[This is the final section of the blog post “how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 1: the Thornhill sound”]

In the rec rooms, bedrooms, and garages of the “Thornhill weirdos,” built upon a foundation of record collecting, TV viewing, and alcohol and drug consumption, emerged a number of musical groups — “bands that lasted days, sometimes months and even years for some of us,” as Martha Johnson remembers — that have been mostly lost to time until now. Former members have generously shared whatever visual and audio evidence of these groups remains (and I ask anyone else to share other documentation, as a comment to this post or in an email to me). Still, the material below is largely suggestive. While they seem audacious and in some cases unintentionally hilarious, none of the bands mentioned in this first blog post had themselves any major historical influence. Rather, what’s remarkable is the level of DIY creativity, social reimagination, and collective goading that these groups embodied, as well as the later movement of a number of individuals into the Queen Street West scene years later.

 

Thornhill Secondary bands

Naturally, I begin with Steven Davey’s groups. His friend John Corbett notes that Steven came to Thornhill with some early band experience already.

Steven came from Montreal, so he was in a band called Grippen Mire — I’m sure somebody told you about that one. It seems to me Grippen Mire appears in a Sherlock Holmes book. It’s a real place in England. And they just liked the name. [John Corbett]

I estimate that by 1968 — within a year of arriving in Thornhill, and two years before graduating at grade 13 from Thornhill Secondary in 1970 — Steven Davey had found several outlets to express his musical ideas. He wrote songs and performed them solo on guitar. He found “real musicians” (in John MacLeod’s words) like classmates Pete and Steve D’Amico whose R&B group he played organ in. He taught songs to friends and goaded them into performing before others, even without the benefit of a formal group unit.

I think [Steven] got me involved a lot in starting to play together in small trios. Like, I [was] in a trio with him, [but] I don’t even know if we had a name. I think we played at, like, two parties. Me and Steven and another guy on drums; I’m not even sure who that was, but I remember that was the first time I played together with an electric guitar. And we would play, I think I remember, we would play Pink Floyd “Astronomy Domine” for a half hour because it was very easy, and it sounded really cool, you know? [John Ford]

But he also formed bands, listed below in chronological order to the best of my understanding. The first two existed at the same time.

The Teen Tempos: Steven Davey (guitar, vocals), Mary Ford (vocals), Sue LePage (vocals), John Ford (bass), John Betts (drums). This group drew upon the talents of two girls in the grade ahead of the boys. Mary Ford was John’s older sister (they were two of nine Ford children).

It was kind of like, in a way it was like forecasting the big revival of 50s music that was happening in the 60s. And they did “Bobby’s Girl” and “Dead Man’s Curve.” They did two or three songs like that, and they played it at this show in Thornhill.Yeah, Mary and Sue did costumes also, and they were like the back-up singers. [John Ford]

The Teen Tempos are the only Thornhill band among this high school cohort with women as members until Martha Johnson took part in Marzipan in 1972 (see below). Until then, the Thornhill sound is pretty much a boy’s club. Interestingly, Sue LePage kept up with costume-making after Thornhill Secondary and is now a celebrated costume and set designer in Canadian theater.

And Sue LePage, very creative person; she was a major person to us. She cut all our hair, you know what I mean? “Come here you guys,” and give us wild-looking hairdos back in those days. [John MacLeod]

This is a good time to note another Thornhill Secondary student from the same grade as Steven Davey, John Ford, and Martha Johnson: Dawn Eagle, who organized (with Granada Gazelle) the second-wave feminist ‘fashion show’ Glamazon — a seminal event in the Queen Street art scene. More about that in my next post.

Corbett Davey Gillison: John Corbett (bass), Steven Davey (guitar), Barry Gillison (drums). The trio’s name echoes the law firm-style nomenclature of Crosby Stills & Nash, but in fact they played hard rock. This marks the first appearance of John Corbett, who vies in the Thornhill sound with Steven Davey for having the longest résumé of QSW bands. John MacLeod elaborates on the context for these first two bands.

