The Police hang at The Edge in 1979 with Q107′s Gary Slaight (left) and Brian Master (third from left). Photo courtesy of Gary Topp.
Article originally published November 2, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
After punk exploded in the late ’70s, this infamous Gerrard Street new-wave mecca kept the fire burning into the ’80s—even if its many famous performers were in danger of getting doused by the overflowing upstairs toilets leaking onto the stage.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The Edge, 70 Gerrard St. E.
Years in operation: 1979-1981
History: On the northeast corner of Gerrard and Church sits a modest three-floor building that has had—and housed—many lives. It is said to have once been the residence of Egerton (pronounced “Edge-erton”) Ryerson, a prominent Canadian educator who, in 1852, founded the Toronto Normal School at what is now Bond and Gould streets.
Ryerson University is named after him, as was Egerton’s Restaurant and Tavern, a student hangout and folk-music club that opened at 70 Gerrard St. E. in the early 1970s. Licensed as a “listening room” and required to sell food, Egerton’s was open seven days a week, sold cheap beer, and booked live performers like Stan Rogers.
“We lived in the shadow of The Riverboat [in Yorkville] and bigger clubs that had bigger stages and dance floors, like the El Mocambo, Midwich Cuckoo Tavern, and Jarvis House,” recalls Derek Andrews, a veteran Toronto live-music programmer who got his start in the industry as a dishwasher at Egerton’s in January 1974.
Andrews would continue at the location for almost eight years, working his way up to busboy, waiter, and general manager. He shares that Egerton’s had been owned by Warren Beamish, PC candidate for the Rosedale riding in 1974’s federal election, before it was acquired by Bernie Kamin and Harvey Hudes, partners in Mosport Park, among other projects. The pair brought in a young Ron Chapman as co-owner and managing operator.
Chapman and Andrews—who together would run the Nite Life management company which represented artists including songwriter Eddie “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Schwartz, Paul Quarrington, and Ellen McIlwaine—would go on to book the likes of legendary funk drummer Bernard Purdie during Egerton’s later period.
But Chapman also had an eye on Toronto’s emerging underground. Late in 1978, he invited prescient concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier, together known as The Garys, to come book live music at Egerton’s.
The Garys were, by then, known for presenting live shows by eccentric singer-songwriters and cutting-edge jazz, blues, punk, and new-wave artists. Topp had programmed films—and occasional live bands, including the debut performances by both Rough Trade and Nash the Slash—at east-end movie theatre The Roxy. In 1976, Topp launched the New Yorker Theatre on Yonge (now the Panasonic), where artist David Andoff would introduce him to carpenter and fellow music head Cormier.
Partly influenced by screening Blank Generation, Amos Poe’s movie about early New York punk, Topp had decided he needed to build a stage at The New Yorker and bring in bands. Cormier and he were in sync, and joined forces to present The Ramones in September 1976, followed in ’77 by fellow New Yorkers the Dead Boys, U.K. punks The Vibrators, and locals including The Viletones and The Poles.
After rent was raised at The New Yorker, The Garys relocated to The Horseshoe Tavern where they built a stage, brought in sound and lighting, and booked bands beginning in March 1978.
“Our statement was that we were going to be Toronto’s first concert club,” says Topp.
They brought in a wide range of artists—from Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Etta James to Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders and a then unknown trio called The Police—before The Horseshoe’s owners opted to revert to a country format that December.
Enter Ron Chapman.
“Ron started coming down to The Horseshoe, and was there the night we did The Police,” recalls Cormier. “When everything kind of collapsed at The Horseshoe—when they said, ‘Take your fucking punk music and get out of here’—Ron said, ‘Come to Egerton’s.’
“Everybody thought it was a horrible idea because it was a little folk room. Although, if the truth be known, most of the shows that we did at The Horseshoe only drew 100 to 200 people. So I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll go to Egerton’s, and we’ll call it The Edge, and that’s that.’”
