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Mourning the loss of part of Melbourne's music character

by Stephen Cummings - The Age, Melbourne, 5 May 2001

Melbourne has been a music city for as long as I've been alive. When Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide were dead, Melbourne exploded.

But the decision this week to close the Continental has changed all that. Which is a bring-down because this city is blessed with such a variety of alternative community radio stations - 3RRR-FM, 3PBS-FM, KISS-FM and 3CR pump out a huge range of specialist music and information.

No other city in Australia has nearly such a rich abundance of music. The best Melbourne music grinds like a cement-mixer and is both stylish and arrogant.

The city's music summarises everything that's great in the Melbourne character - lack of pretension, humor, tolerance and in-built cool - the whole bit.

The Continental has these attributes in spades. Since its inception in 1992, I've played at the Continental about 40 times. It was always a pleasure, whether there were 50 people or a full house.

The Continental is an intimate nightclub that holds about 320 and it has played host to various Australian and international musicians and performers over the past 10 years. The Continental promoted a variety of musical styles: acoustic-orientated music, roots-rock, jazz, white-boy blues-rock, alternative rock and world music. The format at the Continental was, and still is, simple good acts, good service and good value.

The reason that the venue is held in such high esteem among performers and patrons alike is that it is a room that was designed for performers.

The Continental is a classy place, from the excellent sound system and lighting rig down to the damask serviettes and tablecloths. The space is fitted with a proper stage, a magnificent purple curtain and there's a clean dressing room and mirrors. The toilet even worked. Which reminds me, the Continental has a touch of old-fashioned showbiz about it. There were rituals; the ritual of the stage manager herding you on stage and waiting impatiently for that purple curtain to slide slowly open and reveal the expectant patrons. Another important ritual was the well-stocked fridge with a generous drink-rider. This kind of quality environment is not the norm for the workers in the tower of song.

What is great about the Continental is the people who work there. All have lost their jobs. Many were in it for the long haul. They were all helpful and passionate about music.

So what was the greatest night? Some say World Party, others Steve Young, Tex Perkins, Alex Chiltern, Paul Kelly, Taj Mahal, Vince Jones, Edwyn Collins, Magic Dirt, Roger McGuinn or the When Joys kills Sorrow album launch. Who Knows? Who cares? Let's face it, they were all special in their own extraordinary way.

Finally, I'd like to ask you ladies and gentlemen to put your hands together one more time for Mario Maccarone and Mario DePasquale, the owners of the Continental, for providing some great music and good times, and helping to make Melbourne a more lively and exciting city.

Hopefully a new venue will rise phoenix-like with an adventurous music policy. Come May 19 when they close, we'll surely need it.

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