From his earliest days as a musician, singer-guitarist Murray Acton has put a premium on provocation.
His rabble-rousing days started early. Not only is the Winnipeg native a free thinker, he’s a naturally intelligent one. When he paired that with an interest in subversion — he didn’t get the nickname Cretin for nothing — Acton was shown the door at nearly every school he enrolled in, from Lampson elementary to St. Michaels University School to Camosun College.
“I got kicked out of every school I went to, kindergarten included,” he said. “I’m kind of proud of that, actually. I got kicked out of college, even.”
His first established punk group, Victoria’s The Sickf--ks, bore a name that almost ensured it wouldn’t get gigs. When that band morphed in 1979 into a trio featuring Trevor (Spud) Hagen and Brian (Jesus Bonehead) Whitehead, Acton couldn’t resist the temptation to offend yet again.
Which is how the father of three came to front a band named the Dayglo Abortions.
“It guarantees we’ll never get any endorsements or anything, which makes us look good in the long run,” Acton, 53, said with a laugh. “It doesn’t bother me that much. I never set out to be a rock star anyway.”
With roots in the Victoria music scene that stretch all the way back to the mid-1970s, Acton is often acknowledged as one of the building blocks of the local punk community. His reputation reached almost mythical proportions in 1988, when his group was involved in an obscenity trial — the first of its kind in the history of Canadian law — over the content of its music.
The band was eventually dropped from the case, but charges were levelled against the band’s Toronto-based record company, Fringe Product Inc. An Ottawa jury eventually found the label not guilty of possession for the purpose of distribution of obscene material — charges that were related to songs Acton wrote on a pair of full-length Dayglos recordings, Feed Us a Fetus (1986) and Here Today, Guano Tomorrow (1986).
The best part, Acton said, was the face-value furor over songs — ones he wrote to be intentionally funny. To him, it proved that officials involved in the case had little to no sense of humour. “For the most part, people are smart enough to figure it out. If they’re not, it’s kind of funny, because the joke’s on them.”
Acton is into his fourth decade at the helm of the Dayglos, a group that provides Acton with the majority of his income. With current bandmates Blind Mark (drums) and Willy Jak (bass), the Dayglos continues to record and tour, with a schedule that includes upwards of 150 dates annually. The band will perform tonight at Club 9one9 as part of its current tour.
Fronting one of Canada’s most notorious punk acts hasn’t always been easy for Acton, the lone holdover from the original lineup, but he’s invariably proud of his career. The Dayglos are a band — if not a brand — with fans spread across the world. It’s a reputation not every punk act of its era can match.
“It’s not a great living, but there are different ways to gauge your quality of life,” Acton said. “Material things are not high on the list for me. I’m doing just fine.”
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Winnipeg. My dad was in the air force, so we travelled from town to town.
When did you arrive in Victoria?
I moved here in 1971 from Nova Scotia, when I was 11. I’ve lived here since then.
What is your favourite thing about Victoria?
I like it here. It’s got the ocean air and lots of elbow room. When you travel elsewhere, you realize the air stinks and people are stupid, and there’s way too many of them.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a person?
My kids are still kicking, so I figure I’ve done all right there. That’s a pretty important thing to me.
And as a professional?
Some of the stuff musically that I’ve done I’m pretty proud of. We played at a real pivotal point in Slovenia’s history, when the country was starting up, and had a key role at a time when the youth of the country were really in turmoil. We got really connected with them.
First album you purchased?
The real groundbreaker for me was when I got Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Me and my buddy had just bought Alice Cooper’s Killer and Master of Reality, and we went back to his place and put on Master of Reality. I heard about half of the first song and took it and ran home.
There’s a couple. Revolver by The Beatles and Inner Mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black and Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables.
First concert you attended?
Me and Bonehead went to see the Grateful Dead with his social worker, way back in ’72 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. We had to wade through a sea of drunken Hells Angels to get to our seats.It was quite something.
Favourite concert you attended?
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom. That was just an over the top and out of hand show.
If you had one motto, or rule to abide by, what would it be?
Go everywhere you go with respect for the people who own the place. And when sh-t starts getting deep, you’ve got to come up with some good jokes.