I read someone else’s blog about what is wrong with the music industry in this country the other day and it got me reminiscing about “the good old days” when we actually had venues to see great bands or to perform with our own bands in. Specifically the venues on the Northern Beaches. I guess I’m showing my age but there was a time when no matter where you lived on the peninsula, you could pretty much walk to a live music venue and catch a band. Some of them were crap, some of them were awesome (both the bands and the venues, that is). They were our “circuit” and, if you played in a band, you could pretty much do a tour on the Beaches, playing in a different venue every week and it would be a good couple of months before you’d be performing in the same place twice.
There are a dozen reasons why they aren’t around anymore. There’s plenty of justifiable ones and some that are not so much. I understand that venue operators need to make money. I understand that poker machines can often achieve that a lot easier than bands can. I understand that building codes and complaining neighbours and fire regulations and occupational health and safety laws can come in and make running a live venue pretty much impossible. I also get that people just aren’t going out in droves to be entertained any more. We’ve all got big, flat screen TV’s and BluRay players and Xboxes and surround sound and what you can pay for a case of beer at Dan Murphy’s compared to what you pay for a few stubbies at the pub can make a night in seem like a very desirable alternative to a night out. We possibly know that the vibe isn’t quite the same but most of us, especially those who have kids and mortgages can forgo the vibe in favour of not waking up in the morning in a strange place with donor kebab sauce all over our shirts and finding our wallet is empty and we have to walk home. There’s also a considerably lower chance of being glassed and/or king hit by somebody in your own house.
At any rate, I thought it would be fun to take a little trip down memory lane to some of the great (and not so great) venues that we all used to rock out in on the Beaches either as punters or performers that now only exist in our fading, and possibly alcohol obliterated memories. If you’re old enough, you might recall some of these places.
Ahh, “The Brooky”. Before it went through its remodelling and decided that leather lounges and a lawyer’s office motif was the way to get a more discerning customer in to cook their own steak on an indoor BBQ, The brooky was a shabby little place with ugly blue carpet that your shoes stuck to with every step and a clientele of mostly tradies who’d be happy to rock out on a Friday night to almost any kind of live music as long as it was heavy and loud. The stage was basically a few old pallets balancing precariously on some milk crates, the PA system was fairly awful and you had to battle the footy or cricket on the TVs often being a bigger draw than your band. It had little charm but, being in a mostly industrial and retail zone, it didn’t get noise complaints, the beer was pretty cheap and they were happy to let young, local, original acts strut their stuff to an audience of folk who would probably be there regardless of who the band was. I don’t remember being paid that much, if at all, for playing but to an unknown band, the opportunity to get on a stage was payment enough even if that stage was a bit dangerous. When they did the renovations, the bands were axed.
The Manly Hotel
The Manly Hotel was a much coveted gig in the day. It was a little harder to get a spot on that stage and it was a good stage. Beefy PA system and a decent sized room. They put on good quality acts that didn’t necessarily have to be well known but they couldn’t be complete newbs either. I remember that it wasn’t all that hard to get in as a punter even if you were underage, as long as you looked like you were over 18 (which I thankfully did at 16). They had live bands on six nights of the week back in those days and you could see stuff like Jo Camilleri, Died Pretty and the Party Boys fairly regularly. Like the Brooky, it too was a bit dingy and also had the sticky carpet but it was a genuine venue and everyone I know would get down there regularly to see some good Aussie rock. Sadly it was condemned and then torn down in 1989. It existed as a vacant lot for a number of years after that until finally developers turned it into restaurants. I remember being pretty sad when we were told it was closing and even sadder to find out that it would never again be a haven for live music.
