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

I now pause my sociological story for a second story about how the Thornhill’s suburban garage-band tradition blazed the trail for Toronto’s original Queen Street West scene. This one begins in 1967, when the Davey family — Steven (age 16), Scott (age 13), their younger brother Mark, and the boys’ parents — returned to the Toronto area after Mr. Davey’s four-year corporate rotation in Montreal. The Daveys moved into a new house in a fresh subdivision, and almost immediately, Steven Davey made his presence felt among the thoughtful, creative weirdos at Thornhill Secondary.

The Daveys’ Thornhill home.

When Steven passed away three or four years ago, since then it’s really become clear to me that he was a main motivating factor for, say, myself and John MacLeod and Owen [Burgess] and Chris [Terry], a couple of other people, Martha [Johnson] probably too. Because he was picking up guitar and playing, and listening to all kinds of cool bands, and dressing weird and stuff. And he was very outgoing and very involving… He was a big factor, in my mind and I think in a lot of other people’s minds, for getting things happening. And you can see the number of bands he was involved in… [John Ford]

Not to mention, there was some cultural acolytes, or people like Steven Davey would be definitely one person that kind of pointed everybody in the right direction. I think amongst all of us, he probably had his finger on the cultural shifts or cultural changes that were going on. So we all came together around that idea, these cultural shifts, cultural changes, as completely unknowing kids, right? You’re just looking for something to get into. [Chris Terry]

For us, though, as I say, if you’re going to talk about anything we did up in Thornhill, Steven Davey was absolutely the driving force of that. I mean, he’s the guy who would walk in in 1967 with a David Bowie album, or something like that, and make you listen to it. [John MacLeod]

I met Steven Davey in my final years of high school at Thornhill Secondary School and he made a lasting impression on me that said “here is an smart, interesting guy who doesn’t mind being different and has strong opinions about almost everything.” We became friends as did a whole group of us whose passion for pop music was our link, along with a common sense of humour as well as a healthy questioning of the status quo. [Martha Johnson]

We always referred to him as “The Steve.” Yeah. He could be a pain in the ass, but he could also be a really good friend. [John Corbett]

He was interested in doing his own kind of music, and anyone that could get along with him and talk to him and be around him just got swept up in his enthusiasm for it. We all did. [Owen Burgess]

A voracious record collector, Davey’s influence can first be understood through his musical interests. At the height of the summer of love, Davey was lukewarm about the soporific psychedelia of North America bands and favored their sartorially and musically more refined counterparts from the UK, like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and the Nice. A reverence for the Kinks, by that time well into their self-conscious ‘British’ phase, underscored his encyclopedic reverence for classic transatlantic pop songwriting of the 50s and 60s. He further resonated with the outlandish outsider rock of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. And he was musically prescient enough to sniff out the first (tw)inklings of what by the new decade would become glitter rock: T. Rex, David Bowie, Sparks, Roxy Music, and (particular beloved by the Thornhill kids) the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Although music was his first love, Davey appreciated it within the broader aesthetic milieu, particularly fashion, art, and film, celebrated by swinging London and Warhol’s NYC. Photos from his late high school to college years show his fashion sense evolving from the late 60s British mod dandy to the early 70s glittering art-rocker. If he didn’t don such duds every day, then he looked for and even set up occasions to do so: high school talent shows, parties, rock concerts, Toronto flaneurie.

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

Significantly, Steven Davey recognized he was gay. Glenn Schellenberg cautions against an essentialist perspective on the sexuality of Davey or other members of the Dishes (the mid-70s band they both belonged to). Steven “wasn’t really like gay, you know, in that kind of identity way” in his Thornhill days. Rather, music, art, and other forms of everyday culture provided fodder for formulating alternative ideas and sensibilities — alternative to the Canadian hetero mainstream, as well as “that whole homo aesthetic that was happening at the time” — from which to develop their own sense of queer sexual identity. To say this was out of the ordinary for a late 60s North American suburb is an understatement.

I never thought about, you know, I guess me being naïve, never thought about the gay aspect when [Steven] was in high school. But he was definitely different, wearing sort of nehru jackets, you know, and everybody else was just wearing sweaters and shirts and stuff. And so he was always pushing the envelope that way. And he was into the music early and all that kind of stuff. And it must have been utter hell for him growing up. [Carl Finkle]

If it was, Davey felt remarkably confident putting himself out there, to find or cultivate like-minded individuals from among the “outcasts” that were his friends. Indeed, Davey is fondly remembered by his friends for his motivational abilities. He brought people together and cajoled them to join his next project, or to form their own. He identified talents and resources that people had and put them into action, to support his own activities but also to foster a scene — as suburban and remote as it might be for a Thornhill teenager. For instance, Davey was unafraid to voice his opinion about what role or instruments individuals should play.

Steven Davey would tell you, “Hey listen, I can get you in at Sayvette in the record department working with me Friday and Saturday. But you know, hey man, listen: why don’t you buy a bass?” “Okay.” [chuckles] So I’d save up my money, you know, go down to Whaley & Royce and buy a bass. And then if he had a spat with John Corbett, then I’d get dabbed in as a bass player. [John MacLeod]

Without Steven’s encouragement I never would have bought my Ace Tone organ for several hundred dollars that I really couldn’t afford. I barely knew how to play a keyboard but I had a good ear. ‘Telstar’ sounded great on it. It ended up on ‘Echo Beach’ and many other early Martha and the Muffins’ songs. I still have it. [Martha Johnson]

Steven Davey’s stationery circa 1971. Photo by Owen Burgess.

A 1972 photo shows Davey’s own customized stationary, embellished with a line-drawn self-portrait and the letterhead “steven h. davey • the starmaker.” It’s tempting to read into it a foreshadowing of Davey’s legacy in the future Queen Street West scene. Certainly we can observe, through his particular mix of enthusiasm and irony, Steven’s ambitions for himself and his friends.

Next – the bands of Thornhill.



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