After the cops cracked down on the “degenerate” hippies and bikers peddling free love and dope in Toronto’s Yorkville bohemia, the city’s music scene went into hyper-drive in the ‘70s with a youthful cast of characters booking shows into shabby and chic clubs and warehouses sporting names like the Electric Circus, the Rock Pile, Larry’s Hideaway, The Gasworks, Piccadilly Tube, the Horseshoe, Crash ‘N’ Burn, and The Edge.
It was a time of emancipation that took its style from the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and its collective voice of protest from poet Bob Dylan. Its nexus was Around Again–a second-floor walk-up on a Bloor Street block that would eventually be annexed by Holt Renfrew as little bohemia's threadbare dreams became a millionaire's row of sculpted flesh and plastic cash.
Front and centre of this inspired cultural vortex in taste were The Garys, Topp and Cormier.
Topp had been running films at the Original 99-cent Roxy on Danforth Avenue, and New Yorker cinema on Yonge Street where he hired carpenter Cormier to build a stage so the soft-seater could double as a space for small concerts. These two were joined at the hip from the start and became the city’s trendsetting taste-makers with an exotica of avant-gardes spanning modern jazz, new wave, punk and rough-hewn wordsmiths.
Topper, as he is known to friends, uses a simple guide in deciding which acts to promote. If he is willing to pay to see them, then that is the guiding philosophy in booking them. Natural born scrappers (they once filed a $4M restraint of trade suit against concert giant CPI), their street-smart gruffness belied the easy-going mutuality they shared in musical taste.
All of which leads to Topper's latest endeavour, a biographical memoir concealed as a graphic novel called Topp: Promoter Gary Topp Brought Us the World, a 140-page paperback written and illustrated by former employee turned longtime friend David Collier, and published by Nova Scotia printing house Conundrum Press.
Topp had been approached several times about a book detailing his notable life and times and even spent a few errant hours writing a total of three pages before giving up the idea “of another book detailing endless minutiae that even I’m not interested in reading.”
The idea for a graphic tale popped into his head whilst visiting a Montreal bookshop. Collier’s resume and familiarity with the subject made him the ideal candidate to ensure the project was executed with the Topp stamp of approval. The end result is an intriguing adventure of the spirit that is as easy to read as it is a fun exercise in capturing its off-beat subject matter. The graphic memoir works quite simply because it is sharply focussed, informative, funny, revealing, and very much in keeping with a tastemaker who has always lived in the shadow of the spotlight of his own creation.
Now semi-retired and still with his childhood sweetheart Heather, when asked to describe the partnership he had for over three decades with Gary Cormier, he doesn’t pause to think, and simply calls it “love”.
What a career, what a partnership, and for those of us caught up in his back pages, yes, there is to be a sequel.