The Garys worked with Chapman and Andrews to quickly transform the Egerton’s space. It was painted black, the stage was moved, raised, and expanded, with sound and lighting upgrades also helping to create a proper concert space. The staircase that divided the long main room into two halves remained, as did a fireplace. Some walls were removed to increase capacity and (slightly) improve sightlines, but the venue’s wooden chairs and tables stayed put as per its dining licence. Food was served from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. The building’s second floor featured an office and washrooms with notoriously leaky toilets.
“The Edge didn’t really ‘open’ so much as enjoy a name change, with rebranding and a music-policy change,” explains Andrews. “The menu and staff were in fact the same initially. The reach was to catch the wave, so to speak, of young audiences coming out for live music.”
The venue’s official start date was December 31, 1978. Local favourites Martha and the Muffins brought in the New Year.
Why it was important: “The two-and-a-half year life of The Edge was like a high speed train running through Toronto music culture,” says Andrews. “The club was an exploding black box inside a colonial historic building. Sometimes the vibe was chilled by free jazz, folk legends, or blues artists, but the dominant sound was a mix of crunchy post-punk and British new wave.”
By 1979, Toronto’s music and art scenes were exploding. The city had style, originality, and attitude to spare. There was as much camaraderie as competition among bands in the downtown scene, with people pushing one another to go further.
As a 200-capacity live music venue that was open every day and night of the week, The Edge played a unique role. There were not many venues in town devoted to emerging, often esoteric live bands—though punks had previously infiltrated venues like Turning Point, Crash ’n’ Burn, and the infamous Larry’s Hideaway on Carlton Street—and certainly not on such a regular basis.
“There were a lot of little places having bands, but I don’t think there were any venues like The Edge, which was bringing in major international artists alongside the locals,” says Gary Topp. “It was a concert hall in the guise of a club, and it became a hangout.
“Because it was also a restaurant, with food during the day, you could go in and watch as people soundchecked. It was also all-ages, because it was a restaurant, and we put a PA out on the patio so people could still hear sold-out shows.”
“The Edge really did feel like a new beginning,” says veteran musician and photographer Don Pyle, a regular at the club. “Punk had happened, and the venues had been appropriate for that. Now, things were becoming artier and more experimental. This seated and more comfortable venue, with food even, reflected some kind of maturing in the ‘scene.’”
At a time when there weren’t large booking agencies, like-minded concert promoters across the continent formed bonds to bring over the Brits and others.
“The Garys brought in the who’s who of emerging acts of the day—be it locals, first plays from the U.K., and of course a lot of acts from New York City, Ohio, and beyond,” says Ivar Hamilton, another Edge regular who also held sway as the Import Music Director at CFNY 102.1 FM during its most adventurous years. “They were ahead of the curve on nearly every level, and that made The Edge such an iconic venue for the short time it was in existence. They didn’t always do punk and new wave; there was a great mix of genres of music, plus poetry and film. You had to be there!”
“The Edge was our little clubhouse,” says Gary Cormier. “All we wanted to do was see these bands. There were a few things behind our thinking. It was like: ‘Take me to a place I haven’t been,’ ‘Show me something I haven’t seen,’ and ‘Let me hear something I haven’t heard before.’ Underlying that whole theme was—to the rest of the industry—something akin to ‘Come on. Is that the best you guys can do? Is that all you’ve got?’ It wasn’t necessarily a sense of one-upmanship or whatever, but clearly we were on a different path than everyone else. There was nothing that we were afraid to do, and we were not afraid to fail. We lost so much money sometimes, but we weren’t in it for the money.”
Adds Topp, “The scene was so small back then that it was actually like a club—like the Mickey Mouse Club. We were all punkateers.”
“It was smallish, but really electrifying,” says Steven Leckie, best known as lead singer of seminal Toronto punk band The Viletones, who performed frequently at the club. “Looking back, I think The Edge was at an absolute peak of things. I lived just up the road, at Church and Isabella, and went almost every single night. Bands that now have big-name recognition would play three or four nights out of every seven.”
