Midnight Music - 1984
By the mid-eighties the tight-knit punk scene along Toronto's Queen Street had begun to fray into various musical threads. A more escapist alt-country scene was developing around the irrepressible Handsome Ned, exposing a seedier heroin-fuelled underside on the street's western fringes. The Bunchoffuckinggoofs had staked out Kensington Market with their Baldwin Street hangout. And when post-punk stalwarts Rent Boys Inc and the Dave Howard Singers decamped for gloomy Britain, the void - acutely felt in all those dour bangs-and-overcoat types - was swiftly filled by the band Tulpa.
The Bottomley brothers along with drummer Sev Micron had been plying their multimedia show, dubbed The Tulpa Circus, since about 1981, initially as Private Lives and then later on as Tulpa. The energy-packed show incorporated slide projection, dance and futuristic cyber clowns into the band's rhythmic post-punk. A featured slot on Daniel Richler's New Music programme on local City-TV expanded their net somewhat. But with the dearth of indie labels in Canada at the time, the lads were forced to make that trek to the U.K., issuing their debut Mosaic Fish as an import on the Midnight Music imprint in late 1984.
Mosaic Fish burns with the same blistering intensity of Tulpa's live shows, starting with the primitivism of 'Life's So Strange', which melds bassist Chris B.'s loping bass with brother John's Metal Box-era guitar noodling. Though the record at times seems to veer in radio-friendly directions (the funkier 'Initiation Rites' or the frantic beat of 'There is a Fear') the stop-start time changes, the squealing sax and John B.'s overly-earnest vocals were probably too much for the club kids at the time. Still, the almost-dreamy 'Passion' could by rights be resurrected onto CBC Radio 2's hipster-friendly programming.
After the release of Mosaic Fish, Tulpa started to make headway down in the states, especially in New York City, where they played CBGB a number of times. Of course, it helped that they were favourites of owner Hilly Kristal ("One of the best live acts I've ever seen"). The group certainly seemed on the verge of something when their follow-up live LP, Off the Board - Live at CBGBs, found release in the U.S. and Japan. But alas, in 1987 Micron left, to be replaced by future Blue Rodeo drummer Glenn Milchum for a spell, and Tulpa never really recovered, ending things not long after. John Bottomley kicked off his fruitful solo career with 1990's excellent Library of the Sun, while brother Chris ventured down groovier bass-heavy paths with his Brainfudge project. The guys often mused about another reunion gig, but sadly John B.'s untimely passing in April 2011 seems to have forever put paid to that idea.
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