Working the door at the New Penelope with Allan Youster
LR: What about other venues?
AY: There was the Black Bottom. I didn’t hang out there, but I went there a lot. Coltrane played there. I saw local musicians there, many, many times, I saw Raahsan Roland Kirk there. They used to have a restaurant in there and they made great food, great southern cooking. That was in Old Montreal, one block in from St-Laurent on St-Paul. Back then, it was actually empty. You would go down there and do acid trips because nobody would bother you. Nobody was there at night. There were some clubs, David the candle-maker was down there, remember sand candles? They had molds and poured in the wax and pulled it out and you’d have sand on it, with the legs… he made them down there in his hippie shop. There was the Boite A Chanson too. There was lots of stuff happening, but you had to root it out.
The McGill Ballroom had some things, I remember the first time I ever saw ‘Walking’—Ryan Larkin’s movie—was on acid in the Ballroom, and it’s something to see on acid! You don’t know if you’re hallucinating or not!! (laughs)
LR: People used to tell us about going out at night and missing the last bus to get back home, and there was this place called The Bus Stop…
AY: The Bus Stop was near Sherbrooke at Guy. There’s that sort of fancy building and when you go behind it, the old houses that are set back, it was in the first greystone in the basement. I spent time there and at the delis, the all-night delis: Ben’s was one, but my favorite was Dunn’s 24-hours, but you needed money. The Bus Stop was when you had no money, because you could just sit there. If you had money, you had yourself a piece of cheesecake and a coffee!
LR: What else about the sad ending of The New Penelope. You must have been sad too?
AY: Yeah! Basically I was in shock! It didn’t really dawn on me until a couple of days later… what was going on. I pretty much knew that I was going to do—go out and find another job! See, jobs were easy back then, it was a whole different thing to go out and get one, at a buck and a half an hour. You would just go out and get work.
I ended up working in the Cote Vertu shopping center, near l’Acadie, which was slightly more built up then, just past the train station. There was a Broasty Chicken, an American company that came up here, I got a job there. Two women owned the place, and every night we drank 48 beers and at least a 40 ouncer of Rye, at least! I stayed there at least a year—I quit or got fired—whatever it was, I ran away! (laughs) It was too crazy! The chicken was great, it was unbelievable fried chicken, they cooked it in pressure, so the chicken came out not greasy. That was in 1970.
LR: But what about the loss of this place where you had your fix of live music every night? What took up its place?
AY: There wasn’t really a lot happening back then. Place des Nations that had great shows for many years after [Expo 67]. The sound was iffy, it was outdoors, and really depended on which way the wind blew, I’m not joking! Records were important.
LR: Where did you buy them for the most part?
AY: Records were $3.98. The Record Centre, that helped a lot of people.
LR: What about daily life? When you got your first place, what was the rent?
AY: My first place, I rented with a friend of mine, I don’t even remember what we paid but it was low. Then I rented a place with Gayle across from where Tepley had his store—that was a 6 1/2—$88 heated and it had a fireplace! It was above Betty Brites [dry cleaners] right on the corner of MacDonald & Decarie. I remember Gail’s reaction when I showed her, she went: “It’s too big!” so I closed 2 doors and said: “It’s a 4 ½ and it’s still $88 a month!” It was right across the street from The Texas Tavern, and next to that was the Galaxy Hotel & Bar. In high school, I remember the bartender at The Texas going: “Eh! Stop coming in here with your school bag!” and I’d go: “Oh! Sorry, sorry!”
LR: So, you commuted from St-Laurent to McGill when you started working there?
AY: Yeah, I took the 17 bus, or would hitchhike, then we got bicycles—anything not to take the bus. The bus was so dreary! I remember the snowstorm of ’72. We started to go to work and Decarie was blocked—we’re troopers!—we walked over to Saint-Croix, get the 16, go through TMR and we ended up walking back home—we got stuck in TMR—that was a good one! There was so much snow that these guys got snowmobiles and went around robbing the banks! (laughs) The cops couldn’t catch them!