“The Edge was cooler than shit,” Carole Pope tells me. “All my close friends went there. It was like being at a club in New York or London.”
As lead singer of hugely influential Toronto band Rough Trade, Pope performed all over the city and toured internationally, but The Edge remains especially close to her heart.
“I saw so many great bands there: Ultravox, The Slits, John Sex, Nico, B-52s. The Slits were all about shocking the audience. One of the chicks said, ‘I have my blood,’ sharing with us that she was on her period. Nico was all-mysterious, wrapped in her Velvet Underground aura. Ultravox was amazing; I loved everything they did.”
“Within the first two to three months of The Edge, we did both XTC, and Ultravox with John Foxx, which was a completely different animal than without him, and they were just incredible shows,” Cormier recalls. “Every minute that those bands were on stage in that room were captivating, with the entire audience in sync. Those nights, you could go home without a nickel in your pocket and you thought you had the world by the tail.”
Topp is equally enthusiastic. “Everybody we booked was special to at least one, if not both of us. XTC played with Barry Andrews on keyboards, before he left. Sun Ra—the real Sun Ra, when he was alive—played, with half the band in the audience because there was no room on the stage. Nico played twice. One of the times, she was wandering around in the afternoon in the attic of the house and encountered a ghost. There were lots of punky shows—999, The Viletones. Wayne/Jayne County recorded Rock ‘N’ Roll Resurrection on New Year’s Eve in 1979. But of all the international artists, John Otway played the most, like five or six times.”
“The Edge was my favourite venue [in North America], followed by Max’s Kansas City in New York,” says eccentric British singer-songwriter Otway, billed as “rock and roll’s greatest failure” in new documentary Otway: The Movie. “The Edge was the gig in North America that felt very much like a U.K. venue. From the very first show there, we went down a storm. It was brilliant. The audiences, as I remember, got bigger and bigger each time we came over. It probably cost me a fortune because I believed if we could do this all over the continent we would crack America in no time.”
The Garys were notorious for booking oddball acts with cult status. Another was U.K. rockabilly outfit Crazy Cavan ‘n’ The Rhythm Rockers, the band responsible for altering Steven Leckie’s life and look.
“They were this working-class rockabilly band from Wales that managed to get around 50 teddy boys and girls to come with them on this North American jaunt,” says Leckie. “The next day, I changed my hair, I changed everything, and got really deep into U.K. rockabilly, which was way more glamorous than the American stuff.”
Surprisingly congenial for a guy once nicknamed Nazi Dog who earned a rep for cutting himself on stage and throwing himself into audiences, Leckie recalls that The Viletones in fact debuted their own stylistic and musical take on rockabilly at The Edge.
“It went over like Bob Dylan going electric,” he chuckles as we chat by phone. “It really went badly, but it gave the band a lot of longevity. Plus, it looked better and it seemed more primal. It was the sheer ego of it. I see rock ‘n’ roll as a glamour artform. For me, The Edge was really high glamour.”
Especially glamorous, it seems, were the club’s second-floor bathrooms, mentioned by almost everyone I spoke with.
“The bathrooms were above the stage, and were often fucked up,” says Topp. “Sometimes, the toilets would flood and the water would pour down on the stage while bands were playing.
“The best time of all was one night while Jonathan Richman played there. It was a Sunday, he was solo, and the water was pouring down at the front of the stage. He had the luxury of just moving back, and I was doing lights, as I usually did. That night, with the water falling in front of Jonathan, it was kind of like the coloured lights on Niagara Falls at night.”
That said, The Garys did work hard to create a sense of glamour at the street level. Posters blanketed downtown, ads were placed, and they had good connections with a handful of Toronto music journalists. While CFNY had the most obvious and significant programming overlap with the club’s bookings, particularly during the Ivar Hamilton and David Marsden years, both CHUM-FM and Q-107 featured some adventurous programming back then as well. Q-107 host Bob Mackowycz Sr. was frequently at The Edge and played many of its visiting bands on his popular 6 O’Clock Rock Report. Gary Topp even hosted a weekly show on the Q dubbed The Edge of Morning, Sundays from 1-2 a.m., in 1980.
