Bowie in the Pub: How Sydney Died
On the 27th of May 2018 The Sydney Morning Herald reported the death of 176 music venues in the city.
It took politicians just 30 years to end live music in Sydney. Anyone who lived in the city in the 1970s-1990s will remember being able to live in Surry Hills (David Bowie’s favourite live music haunt), Kings Cross, Chippendale or Newtown (in an actual house) – and see bands every night of the week.
The natural habitat of the musician and the (usually young, on a low income/student budget) was destroyed by high-density, expensive, high-rise apartments – and classic old pubs which connoisseurs like Bowie appreciated – lost their customers.
The City of Sydney, with Clover Moore in charge, has taken the initiative in opening up some new live music spaces – but there is a bigger concern here, about the fact that Sydney Symphony Orchestra can put away $1 million in funding, but local bands continue to be short-changed.
Replacing People With Poker Machines
Some pub owners in Sydney did the maths. Replace one standing human being at a gig, with a poker machine flashing through $20 notes instead – and there’s just no contest. Stages were ripped out. Australian pub rock died.
Music came second to gambling and property development. Then came the excuse of alcohol-related violence (blamed on music fans). Now, the New South Wales government is even getting in the way of entire music festivals. At last, though, Sydney is pushing back. The rallies are getting bigger in 2019.
Pictured below is a placard honouring Chrissy Amphlett of Divinyls, with a message to the N.S.W. Premier. (Photograph: Bethany Dolbel, Twitter)
The Sandringham and The Hopetoun
Bowie used to watch bands at The Evening Star. Perhaps you went to The Sandringham, which Doc Neeson (The Angels) mourned with a gig outside – or The Hopetoun, which is a heritage building where The Sunnyboys used to play. The Hopetoun is now haunted. The Sandringham has no bands. The Evening Star is also no friend to music. Sydney used to rock. Now it just eats. A lot.
The Hopetoun is a good symbol of what happened to live music in Sydney. Almost like a headstone in a graveyard. Across town, The Sydney Opera House is also considered heritage, but because it hosts opera, not rock’n’roll, it is funded by politicians. Nobody would dream of putting a poker machine in there. Unlike Sydney pubs – actually, the little opera houses of Australia’s amazing bands – it is protected.
The Sandringham – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Can you put a price on culture in Australia if it’s about rock’n’roll, T-shirts, posters and albums? The Cure are now playing Sydney Opera House. When they began their career, Robert Smith, Lol Tolhurst and friends could be found at 56 Ebley Street, Bondi Junction. Sydney was a world-class music city on a ‘little band’ circuit which meant The British Invasion of the late Seventies and Eighties actually had somewhere to play. How do you put that in a government budget? Nick Cave has become an Australian establishment icon. His band were once in Newtown at The Sando – The Sandringham. Price that.
The Sandringham now sells grapefruit mimosas and Korean glazed wings. It used to sell a pint of Nick Cave. It has become a mini golf-course.
The Trade Union
The Australian music industry which put Nick Cave, the Go-Betweens and AC/DC on the world stage came up through venues like The Trade Union.
Australian Music History has a powerful roll-call of all the lost Sydney venues.
How can you price a band like Divinyls with multi-million YouTube hits? You can’t. Divinyls were priceless. They also played at the Sydney Trade Union club.
Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl played pool at The Evening Star in Surry Hills, a short walk away. It is now called Gweilo, which is Cantonese slang for ‘ghost man’. It’s another place to eat in Sydney. Another Asian restaurant. It’s also the ghost of something the city had which both Nirvana and Bowie recognised and liked. Would INXS make it today in Sydney? Probably not. The habitat of the music fan and musician has been destroyed, as surely as some koalas are also losing their environment too. Skyhooks and INXS used to play together in Sydney. Same bill. Same venue. On a Sunday.
Don’t Kill Live Music – Sign the Petition
Anybody who thought people in Sydney had given up caring about bands should really see this petition.
Daryl Braithwaite is not alone when he says Sydney risks becoming a nanny state. Dave Faulkner and Isabella Manfredi have become part of a protest called Keep Sydney Open. Jimmy Barnes added his voice.
Bowie at The Bondi Lifesaver
The Bondi Lifesaver is now a branch of Coles. Welcome to Sydney 2019.
David Bowie, who lived in Sydney for years, used to go there too.
The Angels: “We’d started our show and all of a sudden David Bowie and his entourage came in front of the punter barrier [the security fence separating the audience and the stage] and watched our show. It blew me away, here’s this superstar watching our show. They wanted to spend their night off coming and supporting our band. We thought that was pretty amazing, actually.
Midnight Oil is one of the international success stories of Australian music which began its early band life at The Bondi Lifesaver.
In 2019 they are on a world tour and a supermarket stands where music once lived. How many more Midnight Oils of the future are going undeveloped, in a city where opera (still) rates, but rock’n’roll is second to food?
Sydney, On the Street and Drum Media
Sydney used to support two hefty music weekly papers. On the Street and Drum Media. I used to be the editor of On the Street.
Both were free, and supported entirely by advertising. I used to check the ads in the art room on a Tuesday night. There would be hundreds of them, for every imaginable aspect of the music industry.
Australia – and particularly Sydney – used to spend on; albums, singles, gigs, beer, T-shirts – and on a mammoth travel and transport umbrella industry that kept everything ticking over. The business was like a mushroom (similar to the famous Melbourne label) in that it spread out far, far beyond its initial hub. It pulled in Countdown and Nightmoves.
It brought the entire nation together on the weekends in a way that only sport is able to challenge. That’s gone in Sydney. It was thrown to Melbourne, which caught it and ran with it.
There’s really no point in even doing the sums, though. That’s not what this is about. Australian culture, heritage and history is priceless. For most of us that means modern music. Not opera. Anyone who is trying to see The Cure at Sydney Opera House in 2019 needs to remember where The Cure came from and what has gone so badly wrong in this city that a supermarket is in its place.