A few words about what you’re reading.

These 35,000 words spread across two blog posts are the product of original interviews and research I’ve been conducting for a book on Martha and the Muffins. The story of two members’ origins as teenagers in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill, and the later cohort of Ontario College of Art/Queen Street West bands these Thornhill kids kickstarted, is essential to understanding the significance of this crucial Toronto new wave band from the urban studies/cultural analysis angle I’m taking. However, doing this story justice would probably take the book too far afield from its focus on one group’s career of one group, so I’ve spun it off as a 2017 conference paper and now a two-part essay on my blog. To date I’ve conducted over 40 hours of on-the-record interviews with 19 informants — Muffins, their friends and associates from the QSW scene, as well as a few experts on Toronto history and culture — plus some fieldwork (I’ve visited Thornhill once), a lot of archival research, and a dive into the existing scholarship (only some of which is cited below).

The original quotations and other Thornhill material cited here is just a subset of all this material. Having interviewed eight individuals from the local network I call the Thornhill sound (a name originally coined by the late Steven Davey), ideally I could work my way through the 13 other living members of that network to get a more definitive account. I’m very open to this idea, so I make this offer now to conduct interviews with anyone else I’ve mentioned in the Thornhill sound network that I haven’t talked to yet, as well as anyone else who should be included in it. I’m also eager to incorporate new recollections and archival material from anyone I’ve already interviewed (keep those recordings, photos, and videos coming!). As this new material arrives, I’ll expand/revise/correct the blog posts and log all the updates in this appendix.

Having acknowledged that the story you’re reading here is not yet definitive, I want to make clear my reasons for publishing it now. Obviously the story of the Thornhill sound and OCA bands is as awesome as it is little known to music aficionados in Toronto and elsewhere, and as little appreciated as it is to scholars of urban culture and music scenes. As a qualitative sociologist, my writing method is to develop an account from all my data that makes sense of and reconciles the different and occasionally divergent accounts that come from my contemporary informants, old publications, and other interpretations. My original writing on this blog is the place where I tend to do that.

I presume that the assessments of these bands’ influences, innovations, and legacies made by myself and my informants are ultimately subjective. If you don’t agree that Martha and the Muffins were the best band to come from the Queen Street West scene, for instance, that’s fine with me. I do, however, take great care to get the facts of chronology, context, and typicality correct. If you see something inaccurate in these regards, please let me know via email or in comments on the blog post itself.

Along those lines, let me acknowledge that my account of the B-Girls is at this point probably the most tentative of anything you read in these posts. I’m also cognizant of the tricky fact that so far the only contemporary interview material I have about this all-girl group comes from men (!) who may have dated one of the Ross sisters (!!) at one time. While I’d very much like to interview Cynthia and Rhonda Ross to get their story in their own words, the reason I went ahead and wrote about them is because the data suggest they represent the exception to the typical pattern of the Thornhill sound, in which Thornhill kids finally arrived in Toronto as suburban college kids with no industry contacts or insider access to the local music scene.

 

REFERENCES

Bracewell, Michael. 2007. Re-make/Re-model: Art, Pop, Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music, 1953-1972. London: Faber and Faber.

Campbell, Colin. 1978. Modern Love Pts. 1, 2, and 3. Toronto: Vtape.

Cateforis, Theo. 2011. Are We Not New Wave? Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth. 2007. The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Donegan, Rosemary. 1986. “What Ever Happened to Queen St. West?” Fuse 10(3): 10-24.

Edwardson, Ryan. 2009. Canuck Rock: A History of Canadian Popular Music. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Edwardson, Ryan. 2008. Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Florida, Richard. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books.

Gallagher, Gregory. 1976. “The Artists’ Jazz Band: Musical Mind-Benders in Jazz.” Canadian Composer, February, 22-25, 44-45.

Goddard, Peter. 2014. “Remembering Toronto’s 1960s Spadina Art Scene.” Canadian Art, summer. https://canadianart.ca/features/remembering-spadina/

Harris, Richard. 2004. Creeping Conformity: How Canada Became Suburban, 1900-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Jennings, Nicholas. 1997. Before the Gold Rush: Flashbacks to the Dawn of the Canadian Sound. Toronto: Viking.

Johnson, Martha. 2014. “Martha’s Tribute to Steven Davey 1951 – 2014.” Facebook post, June 15, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=680545582040145&id=396832150411491

Monk, Philip. 2016. Was Toronto Burning? Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene. London, UK: Black Dog Pubishing.

Monk, Philip. 1998. “Picturing the Toronto Art Community: The Queen Street Years.” C: International Contemporary Art 59 (September – November): insert.

Robertson, Clive. 1986. “The Complete Clichettes.” Fuse 9(4): 9-15.

Sutherland, Sam. 2012. Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk. Toronto: ECW Press.

Wolfe, Morris. 2001. OCA 1967-1972: Five Turbulent Years. Toronto: Grub Street Books.

Worth, Liz. 2011. Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981. Toronto: ECW Press.

Zwicker, Barrie. 1969. “A School Where Girls Dance on the Desks and There are Almost No Rules or Exams.” Toronto Daily Star, February 15, pg. 11.

