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Times may be a-changin' - but the music goes on

by Stephen Cummings - The Age, Melbourne, 2 February 2002

So the Punters Club Hotel has closed down, after the much-loved Continental, and my musician friends are gnashing their teeth and talking about hard times. I think they're over-reacting.

As a professional musician for 25 years, and a fan for even longer, I know the bottom line is that music keeps changing and evolving.

When I fell in love with rock in the late '60s and began catching buses across town to see groups, the hottest places in town were The Catcher, The Thumping Tum, Berties and Sebastians, Opus, Stonehenge, Swinger, Mentone Mod and The Biting Eye.

Venues were unlicensed, so it didn't matter that I was only 13. Cordial and soft drinks were the only beverages available. It seemed every church hall, town hall and mechanics institute from Rosebud to Broadmeadows had some kind of group playing.

One night I heard Gerry Humphreys screaming hysterically like a predatory bird with roadkill, out front of The Loved Ones at a theatre in Canterbury known as The Scene.

Psychedelia arrived in 1970 and discotheques were transformed into more counter-culture-oriented places, such as the T.F. Much Ballroom and later the Reefer Cabaret. Daddy Cool and Spectrum developed from such venues.

Out in the suburbs Billy Thorpe had regenerated his career with The Aztecs in suburban beer barns like the Whitehorse Inn, the Village Green, the Croxton Park, the South Side Six and the Waltzing Matilda. I remember seas of tables littered with overflowing ashtrays and hundreds of jugs of beer.

In early 1973 some new venues sprang up in the inner suburbs. The foremost was the Station Hotel in Greville Street, the forerunner to dozens of pubs over the next decade. The music was a hybrid of RB, country and uncompromising rock'n'roll. The archetype group was The Dingoes.

In 1974, Countdown was launched on ABC television, providing national exposure for a swag of new groups that had sprung from the new pub scene, including Skyhooks and AC/DC.

My group, The Sports, was formed in 1976. For the first year we were able to play an astonishing five nights a week. The circuit included the Kingston Hotel, Martinis, the London Tavern, the Prospect Hill and the Sydenham.

Within a year, the Sex Pistols had exploded and Melbourne's live music scene had expanded again: the Tiger Lounge, the Crystal Ballroom, Bananas, Macys, Hearts and the Champion. New groups - The Boys Next Door (Birthday Party), The Models, The Church and The Reels - attracted audiences.

Established acts such as The Angels, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons and Cold Chisel were moving on to bigger venues such as the Bombay Rock, a music industry hangout in Sydney Road.

By the '80s rock was becoming product. Men At Work, INXS and Midnight Oil all had success in America. We saw the rise of bigger nightclubs like the Palace, the Venue and upstairs at the Prince of Wales - all in St Kilda. A number of "next big things" made their debuts, including Hoodoo Gurus and Hunters and Collectors.

The Club opened in the late '70s and ran successfully into the '80s. Other significant venues to open in the mid-1980s were the Tote and the Rainbow Hotel, both still going.

In the mid-'80s Dror Erez opened his club ids in Greville Street and presented an innovative policy designed for people who were sick of going to venues where their feet stuck to the carpet. The Central Club, in Richmond, is one more beloved bar.

The beer barns have all but disappeared, except for the Hallam Hotel, which still flies the flag. The significant gigs at the end of the 20th century were the Corner Hotel, the Punters Club, the Evelyn, the Town Hall, the Cornish Arms and the lamented Continental.

I still believe Melbourne to be a music city. Unlike the rest of the country, it is blessed by a variety of alternative community radio stations that support local musicians. And with the loosening of licensing laws, the city is awash with warm and friendly bars, restaurants and clubs, and most of them have some kind of musical constituent.

So there's not too much to gnash teeth over just yet.

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