JAIMIE VERNON – DISHING WITH STEVEN DAVEY

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WARM KITSCHENETTE
Dishes_Steven2Wednesday the Toronto music scene was in shock after learning that former Dishes drummer/songwriter and NOW! Magazine food critic Steven Davey had passed away of unknown causes. His death was the first shock, learning about it via NOW’s website was the second. We now live in a social media world where news travels faster than we can digest it. Needless to say, we were all taken aback on both counts. Long time music scene journalist Donna Lypchuk weighed in, as did The Diodes’ John Catto who offered a wonderful eulogy; and it all played out on Amy Mech’s Facebook page as she is NOW’s frontline administrative Girl Friday and had known Steven for over 13 years.  Heartbreaking.

I don’t recall the exact details of my first contact with Steven – most probably from emails through my Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia in an effort to  correct (or improve) the Dishes’ entry on our website. It might have also been through graphic designer and former Diodes manager Ralph Alfonso. I don’t recall.

Last PogoRegardless, in 2001 Steven and the former members of The Dishes were looking to have their recordings released on CD. Word got out that Bullseye was the place to do it. Come to think of it, it may have been former Mods drummer David Quinton-Steinberg that put us in touch as there was talk about all the bands who had participated in Colin Brunton’s famed ‘Last Pogo punk movie filing a cease and desist order with a label that was planning to release the movie’s soundtrack on CD. That project had included Steven’s next band The Everglades and there was talk of having each band (Ishan Band, Everglades, Viletones, Teenage Head, Cardboard Brains, The Mods, et al), instead, give Bullseye first rights to the material which was, at that point, in copyright limbo.

At any rate, with Steven being the food critic for NOW! Magazine, he asked me to go out for lunch – which he’d order on my behalf so that he could get a sense of more than one dish in his restaurant review. We did this on several occasions so we could get to know each other and he could explain the vision for the Dishes’ re-issue. He was also a scandalous gossip and confided in me some 35 year-old dirt. But I digress….Dishes2

It was important to capture a sense of The Dishes’ place within the Toronto Queen Street circuit during its mid-1970s infancy. In fact, there is strong support for the notion that they started what would soon become the simultaneously exploding alternative and punk scenes.

In the suburbs of Toronto in 1975 Scott Davey and Tony Malone decided to form a band that was the complete antithesis of the mind-numbing music heard on local FM airwaves. They dubbed the band the Dishes. After some line-up adjustments, in February 1976 the Dishes featured Murray Ball (vocals), Michael Lacroix Dishes4(saxophone), Ken Farr (bass), and Scott’s brother Steven Davey (drums). They quickly began a weekly residency at the Beverly Tavern in Toronto. With a strong visual image coupling short hair ‘n’ uniforms and original material that owed much to art-rock pioneers Roxy Music, David Bowie, and the Kinks, the Dishes were an immediate sensation with Toronto’s burgeoning avant-garde art scene.

 

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The Dishes’ success soon inspired their audience of frustrated musicians and artists to start their own bands. Within a year of their debut, The Diodes, Martha And The Muffins, The Cads, The Curse, Johnny And The G-Rays, The Government, and The Viletones were embedded in the scene. Even more significantly, the Dishes’ Beverly Tavern gigs – 14 weeks-worth that year alone – kick-started the about-to-be-hip strip’s scene of cool clubs, art galleries, and trendy eateries. (Editor’s Note: Let’s not forget Sandy Stagg’s Peter Pan Restaurant, where many of these people worked…mostly in the kitchen.)

Dishes_Fashion PlatesIn May 1977, The Dishes released their EP Fashion Plates on their own Regular Records label. It would sell 4,000 copies. By this time, Malone had left The Dishes to start Drastic Measures and was replaced by 18 year-old Glenn Schellenberg. That year The Dishes worked with performance artist David Buchan on two shows – ‘Geek Chic’ at the King Edward Hotel Ballroom and ‘Fashion Burn’ at The Diodes’ Crash ‘n’ Burn club – as well as a show called ‘Hot Property’ with international art stars General Idea who performed it at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The band was also featured several times in the pages of General Idea’s ‘FILE’ Megazine. The Dishes also became a regular opening act for Carole Pope and Rough Trade.

Dishes1In August 1977, TVOntario recorded The Dishes in an outdoor concert at the University of Toronto for its program ‘Night Music’, and broadcast the results over 20 times. [TVO would later trash their entire video archive into a dumpster where The Dishes managed to salvage the original VTR tape].