So Steven always had a band, always had a great band. He was getting reviews from the time he was a kid. He’d get up in the school show: he’d play a song he wrote on his 12-string acoustic, then he’d get up [in the Teen Tempos] with Mary and Sue and John Ford and this guy John Betts, who was this absolutely phenomenal drummer — big, tall gangly guy — and do some early 60s songs, like “Bobby’s Girl” and stuff like that. Way before Sha Na Na. And then he’d get up in the end with John Corbett and another guy and play like a power-trio boogie rock thing [with Corbett Davey Gillison] to end the school show. That was Steven Davey, right? [John MacLeod]

I if remember correctly, we only did four or five songs. There was some sort of thing in the school auditorium gymnasium thingy, and you know, it went well. It went really good…. I mean as far as — it was just a one-off gig. Barry Gillison, the drummer, I think wanted to be a jazz drummer, and just did us a favor for that one thing. But then we started just doing stuff. [John Corbett]

Flying: John Corbett (bass), John Betts (drums), Joe Peters (keyboards), Steven Davey (guitar). Perhaps telling of the impermanence of this group is that my informants couldn’t concur on its name — was it Flying? Or was it Moop? “It was a couple of names, if I remember correctly,” says John Corbett. “That one was pretty short lived, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Kinks inspired,” remembers Owen Burgess of this group.

Flying: John Corbett, John Betts, Joe Peters, Steven Davey (l-r). Photo credit: John Ford. From Owen Burgess’ collection.

I think [Flying] might have started off with John Corbett on bass but ended up being a guy called Joey Peters on keyboards, who was a Thornhill guy. He kind of came from the same — Thornhill got sprawled out with the suburban thing developing. So these guys were way out east in Bayview Glen kind of thing… They played around, and it was kind of like after Corbett Davey and Gillison. And I do remember, common to what Ford was saying, that “Astronomy Domine” was always dragged out, so it was that kind of material. [John MacLeod]

Unity Theatre: Johnny MacLeod (guitar), Carl Finkle (organ), Dean Moffatt (vocals), Peter Atkins (guitar), David Kirkland (bass), David Franklin (drums). Unity Theatre marks the first appearance of Carl Finkle, Johnny MacLeod, and Owen Burgess; the Thornhill sound now draws from the Thornhill Secondary classes after Steven Davey, Martha Johnson, John Corbett, and John Ford.

The first sort of real group we had, we played at an annual function at the high school, you know, they put on a huge musical kind of thing each year, and so we were the rock band… I always remember we did “White Room’ as our big number for that night.” [Carl Finkle]

There was another band called Unity Theatre — from the George Orwell 1984 book, I believe there was a Unity Theatre in that. That was Carl Finkle, myself — honorary member… David Kirkland was the bass player in Unity Theatre, and he would later on become a DJ, I believe, or roving news reporter, I’m not sure which, for one of the local radio stations. At the time he had the primo job of working at the local donut place, so he could provide the bands with garbage bags full of donuts at the end of the day. So yeah, he had a special place in our hearts. Then there was a guy by the name of David Franklin in Unity Theatre who played drums. There was a guy called Peter Atkins, as in Chet Atkins. Now, Peter Atkins went on to become an ophthalmologist and is probably retired and living the good life by now. But he played a Chet Atkins Gretsch double anniversary guitar, and he could play his butt off. He was the most nerdy guy you’d ever want to — if you ever want an opthamologist who’s got great hand-eye coordination, that was a good thing. He could play that guitar like Chet Atkins. He could flip on the mutes, and it just brings a chuckle to me, because — oh, the last guy in the band, pardon me, was Dean Moffatt. He was the bass player and the lead singer. But Peter Atkins could play a song like “White Room” and make it sound like Chet Atkins was playing Cream, by flipping on the mutes and playing the riffs with these little felt mutes on his guitar. So he had a bizarre sound. [Owen Burgess]

Waco Pudding: Steven Davey (guitar), Johnny MacLeod (bass), Kirk Rae (vocals, saxophone), John Betts (drums). Approximate dates for Steven Davey’s next band are 1970-71, overlapping with his first year at York University. Ambitions for this project ran high, as Waco Pudding recorded a cassette of original songs in Martha Johnson’s living room (put to tape by Owen Burgess). What’s more, the group performed on local public access TV! This can only mean somewhere there exists video recordings of Waco Pudding — stay tuned.

