Arguably Canada’s first ‘bad boys of rock’ and one of the first groups to gain huge popularity mimmicking the British dark wave, The Ugly Ducklings caused a stir on the Yorkville circuit before anyone knew where it was.
They were formed in 1965 by vocalist Dave Byngham (misspelled as Bingham on the records), guitarists Roger Mayne and Glynn Bell, John Read on bass, and drummer Robin Boers. They all knew each other while attending Cedarbrae High School in Scarborough, and are generally considered Canada’s first garage band. Originally a Rolling Stones cover band called The Strolling Bones, they adopted the look, sound, and attitude of The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, and the like, and instantaneously became hits throughout Toronto’s bustling club scene. Bill Gilliland caught their act one night, and they were signed to Yorktown Records.
After hearing the music they’d been writing on their own, he suggested a name change to reflect an attitude that ‘if the parents hate you, the kids will love you.’ Produced by Bill Huard, they released their first single, “Nothin’,” b/w a cover of Bo Diddley’s “I Can Tell” that spring. Taped on a measley $300 budget on a two track recorder, the raw, gritty sound oozed rebellion, considered one of Canada’s first ‘garage’ records, if not the first. It was an instant staple on the Toronto airwaves, and won CHUM Radio’s battle of the bands contest 13 weeks in a row. A second pressing of the 45 had to be done, and that June they were so hot they backed up The Stones at Maple Leaf Gardens. Mick Jagger later stated the Ugly Ducklings were his favourite Canadian band.
Quick to cash in on the new fad, the label rushed them to studios in New York and Toronto, with the end result being SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE on the store shelves and gone just as fast. Along with a cover of The Rascals’ “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” “10:30 Train,” and “Postman’s Fancy,” two more singles followed – “She Ain’t No Use To Me” and “Just In Case You Wonder,” also receiving great local airplay.
The band was a staple on the club circuit throughout Ontario, eastern Canada and the north eastern US for the remainder of 1966 and into ’67. Two more singles were released that year – “Epilogue” b/w “I Know What To Say” and the number one hit throughout Toronto and in pockets out east, “Gaslight,” b/w “Rimb Nugget.” “Gaslight” was recorded in New York with only Bingham and Doc Severenson’s Tonight Show Band. More touring ensued for the rest of the year, but personnel changes started when Howie Smith replaced Read on bass. Soon Mayne and Bell were replaced by Mike McKenna (Luke & The Apostles), who was in turn replaced less than a year later by Dave Kindred. In an attempt to broaden their sound, Ray Novack was added on keyboards. But by the time Yorkville re-released the band’s debut album, they’d already self destructed and disbanded.
The songs made several compilation albums throughout the ’70s and beyond while most of the members were off doing their own thing, or nothing at all. Mayne became a highly sought-after producer during the emergence of the punk revolution, working with The Viletones and Morrissey & Siouxsie, among others.
In late 1979 Byngham assembled a new cast, consisting of Mayne, ex-Diodes drummer John Hamilton (replacing Boers after one show), and Ron Cameron on bass. After a handful of live shows, they released OFF THE WALL a year later on Razor Records, which contained remakes of “Nothin'” and “Hey Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut,” and were mixed with the single “The Pain Is Alright,” and the other new songs “Just Another Rock n Roll Band,” “The Band Played On,” and “No Account Woman.” Although it got lots of press and a sprinkling of live dates ensued, the album itself turned few heads.
Byngham gave a resurrection another shot two years later, this time with Mayne, Bell, Boers, and Cameron. Razor was home to the new single “War Babies” while the band made their way around the Ontario clubs. Before 1982 was up, they then cut a self-titled album, featuring some of the band’s better known singles from the ’60s, as well as the previously unreleased “I Wish You Would,” “My Little Red Book,” “I Need Your Love,” and “I Know What To Say.” But with only a lukewarm response, members again drifted apart.
In 1998 Pacemaker issued TOO MUCH TOO SOON, which was the first album with additional bonus material. Only months later, Unidisc re-issued SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE at the same time as a re-release of the self-titled album, which also contained some earlier singles not on the album, as well as a couple of out-takes.
In the ’00s, the band’s name was kept alive with more re-releases and previously unheard gems in SNAFU on OPM Records in 2002. Two years later, Sundazed Records got in on the action, releasing a previously unreleased live version of “I’m A Man,” a rehearsal recorded in 1966 in Scarborough, Ont as a single. They then re-released SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE (a straight reissue w/out any added incentives to buy it) in ’06 and then Beatrocket Records followed suit a year later. Pacemaker then released THUMP AND TWANG (a live demo from early 1968) and SOMEWHERE INSIDE ( a live CHUM radio show from November, 1966) in 2011.
Their first single, “Nothin'” has given the band a bit of a revival throughout the decades, when Sick Rose covered it in 1986, then The Cynics in ’95, and Dee Dee Ramone in 2000. Mayne passed away in September, 2004.