Liner notes appear on the sleeve of an album or CD case and contain a mix of anecdotal or factual information. They often reflect the artists’ personality and contain meaningful statements about the art or life issues. My Liner Notes is a regular feature on Music Canada that allows people of all walks of life to share personal reflections about music.
My Favourite Music Venues
The measure of an artist for me has almost always been whether he (or she, or they) can cut it live. I've seen artists whose studio recordings I've absolutely loved, but if they were indifferent or uninspired performers, I'd never quite get over my disappointment and thus never quite feel the same about that album or track that I loved.
I grew up in Toronto, with a hiatus from the city spent in the Quinte area between the ages of 11 and 17. My teenage live music experiences before moving back to Toronto really weren't much cop; the acts I saw were mainly unmemorable 3rd rate mid '70s road warriors that toured the hinterlands and played in the Trenton High School gym, or at the local Knights of Columbus Hall. I did get to drive to Toronto with my pals' older brothers a couple of times to see shows at Maple Leaf Gardens, the most memorable of which was The Who (if I'm not mistaken it was Keith Moon's last ever live touring performance with the band).
The week of my 17th birthday in January '79, my family moved back to Toronto. After recovering from my initial disappointment that my parents had bought a house in deepest, darkest Scarborough (West Hill to be precise, which is practically Pickering), I began daily treks after school to hang out downtown, which was of course where the action was, and thus began my proper immersion in the music subcultures of the city, circa '79-'80.
In no particular order, here are the venues that began (and consolidated) the process of damaging my hearing while making me a life long live music devotee.
Toronto's hockey temple was never about that for me as I am utterly indifferent to the game. I saw a few shows there in my late teens, but as I was switching most of my allegiance over to the righteous paths of punk and other forms of what was then accurately identified as 'alternative' or 'independent' music late in my 17th year, the idea of shed shows became anathema. I have fond memories of Cheap Trick there at the height of their powers and success (with Graham Parker and the Rumor opening), Metallica on their 'And Justice For All' tour, and the aforementioned 'Oo. There's nothing quite like your first big arena shows when you're a rock 'n' roll lifer.
Strictly speaking, this Ryerson (then Polytechnic, now University) bar stopped presenting artists not long after I reached the legal drinking age of 19, but doorman English Paul quite liked me so would sneak me in the back door and let me watch hidden in the shadows when I was still under age. It was a grotty little room with a low stage, so there was little division between the audience and the bands, perfectly encapsulating the breakdown of the line that separated the two that the new music was partly meant to be about. Stand outs for me at that now hallowed room include The Slits, The Diodes, and William S. Burroughs (reading in support of the publication of 'Cities of the Red Night'. He actually made an odd sort of pass at me, much to my girlfriend's amusement).
The Concert Hall (Masonic Temple):
I can think of no other venue anywhere else that I have lived where I saw so many artists that I loved; between the ages of 18 and 22 I probably saw an average of a show every two weeks there. The sound wasn't always great, but it usually was at least acceptable, and it was a decent size venue that didn't dwarf the performers and felt resonably intimate. Off the top of my head, I remember The Stranglers, PiL, The Replacements, REM, OMD, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Steel Pulse, The Cramps, Iggy Pop, The Stray Cats, The Jam, King Sunny Ade, Los Lobos, English Beat, and the Psychedelic Furs before they went pop. Promoters The Garys were strong supporters of local acts and gave them great support slots, although the bands weren't always a good match and occasionally suffered the consequences (Men Without Hats opening for The Stranglers, anybody?). I think I saw Gary Topp's mate Nash the Slash opening more shows there than any other act.
Yes, the old upstairs music room was somewhat stupidly configured (it was a long narrow room with the stage against one of the longer walls, so that very few people were actually in front of the band), but the PA sounded great and for a decade or two it hosted many of the finest live acts in rock and other genres, through the first wave of punk and beyond. I was too young to have caught some of the venue's most famous shows (The Stones, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Lou Reed), but I did catch phenomenal shows there by the likes of X, The Blasters and Rank & File, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Tom Waits. No offense to the lovely Yvonne Matsell, who books the revamped downstairs room at the El Mo these days, but the joint isn't a patch on what it once was.
An intimate upstairs room in what was then the Spadina Hotel (now a backpacker's hostel), it was run by the very sweet, and accomodating Jimmy the bar man (who I understand has now passed away) who for some reason never seemed put off by the various freaks and rockers who played and hung out there. It had a sort of cozy suburban rec room ambience and was just a great place to spend an evening drinking and listening to bands like L'etranger, Woods are Full of Cuckoos, High Noon, and The Tenants (pals of mine who I worked the door for at many Toronto venues of the time).
Now the site of an Asian restaurant across from the City TV building (or whatever it is now), it was another dive bar in a crummy hotel that boasted clean, unobstructed views, cheap beer and souvlaki (sold by a crusty, bad tempered, highly profane Greek man who was at times more entertaining than the bands), and best of all, never charged a cover. I fondly recall shows by Breeding Ground, Kinetic Ideals, Rent Boys, Handsome Ned, The Rheostatics before they became artsy, and of course, The Dave Howard Singers.
Perhaps my favorite room of all in the Toronto scene of that era, and probably second only to the Concert Hall for my memories of fantastic nights out. The hotel above it was an absolute den of iniquity, full of hookers and junkies and pimps and lowlifes (I had my stuff ripped off not once but TWICE from the locked dressing room that was broken into mid set), and the room itself was a scuzzy, reeking basement, but the low ceiling and a powerful rig made it one of the best sounding live rooms in the city. My memorable Larry's shows include Bauhaus, The Cramps, Husker Du, James Chance and the Contortions, and REM.
I've seen great shows in many venues in London (The Forum, The Garage, Electric Ballroom, Borderline), New York (Roseland, Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom), Boston (The Paradise, Orpheum, Middle East) and others, but the live music experienced in one's formative years makes an indelible impression that can't be topped or bettered as one ages and becomes a more seasond, cynical gig goer. Perhaps part of it too has something to do with the sentiment expressed in something I saw posted on Facebook last week that said 'I may be old but I saw all the good bands.' Damn, I wish I still had all my stubbs from those shows.
Ian Gilchrist ran Rounder Records Canadian operation for seven years, and has worked in home entertainment and music distribution, marketing and product development in the US, UK and Canada. He currently lives in London, England and is the Product Development Executive for independent Delta Leisure Group in Orpington, Kent.