Published Sep 17, 2020Rock history has little love for promoters. Over the genre's 65 years, promoters, the folks who book artists into venues, tend to be portrayed as fly-by-night snake oil salesmen, more interested in making a quick buck than celebrating art and music.
Yet, by most accounts, Toronto promoter Gary Topp bucks this characterization. Read any account of Toronto's musical history and Topp is bound to come up. Along with partner Gary Cormier, "The Garys" as they were affectionately known helped to nurture Toronto's musical talent while making the city a key stop for international touring acts. They booked some of the first Toronto gigs for the Ramones, the Police and (in)famously threw the Last Pogo at the Horseshoe Tavern. Yet more often than not, Topp and Cormier are side characters in a different story.
Finally, Topp takes centre stage in Topp: Promoter Gary Topp Brought Us the World, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel illustrated by alt-comics veteran David Collier. At least he sort of does. Collier actually worked for Topp for many years at music venue the Edge and the book intersperses Topp's story with the cartoonist's own, giving readers a first-hand look at not only Topp's impact on artists but also on those who worked alongside him.
Each page is its own short story, told more or less in chronological order — Collier adds his own memories and current day musings on writing a biography for your boss throughout. We see Topp turn his back on the family business, become enchanted with Bob Dylan after seeing him in a New York coffeehouse and start screening rock films, notably Jimi Hendrix Live at Berkeley, around the city.
Topp made his first real mark on Toronto with the Roxy Theatre, introducing midnight screenings to the sleepy city, including a weekly showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He moved on to concert booking, first at the Edge and later at the Horseshoe Tavern, giving many local and international artists their big break in the city. Topp includes a healthy dose of memorabilia from these ventures, from photos, clippings and old concert posters to the handwritten letter a teenaged Topp sent CHUM 1050 in protest of the station banning the Rolling Stones from their airwaves. A bonus reprint of the self-published semi-autobiographical story "Dave Collier's Rock Concert," which takes place at Public Image Ltd.'s 1982 gig at the Masonic Temple, is also included.
The choice of Collier, who lives in Hamilton and whose resume includes collaborations with R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar, as a collaborator was an inspired one. His unique approach to the material bucks the usual rock autobiography tropes, putting a fresh spin on a familiar form, much like Topp has done throughout his career. The effect is a deeply affecting tribute to one of Toronto's unsung rock heroes. (Conundrum Press)