Wattie Buchan has a sharp memory of Montreal for a show he never played.
Buchan, the Edinburgh native and lead singer of the legendary hardcore punk band The Exploited, reminisced from the stage at ’77 Montreal about the riots resulting from a show cancelled in 2003 at the since-demolished Medley club when he and his bandmates were unable to cross the border into Canada. More than 40 cars were destroyed, a dozen businesses vandalized and seven people arrested.
“Because of you I got f***ing banned from two years from entering Canada,” he told the crowd at Parc Jean-Drapeau July 26. It must be noted that there was a bit of admiration in his tone.
Buchan and The Exploited have been playing punk shows for almost four decades. They started when Ronald Reagan was US President and Maggie Thatcher was the equally right-wing prime minister of Britain of the 1980s. Now they’re on to right-wing buffoons Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. In fact, during his set earlier in the day he’d worn a t-shirt with a photo of Trump with the words “F***ing Bastard.”
There’s little room for subtlety in The Exploited lexicon.
So I asked Buchan during an interview after his set whether he thinks the core of the punk ethos – opposition, rebellion, anarchy – has as much reason now as it did then?
“Absolutely! But things are different now,” he noted in his thick Scottish accent. “Thatcher was a c***. But you know what? She said what she was going to do. And she did it. Donald Trump is a f***ing idiot. And it’s scary because he lies. He and Johnson do nothing but lie.”
And that’s why punk is still vital.
“Real punk rock is about social issues,” Buchan insisted. “It’s about rebellion. It’s not like Green Day or Sum 41. That’s pop. Pop-punk. Real punk is angry music. That’s why it’s so real. There are still bands that do that but we’re in the minority.”
Two days previously, on July 24, Buchan had turned 62 – I mentioned that we shared that birthdate if not the year. Then I asked, if he was still as angry as when he started?
“I’m still as angry but I’ve had to calm it down because I’ve had five heart attacks,” he disclosed, in revealing the cost of a hard-living punk-rock career. In fact, he famously suffered a heart attack on stage during a show in 2014. “A few years ago I was a fat f***. I couldn’t walk from here to there,” he said, pointing to a chair 20 feet away.
“I’ve had a heart bypass, a gastric bypass and a pacemaker installed,” Buchan said, pulling up his shirt to reveal a city map of scars from his various operations. “I should be dead.”
The drinking and a hardcore amphetamine habit took their toll over the years, he explained.
“I used to go to Rotterdam and bring back 100 grams of speed at a time,” Buchan admitted.
Because it was cheaper there?
“No, it was stronger.”
So there’s no more drugs for Wattie Buchan. “They would kill me right away,” he acknowledged. He does allow himself an occasional beer. But for a punk original the sacrifice is necessary to keep spreading the music and spirit of rebellion.