Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Up The Beach

I have lived in the same neighbourhood for my entire life, The Beach. You can always tell a newcomer (aka a “blow in”) when they refer to it as The Beaches. Yes, there is more than one named beach but it is one long Beach. There are more than one Bill or Bob as well but we don’t call them Bills or Bobs. ‘Nuff said. My parents grew up in The Beach and both of my children were born and raised­ here. At times I feel like Al Waxman when I walk along Queen Street East as I know a good percentage of the locals.

I have seen all the changes in the neighbourhood as chain stores slowly worm their way in and local shop owners and craftsmen are weeded out. The same can be said for other parts of Toronto as well. Hell who ever thought there would be a Joe Fresh and a Loblaws across from The Shanghai and Bovine. When Darryl opened The Bovine 21 years ago Queen Street West was an untamed animal.

There is a rich musical heritage in the community that goes back many years. The main non-Catholic high school in the area for the last odd hundred years is Malvern Collegiate. I attended Malvern as did my parents and my children. Film maker Norman Jewison was a Malvern grad as was sports team owner Jack Kent Cooke. Of all the famous alumni it was my Dad’s grade nine science partner who left the largest musical legacy. According to Dad he always wore gloves on his hands and usually sported a cap and scarf regardless of the temperature outside. According to Buck (Dad) he was an odd duck. He was Glenn Gould. Glenn lived around the corner from the school at 32 Southwood Drive and there is a historical plaque in front of the house. Gould’s next door neighbour was noted journalist and author Robert Fulford who also attended Malvern at the same time as Gould and future Alberta premier Don Getty.

When I went to Malvern in the early seventies we used to have dances with real bands once a month. Local acts like Fludd, Brutus, Devotion, A Foot In Coldwater, Steel River, Triumph, Copper Penny and Max Webster would take over the gym and grace us with one or two sets. They were young, and many still relied on playing  a cover song or two, but they set the musical bar. A Foot In Coldwater used to rehearse in the area and we occasionally would hear them practice in a local basement. Now none of us became certified rock stars during my era but Steve Sherman and Wayne Frost (the only other guy at Malvern with an earring) could sure shred. The closest any of us came was a local older girl by the name of Babette who ended up marrying Alice Cooper drummer Neil Smith. Guitar virtuoso Liona Boyd lived on Fallingbrook Drive but, with the exception of being Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s date one year to the Juno Awards, she didn’t seem to have too much rock’n’roll in her. Edward Bear also had Beach roots and their old management office used to be located at Neville Park and Queen and was easily recognizable from the band’s iconic logo in the window.  A couple years after I finally left Malvern we did have a couple of famous folks make a quick respite at the school former Dogstar bassist Keanu Reeves as well as Kiefer Sutherland (who attended for slightly more than 48 hours).

The latest group to make it from old MCI is Down With Webster. With a couple of gold EP’s under their belts members of this group went to school with my kids and spent many a night pouring over my massive CD collection in the basement. Members of Jerry Leger & The Situation (now just finishing a very successful eastern tour and releasing their latest album next week) also went to the school with the kids.

On my street alone I can count members of the Crash Test Dummies, The Hollywood Brats and Gemini award winning composers as neighbours. Also in the nearby area are studio owners, record executives, label owners, managers and a host of others still in the business. Dan Hill is a long-time resident, Haydain Neale fell in love with the area and Paul Quarrington wrote a song about the guy “Hollywood” who sells pens in front of the local IGA. Former past residents include Geddy Lee, Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane and Barenaked Lady Ed Robertson.

Although not a hotbed for live rock’n’roll rooms many of the smaller pubs and restaurants do offer live entertainment. You are not going to see the next Tragically Hip at any of these places but there are some great singer-songwriters who are regularly performing up and down Queen Street East. It is more of a Cameron House vibe than a Horseshoe vibe.

One club that has really impacted the local scene is Castro’s Lounge ( at 2116 Queen Street East (corner of Wineva). Larry Macrae (another local) and I discovered this place when it first opened. Always ready for a good pint we loved the intimate vibe of the room and the great collection of photographs which captured everyone from The Yardbirds and John Lennon to Ayn Rand and, of course, FidelCastro. Live music crept in to the room slowly but over the course of the last couple of years owner Anthony Greene has clearly defined what the room is all about. He has instituted a series of residencies with an eclectic combination of artists. On most Thursday nights Jerry Leger & The Situation holds court, late Friday afternoons is the domain of rockabilly legend Ronnie Hayward (featuring Teddy Fury on the traps), Big Rude Jake has a Saturday afternoon residency and Tuesday nights are a combination of bluegrass and then the acoustic sounds of blueVenus. The room is small (capacity of around 50) but the beer menu is enormous. There is never a cover and most bands will “pass the hat” a couple of times during the afternoon or evening. Dave Bidini has performed in the room many a time and last summer we had a great day with The Little Stevies from Australia.  It’s a great little room and is a sure bet if you are ever in The Beach.

A new addition to the hood is The Record Vault. The predominantly vinyl store opened near Maclean and Queen earlier this summer. We have been without a record store in the Beach for a couple of years, and although you can’t get new releases here (with the exception of some local artists) it is great to have a place to browse through rack after rack of vinyl. They are building their website ( and have been very active on Facebook and Twitter. As well as vinyl there is a decent collection of rock books, turntables and a smaller collection of CD’s. One really nice addition is the back room of the store which hosts acoustic performances, poetry readings and internet radio recordings. Hopefully the local community will be supportive and the store will grow.

A great little secret during the annual Beach Jazz Fest is that the fabulous deck of the Balmy Beach Canoe Club is open to the public for the three nights  Queen Street East is closed. It is one of the best decks in the city and last year Paul James tore it up for three nights.I love it here and hopefully will never have to leave.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.


3 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Up The Beach”

  1. i will never call it the beaches again hahaha. another great piece cam!

  2. Yeah, I heard that the residents of The Beaches were snobs all the way out here in Oregon. I’m sorry, man, but if there are more than one, it’s plural. Now, about those beers you owe me…..

  3. Love this story…my dad told the same stories of growing up in that area…went to school with Glenn Gould lived on neville park..probably knew your dad

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