Toronto has some bragging rights it rarely exploits.
Believe it or not, in the mid-to-late '70s, punk bands loved Toronto. While few homegrown acts found international success at the time though, the city's support and interest in the overall scene ensured some of its essential international players prevailed, garnering attention outside of their own urban centres. In short, Hogtown was a keystone in the formation of punk rock.
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Thanks to photographer Simon White however, this historical neglect is poised to change. His forthcoming exhibit dubbed Toronto Calling: Photographs of the British New Wave as it happened in Toronto 1979-1981 opens this week and runs until April 1 at the Steamwhistle Brewery (255 Bremner Blvd.) and features some of the city's most authentic musical moments finally being given the attention they deserve.
“(Toronto Calling) is basically a lot of photographs of the punk scene because a lot of bands were coming up from New York or over from England, but they were playing in these small clubs,” White says about his array of oversized shots depicting the likes of The Clash, The Ramones, Johnny Rotten, U2, The Specials and more at a time when they were starving unknowns striving for recognition.
“It was happening three or four nights a week. You'd wander down to clubs and see The Police or The B-52s for five bucks. This show intends to display the feeling of the bands and atmosphere happening at the time.”
Introduced to punk rock at 16 by an older brother, after hearing The Sex Pistols, White recalls tossing his previous collection and delving headfirst into the fledgling activity. Capturing every band he could, White had little expectation of his hobby's magnitude, only realizing its cultural impact some three decades later.
“My son saw the photos and said that other people might be into this,” he shrugs, pondering the belated exhibition. “Why did I wait so long? I have no idea. I just felt that the time is right now. (Back then), I felt (punk) was the leading edge of what was to come but I didn't expect to see the success that these people ended up achieving.”
Still, while Toronto Calling finally pays overdue tribute to T.O.'s role in punk's roots, White admits that his time clicking away from centre stage is long gone. He hopes such an exhibit will inspire the next generation of more agile photographers to document current moments in the city's ongoing musical legacy.
“The excitement and flare of the day inspired me to bring my camera and capture the images I was seeing. I don't quite feel the same way about the music these days. It's for the kids now. It gives them excitement and makes them feel alive which is great. That's what this type of music is supposed to do.”