Like, the cable TV thing came along, and they had no content, and they had no money for content. So a bunch of kids would come along, and they would say, “We’ll provide content.” “Sure, here’s the keys,” in those days. So, they got us up on a local cable TV show with this one band where it was all original material. And Mary Ford and Sue LePage would make stuff for us… Anyway, a long story short, for those few months where we had free rein on the cable TV station, we used to go on there and do a weekly segment on this talk show, you know, where we’d do a couple of musical numbers and so forth. And that got enough attention that it kind of emboldened us. [John MacLeod]

Waco Pudding: John Betts, Johnny MacLeod, Kirk Rae, Steven Davey (l-r). Photo credit: John Ford? From Scott Davey’s collection.

Now, I think the name Waco Pudding comes partly from MacLeod’s and my obsession with Blue Cheer. And their producer was Abe Kesh, I think was the producer’s name, and he called himself “Woco” [pronounces it “voco”]. It’s Latin, right, or W-A-C-O in quotes in the middle, so it was Abe “Waco” Kesh. John was taking Latin, I think, and he was going, “It’s ‘voco,’ right?” And Vincebus Eruptum [pronounces it “winky-boos eruptum”] was the name of the Blue Cheer album. [Owen Burgess]

The guy who was lead singer taught himself to play sax, which is kind of a key element in that Thornhill music. Because the way he played sax is what the Dishes did and what Andy Haas [of Martha and the Muffins] did in some respects. Although Andy, those two guys are great players. But that sax sound was a Thornhill sound element, right? And it recurs through a few bands. [John MacLeod]

Rhumba Kings: Jim Hughes, Ross Edmonds, Douglas MacLeod, Bill Priestman, Roly Stow, John Betts. I don’t know if there’s much significance to this high school group, a rival to Unity Theatre, except for, first, the exit of go-to drummer John Bett (who, according to Owen Burgess, “shortly after high school departed for the west”). Second, four new names appear that will recur in the Thornhill sound: Ross Edmonds, Jim Hughes, Douglas MacLeod (Johnny’s little brother), and Bill Priestman.

 

Thornlea Secondary bands

Among the network of Thornhill kids I’ve described, the first from Thornlea Secondary is a doozy: the Dishes. Trailblazers of the Queen Street West scene, their origin story is so important, interesting, and entertaining, I need both this blog post and the next to do it justice. Here I note that the Dishes fit the pattern of the Thornhill sound described for the previous groups, despite jumping my timeline ahead a good four years. The Dishes started in 1975 as a songwriting concern of Scott Davey (Steven’s younger brother) and Tony Malone (né Anthony Seeley), two friends living in the new subdivision and attending high school a grade apart.

[Tony] and I played in his parents’ basements, just the two of us, for about a year and then started to add in the other guys when we figured, “Oh we could have a band,” because all we did was just play in his basement and make up songs and play whatever we want… We eventually had five guys there in the basement making lots of noise. Like, you know, as soon as you have a drummer you’re making lots of noise… Murray [Ball], who was our singer, who was a friend of ours, decided that he had to be there doing it too because he’s our friend — and Murray’s, you know, a persuasive guy, and so he wanted to be our singer. And my friend Ken [Farr] who I’d been going to school through since I was in grade nine decided that he wanted to be in our band too, and he would learn how to play bass. And Murray decided that Michael Lacroix, who was a friend who he was dating at the time because they were gay men as well, had to be in our band even though he played nothing. And Michael decided that he would learn how to play saxophone from scratch and would take lessons to be able to play… And then he was in the band, and my brother Steve went, “You gotta have a drummer, and I have no band, and I want to be in your band.” And that was it. [Scott Davey]

