With a name that naturally riled women’s groups, who often picketed outside the band’s live venues, the original Battered Wives were formed in 1976 by British native frontman Toby Swann, Robert Stewart on bass, and drummer Colin Fox. But when Fox was deported back to the US on drug charges, he was replaced by Cleave Anderson. Shortly after that Stewart was also gone, replaced by new bassist Larry Klassen (going by the name of Jasper), who Anderson had played with before in Glory Road.
They were one of many bustling groups in Toronto at the time to take advantage of the growing punk movement, and not long after the band’s inception, they added a second singer/guitarist in the form of John Gibb, a fellow Brit who was looking for a reason to quit the clothing store he was working at.
They carried on developing their sound for the next year or so, until finally inking a deal with Bomb Records. They headed to the studios with producer Phil Lubman and released their very rough around the edges self-titled debut album in the fall of ’78. As a marketing gimmick, they also released a limited number of the albums on red vinyl, and also scored a European distribution deal with German-based Line Records. The music was anything but refined, but instead of being a hinderance, the raw punk feel was mixed with a slight new wave edge, spawning a pair of singles, “Daredevil” and the Idi Amin-inspired “Uganda Stomp” (with the previously unreleased “B Giddy” as the b-side). Other noteable tracks included “Angry Young Man” (argued by some critics as being the influence for J Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame”), and despite the controversy, the album was certified gold in Canada (50,000 copies).
But within a few months after its release, Anderson left the band amidst all the negative attention they were getting, and was replaced by new drummer Patrick Mooney. They continued on the Ontario b-circuit with the likes of fellow Torontonians Diodes, Teenage Head, and Viletones. Although they didn’t make the roster at the famed CBGB club, they also made a couple of relatively successful trips to New York. They hitched a ride on Elvis Costello’s cross-Canada tour, and although things went relatively successful, that wasn’t the case when they came home.
While working on material for a new record, Bomb was feeling the cash strap, so the album, once finished, sat on the shelves for several months, eventually picked up by Epic for distribution. The band finally bowed to public and Epic’s pressure, dropping ‘Battered’ from their name. Working with new producer Craig Leon kept the essence of the band’s raw punk personality, but with a little more studio finesse.
The Wives released their follow-up, CIGARETTES in the summer of ’79, and like its predecessor, the songs were predominantly written by Swann and Gibb. A 7″ record with a cover of Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll” was also inserted into the package to help bolster sales, to no avail. They played some dates in Ontario, but Bomb Records was still having a hard time selling the group out west, and no singles were released, partially causing the album to sell only a handful of copies.
They switched over to Ready Records and reverted back to their original name for LIVE ON MOTHER’S DAY in 1980. Recorded at The Edge and produced by Ron Chapman, the album was a few originals mixed in with several covers, including Little Richard’s “Keep A Knockin'” (the only single) and “Lucille,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Some select dates early after its release were cut short when several record companies threatened lawsuits for various reasons, and the women’s rights groups got back on their bandwagons, spelling the end of the group before the end of the year.
Following his initial departure, Cleave Anderson joined The Sharks with Sherry Kean for awhile, before settling into the Blue Rodeo lineup in the late ’80s, then got out of the business all together, as did Gibb as well, eventually. Klassen moved to Nashville and became a songwriter. Mooney became a sound technician in Guelph, Ontario while sidelining in various groups over the years. Swann meanwhile went on to a relatively successful, albeit short, solo career, with the songs “Lullabyes in Razorland” and a remake of the Judy Garland classic, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” He then formed Gamma Gamma, which lasted for a couple of years before he got out of the business.
In 1999, Pacemaker Records picked up the band’s catalogue, re-releasing the first two albums, but with no new bonus material.