The Peninsula Hotel “Basement”
This place was within five minutes’ walk from where I lived in Balgowlah. Originally, but a little before my time, there was a massive live music venue in the upstairs section that could apparently have 3000 people in it. (although I’m not sure that figure is accurate and you could guarantee that council laws would never let that happen now days!) By the time I’d arrived on the scene it had been changed to the upstairs section being a public bar with pool tables and the venue section was a smaller room downstairs. It was still an awesome room and, if you couldn’t pull 3000 punters to your gigs, it was a blessing that this was the case. I played a tonne of gigs there. It was a great dungeon style room with a massive PA and light show and a good stage. The guy who ran the PA (Jeff Dunn) was passionate about his gear and the sound he pulled and he always let complete unknowns and newbs onto a bill as well as having regular, well known acts. The sign out front was lit up and they’d put your band name up there when you were playing. It was always a buzz to see your name up in lights and we’d often pose for photos beneath it ala The Rat Pack at the Sands. We played some awesome shows in that room and saw some awesome shows there too. In a lot of ways it was the best place to play on the Beaches. Constant noise complaints from the neighbours, which was what got the original venue downsized in the first place, continued to plague the operators and sadly it closed its doors for the final time in the mid 90’s and was replaced by a block of units which, of course, was exactly what Manly Vale needed more of.
I can’t find any information on this place so this is all from memory. (If you guys know anything more about the place, let me know. I’m sure it didn’t only exist in my imagination!) Anyway, it was this place that I think was right next to the Brookvale Hotel (kind of above it). It may have even been a part of the Brookvale Hotel. (or maybe not. It may have actually been somewhere else entirely. Frankly my memory of that era is a little vague.) I remember it had a big fish tank at the back of the room and sort of a stage at the other. I never actually played there but rather saw a few bands there. It was more somewhere you’d go after you’d been somewhere else and failed to pick up if you know what I mean. The bands were most likely covers stuff and they weren’t really the main focus of the room. To be truthful, I don’t think I ever walked into the place until after I’d already had a skin-full, so I can barely describe it. As far as I know it was a place you could go and hear music and buy alcohol, maybe find someone to have a sordid night with that you may or may not regret the next morning. Good times, good times.
Based in the Dee Why Hotel… hell, this was really the Dee Why Hotel. You wouldn’t really bother with the rest of the club, you went to The Venue! This was the place to see the big names. Yes it was a bit pretentious to name it “The Venue” but it seemed alright at the time. Big stage, big PA, big lights and you’d regularly see bands like The Radiators and Spy vs Spy. I remember catching the Hoodoo Gurus there when I was maybe 17 or 18 years old. It was a big room and didn’t really have an ambiance that I enjoyed but you weren’t there for the décor. Nor were you there to pick up girls. You went there for one reason alone: To see live music. Even buying drinks was merely a way to stay hydrated as it got damn hot and sticky in there as it was always crowded. The Venue was another one that succumbed to noise complaints. As the unit blocks started going up in Dee Why, the pub got fenced in by people who, although knew they were moving into a neighbourhood with a venue in it, were intolerant to the noise that it produced. Though I don’t think it was loud music emanating from the place that was the problem. It often isn’t with these things. The problem is usually people leaving the venue after the show. They’ve been drinking and listening to incredibly loud, amplified music so they’re half deaf and fully pissed and they just can’t help but make excessive noise as they wander the street to get home after the gig. With everyone leaving at once and often throwing up in someone’s front garden, the neighbours just couldn’t take it and barraged the club with abuse over it. The club tried re-branding the room as “The Jet Club”. It stayed that way for a while as I recall. I don’t remember how long that was and whether they even had bands on in it. I think it turned into a disco. The idea behind which was that people would stagger (no pun intended) their leaving times from a dance club rather than the mass exodus after a band finishes playing their set. Eventually that was found not to work either and the owners had no choice other than to close the room entirely and just operate out of the front of the club. Eventually the whole thing was bulldozed into the ground and up went a shopping centre with units on top. I guess the owners figured if you can’t beat them, join them. The Dee Why Hotel still exists within the space but it’s much smaller and has no live music to my knowledge.
