’s most controversial singles ever, “Highschool Confidential”. Complete with risque lyrics and suggestive theme, radio stations played censored versions of the song on it’s way to gold. Also on their debut was “Furor About The Fuhrer”, a politically-charged track which played to right-wing activists. Whether because of, or despite of all the mixed publicity, the album went on to be certified platinum later that year.
Before the release of their next record, the band’s notoriety earned them a spot on the soundtrack for the film ‘CRUISING’, with the song “Shakedown”. FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG was released in ’81 and was met with critical acclaim. With the same production team and backed by the success of the title track, Rough Trade showed they had a pop sensibility about them not necessarily seen in their debut. Also featured were “Attitude” and the smash “All Touch”, another sexually-charged track, though some critics felt it was somewhat watered down from their previous work. Nonetheless, FTWTY soon became the band’s second straight gold record, and they were one of the few Canadian groups to ever appear on the TV show, “Solid Gold,” where they performed “All Touch.”
SHAKING THE FOUNDATIONS hit the stores the next year. The only single was the title track, showing that perhaps trying to cater to a more radio-friendly format and perhaps less sophisticated audience was a wrong decision. Though the record contained some of the band’s most intricately written works, they were beginning to lose favour with the critics, getting used to the band’s image.
Next up was WEAPONS, released in ’83. With guest vocal spots by Nona Hendryx, the record took on the same serious tone the band had become rather known for. With Pope & Staples co-writing all ten tracks, the lyrics were (as always) thought-provoking and provocative. Showing their range, “Lifeline” is uncharacteristically upbeat in a generally serious album. Other noteable cuts included the title track, the sarcastic “Paisley Generation”, “You Must Adapt” and “Softcore”. The same year Paul Hyde & The Payola$ came calling, and Pope cameo’d on their smash hit “Never Said I Loved You”.
Terry Brown, who’d gained international fame behind the controls for Rush and , was brought in for O Tempora! O Mores! in ’84. Featuring a new core of musicians, “Sexual Outlaw” was released as the first single, followed by “On The Line”. Again, the critics were losing interest in the group’s fine line between risque and absurd, despite other noteable mentions like “Low Blow” and “Aphrodisiac”.
Despite the initial reaction to their image and earlier critical and commercial success, Rough Trade acknowledged that times were changing. With the original fan-base for the most part now outgrown from their outrageous forte, the band called it quits in the mid 80’s. Two greatest hits packages were released in ’85, BIRDS OF A FEATHER, which featured the title track as the obligatory previously un-released classic this side of the Atlantic, and ROUGHEST TRADE in the UK. Oddly though, “Birds” was actually an old number the band just hadn’t played in a very long time, not a ‘new’ song at all.
Pope went on to a moderately successful writing career, and also put out her own solo album in ’87 called THE SILENCER, a 4 song EP that was met with relative indifference. She then followed it up with another EP a year later, NOTHING BUT A HEARTACHE, featuring assorted mixes of only two tracks, “Heartache,” and “I’m Not Blind,” from THE SILENCER. In 1996 she released a third EP, called RADIATE.