Back then the Texas was old-school, opened at 8 o’clock and there were people there at ten to 8! It was that type of place, but the other clientele were of a different ilk, they were gangs, trouble. The first ethnic community in St-Laurent was what I called Little Israel. There was Alexis-Nihon around it, and it was a completely Jewish neighbourhood, almost everybody that was there was Jewish. When I went to Winston Churchill High School on a Jewish holiday, it was empty!
There was the old part of St-Laurent which was very Catholic and French Canadian, then there was the Anglophone area which was probably up around Decarie & the Crevier apartments, and then there was the Jewish district, I delivered papers to that whole neighbourhood.
LR: You lost some friends, I guess, to Toronto by the time ‘ 75-’76 approaches? The PQ comes in and there’s this business of the exodus…
AY: Yeah. We were pretty much politically naïve back then because that whole thing pretty much happened without us. I figured it out after it happened—the whole French-English thing. There was tension because during the riots there, they were using razor blades on the [police] horses. It was nasty, but that was happening during the Penelope time. Leading up to that time after high school in St-Laurent, it was pretty much out of the picture for me. There was no sense of that at all. See, the Quiet Revolution was called that because it was exactly that—it was quiet!
LR: But you weren’t in a 100% anglo environment at Winston Churchill?
AY: Oh, the school itself was 100%. Mike Fauquet my best friend was French-Canadian, but he spoke French and spoke English. He was basically an artist, so he didn’t give a shit about that, and Roger Rodier, he was over at the house many times, and if he spoke to you, he spoke English perfectly, and French perfectly and he wrote only in English, it was that type of thing. His album was amazing at the time , but I think he got really disillusioned by the reaction in Quebec and of course, anybody in the record business is going to get fucked over. I hung around with Mike and Bob Panetta—he’s not Italian—he’s French! Strangely, the thing was, they all spoke English & French, and I only spoke English.
LR: Do you remember where you were during the October Crisis?
AY: I was at McGill. We were going down and there’s the army everywhere! I’m too old, so my reaction to it has been filtered through so many years, so I’m trying to capture my reaction back then. It’s difficult, but yeah, definitely don’t like guns and army guys on the street, but that was an interesting time. I never voted Liberal but I kinda liked Trudeau. The thing he did with the Kellogg’s Corn Flake boxes—the bilingualism—I mean, if he would have made the country bilingual, there would have been a riot, but all he did is he said: “If you’re gonna sell Corn Flakes, in Calgary you could turn it around to this side and in Quebec you can turn it to the French side.”
And then I think it took 30 or 35 years, until some guy in Manitoba went: “If I can get my Corn Flakes box bilingual, why can’t I get my parking ticket in French. And the Supreme Court said: “The guy’s got a point!” Trudeau, that’s the type of far-thinking guy he was. You can force Medicare down their throat, force Unemployment Insurance, but you can’t force language. But back then, I was ambivalent about all that. Didn’t know what to think but, I didn’t like it.
LR: So when Rene Levesque wins the election in 1976. No big reaction?
AY: I never voted PQ, no. I was never that naïve. I was naïve in the beginning—in the ‘60s when the independence movement came out—there was something about small democracy and the left that appealed to me, so I tried to participate, but being Anglophone—I bumped into, guess what?—bad vibes (laughs) I contacted the Parti Québecois and they wouldn’t talk English to me! So I’m going, “I’m interested in what your talking about but – because I’m English – you won’t talk to me, I get it!” Trudeau wrote something around the same time, he said: “You scratch a separatist and you’ll find a conservative!”
What’s basically happened, from my perspective, is that the Catholic Church used to be the protector of the French language. Then the Quiet Revolution broke the control of education from the church and gave it over to a secular system. But if you wanted to go into business, well, you still had to go to an English university, so up to that point, if you wanted a degree, you spoke English. So basically, nobody saw it coming, because they’d been hiring Francophones who fit in so well—Gee, what a great education system!—so it became more difficult when you had the first graduates in ’64 and’65 speaking French only. That’s when the Quiet Revolution got noisy…
LR: Did you feel forced to think about moving in ’76 when—no doubt—you had friends that left?
AY: Oh, everybody at that point. My sister worked for BP and they moved their head office, and my God, she made a fortune! They helped her move, helped her buy a new place. I mean, why not go?
