The Pukka Orchestra


Pukka Orchestra was a Canadian ‘new wave’ band based in Toronto, Canada in the 1980s and 1990s and became an important and revered contributor to the ‘Queen Street’ music scene of that era. The group has previously released two albums, an EP and several singles, and won a CASBY/U-Know Award (CFNY 102 The Edge) in 1985.

In 2023 the Pukka Orchestra completed a new album – Chaos Is Come Again – of reworked, remixed and remastered tracks from its two prior recording sessions that, apart from being given to some friends, never saw the proper light of day (Dear Harry and Palace of Memory). Chaos Is Come Again is to be released by Pacemaker/Cadence Records this spring with liner notes by Alan Cross. Pacemaker will also be releasing posthumously the solo album Because You Were There by Graeme Williamson, the voice and writer of the Pukka Orchestra, completed in 2022 shortly after Graeme’s death.

The Pukka Orchestra was formed in Toronto in 1979. The core of the band consisted of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Graeme Williamson and guitarists/co-songwriters Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith. The band’s name is derived from the Hindi word ‘pukka’, which means “Genuine”, “Authentic”, “First Class”. The name was coined by Duggan-Smith’s extremely British grandfather Edward Roderick Mutch who had been the harbourmaster of Calcutta and had later worked for Marconi. When Duggan-Smith told him he was playing music for a living, his grandfather replied, “That’s all very nice Tony, but don’t bother with any mediocre bands, get yourself into a Pukka Orchestra”. The band made frequent use of numerous guest musicians which brings to mind the oft-used phrase, “Are you in the Pukka Orchestra? Why not, everyone else is”.

The band released an independent single, “Rubber Girl”, in 1981 (B side “Do the Slither”) and just after that they recorded “Wonderful Time To Be Young” and “Spies Of The Heart” with Danny Greenspoon at Inception Sound, all three making it on to the first Album. They performed regularly in Toronto’s Queen Street West club scene, usually at The Bamboo, The Cameron House, The Horseshoe Tavern and Grossman’s Tavern and signed as songwriters to ATV Music and as a band to Solid Gold Records, who released 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/Peter Gabriel’s “Listen to the Radio”. Other singles “Cherry Beach Express” and “Might As Well Be on Mars” received widespread 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 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 on holiday in Scotland in late 1984 with his wife-to-be, 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 at The Bamboo Club to help defray Williamson’s living expenses while he received 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, Williamson’s health took another turn and he went back to Scotland, permanently this time, for ongoing treatment that lasted the rest of his life. Graeme reinvented himself there, completing French and English degrees at the University of Glasgow, followed by an MLitt (hons) in creative writing, the latter which he taught in various colleges and to prison inmates too, while also continuing to write songs and, as a published author, novels and poetry, until he died in Glasgow in 2020.

In 1992, Pukka Orchestra recorded 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 and later acquired by Linus Entertainment/True North. The band regrouped, minus Williamson, for CFNY’s Spirit of Radio Reunion show in 2003. In 2021 and 2022, new songs written and recorded by Williamson before his death in 2020 were reworked by Pukka guitarist and producer Neil Chapman, adding full band tracks and guitar parts to Graeme’s basic recordings to complete the album Because You Were There. This album was briefly released to digital formats that year ahead of its full release in 2024.

The Pukka Orchestra (1984)
The Palace of Memory (ep) (1987)
Dear Harry (1992)
Because You Were There (2022/2024) – Graeme Williamson solo album
Chaos Is Come Again (2024)




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