Spawned in Toronto at the beginning of the punk revolution, The Diodes formed in 1976 by frontman Paul Robinson (originally from Boston, Mass) and guitarist and Birmingham, UK native John Catto. They added David Clarkson on bass, and drummer Bent Rasmussen, and although no one was particularly schooled in the finer points in playing, by the end of the year they’d mastered live mayhem into an artform.
Rasmussen was soon replaced by new drummer John Hamilton, and their manager Ralph Alfonso opened up The Crash ‘n’ Burn in Toronto with the band. Although it was only open for the summer of ’77 and only on Friday and Saturday nights, it quickly became a hot spot on the circuit,. The Diodes played there on opening night, along with The Nerves, and only a few other bands took the stage in its short existence. Alfonso introduced The Diodes to people behind the club’s landlord – The Centre For Experimental Art And Communication. CEAC was a taxpayer-funded think tank of sorts, designed to express and promote creative and cultural identity.
The Diodes’ first recording was with the all-girl group The Curse’s screamer Mickey Skin. Together they recorded a double-sided 7″ single for Crash ‘n’ Burn Records in 1977, argued to be the first Canadian punk record – and a cause for outrage by the club’s upstairs neighbour, the Ontario Liberal Party’s office. Distributed along with a CEAC newsletter, “War” was a song by The Diodes, the b-side was Skin screaming and swearing.
But the attention got them a deal with Columbia Records’ Canadian arm – the first homegrown punk band with any major deal. And with producer Bob Gallo, their self-titled debut was on the record shelves later that year. With covers of Paul Simon’s “Red Rubber Ball” (their first single) and Barry Mann’s pseudo-psychadelic “The Shape of Things To Come” (recorded earlier by Max Frost & The Troopers, and later by The Ramones), it was punk angst at its finest. Although the single only got moderate local airwaves attention, the album was a critical hit in the other hot punk markets around the world, including London, Berlin, Detroit, and New York.
While on the road in January ’78, the band was featured on the cover of MacLean’s Magazine, along with Conrad Black and Wayne Gretzky in a column about future headline makers. After the lengthy tour that saw them win over new crowds all over the American east and mid-west and opened for The Ramones in Detroit, which also had The Runaways on th bill. They returned home to find themselves now with Epic Records.
Their follow-up album was released in the spring of ’79, and RELEASED carried on where its predecessor left off, again produced by Gallo. The same version of “Red Rubber Ball” was on the record, but it was “Tired of Waking Up Tired” that would become their trademark anthem. It found its way to a 45 twice that year, at first backed with “Child Star” from the debut album, and then with “Teenage Nation.”
After Columbia kicked them to the curb, they came knocking on Orient Records’ door, and distributed their third album, ACTION – REACTION, through RCA in 1980. Hamilton was gone, joining The Secrets with ex-Viletones‘ guitarist Freddy Pompeii. Replacing Hamilton behind the drums was Mike Lengyell. And the punk was fading out to a pedestrian power pop with the new production team of Willi Morrison & Ian Guenther.
A pair of singles got minimal airplay, but the musical landscape was changing, and neither “Strange Time” or “Catwalker” made any impression on the charts, despite the band’s first video being shot for the “Catwalker.” The subsequent tour saw them perform in Calfornia for the first time, as well as back up U2 and Split Enz across Canada. But with the band imploding due to musical differences, they officially called it quits early the next year.
Robinson and Catto moved to England and tried to revive their careers with High Noon, an experimental punk/new wave crossover with remnants of The Barracudas and The Loved Ones that didn’t cut it. Material was recorded but never left the cutting room floor, despite them actually lasting until early ’85. During that time, they were regulars around the London scene, and headlined several marquee shows with The Stone Roses and Pete Townsend of The Who. From there, Robinson eventually became an art consultant, and Catto has played in several groups in the UK, including Mayhem Deranged with former SIgue Sigue Sputnik members.
Catto and Robinson formed a makeshift version of The Diodes for a brief Canadian tour in ’82 with the release of SURVIVORS on Fringe Records. A collection of outtakes and demos that featured tracks with both Hamilton and Lengyell on drums, it was received with little fanfare, despite the critics eating up the title track, “Coma” “Lost In The Dark,” and “Hot Sands.”
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, The Diodes found themselves on numerous compilation albums, both in North America and the UK, where the punk movement was still hanging on. A 7″ single was even released in the early ’90s by a pair of Toronto groups, both covering “Tired of Waking Up Tired” – Change of Heart and Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Hoodoo Gurus, Sneaky Dees, and Jef Leeson, among others, also covered the song afterwards.
But as a whole, they came out of the woodwork for the first time in 20 years in ’99, when they appeared on the “Open Mike With Bullard” show, performing “Tired Of Waking Up Tired” in celebration of Sony releasing the ‘best of’ compilation of the same name. A single disc 25 track set, it included the entire self-titled debut album, as well as selections from the band’s other original releases, as well as “Child Star.”
In 2007, Robinson, Catto, and Mackay reunited for a series of shows in Liverpool, as part of the International Pop Overthrow Festival, at the same time celebrating their 30th anniversary. Selected other shows followed throughout the UK, New York, and Toronto. Before long though, the candle had burned out again and the members all carried on with life. Mackay and Hamilton, the only two born Canadians in the group got together in the late ’00s to form The Beverley Brothers with Blue Rodeo‘s drummer Cleave Anderson.
In 2010, Ralph Alfonso re-released The Diodes’ back catalogue through his label, Bongo Beat Records. That same year, Italian label Rave Up Records issued TIME/DAMAGE – LIVE 1978, a show taped at Toronto’s El Mocambo Club. In 2011, the Toronto Star ran a month-long survey that eventually determined The Diodes were the city’s best band ever, beating out the likes of Rush, Triumph, Tragically Hip, Martha & The Muffins, Goddo, and a gazillion others.
A documentary about the band entitled “Circa 1977: The Diodes” premiered at NXNE 2010, prompting a reunion that saw them perform in Toronto and throughout southern Ontario, as well as some dates in Italy and England, and then again a year later after adding original drummer Bent Rasmussen, allowing Hamilton to finally be able to play the album’s keyboards parts live. In 2011, they were among the presenters during the Hamilton Music Awards.