Chords And Riots: Raleigh’s Legendary Punkers Th’ Cigaretz
Th’ Cigaretz, long heralded as “North Carolina’s first punk rock band,” are indisputably a major part of Raleigh’s music history. There is no question of the impact they had or of the raucousness of their shows.
Nearly 40 years after the formation of Th’ Cigaretz, founding member Byron Mccay is still making waves with his monthly songwriters series at the Berkeley Café in Raleigh, as with the recent revival of his other boundary-breaking band, the Subliminal Surge.
Byron recently took a few moments to speak with Candid Slice about the rumble Th’ Cigz made in the Underground (and beyond), the influence they had on the punk scene and why memories of the Subway are so vivid 31 years after it was sealed off from the public.
Memories from Byron Mccay of Th’ Cigaretz
When you walked down those steps to enter the Village Subway you had a heightened anticipation of fun, friends, and entertainment. It had a unique vibration because it accepted many tribes in a relatively small enclosed space. The largest club, the Pier, had national and successful acts. Th’ Cigaretz opened for the Ramones and 999 there, as well as return engagements after we moved to NYC.
Opening For The Ramones
This is from the ‘all that glitters dept.’ that proves that big, bad punk boys can cry: We opened for the Ramones at the Pier. At first blush it would seem a great thing to do, and I suppose it was for the experience and exposure. But that band absolutely decimated me. We were using little 6 inch amps, relying on the PA to carry the sound. They had the full Marshall stack, the weapon of choice for pile driving sound and sheer volume.
They were also ‘road-tight,’ having played lots of the known world through hundreds of gigs. We had played mostly locally, sometimes infrequently, so we didn’t have that road toughness and presence. It was as if we were a hand hammer and they were a pneumatic drill. I could only stay for a song or two, and I left and walked alone, crushed, cussing, and crying.
I do feel, without reservation, that had the situation been reversed equipment and experience wise, we woulda blown their little cookies away. I had not expected that huge sound from listening to their albums. Frankly, I thought they were lightweights, but live they were well-oiled sledgehammers.
They crushed me to bits, but it just made me meaner and more determined. Lesson taken that night.
Favorite Venues; Wild Memories
Our favorite place to play as the Subliminal Surge/Jimmy and the Jonsez was the Deja Vu. It was perfectly sized for viewing, dancing, and sitting. Believe it or not kiddies, bands in those days would sometimes play a Friday and Saturday night at one place! None of the present day meat-market, 3-4 bands, get ‘em on and off like it is today.
Once, we were fetching our equipment the night after a New Year’s Eve gig at the Deja Vu. I noticed numerous big containers filled with empty beer bottles and trash. Lesson learned: The bigger the mess, the better the gig.
We did a gig there with the Fabulous Knobs and there was a mini-series, The Thornbirds, that was sucking away our audience on Friday night. The next night we brought TV’s for everybody to watch, including us. We got some great running humor out of that one.
And speaking of humor, the Subliminal Surge opened for Arrogance at the Bear’s Den, the place for the more traditional crowd. We dressed in skirts as the “No No’s” and deliberately played our most obtuse, avant-garde material until someone in the crowd screamed, “When are they gonna play some real music?” We played another weird tune or two and then launched into some scorching rock that took ‘em by surprise. Again, very fun times.
As for the current appeal and curiosity (of the Village Subway), I can only surmise that it’s because it was our place at our time. That’s my feeling.
Memories From The Fans
- My favorite might be the show they opened at the Pier for the Ramones (pretty sure the second time the Ramones played there) where they had gone off to NYC, and so for many in the crowd, they had never heard the Cigz. Traditionally, at the end of a Cigz show, if you wanted an encore, you yelled “More shit! More shit!” until they came back out.
- Since most of the crowd had no idea of this tradition, when the hardcore Cigz fans started yelling…the other fans got upset, because they though the crowd was harassing the band. A couple of minor skirmishes broke out between the hardcore Cigz fans and the uninitiated masses. Nothing of any consequence, though. I thought it was funny as hell!
- The best shows I saw were on somebody’s porch, Mayday, Park Ave.
- I recall lots of screaming and cussing and smoking and bad behavior, mostly from the audience at their shows. Such fun.
Sheryl Moore Goodspeed
- Deja Vu was always an awesome show. Park Ave. May Day, The Pier…maybe even Free Advice. I need to pull out my old flyers. They were like nothing I’d seen, and they opened the door for some great bands in the Triangle area. The Subway and Hillsborough St. scenes, backed up by off-Cameron Park/Boylan Heights and the School of Design influence.
- It was a creative bonfire of activity. It was a culture and they were part of those leading the charge. What someone ought to do is take a look at the geographical community that created that culture.
- Byron lived on Park Ave., just next to the railroad tracks. That street, along with the Hillsborough St. extended neighborhoods were the heartbeat. It wasn’t just music, it was design, gay awareness, writing (David Sedaris, e.g.), food, performance, and vibrancy. And Hillsborough St. was the main vein. So sad when I read how much that has been shut down.
- My favorite memory of the Cigz was the May Day party… when Raleigh’s finest attempted to cut the party short by ordering the band to shut it down. We the crowd reacted, the cops over-reacted, and a huge brawl ensued. Those were different times in Raleigh… things were a bit more raw in those days, like the music itself.