You will have almost definitely heard of the artists that Gary Topp first brought to Canada, including The Police and The Ramones. Author David Collier who worked with Gary believes Gary’s cultural impact in opening Canada to international musical talent has not been fully recognised. Collier repeats his disappointment in this graphic novel that Topp, along with his business partner Gary Cormier has not yet been included in the Order of Canada.
Very few biographers have previously worked with the person they have written about in the intimate way Collier has. Collier’s duties, not limited to, included changing marquee signage for headline shows, loading band equipment and security duties at shows. The author recalls how Topp was not just a silent partner. Collier witnessed first-hand how Topp built most of the stage at The Horseshoe venue to be ready for opening on time. Topp, who is described as “quite the carpenter”, would book The Police for several shows here.
Often interchanging as narrator with Gary, the reader learns about Topp’s childhood and how his family came to Canada. Gary met musician Ted Cole at summer camp who “was an accomplished musician” like Pete Seeger, who opened the young Topp’s “eyes and ears to good music”. Ironically, the author David Collier went to a YMCA camp where he met Dave Howard, who formed The Dave Howard Singers, who were resident in the UK in the second half of the 1980s.
From the gigs Topp promoted, Collier recollects the gigs that blew the young Topp away, including seeing Bob Dylan at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village in 1961 when Dylan opened for John Lee Hooker. This encounter with Dylan influenced Topp’s permanent style of dress, which Collier described as everything Dylan wore minus “the suede”. Gary’s first arena gig was the Rolling Stones in 1964, which he arduously defended in the face of critics. Gary complained to CHUM radio when they stopped playing the Rolling Stones music. A copy of the original disgruntled letter is included in this graphic novel.
Collier recalls with halcyon bliss the Canadian venues Gary ran, including The Roxy, The New Yorker, The Horseshoe and The Edge with gossip-worthy stories. The New Yorker hosted the first three Canadian shows the Ramones played. Jim Montecino played a gig there where he broke the record for the longest continuous piano playing, which resulted in paramedics being called. Our author also reflects when Gary rebuked him for misspelling the names of acts who performed at The Edge, including beatnik William Burroughs.
These venues suffered unfortunate demises such as The Roxy because the landlord would not make improvements unless Topp increased admission prices to “The original 99 cent Roxy” events. The Edge, known for its punk scene, sadly closed down before The Fall, who was booked to perform, could play. Collier also recalls, whilst Toronto now promotes the 1960’s music scene in Yorkville, the City of Toronto at the time “tried their best” to shut these venues down.
As well as telling Gary’s story, the author David Collier recalls his own experiences of falling off a ladder whilst updating the marquee at The Edge, the people he met and worked with, including Phil Smith (The Feds), who worked at The Edge as a bartender, and how they both got beaten up by Canadian border police for turning up drunk at the US border in an attempt to get into New York. Collier also recollects going to baseball games with Johnny Ramone and Gary, securing him work at The Hotel Isabella when The Edge closed down.
This biography is unorthodox, especially the ending. Like the black and white drawings, it is told with simplicity and straightforward honesty. Whilst Collier is undeniably in awe of Topp; he does not give in to temptation and deluge the reader with the names of the acts Topp booked. Instead, he recalls the most personal and intimate stories and reflects on the humble culture of mucking in which Topp himself brought to the table. Through TOPP: Promotor Gary Topp Brought Us the World, one celebrates a true internationalist who brought music to everybody, not just Canada. After all, the “British cohort was The Edge’s biggest spending customers”.