Proudly Canadian: The Pukka Orchestra

Pukka Orchestra.jpg

Submitted by Sandy Graham

The Pukka Orchestra was a Canadian new wave band in the 1980s. The core of the band consisted of vocalist Graeme Williamson and guitarists Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith, and the band made frequent use of guest musicians.

The name is derived from the Hindi word pukka, which in UK slang can mean "very good".

Formed in Toronto in 1979, they released an independent single, "Rubber Girl", in 1981. They soon became fixtures on Toronto's Queen Street West club scene and signed to Solid Gold Records, releasing their self-titled debut album in 1984. In the summer of 1984, the band had a top 40 chart hit in Canada with a cover of Tom Robinson's "Listen to the Radio". Other singles "Cherry Beach Express" and "Might As Well Be on Mars" received FM radio play. The Toronto Police Service attempted to block radio airplay of "Cherry Beach Express" due to its themes of opposition to police brutality.

The band had just received a U-Know/CASBY Award for 'Most Promising Group' when they received two setbacks. Their record company Solid Gold went into receivership as the album was climbing the charts; then, while visiting relatives in Scotland in late 1984, Williamson developed kidney problems. Williamson ended up staying in a Glasgow hospital for several months, and in 1985, Chapman, Duggan-Smith, Robert Priest, Colin Linden, Gwen Swick and other Toronto musicians held a benefit concert to help defray Williamson's living expenses while receiving dialysis treatment. He eventually received a kidney transplant and returned to Toronto. The band recorded a four-song EP called Palace of Memory in 1987. However, in the midst of recording their second full-length album in 1988, Graeme's health took another turn and he went back to Scotland for treatment.

In 1992, Pukka Orchestra released their final album Dear Harry, a compilation of three tracks from the 1987 EP, and completed tracks from the temporarily shelved 1988 sessions. The first Pukka Orchestra album was reissued in CD format in 2000 by Solid Gold Records/Casablanca Media.

The band regrouped, minus Williamson, for the Spirit of Radio Reunion show in 2003. The three core members remain friends and continue to work together creatively whenever the opportunity arises.

Might As Well Be On Mars Pukka Orchestra