The Garys saw the club as a springboard for emergent local acts.
“We nurtured a lot of local groups who got signed from playing regularly at The Edge and from being promoted the same ways we would promote The Police or whoever,” says Topp.
He namechecks more than a dozen Toronto acts of the time, including The Mods, Drastic Measures, The Sharks, The Curse, Spoons, Battered Wives, The Demics, The Dishes, Johnny and the G-Rays, Blue Peter, and The B-Girls.
“The B-Girls should have been The Go-Gos or The Bangles,” says Topp. “They deserved it, but they lived in small-town Ontario—that is, Toronto—so people didn’t believe in them.”
Martha and the Muffins certainly benefitted, both from frequent bookings and by snagging Arthur Fogel as tour manager. Fogel was a young musician hired by Derek Andrews; he was first a bartender and then made night manager. He worked at The Edge for about two years, before leaving to work with the Muffins and then at Concert Productions International (CPI).
“The Edge somehow [caught] the spirit of the time,” says Fogel. “It was cutting edge yet down to earth. It was kind of like seeing great artists in your living room.”
“It was an exciting time, and The Edge was one of the best venues Rough Trade ever played at,” says Pope. “It was hip, and everyone wanted to play there. The audience was really into it and The Garys were great to work with. They were music aficionados who really got it. So many bands launched their careers there.”
“Rough Trade was one of my favourite regular bands at the club,” Andrews says. “They filled the place, and were a perfect fit for our aesthetic. I fondly remember my parents joining me on a birthday night when I had to work, and Rough Trade was playing. The band must have already had their ‘High School Confidential’ hit because my folks were impressed that they were at the club. When Carole Pope grabbed her crotch, my dad covered mom’s eyes. They liked the show, though!”
That was part of The Edge’s charm: Audiences were a mix of in-the-know Queen Street types, queer art-school kids, and people who came from all over Southern Ontario to see bands that often played nowhere else in the region.
Who else played/worked there: “Considering the level of talent that appeared consistently, The Edge was a special place to be,” says Ivar Hamilton, who’s worked in marketing and promotion at Universal Music for the past 24 years. He remembers many favourites.
“The first Canadian show by Magazine was simply fantastic! I saw Ultravox in the John Foxx era, numerous Pere Ubu appearances, The Police’s second Canadian show, Penetration, Shrapnel, many appearances by Chris Spedding and Jonathan Richman. 999 tore the roof off the place, Nash the Slash almost had a second home there, and I remember a very early Martha and the Muffins playing, too.”
Don Pyle—who played The Edge as part of punk band Crash Kills Five before going on to form Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet with two of the three other band members—also caught dozens and dozens of shows. He photographed many of them, with the results included in his great 2011 book Trouble In the Camera Club.
“It was easy to go four nights a week,” says Pyle. “Bands I recall most vividly are The Dils, partly because I had helped book the shows and was a huge fan. XTC was really memorable because they were so great at that time, and it was still somewhat rare to see bands that had come from punk scenes with keyboards. Barry Andrews was so captivating to watch. Colin Newman [of Wire] played one of his first solo shows there, with light only coming from a film projected onto his band. Psychedelic Furs performed, without an album out in North America, and were totally amazing at that time. The Cramps played a few times, and were always incredible.”
The list of artists that performed at The Edge during its less-than-three-years is simply mind-blowing. Others who should be mentioned include Mink DeVille, John Cale, Alex Chilton, Squeeze, John Hammond, Joan Jett, Nona Hendryx, Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, The Teardrop Explodes, William Burroughs, X, and The Knack. (“They had all of these sponsored Marshall amps and they couldn’t get them to work—ridiculous,” chuckles Topp.) Joy Division was scheduled to perform May 25, 1980, but cancelled their North American tour when singer Ian Curtis committed suicide one week earlier.
