The Flyer Vault: 150 Years of Toronto Concert History

After my last book which took me a month and a week to finish, I needed a lighter read next. Whereas Le Ton beau de Marot was both a weighty and an academic read, The Flyer Vault: 150 Years of Toronto Concert History by Daniel Tate & Rob Bowman was light only on content. Its pages were substantially glossy and thick, rendering its 306 pages as heavy as the 700+ page Marot

The title refers to Tate’s vast library of concert flyers which he and music journalist Rob Bowman researched and wrote about. They reproduced these posters in vibrant colour, and found yellowed newspaper ads for some very early Toronto shows. I always had to use a magnifying class to read the fine print on the posters, which are essentially illegible when shrunk to fit the dimensions of even a large paperback. 

Chapters were divided by musical genre and era. The authors deliberately ignored classical music, yet profiled inasmuch as it could genres by chronological history, starting thus with minstrel shows and vaudeville, followed by jubilees, spirituals and gospel tours, then jazz, blues, country and folk, followed by all forms of popular music from post-WWII. 

A book of such length should have taken me merely a couple days to read, but unfortunately I found I could only take in two chapters at a time. The format of showing a poster and then listing the contents and a concert review, if there was one available, made for a sleepy read after an hour. 

Tate and Bowman were competent researchers who often proved the newspapers wrong when concerts were cancelled or rescheduled last-minute, leaving the public record–newspaper ads and public posters–still showing the incorrect dates. Their research proved that even the memories of the performers themselves were wrong at times. I still found some inconsistencies, though, for example in regards to the date of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first concert in Toronto. Was it in July 1983 at the CNE Bandshell (as stated on page 52) or in June 1983 at the Concert Hall (page 53)? The text was otherwise flawless with the exception of the possessive apostrophe error of it’s for its on page 278: “…it certainly had it’s coming out party in Toronto.” I also wondered why they always referred to Patti Smith as a poetess and not simply a poet.

Bowman exposed the sometimes racist reviews left by Toronto newspaper columnists. Open-mindedness was not a trait of some reviewers, who preferred to see and hear exactly what they expected on concert stages. Innovative artists who decided to shake up their performances were often given the thumbs down. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to read Bowman’s favourable review of Yoko Ono’s performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival:

“Yoko Ono contributed an astonishing version of ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow),’ which the conservative Toronto media of the time predictably trashed. History would prove their take on Yoko to be both racist and artistically wrong-headed given the influence Yoko would have on numerous new wave and alternative rock bands to come.”

The Flyer Vault is a rich trip down memory lane where clubs and venues of the past come back to life and on more than one occasion I stopped myself and recalled “Oh yeah, I was there!”

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