 

REVISIONS

1. On 9/12/17, Chris Terry informed me that the Mandala manager he was speaking of whose brother he became friends with was George Elmes. I had earlier presumed it was Randy “Riff” Markowitz — a rather important figure in 190s Toronto music history, with a few paragraphs of mention in Nicholas Jennings’ After the Gold Rush. With this new information, I revised the relevant discussion on a suburban music industry in “precocious urbanites: the Ross sisters.” Interestingly, a Google search turned up the discovery that a George Elmes is currently manager of April Wine.

2. On 9/14/17, I revised the section on the Diodes to remove a claim that the Dishes opened up for Talking Heads on the NYC band’s first visit to Toronto (1/27/77 at A Space). Not long after my posts went up, I heard from Diodes guitarist John Catto and Diodes manager Ralph Alfonso (neither of whom I interviewed for this research) that this was not the case, despite the claim, evidently repeated by Dishes vocalist Murray Ball in Sam Sutherland’s (2012: 94) history Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, that the Dishes opened up for the Talking Heads. My source for this claim was not Sutherland’s book but Scott Davey himself, who had this to say when I asked him, “Where else did you play [besides the Bev] in that year [1977]?”

We didn’t play hardly anywhere. I mean, we played at A Space, which was an art gallery on — well again, because everything is tied into the art people, right? We played at A Space, which was an art gallery on St. Nicholas Street, which is on Yonge and Wellesley, and we played there with the Talking Heads when they were a three piece band. And we played with the Talking Heads because David Byrne knew General Idea, because General Idea knew Bob Colacello who was running Interview Magazine. Because General Idea had their own magazine, File Magazine, which Life Magazine sued them over. But because we knew General Idea, we were able to play at A Space. Because we were able to play at A Space, we were able to play with the Talking Heads, you know, whose entrée into Toronto initially was through the arts community. That’s the first time they played in Toronto, was at an art gallery, right?

The counter-claim cited by Catto and Alfonso comes from this 2012 Facebook post by the late Steven Davey, speaking to this issue in the wake of Perfect Youth‘s publication.

John Catto also shared these comments on Davey’s post from Andy Paterson.

I’m intrigued why Murray Ball (who I did not interview) and Scott Davey (who I did) would repeat the assertion that their band opened up for Talking Heads in 1977. Are they confusing separate events from 40 years ago? Has that confusion been repeated enough to feel correct? In any case, it’s easy enough to go with the more conservative claim that the Dishes didn’t play the 1977 Talking Heads date at A Space.

3. On 9/14/17 Diodes bassist Ian Mackay (who I interviewed for this research) emailed me to note a couple of inaccuracies in the section on the Diodes. (It’s so cool that the Diodes are reading this story so closely!) He said it wasn’t singer Paul Robinson who stowed away on the OCA fieldtrip bus to NYC — the claim made  guitarist John Catto’s  in Liz Worth’s oral history Treat Me Like Dirt) — but former Eel/future G-Ray Harri Palm instead. I went ahead and inserted Mackay’s counterclaim verbatim after the John Catto quote.

In my recollection of the Diodes’ “fuck art” incident on that OCA fieldtrip, I had originally said Mackay threw “a brick through a few galleries.” I think I got a little too poetic there; as the original story in Treat Me Like Dirt (which I’ve linked directly in this paragraph of the Diodes section) makes clear, he only threw a brick through one gallery, the Leo Castillo gallery. “Paul kind of goaded me into it, and we had both been drinking,” Mackway wrote. “I felt incredibly sad the next day.” I’ve corrected the text in that section to indicate a brick was thrown through only one gallery.

Finally, Mackay said, “I don’t recall the Talking Heads being stuck in Toronto for a week,” counter to what  original Diode bassist (and Mackay’s friend) David Clarkson told me. I’m going to let Clarkson’s original statement stand alone, as originally printed in the Diodes section. But this point is worth noting: in a perfect world, I would contact one of the Talking Heads or their road crew for a fact-check on how long they were stuck in Toronto on the band’s first visit in 1977. More seriously, ideally I would contact David Byrne to verify the Toronto/General Idea-to-NYC/Bob Colaccelo connections that Scott Davey claimed were the basis for Talking Heads’ A Space date. (The common circles they inhabited can be Googled easily enough, e.g., in this this Glenn O’Brien obituary.) My sociological nose for social networks is leading the hypothesis here.

4. On 10/8/17 I incorporated two subsequent interviews with key Thornhill players. First, I had extensive email correspondence and finally a phone interview with Tony Malone, a voracious conversationalist whose extra input here barely scratches the surface. For more on Malone’s perspective, I point the reader to the extensive remarks he has left on the blog’s comment sections. Second, I had a long interview with John Corbett, whose centrality in the Thornhill sound as the person who played in the most bands was reinforced by new information about an unnamed high school trio and his brief tenure in Oh Those Pants! Finally, I added a couple of new pictures from John Catto to the Oh Those Pants! section, as well as new revelations about OTP! member Kimmo Eckland (a.k.a. Kimo Eklund, a.k.a. Mr. Helskinki) from his extant association with the queer art collective Shitbandit.

5. On 10/15/17, I added a couple of quotations from my on-going interviews with Martha Ladly, the second Martha in the Muffins, to refine some points about the OCA and so-called OCA bands. Originally from Etobicoke, her perspective wasn’t central to the story of the Thornhill sound, but she had great now-and-then comparative insights as both an OCA student in the late 70s and an OCA professor today.

 

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, citations and updates