The Puritans live

No doubt about it. The Puritans spread fear into the hearts of other bands who had to play with them. Those who witnessed their regular performances at Calgary’s legendary Night Gallery club will attest to this. They were a powerhouse that fused the swing rhythms of 1950s rock’n’roll, electric blues, fist-in-your face energy of garage punk, metallic guitar precision, and jazzy detours. They threw a big twist into Calgary’s garage rock aesthetic. Some loved them. Others didn’t get it.

Shoutin’ Abner Pim fondly remembers the moment he started his label. It was 1997 and he knew he had to release The Puritans’ first CD. You see, kids, back in the 1990s, not many people gave a rat’s ass about the Calgary music scene, not even in Calgary. It was before the Internets had become popular. There were a handful of underground hopefuls who signed to small American indie labels; Huevos Rancheros, Chixxdiggit, and the Von Zippers, for instance. The Puritans weren’t so lucky to be distributed by a hip indie label with poor accounting practices. Mr. Pim had to step in.

The Puritans went through numerous members in their six-year existence, but the core of the band remained Bob Keelaghan on guitar, Vladimir Sobolewski on bass, and Mitch Hendrickson on lead vocals and saxophone. Keelaghan and Sobolewski went on to help mold the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. Hendrickson, more sensibly, got his PhD in archeology and theorized where the roads ran in the 12th century Khmer empire. Actually, both are pretty good accomplishments.

S.A.P. documented the band’s prowess with two releases. While those who witnessed the The Puritans in action might claim that neither CD matches the band’s live show, those who never saw them perform, wish they had after listening to these discs. Funny how that is.

Marquee Themes is actually a compilation of two different EPs with slightly different line-ups. The front-end was recorded as a quartet in 1997. The back-half is a re-release of the band’s first commercially available demo, released a year-and-a-half earlier. It featues a double-guitar line-up with Keelaghan flanked by Michael Paton, currently of Calgary’s Ex-Boyfriends. The clean-cut Steve Nykolyn plays on drums on both sessions.

Although blatantly loud rock, it is readily apparent that the punk-blues edge of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir was already forged in Marquee Themes, be it the swamp-blues riffing in ‘No Diddley’ or the motorheadstrong rockabilly of ‘Junk Bonds’. Jim Jones Revue, the past is catching up!

The Sing the Hymns of Shoutin’ Abner Pim seven-song EP is cut from the same cloth, though it gets ethnically weirder (‘Mexican Volpertinger’), jazzier (‘In the Blud’), and heavier (‘D-Hey-E’). Exit Nykolyn on drums and enter Jon Swyers, who also recorded this home-spun disc. The Puritans’ final recordings can be heard on the Isle of Spight compilation from Catch and Release Records. Then the band called it a day.

Here’s a bit of Puritans trivia. Chad Van Gaalen once cited The Puritans as one of his formative influences in the Calgary music scene. Thanks, Chad. They like your music, too. Judd Palmer of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, long before that band’s formation, sat in with The Puritans at a Moustache Rock (70s rock cover song) charity event. He played harmonica on a version of ‘Bedroom Thang’ by ZZ Top.