Before we had a band we just hung out at my place constantly. We didn’t hang out at Scott’s place, it was not a friendly place for a kid’s party. Murray’s place was the friendliest place because his mom was amazing. She just adored us. So when we were sitting around we could smoke joints right in their living room. She preferred he would smoke at home rather than be out somewhere where he might get in trouble. And then she would sit with all of us with the biggest most beautiful smile on her face, giggling. Because she thought we were all the cleverest most inspiring bunch of kids that she’d ever met. And she genuinely loved us. So going to Murray’s place was absolutely the most comfortable. Mine was the creative place. Mine was where there was a piano and where we made music and could set up in my basement and make a bunch of noise. And Ken’s parents were lovely, but he had very little space. So we all had been to Ken’s many times, but his room was the smallest of any of us. So it’s like if you put two of us, three of us into his room, it was absolutely packed. So it wasn’t really a hang out place, but it was in the basement, and we eventually did co-op part of his basement for our band rehearsals. [Tony Malone]

The Dishes: Scott Davey, Murray Ball, Ken Farr, Tony Malone, Steven Davey, Michael Lacroix (l-r). Photo credit: unknown.

Steven’s joining was the key moment for the Dishes because by this point he had left Thornhill a good five or so years previously; the milieus he had since joined and the people he met — the subject of my next blog post — made all the difference in the Dishes’ short career. That said, the young Dishes were well embedded in the networks and pastimes of their older friends and siblings.

One day after I had learned to play for about six months, I got to go with my older brother Steve to Martha’s house, you know, and play with his friends and jam in their basement. So that would’ve been like Martha and John Macleod, and maybe Owen Burgess, and my brother Steve. And I can remember, like, you know, they were gonna play, so they had a couple of amps in Martha’s basement. And I can remember my brother Steve, who was a hipster, you know — we would all play a few songs that they knew, and my brother would want to play, like, Velvet Underground “Sweet Jane,” because he’s a hipster. And I can remember very distinctly Martha played “Midnight Confessions” by the Grassroots; that was the song that she wanted to play that she knew. And I knew “Wheels on Fire” by Julie Driscoll; it was like the only song I knew, and we’d kind of noodle along. But I can remember going and playing in Martha’s basement as a kid. [Scott Davey]

I was a really close friend of [David Johnson, Martha’s] younger brother. I used to come over… They would have Tubular Bells there; they would have the first Roxy album. I remember this really vividly: they would have the latest thing. [Glenn Schellenberg]

Schellenberg was the last member to join the Dishes, replacing Tony in early 1977 when he left just before the band was scheduled to enter the studio to record its first EP — the first vinyl to come out of the Thornhill sound. Incidentally, Schellenberg’s recollection of Roxy Music’s eponymous 1971 debut album confirms the British group as a common influence on the Thornhill sound.

I remember being at Mark [Davey, the third and youngest brother]’s house, and Steven would come home, and he would be completely unfriendly to Mark, and to Scott. He’d be wearing these mile-high platform shoes. And he had this incredible album collection… Scott [and Steven] had this weird relationship where they would both have to buy, you know, the new Roxy Music album or something, because they didn’t share records well. And then all of a sudden they were, like, playing in a band together. So I never understood that, because Steven just seemed to have contempt for everybody. He was like this total, total hipster, and was also a very good friend of Martha’s. [Glenn Schellenberg]

Before I move the timeline back to where we left the Thornhill Secondary kids, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Thornlea Secondary students have played an outsized role in Canadian music after the Queen Street West era. In the late 1980s, Noah Mintz and Paul Hayden played together in a Thornlea band; by the beginning of the next decade Mintz went on to form the group hHead while Dresser recorded celebrated solo albums under the name Hayden. Thornlea schoolmates of theirs José Miguel Contreras, Mark Goldstein, Liz Teear and Steve Berman formed By Divine Right in 1989; in 1997 they would record their first album and, in the new century, enter the constellation of groups that feed into Broken Social Scene. Finally, Thornlea grads Mike Ford (John Ford’s younger brother by ten years), Jian Ghomeshi (now a controversial if legally acquited figure), and Murray Foster formed Moxy Früvous in 1989.

