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Fish & Chips
Live at the Spadina Hotel
August 27th, 1983

John OswaldAlto Saxophone
Bill SmithSoprano Saxophone
Arthur BullGuitar
David LeeCello
Richard BannardPercussion

Gwine With Butterfly McQueen [17:47]

“Gwine With Butterfly McQueen” is the second part of the first set and illustrates our love of Albert Ayler’s music. The joyful folky spirituality that he integrated into the revolution of the sixties.

Somewhere hidden in my elderly brain is a poem from the sixties reminding me of the well-worn truth that capitalism has picked us clean. And why has this surfaced? Thinking back, which is all that seems left to me these days, the memory of what “used-to-be” seeming more relevant, not much left from those heady times in Toronto. Though there are recordings and posters. Evidence that it’s not all phantasmagorical invention.

Gentrification, the destruction of tradition, has devoured the area where the third Jazz & Blues Centre at 337 King Street West was located. A three story building, our store on the ground floor, upstairs two studios, one for dance the other home to a sculptor. Out back a workshop where damaged antique furniture was given new life. The basement, not a place often visited, had leaning around the walls a collection of ancient tin advertising hoardings. Collectibles now no doubt.

On the corner of King Street West and Spadina Avenue, just a short walk from our store was the Spadina Hotel, whose hodgepodge of bars would for a number of years become our sanctuary.

Checking the web I discover that where our store was located is now called the Entertainment District and would – if it still existed – be directly across the street from the Hyatt Regency, a twenty-odd storey monolith taking up a whole block, annihilating the shabby drive-through car wash that could be seen out through the window of our store.

Our store’s staff were a mixed group, me and John, English immigrants, Dan and George fleeing the American military machine that planned to send them to the killing fields of Vietnam and David a musical traveller from British Columbia.

Sometimes after closing up the store some of us would stroll the two blocks to the Spadina Hotel – now apparently in the centre of the Fashion District – for a couple of cold draught beers. The hotel has taken on the horribly generic appellation of Global Village, a back-packers hostel, perhaps honouring that old cliché-ridden fraud Marshall McLuhan. Fashion district eh! Well back in the good old days it were home to the Jewish garment industry, a clustering of factories, idiosyncratic artists the only clandestine occupants: painters, poets, dancers, the odd novelist – escaped bohemians settled into dusty lofts. Now the district is tricked-out as faddish restaurants, trendy dance clubs, brew pubs, art galleries, offices and high-end furniture stores. Oh well!

I knew the Spadina Hotel intimately, understood its history, the warren of barely illuminated corridors, the helloing elderly residents occasionally encountered shuffling to the bathroom dressed in threadbare dressing gowns and shabby carpet slippers, a supplied towel draped over an arm; ghostly, almost invisible in the gloom. We sometimes wasted away early evenings with landlord Danny the Greek in his private quarters supping over-strong Ouzo, usually mixed half&half with water, generous helpings served up in crystal tumblers that were sitting in the tarnished silver tray resting on the sideboard.

through the main door into the foyer gave the illusion of smallness. To the left an intimate room locally called the Taxi Bar occupied by off-duty drivers, similar I would say to the traditional English pub snug – not welcoming to strangers. Directly opposite, the draft beer room, the realm of local factory workers relaxing from the machine noise. Light streaming through the long windows splashed onto round wooden tables and those marvellous curved backed wooden chairs, vinyl padded seats repaired with duct tape. In the far corner of this room, running down the side of the service counter, a staircase led to the Subway Room, a basement honeycombed with rooms splayed out about a miniature bar; one with a dart board, another a television, and yet another with an old upright piano.

Straight ahead across the lobby, up two steps, was Danny’s “special” lounge, reserved for private functions – weddings and the like, the wallpapered wall resplendent with large paintings of hunting scenes. To the right of its entrance Bobby all but filled the front desk cubby hole, his dark-skinned hairy-armed bulk set off by a crisp white shirt, black trousers, shoes and socks, a heavy gold ring on the middle-finger of his right hand. More a bouncer than a concierge, though it was possible to procure a packet of unfiltered Export A or five Old Port Original Wine Dipped Cigars.

Up a curved mahogany balustraded staircase led to the hotel proper and the Cabana Room where Jimmy, dressed in similar old fashioned retainer attire, resided. He was fond of our bizarre collection of oddballs, perhaps because he didn’t have to work so hard tending the bar, our audiences too poor to consume much alcohol, giving him the opportunity to watch the baseball games on a compact portable television. Earphones isolating the commentary, blocking out our music.

Rummaging about in boxes filled with memorabilia – mostly posters that have been sent west by my daughter Natasha and Doctor Jazz – attempting to fill the gaps, head toward a truth of some kind or another, I find a handbill announcing the beginning of our history at the Spadina Hotel. 4 Monday Nights In June – Live At The Cabana Room. A New Wave In Music. The year 1980. Natasha had found her collection in a battered box in the basement and mailed them off to me. The good doctor, who had them pinned up, covering the entire wall of her kitchen, was redecorating. How chancy history is.

End Notes:
Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen (January 7, 1911 – December 22, 1995) was an American actress. Originally a dancer, McQueen first appeared in film in 1939 as Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s maid, in the film “Gone with the Wind”. She was unable to attend the movie’s premiere because it was held at a whites-only theatre.

John Oswald: http://www.pfony.com
Arthur Bull: https://arthurbull.wordpress.com
David Lee: http://davidneillee.com

Jazz & Blues Centre photograph by Paul Hoeffler
Back Row: David • George • Dan
Front: John • Bill

The line “capitalism has picked us clean” is from the Archie Shepp poem “The Wedding” from the album “Live In SanFrancisco” and reads in its complete form:
“They had been born into a Christian climate and capitalism had picked them clean”.

Comments can be sent to classicimprov@yahoo.ca

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