Steven Davey circa 1971. Photo credit: Jan Thornhill. From Owen Burgess’ collection.

THE EVERGLADES are ambassadors of the Thornhill Sound, a sound long fermenting in the rec rooms and condo apartments just north of STEELES AVE. Among its proponents include: Martha and the Muffins, Johnny and the G-Rays, the B-Girls, and the now defunct Dishes, Cads, E-Static and the legendary Oh Those Pants! Even Canada’s songbird Anne Murray resides in Thornhill. The Biffs, however, are from Scarboro. Thornhill is Canada’s Liverpool! [Steven Davey, from his 1980 press release for his band the Everglades]

As a student of musical communities, I’m not too concerned with enforcing genre boundaries. But to put the argument I present over two blog posts in sharp relief, let me make a preposterous claim:

In Toronto, punk rock began in the tiny suburb of Thornhill.

Go ahead, let that statement sink in. It flies against the received histories of Toronto punk driven by urban rabble-rousers like the Viletones, the Ugly, and the Curse, who gave voice to the prole youth ensconced in Toronto’s east side and Scarborough. There is an authentic story of artist and audience connection expressed in those received histories, but to understand Toronto’s 1977 punk explosion — its famous “Crash ‘n’ Burn summer” on Queen Street West — we need step outside and before the musical moment took its name.

Never mind that the boundaries between “punk” and its traditional residual category “new wave” were hardly fixed in the early days of this music, or that this binary arrived imported from the UK and US. I propose this contested term “punk” as a kind of target because the wide-ranging explosion of generational revolt, identity exploration, and cultural creativity that I’ll chart over these two posts can in fact be understood by the more expansive definition of a punk ethos. That is, this was musical and related cultural expression that rejected formal training and aesthetic orthodoxy; that drew upon DIY creativity and peer affirmation; and that opened up a space for new voices and new communities, no matter how complicit and fucked up some practitioners might be in the divides of class, gender, race, sexuality and so on.

Let me make that last paragraph more concrete. In metropolitan Toronto, music and youth culture bloomed in the following ways:

  1. People created DIY music to refuse the boredom of their era and its everyday enforcement by schools, municipal authorities, musicians unions, and other moral and legal authorities of everyday life.

I sure didn’t have a great sense of anger. I wasn’t angry about much. I had great, working class parents. I think the more common thing for everyone who was starting to gather around this music was boredom. We were tired of what we had been given before then… [filmmaker Colin Brunton, quoted in Worth 2011: 40]

  1. This creativity drew upon local resources and frames of reference — social networks (before the internet!), record collecting and concert-going, the exploration and negotiation of urban lifestyle.
  2. The tipping point in this musical flourishing hinged in important ways on institutional shifts that widened access to and/or challenged established hierarchies in art, media, and education.

These mobilizations occurred all over the Toronto metropolitan area, but the historical record shows that specific kids in Thornhill were doing it earlier and in influential ways. Over the course of almost a decade of gestation, they opened the gates to the late 70s explosion of generational revolt that that took musical shape as “punk,” “new wave,” and other frankly unnecessary labels.

[Click here for my sources and citations in this blog post.]

 

THE THORNHILL SOUND

Here’s a table of 22 musicians who grew up in Thornhill and played in bands on Toronto’s 1970s Queen Street West music scene. A few bands will be familiar to readers, but most won’t. Of more interest at this early point is the sheer number of bands and the interconnections between them. The table also provides a handy list of informant bios for the quotations to follow. (All people quoted here were interviewed by me unless otherwise noted.)

I call this group the “Thornhill Sound,” in honor of the claim to fame that Steven Davey asserted so enthusiastically. Was there was a distinctive musical style or performance format that can be distinctively associated with the high school bands listed here? With little but informants’ memories of 40-50 years ago and an occasional photo to rely upon, we may never know for sure. Nonetheless, the individuals listed in this table went to high school in Thornhill, where most of them formed bands and played (mostly) original rock’n’roll music in the suburbs. As I’ll discuss in my next post, after high school these suburban kids went on to form better known bands in Toronto, which is how the Thornhill sound’s legacy became truly significant.

As is the case with social networks, interconnection doesn’t necessarily imply friendship or even regular interaction. Particularly in the eyes of an adolescent, a two-year difference can be “a pretty big gulf in high school topography,” in the words of one Thornhill native (Owen Burgess). There are at least three cohorts of Thornhill kids shown in this table, organized roughly around the classes of 1970, 1972, and 1974. Another network division is school, specifically the simultaneous opening (discussed later) of a second high school, Thornlea Secondary. Yet across this terrain, even weak ties of second degrees (friends of friends) or greater created channels for the circulation of future musicians in future Toronto bands.

Next – suburban dream.

 

ROAD MAP TO QSW:

how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 1: the Thornhill sound
the Thornhill sound
suburban dream
precocious urbanites: the Ross sisters
the starmaker: Steven Davey
the bands of Thornhill

how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 2: OCA bands
the Thornhill sound leaves home
how art came to QSW
Oh Those Pants! bring the Thornhill sound to OCA
the Dishes open up QSW to new music
punk and art: the Diodes
the Thornhill sound set loose on QSW
the last house band: Martha and the Muffins

sources and citations