Toronto in march couldnt be more different to Toronto in the summertime. The coffee shops, and diners still hug the streets. The trolly busses still call out with their familiar dull rattle and boom. Only now we are joined by snow and gripped by a chill wind. Mounds of snow line each flank of the sidewalk, piled around four foot high as we take our first walk around the district we are staying in.
We’re out here to play Canadian Music Week. It’s an international music festival featuring the likes of Anna Calvi, Janel Monae and Bombay Bicycle Club, alongside some of Canada’s finest musicians like Mother Mother & Yukon Blonde – and there are many more of those I can tell you.
We are staying in the Art and Design district. This area of Queens Street West is steeped in music history. Our hotel is the Gladstone, a beautiful boutique hotel that has an amazing story of it’s own. It’s Toronto’s longest running hotel, former flop house and now transformed with a gallery, bar and venue with each bedroom individually imagined and styled by a local artist. It’s a pretty amazing find and another great discovery by Anna.
We wander past the nearby Drake Hotel. A hotel that, for a period was a seminal part of the Toronto music scene. It was the beating heart of Broken Social Scene as they partly helped bring it back to life, restoring it to a key Toronto venue after it fell into a state of disrepair. Another beautiful venue along our path is the Cameron on Queen and Spadina. A crazy venue on both the outside with it’s heavily muralled walls that doesn’t stop in the inside with it’s ceiling frieze. It used to have a charming back room with banked seating, but when we arrive we see it’s being refurbished. Such a shame.
Our gig venue is the painted lady. It’s a burlesque bar with a major rockabily vibe. It’s about as long and narrow as a bar can get! It’s near our hotel and helpfully walking distance from one of our favourite places ever, Lakeview.
Lakeview is a beautiful old fashioned diner serving big, homely portions. It hasn’t tried to be a theme diner. It’s just simply feels like it’s never changed since the 1930’s. The breakfasts are amazing. They even have mimosas on the menu! Naturally we knock a few of those back with our pancakes and peameal bacon before wandering off to Kensington market.
Kensington Market offers another distinct change of pace. It’s got something of Camden about it, but slightly more ramshackle. It’s the home of great bars and coffee shops. We step into the Moonbean cafe and meet with some old friends from Toronto. The second you climb up into Moonbean you feel like you’ve been at the coffee all day so strong is the smell. I think I have the shakes already!
After signing in at the artist wristband pick up point at the headquarters downtown, we’re given our packs and passes. The snow still falls outside. It can’t be that far above zero.
Anna and myself have an appearance on Liquid Lunch later today. It’s about 2pm Toronto time, so peeps back in the UK can watch it live online. Until then we have to fill our morning.
Our friend Monica from Toronto arranges to meet us outside Honest Eds. Famous in Toronto, it’s simply the greatest poundshop you’ve ever seen. A gigantic maze of a building set over about five floors selling anything you can imagine. After a quick wander we decide to set ourselves a challenge. Secretly buy a complete outfit for $5. We each pull a name out of the hat and have to buy for that person. It must have a theme and it will be marked on if it suits that person and how close to the budget it was. When we have them, we have to nip to the coffee shop opposite, give them to that person, who then changes into it and does a bit of a catwalk for marking purposes. Funny thing is, no one really seemed to raise an eyebrow in the coffee shop. That’s Toronto.
The gig at the painted lady was amazing. The venue was packed from front to back. It was rawkus, just how we like it! We were headlining at 1am, but our body clocks were still off. It was pretty much 6am to us! The crowds energy got us through it and we squeezed every last drop we had out. The topless burlesque dancers standing on the bartop were pretty motivational.
The Toronto crowds were simply awesome, the town unforgettable and left us with a sense of definitely wanting to return soon. We’ll make it the summertime next time!
Toronto tour video – by Nathan T Crawley
BBC Radio live interview from Toronto
Liquid Lunch – Invisible (acoustic)
Gig review – The Sound of Pop
Indie Craft Attack – Rob and Anna make bags from tshirts in Toronto
Liquid Lunch – Full interview (2omins!)