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A 1965 poster for a performance by James Brown.Daniel Tate

Daniel Tate collects old gig posters and vintage concerts advertisements. He’s a bit obsessive on the subject, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Toronto’s live-music history.

He calls himself a “big music fan” and a “huge nerd” and a “historian.”

Some might call Tate a savant. Rob Bowman, a Grammy-winning professor of ethnomusicology at Toronto’s York University, hails him as “inspiring.”

So, it’s ironic that during our phone interview, Tate is asking me about an old venue off Lake Shore Boulevard West. The name escapes him. “The Palais Royale,” I suggest.

“No, that’s not it,” he says quickly. “It was near the Humber Bridge … the Palace Pier, that’s it.”

He goes on to talk about the dance hall, and its place in the evolution of jazz in Toronto. He mentions the big-band era, and Lionel Hampton, Bob Hope, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dean Martin. “It had a good run for 10 years in the forties,” he says, referring to its best jazz days.

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Tate scours archived electronic files of The Globe and Mail and other newspapers for posters.Daniel Tate

Then he circles back to the Palais Royale, mentioning a show there in 1955 by Bill Haley & His Comets, before the rock ’n’ roll craze swept the city. “It would have been an underground show for a few hundred cool kids,” explains Tate, who could talk all day about Rock Around the Clock.

Seamlessly, he moves on to a story about the Mutual Street Arena, where the Toronto Maple Leafs once played. According to Tate, on April 10, 1956, the place was the site of the city’s first rock ’n’ roll package show, with Ruth Brown, Little Richard and Chubby Checker on the bill. Tate also found an ad for a Sinatra concert at the arena in 1949. He believes it was crooner’s first headlining appearance in Toronto.

“I could go on and on and on,” he says, apologizing. But there’s really no need for sorrys – his enthusiasm is fascinating; his knowledge, breathtaking.

The odd thing is that Tate is no old-timer waxing “in my day” nostalgic. The man is in his 30s, with an original passion lying in electronic music, hip hop and modern R&B. He began collecting music flyers – those handbills stuck on utility poles with wheat paste – in the 1990s, when he worked for concert promoters REMG Entertainment Corp.

Eventually growing bored of hoarding memorabilia, he put his collection in storage, got on with his life and forgot about his collection for some 15 years. In 2015, while cleaning out his garage, he came across his stash and revved up his old hobby, feeling refreshed from the layoff.

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Most of Tate's collecting now is not of paper copies, but digital ones.Daniel Tate

He began collecting again, this time with a heavy interest in exploring the antecedents of urban music and with a mission to document “every notable live-music event in the city,” stretching as far back as the mid-19th century.

“It’s an insane project,” says Tate, who works in IT at AT&T. “I’ve pursued it to the detriment of relationships and my physical health. I don’t go to the gym as much as I used to.”

Where Tate goes is to the City of Toronto Archives and the Toronto Reference Library. He scours archived electronic files of The Globe and Mail and other newspapers. Most of his collecting now is not of paper copies, but digital ones, which he posts in The Flyer Vault on Instagram.

As far as his well-being, Tate’s obsession is really not as unhealthy as he makes it sound. In fact, some find his dedication commendable and his dogged research vital and scholarly.

“Daniel impressed me from the first time we had coffee,” says music historian Bowman, a mentor who often works in tandem with the younger Tate. “He has this intensity in his pursuit, and I admire him greatly. I think what he’s doing is incredibly important in terms of documenting this city’s musical history.”

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Tate raves about a Run-DMC show at the Concert Hall at the Masonic Temple in 1985 that he contends was the 'sweatiest' hip-hop event the city had ever experienced at that point.Daniel Tate

What Bowman admires is that Tate is not collecting for the sake of collecting – he’s trying to make sense of what the memorabilia represents historically and what it’s saying about society. Tate is as enthused about the craftsmanship of a Duke Ellington ad from 1940 – “It’s a work of art” – as he is about the cordial language of mid-century concert notices: “It was,” he suggests, “a simpler time.”

Asked about a Drake poster for a Sound Academy show in 2009, Tate puts the show in context. “The madness of the Drake era here began with this concert, and the city hasn’t really looked back since.”

In the course of a short phone conversation, Tate mentions an ad for an appearance of Sammy Davis Jr. as a boy at Yorkville’s Embassy club in the late 1930s: Little Sammy Davis, at a “New Year’s Frolic”, with an admission charge of 75 cents.

He talks about the thriving rave scene of the 1990s and raves about a Run-DMC show at the Concert Hall at the Masonic Temple in 1985 that he contends was the “sweatiest” hip-hop event the city had ever experienced at that point.

Sweaty? Masonic Temple? I tell Tate that the T-shirt I wore at a Tragically Hip concert at the Temple in the early nineties still hasn’t dried out. “I have something on that show,” he says.

Well of course he does.

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