 

Marzipan

After graduating from Thornhill Secondary in 1970 and 1971, many of the kids I’ve discussed began their reluctant movement into middle-class adulthood. College in the Toronto area awaited most of them. Steven Davey, Chris Terry, and Carl Finkle enrolled at nearby York University (only fifteen minutes south from Thornhill); Finkle transferred to what was then Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University); Martha Johnson attended Centennial College; John MacLeod attended Innis College at the University of Toronto (where he met Andy Patterson, who later formed Toronto punk band The Government). Jobs were taken: MacLeod worked at the post office; John Ford, Owen Burgess, and Ross Edmonds worked for Mr. Ford Sr’s filmstrips company; Martha held a lab job at U of T. Relationships were even cemented, with high school sweethearts Martha Johnson and John Corbett marrying in 1972.

All the while, their emancipation from the suburban bosom of Thornhill varied. Some moved into the city while others (Johnson, MacLeod, Finkle) commuted from Thornhill for periods of time. It’s worth remembering that in the early 1970s Toronto was emerging out of its “Toronto the Good” shell in fits and starts. The heyday of Yorkville (which was only a weekend escape for most scenesters anyway) was over, and Toronto’s several institutions of higher education didn’t necessarily sustain a college-town ambiance for the city.

With their lives and the city itself both in transition, many of the Thornhill kids would convene back home on weekends for their usual pastimes. This was the setting for Marzipan, a “bubblegum” group composed of Steven Davey (guitar, vocals), Johnny MacLeod (bass), Carl Finkle (organ), Martha Johnson (clarinet), John Corbett (drums), and Owen Burgess (“honorary member”). Marzipan is significant for at least two reasons, the first being that — despite lasting only a few months, and never performing live — the band reflected a new level of purpose among its members, drawing upon the momentum that Davey and MacLeod brought from Waco Pudding. Over several weekends in the cold months of winter 1972, the sextet created music and hatched schemes. They even commissioned their friend Jan Thornhill (later an acclaimed illustrator of children’s books) to take publicity photos.

Marzipan: Martha Johnson, Steven Davey, Johnny MacLeod, John Corbett, Carl Finkle, Owen Burgess (clockwise from bottom left). Photo credit: Jan Thornhill. From Owen Burgess’ collection.

Marzipan was one of our things when we were getting a bit more serious. And Steven Davey and Martha wrote a couple of songs. Or I’m not sure who actually authored what, but you see Steven had something to do with it. They wrote a song called “Oh Lovey Dovey.” It’s one of my favorite stories, because they wrote this song, “Oh Lovey Dovey,” and recorded it in my basement. Then Steven and I got a bright idea, “We should take this to a record company, right?” And I don’t know how we got the gall up to do this, but I think Steven phoned up Quality Records, which was a small label in Toronto, and they said “Oh yeah, come on down.” And so we went, “This is great, we’re gonna…” So we go down to the place. It was so embarrassing. The guy was sort of dumbfounded, and he didn’t like it at all. I mean, it actually wasn’t a bad song quite frankly, in the long term sense. But anyways, that was our first movement into the music business [laughs]. And we got rejected by some of the smaller record companies. [Carl Finkle]

Second, Marzipan marks Martha Johnson’s formal entrance into playing music after years on the sidelines watching the boys.

Well, when I was going to Centennial College taking psychology, I took the first student loan I got and bought a clarinet. I bought a musical instrument because I was still really interested in music. I should have bought a guitar. [Martha Johnson]

Marzipan had a home cassette recording that I quite liked and always reminded Steven about it because he and Martha had written a really nice song on it. [Tony Malone]

Steven got me to try my hand at songwriting, which produced my first song ‘Baby Please Come Home’. It wasn’t much of a song but it was a start. The name we had for this particular band we formed with friends was ‘Marzipan’, perhaps a foreshadowing of the band that would also adopt a food item in its name that would form much of my music career. [Martha Johnson]

The Thornhill sound was still largely unheard and unknown to Toronto, but its impact would grow in the coming years to a transform the city’s music legacy. To do that, however, it would first need to relocate and incubate in downtown Toronto — at the Ontario College of Art.

Next – how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 2: OCA bands.

 

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