The Surf Rock, unlike many of the others I’ve mentioned is still there. It even expanded and took over the two adjacent buildings. Unfortunately, it didn’t incorporate live music into its plans with the renovations. Instead it went kind of “wine bar” on us. Originally it was a two level, kind of narrow joint. There were cover duos downstairs and upstairs had a fairly reasonable venue. Continuumusic actually ran the venue for a while, doing Friday and Saturday nights up until it closed for the rebuild. When we took over running the bill for them for upstairs, that section had been closed for a fair while except for private functions. We personally went in and cleaned it up, redecorated, painted, extended the stage, put in new lighting, supplied a decent PA system and ran all of the logistics of booking and operating it except for the bar. We’d have a rock night every Friday and then more mild stuff on the Saturdays and it was pretty successful. We only put on local, original bands and it was a popular place to go to see good music. By the end of our run with it, it was getting well past the time that the renovations needed to be done. Leaky bar taps had spattered just enough beer into the woodwork to rot it and create that vomit smell that can only be achieved by rotting beer and wood or actual vomit. It was becoming very unpleasant to be in there for us, for the bands and for the punters and by the time we loaded our PA out after the final show, we were pretty pleased not to be going back. When the renovations were done, it was obvious that, in spite of the owners saying we would be considered a part of the new look place, there was no room for bands on their entertainment line up. It’s now known as “The Collaroy Beach Hotel” (which, according to staff that we knew there, it should have always been called. The Surf Rock name was really just a dig at The Hard Rock Café that the owner thought was going to get people to come thinking it’d be the same sort of thing.) If you go to their website now and click on the “What’s On” tab, it shows no entertainment. Just ten dollar schnitzels, happy hours and meat raffles. Another one bites the dust.
The Timo as it is affectionately known is still there and I believe it still has live music every Friday night and Sunday arvo. Presumably the latter is in the beer garden. I haven’t been there in a long time and maybe it doesn’t deserve to be in this particular blog. I do know that I haven’t heard any of the bands at the studio talking about playing there recently. We’ve played a tonne of gigs there over the years and done the PA for them off and on for just as many. It’s not like it used to be there or, rather it’s exactly like it used to be there which is possibly worse. Inside there was a raised section of floor which was loosely considered “the stage”. The room was trying to go with an Irish Pub feel but it kind of fell short of that. Still, the bands that played there were pretty cool and the owners were happy to give original acts a go on the evening shows, though Sundays I’m sure were strictly for covers bands. The beer garden was huge and we did a residency there for a while on the Sunday arvos. It was quite family friendly and we used to take our kids along. They could play in the sand pit (which had a surprisingly low urine and cat poo content). I believe they’ve extended the kid friendly area to incorporate a cubby house and climbing thingy. Not very “rock”, I’ll grant you but it was a pretty good way to spend a Sunday arvo. We could sit back and play some easy listening rock tunes, sink a few coldies and get paid for the experience whilst the kids wore themselves out. My wife even used to set up a tent and offer massages. It was pretty cruisy. I haven’t been there for years so I can’t really comment too much on what it’s like now but from what I read on their website and hear from locals, it’s not quite the rocking venue it was in the 90’s and early naughties.
The Parkway Hotel
Another very crappy room to play but they at least did let you play there once upon a time. We did PA’s in this room and played there many a time. There was no stage, you played on the floor. Usually right in front of a TV with sports on it. Punters who were there to drink and watch the cricket would get the shits with you walking in front of the screen all the time when you were setting up. The place was a dive and always felt like it was only seconds away from becoming a blood bath. Some pool tables up the back were one of its few saving graces but you could at least hear some original music albeit not really “a show”. Unless you brought your own lights in, you were usually subjected to perform under flouros and management would want you to squeeze into as smaller space as you could to keep out of the way. You never really felt “welcomed” into the space as a musician (or even as a punter for that matter). I’m not sure if they have bands there at all anymore. They certainly don’t seem to advertise that they do and nobody I know has mentioned playing there in years. The pub is still there though and, according to their website’s “what’s on” link, their big thing is one dollar pool and free juke box on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
There are probably a dozen more places that you’ll think of that I’ve left off this list. Certainly if you’re old enough and you’ve been around the Beaches for a chunk of your life you’ll have been to a few that I’ve forgotten about. Feel free to mention them in the comments section. Unfortunately there is no real good news to be had at the end of this article. There are very few people starting up new venues on the peninsula and it seems unlikely that it will ever be like it was in the old days. We thought about starting up our own place at one point but it ended up having to be filed in the too hard basket. It’s certainly no easy feat to do and, unlike in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, the laws are considerably more constricting to do so and, unless you have a very hefty bank roll behind you, it’s a major struggle to get it off the ground.
So I guess we go back to our big screen TV’s and Bluray players and the live music experience becomes just another thing that our grandfathers will prattle on about to us that we won’t really get. It’s little wonder though that bands are struggling to gather a foot hold in the industry with nowhere left to play.