Dishes_Hot PropertyEarly 1978 saw the release of The Dishes’ second EP – Hot Property, with cover art by General Idea – and the band’s return to the Beverly for a series of standing-room-only appearances. They also appeared with Talking Heads at the re-born Horseshoe Tavern that Spring.

Material was gathered from the two 7” EPs and a restoration of the audio from the famed TV Ontario ‘Night Music’ performance at Queen’s Park and packaged as Kitschenette: The Best of The Dishes’.
Artwork was designed by long time friend of the Queen Street scene Erella Ganon showing the group’s playful photogenic whimsy. The alternative press reviewed the disc favourably and the former members seemed pleased that their place in history was finally set in stone.

Dishes_CD

DRINK TO ME: THE KEITH WHITTAKER EPITAPH
WhittakerSteven came to me several years later about another project near and dear to his heart which was initially in the hands of Ralph Alfonso’s Bongo Beat label. Steven was anxious to get it out to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of The Demics’ Keith Whittaker.

Ralph had worked on a lot of Bullseye projects over the years as graphic designer and when I asked if I could expedite the project for Steven he was reluctant at first but eventually said yes as his schedule was becoming increasingly more pressed for time between his Nettwerk Records design job and his own Bongo Beat Record label.

Demics Talks CheapThe Demics began in the late ’70’s in London, Ontario and soon moved from the small club setting where their style of punk was barely appreciated to the hotbed of the Canadian punk scene itself – Toronto. Soon, the band found itself the showpiece act on fledgling indie label Ready Records in Toronto and a 5-song EP called Talk’s Cheap  led to some notoriety on cutting edge Toronto radio like CFNY-FM with their track “New York City”.

Demics HypnoticThey were wooed to Tom Treumuth’s Hypnotic Records label who were more equipped, along with the Intercan label, to take the band farther with its distribution deal through Pickwick Records. The result was the self-titled debut album in 1980 and a re-recording of “New York City” which divided radio listeners and long-time fans who had grown fond of the earlier, raw, reading of the tune. The Demics’ rising star was short lived and the band split up amidst lack of a clear vision and musical direction following the loss of their deal on Intercan/Hypnotic.

In 1996, Jan Haust’s Other Peoples Music released a compilation CD of the Demics’ material. This was followed by Chart Magazine’s declaration of “New York City” as the greatest Canadian single of all time.

DemicsWhittaker spent years floundering and bristling at the notion that people thought The Demics were mere one-hit wonders. He openly scorned “New York City” – refusing to play it live in his solo act. Whittaker’s health, and social graces, began to deteriorate – but Steven Davey remained his closest ally who constantly pushed Keith to be creative without the Demics monkey on his back. Some home-demicstrafkeith9made acoustic demos were recorded at Steven’s apartment and showed a more human side to a singer whose public persona was always presented as a caustic affront to his followers. On July 16, 1996, Keith Whittaker died of cancer in Toronto.

Steven had the demo recordings digitally mastered and sequenced for CD. I assembled the artwork around Steven’s liner notes and Don Pyles’ photos. True to the spirit of Keith’s material, Steven chose a cheesy 1960’s modern prairie cowboy motif and we inserted a faux sticker on the cover that announced: “Does NOT include ‘New York City’ by The Demics.” Keith would have appreciated the anti-marketing of that statement.

drink to meWe launched the ‘Drink To Me disc at the very bistro in Kensington Market where Steven & Keith used to drink regularly while Keith held court and told his tall tales called Amadeus. A who’s who of Keith’s friends and supporters showed up including Crazy Steve of the Bunchofuckingoofs, members of the Dishes, Greg Keelor from Blue Rodeo, record label guru Cam Carpenter, Ian McKay from The Diodes and others. The consensus was that Keith would have loved and hated all the attention. http://stage81.nowtoronto.com/music/story.cfm?content=159427

Sadly, now, I sit on the master recordings that Steven had left behind. He was proud of his role in bringing them to life and allowing Whittaker to have a legacy beyond The Demics. The Steven_Martha And the Muffinsrecordings feature Steven on guitar – so this, too, is a moment in the life of Steven Davey that few may have known. His contribution to Toronto’s booming alternative scene in the 1970s is transfixed (including his long standing relationship with Martha & The Muffins – see photo). His sardonic wit and cranky, critical bitchiness was part of the complete memory I have of him. And that he turned me onto Ethiopian food. Rest in peace, Steven.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com orhttp://www.bullseyecanada.com


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