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Wanted: Toronto alt rock and punk from the ’70s and ’80s

Before CanCon required a certain amount of Canadian music be played on the airways, punk and alt rock musicians did their best to play, to record, to get out into the world and create a fan base.

So what happened to all the music that fell off the radar but was anonymously – and strongly – influential to generations of artists?

CCS Rights Management  has launched the Punk Rock Project and is looking for help in preserving it and giving those musicians of the ‘70s and ‘80s their due while creating a better archive of the Toronto music scene of yore.

“Toronto had an amazing underground music scene and community,” said Michael Timmins, a current member of Cowboy Junkies and former member of Hunger Project in the ‘80s.  “Just a small portion of that music was caught on tape but it’s exciting that some of it may now be given its due 35 years later.”

CCS is looking to collect Canadian alternative music “with the goal of creating a fresh, unique and diverse pool of music for use by the creative industries.” Collecting this music and making it available again would not only introduce a whole world to younger audiences but could help revive sounds and scenes long since forgotten.

A handful of bands already have signed on for CCS’ initiative, including Timmins’ Hunger Project.

The effort was inspired, at least in part, by a relatively recent book, Alone and Gone: The Story of Toronto’s Post Punk Underground, written by Nick Smash, a member of Rent Boys Inc.  “As we sail ever torturously into the early 21st century with its myriad multimedia opportunities, there is a Canadian publishing company who shared my confused state of mind about this era’s ‘lost’ music and want to do something to try and fix that.”

Ian Gilchrist, CCS’ creative manager in the UK who lived in Toronto during this time, calls the effort a labour of love.

“I was very much a part of the downtown Toronto music scene from 1980 and saw many of the first group of artists who have so far endorsed our efforts,” Gilchrist says. “I am really pleased to be able to shine a light on these bands that I spent many a night watching in storied Toronto dives like the Beverly, the Cabana Room and Larry’s Hideaway.”

Others joining in the fun early are Rent Boys Inc, The Young Lions, Stark Naked and the Fleshtones, Tulpa, A Neon Rome, The Government and Sturm Group.

“It was a glorious time to be a young, rabid music fan,” CCS says of the era. “You showed your allegiance to the alternative musical mind-set by dressing in a way that got you yelled at or laughed at or, in more extreme instances, roughed up by longhaired youth and even grown men (and women) who were inexplicably threatened by your refusal to adhere to their cultural norms.”

Adds Gilchrist, “We want to hear from people across Canada who were actively independently between the late ‘70s and early ‘90s and would like to take part in the project… Just like the scene was in that really incredible era when few rules applied, the post punk project is inclusive.”

So if you were in one of the bands of this era, or remember a band you loved from this era, give them a shout.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 521 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

2 thoughts on “Wanted: Toronto alt rock and punk from the ’70s and ’80s

  • Great idea! I really loved the Toronto music scene in the 80’s, it was such an exciting time. For me anyway.

  • Takes me back. I remember A Neon Rome at Larry’s Hideaway. The lead singer would swing his mic like Roger Daltry, except he’d let go, sending the mic flying into the crowd, smashing beer glasses on the tables. Skinny Puppy at RPM – the only time I’ve seen an angle grinder & a 55 gallon drum used as a musical instrument. Those were the days.


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