LFP ARCHIVES: The musical legacy of Call The Office

COVID-19 has closed all concert venues, including London’s iconic Call The Office – which closed “indefinitely” around six months into the pandemic and remains closed. But his legacy remains vibrant for anyone who has seen a performance at the York Street Concert Hall.

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COVID-19 has closed all concert venues, including London’s iconic Call The Office – which closed ‘indefinitely’ around six months into the pandemic and remains closed. But his legacy remains vibrant for anyone who has seen a performance at the York Street Concert Hall. We have detailed some of this musical history in this story, which first appeared in the January 29, 2009 print editions of The London Free Press:

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A concert of 1999 remains engraved in the head of Tony Limathough he has trouble remembering the name of the headlining band.

He thinks back to nearly 20 years of booking bands at Call the Office, which in its various incarnations has been a staple of central London’s often underrated cultural scene and an essential stop on bands’ tours during decades.

Then, the name of this group comes to him.

“A band called Crimson, actually,” he laughs. “Where’s Crimson now?”

Who knows? And besides, they weren’t the ones who had made the evening memorable. It was the quartet that opened the show for the Peanuts, a group of guys who weren’t the greatest musicians but are now one of the greatest bands in Canadian history.

“Nickelback opened for $100. It was four guys who won people over, five people at a time.

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The story underscores the modern history of the beautifully seedy and intimate York Street music club: every night you can see a band that won’t go much further or are on their way to greatness.

Lima, who also owns part of the business, gets much of the credit for booking up-and-coming bands that were down and quickly turned up-and-coming. His knack for predicting the next big thing has been proven time and time again.

(And Nickelback, which turned out to be pretty uncool, doesn’t quite compare to the cutting-edge unknowns Lima brought to town, including Blink 182 in 1996 or 97 and Queens of the Stone Age a decade ago. City Council Creative Cities enthusiasts should give it some credit.)

The club, before the arrival of Lima and co-owner Vit Shatkin in the early 90s, was also a breeding ground for up-and-coming Canadian bands in the 80s, a popular venue for the Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies and the Northern Pikes.

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Lima and Shatkin continued this tradition throughout the 1990s, booking bands that would become part of an explosion of Canadian musical talent, including Big Sugar, Our Lady Peace and I Mother Earth.

“When the Tea Party started in Windsor, they would come here and play on Wednesday nights,” Lima recalled of the internationally successful band. “We’ve always been dedicated to new music and helping grow bands.”

This domestic talent pool is still thriving, with hits like Bedouin Soundclash, Buck 65 and Death From Above cutting their teeth on the Call the Office stage.

There is, however, one show that everyone is talking about.

A show that everyone would like to see.

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The poster and playlist are still on display – and should probably be somewhere in a museum: On Monday July 24, 1995, Radiohead, promoting their second CD, played The Office just before becoming one of the biggest bands in the world.

“That was after the Bends came out, but before they were huge,” Lima explains. “It was . . . I think, $10.

This, says Lima, should grab the attention of any music fan who hasn’t visited the legendary downtown venue. (It’s worth it, even if your view is obscured by one of the misplaced poles that hold up the bar’s roof.)

“I can’t guarantee you’ll see the next Radiohead for $10, but it’s entirely possible.”

The status of the club is well known, even beyond the borders of London.

Craig Mailman, a member of Toronto band Songs from a Room, performed on a recent Friday night with the Izzys in Brooklyn and recognized his special place in the Canadian music scene.

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“It’s one of my favorite places to play in Ontario,” said Mailman, 28. “There’s been a definite scene here for a long time.”

So who will make the leap from the Call the Office scene to the next stage?

The Arkells, which feature Londoner Nick Dika on bass, play there on February 7. With two hit songs already, could they just stop on the road to fame and fortune?

Either way, Shatkin, who came to London for college and never left, has no intention of missing out on what happens next.

“Unless Revenue Canada kicks us out, I don’t see myself going anywhere,” he said. “People who come here express themselves through music, piercings, tattoos, whatever. And it’s the most peaceful crowd you can find.

“That says a lot about the place and the people. This is the culture that Tony and the staff have built.

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