A band that practically personified The Edge was Dick Duck & the Dorks. Singer Paul Ekness, like many of the band’s merry punksters, worked at the club and added to its family feel. John Otway would later bring them over to tour the U.K. and Scandinavia with him.
“There was a core of regulars that was relatively small, so everyone who was there often knew each other,” recalls Pyle. “Some people had been with The Garys since The New Yorker, like filmmaker Colin Brunton, who worked the door and box office, and a bouncer named Tank. The bands and the staff together created the atmosphere that was so different from most venues.“
Cook Catherine Lalande would cater The Garys’ shows through the years while bartender Chris Pegg went on to do lighting with them before forming his own company.
Derek Andrews also credits Edge staff including bookkeeper Jayne Martin, now a production manager; waitress Julia Sasso, now a leading choreographer; and Jordy Sharp, an ace busboy who would go on to buy The Brunswick House and hire Andrews to book Albert’s Hall.
“Jordy’s dad is Issy Sharp, of Four Seasons Hotels,” says Andrews. “Jordy was worth $600 million when he was clearing tables.”
“A good bunch of people worked hard, and had fun while making the club a great place to perform or to see a show,” summarizes Fogel, now CEO of Global Touring at Live Nation Entertainment. He’s organized tours for the likes of Bowie, The Police, Madonna, U2, and Lady Gaga. “The Edge holds its place as a great moment in time in the rich tradition of Toronto live music clubs.”
“The Edge years added important ingredients to the Toronto music menu,” adds Andrews. “It forever enhanced the credibility of Toronto as a music centre, and inspired thousands to believe that contemporary music culture deserved respect and attention. Gary Cormier and Gary Topp made that club a beacon, and deserve credit for the music alchemy it enjoyed.”
“It’s like I always say: When you break all the rules, everything is wrong, but it’s right,” says Cormier.
What happened to it: Though nights at The Edge were generally busy, the momentum was hard to maintain. Daytime restaurant sales had also slowed, and related expenses were high.
“The morning and lunch business actually suffered as a result of the brisk night business,” says Andrews, who worked in the building until a few weeks after The Edge closed. “It was harder to create a pleasant atmosphere after 200 sweaty, smoking youth pounded the place.”
Andrews reveals that staff paycheques had begun to bounce in the final months of The Edge, and the club’s owners closed it abruptly.
“The building was bought by the Catholic Church, and turned into a home for troubled youth,” says Andrews, who went on to also program at The Horseshoe and Harbourfront Centre, and is now Music Curator and Artist Manager for Luminato. “We all thought that was ironic, given the previous use: troubled youth and all.”
The Edge closed on June 6, 1981 as British singer-songwriter Kevin Coyne played the last of a three-night stint, his only Canadian shows ever. The Garys had tried to book Coyne for years and, in fact, had taken a chance on The Police because guitarist Andy Summers also played with Coyne.
By that point, The Garys had already begun booking larger concert venues like The Music Hall, Palais Royale, and The Concert Hall. They continued to set the pace throughout the 1980s, also bringing bands to large clubs like The Diamond and RPM.
Cormier now teaches concert promotion at George Brown College, and programs shows for the Toronto Jazz Festival and elsewhere.
Topp also remains active—and selective—as a concert promoter. On November 12, he presents Lydia Lunch—who once performed at The Edge as part of no-wave group 8-Eyed Spy—at Wrongbar, alongside The Dave Howard Singers and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan.
Ron Chapman went on to manage bands, produce films, and now runs marketing and communications company Brandworks.
Steven Leckie is at work on three books, two of them “deep memoirs,” and the other a poetry collection he expects to be available by year’s end.
70 Gerrard St. E. is now the location of Mary’s Home Emergency Shelter for women.
Thank you to Arthur Fogel, Carole Pope, David Barnard, Derek Andrews, Don Pyle, Gary Cormier, Gary Topp, Ivar Hamilton, John Otway, and Steven Leckie.