But all of that stuff needed to happen. The easiest thing to look at is Vermont: Vert Mont, the green mountains. All the French names, they’re all anglicized! If you take a look at that… something has to happen. If we’re gonna be all English, we’re gonna fall to the Americans eventually.
LR: Well, I’m glad you stayed.
AY: Well, McGill never moved! And it has been very, very good to me! I never finished high school. I didn’t like school. The irony is that school has been my whole life! I get to go to school everyday for my working life. They’re gonna give me a 45 year pin for working at McGill, but I’m not gonna go to the ceremony!
Allan can still be seen at concerts around town on a regular basis.
I later got to know him at Barfly and was beyond appreciative that he approved of my work.
This article gives a great amount of depth to both him and the music-scene history of Montreal. What a great read, what a great man, and what a great city! Thanks!
..the penelope was school for all of us..sidetrack, butterfield, muddy...earth opera(google that one), tim buckley...mothers ...the list goes on and on.. goes on and on....
..and little did i know that if you reversed '67 to '76...i would be playing with the skinny kid from memphis...
He brought in some great folk performers: Dave Van Ronk, Rev. Gary Davis, John Hammond Jr. and more. I recorded some of the shows and have digitized some of them. I wonder if there is any interest in hearing those performers...
e mail me and i will return the picture.
In 1971, I shared an apartment on Souvenir St. with several members of the Sidetrack including John Lewis and his wife Sandy. Then one day, John contracted a terminal cancer and quickly headed back home to the States. Very sad.
John was a great guy, and a marvelous story teller. His first cousin was John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful and those two shared a grandfather, also John Sebastian, who was a world-famous harmonica player.
I have no picture of John or indeed any pictures from the New Penelope or Sidetrack and would greatly appreciate receiving a copy of any pics you would care to share.
After work Gary and I and some of the people would go up to Mount Royal and smoke a joint and wait for the sun to come up. My name is Helga.
I came from TMR, as were half of the guys in Sidetrack. I was playing Keyboard in another band from the Town with Andy Higgs, who became Sidetrack's bass player. Sidetrack was the New Penelope's house band in 1967, but somehow our Band, Owed to the Blues, was able to wangle a gig as the "backup" house band on Sunday Nights. Sunday was usually pretty dead and if we were paid anything it was a pittance. The BIG payoff was that we were able get in free for many shows and hang out there as if it were our clubhouse.
I had access to my parents Chevy so I also occasionally helped Gary out by picking up musicians to bring to the club (Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee) or in one case (Darius Brubeck) up to the NFB for a filming session.
I also have great memories of the Swiss Hut which had the most amazing mix of people - a true Montreal mish-mash of franco separatists, artists, hippies, Sir George and McGill students (often patrons of Gary's place), plus working types who usually viewed the long hairs with a mixture of mistrust and contempt. My own not-so-long hair and apple-cheeked innocence gave me a fairly benign appearance which helped me to strike up some interesting conversations at the bar with "straights" from different walks of life. In particular I developed a friendship with two older guys who worked in maintenance at Morgan's department store (which had been rechristened as the Hudson's Bay a few years prior).
It was surprising how boldly one could smoke weed in the Hut. Of course, in those days the air was already blue with cigarette smoke. One evening, a group of us were in a booth waiting for our dinner and merrily passing around a fully loaded chillum. Then the cry went up that there was a police RAID in process. I was literally in mid-toke at that moment so I had to discreetly dispel a huge lungful of smoke and launch the pipe along the floor. I think the target of the raid turned out to be some specific people, not a general drug bust, so in the end we were able to finish off our meal and head back to the New Penelope.
The New Penelope and the Swiss Hut, Le Drug, Chez LouLou (aka The Bistro), The Esquire, The Blue Angel ... so many great places have come and gone.
At least we have the memories!
I worked at he Boys Home of Montreal 1968/9, and frequented a number of places where music was on offer. I recall a pub on Mountain Street - The Seven Steps? - where, in return for acting as doorman I got free beer! I also went to the New Penelope Nightclub to see the Paul Butterfield Blues Band just after Mike Bloomfield had left and was replaced by Buzzy Feiten. Also bumped into Leonard Cohen and Pete Seeger. Great times!!! Weymouth, Dorset, UK