this piece appears , in edited form, in the current edition of MELBOURNE REVIEW. Thought I'd put up the full version here..
North and South of the river. The Yarra river in Melbourne. Once proudly brown stretch of running bilge water now looking a lot healthier. Probably a city divide most keenly felt by musicians who were active in the 20th century. Yes, once south of the river was where all the shows and cabarets were. Where the Musicians Union itself was (is?) located. (A handy place to get a drink after hours in the early 80s when everything shut at 10pm.).
Last year, when Nick Cave drove himself to the radio show I do with Elizabeth McCarthy on RRR (Banana Lounge Broadcasting –every Tuesday at noon), he confessed he had to use his GPS as he was in a foreign country north of the river. (RRR is in East Brunswick). Same with Chris Stockley, guitarist from the Dingoes who were perhaps from a generation who set forth on the bandstands a decade earlier. North of the river was not where it was once at. It was not on their maps. The city in their minds.
I myself was a SOUTH OF THE RIVER type who finally had to be dragged towards Sydney rd in the early 90s. I had never been that far North as I thought it was full of hippies. (Don’t know why-tahts what I’d heard is my only defence). I went as far as the very beginning of Sydney Rd and considered journeying any further into the hinterland as a complete folly. Only barbarians, dense delinquent undergrowth and strangely numbered trams would be ahead- surely! Occasionally, a drive to Sydney would require a trip down that road. Just like the outer edges of Parramatta rd coming into Sin City at the other end, it was a parade of car yards, lighting warehouses and what looked to be their attendant brothels for miles. Luckily we were usually hungover or drunk and found ourselves much more interesting than anything the outside world could offer.
Now, decades later, the worm has turned. Almost all live music in clubs and pubs happens north of the river. Indie acts tremble at the thought of crossing over to the other side. There are very few venues if they ever decide to do so and most importantly, no audience interested in attending that sort of an interior for that sort of a racket. So we are led to believe. They have simply lost the proverbial vibe. Rock musician! The caravan has moved on and the dogs are pissin’ on yer swag!
Of course, there are some venues like Pure Pop which is the behind a record shop and like a cute folk club in ambience. It attracts a particular clientele of old school south of the river freaks. Niche as all hell. It also gets occasionally raided by tribes of wandering backpackers. St Kilda is like that. Its always had incredible “walk past” and “walk up” crowds. Now they’re walking past with coins jangling in their pockets. Great place to have a bar. As to venues there’s also the Greyhound which until recently was the last bastion of grimy never say die rootless and toothless south of the river rock’n’roll. Not my cup of tea really, though I grew up around that kind of milieu, for real. Then I grew out of it. The Greyhound was refurbished and is now a super duper Gay Venue which packs hundreds of party people into it every weekend. Where there was a band room there is now an enormouse chamber with a ceiling that has crashed through what was three floors above the old joint. Lights befitting an outdoor festival stage and walkways for a top shelf fashion parade. Needless to say, the old crowd were grumbling somewhere out there. The Hotel opened up a room at the front for live music on the days when the drag room was dark. I did a gig with my band there and it was great. Totally deluxe gear and fittings and the people were excellent to work with. I mean, they had all the noblesse oblige of landed gentry who were sitting on a place that was paying off and set to do so for a long time in advance. Hopefully the live music will continue.
Then there’s the Esplanade which has such a great location overlooking the bay and has long been a music venue both in the front room and down back in the Gershwin Room. It has survived having a much larger building land on top and over it to pimp itself on tv as the location for “Rockwiz”.
Down the road, and like the Greyhound of recent months, the Prince of Wales used to have a drag show called “POKEYS” for many years and IT was the main business for what became the big band room. Initially, rock music was a little bit of activity on the side of an enormously happening meeting of underworlds. The dressing room was full of the drag costumes and had lights around the big mirrors like a real showbiz joint. Later, the music took over the whole building with several different sized bars all pumping out the sounds. Much more of a home for South of the river freakiness than the Esplanade. The big room at the Prince is still operating but its much less of a local parade through there. Big international touring sideshows and dj nights. It has been bought again recently and its future plans as far as music goes are up in the air.
I caught some young acts from South of the River. They all had a very odd 80s fetish and generally a very studied rock’n’roll look. Lite metal,kind of trashy goth glam aesthetic. They would not fly easily over the other side of town – perhaps as anachronistic throwbacks. They could be hip for being so badly out of time. Exotic even. South of the River in general is quite relaxing for being a Hipster Free Zone. Xanadouche is across town.
So it was a surprise recently when I went to catch a bunch of old friends called SMOKE MACHINE playing at the front bar of the Prince. SMOKE MACHINE feature Dave Last on vocals. He is a true South of the River identity. He hates to cross that water! He told me he did last year but stepped off the tram in Brunswick street and then hopped straight back on for St Kilda. It was dodgy but he much preferred it.
The guitarist of SMOKE MACHINE owns one of the said machines and that’s pretty much the reason for their existence. They like the smoke machine! Dave used to write amazing songs for his bands the Boy Kings and Autovegas but to this day has never, ever recorded anything or released it or written any of his golden boogies down. If there isn’t a band to play them, they disappear! He’s into rock’n’roll for the thrills. In the old days he was always going to come into the room at the start of the set with his 12” pompadour high, riding on the back of a Harley- even when the gig was on the second floor. He was a trouper.
SMOKE MACHINE play only covers. Crude, battered shit like “smoke on the water” and “born to be wild” and terribly ambitious anthems like “Born to run”. They jump on anything and give it a good squirt. They were playing in the actual front bar of the Prince of Wales, the bar that opens onto the street. They used to call the bottom bar of the Esplanade the “Star wars Bar” because of the freakiness of the clientele, well this is where they’ve ended up. Real damaged, funny, good time people. Dancing in the afternoon and washing down a whole lot of booze. Dave’s pipes are a bit rusty on this day but the speakers he is singing through aren’t the best. He has also, quite endearingly, never seemed to have learned how to hold a mic right in front of your mouth. The bigger the notes he tries for, the further away he holds it from his mouth. Maybe he’s got better hearing than the rest of us and its all sounding bigger where he is. Anyway, they play two sets – on the floor- to a wild and willing crowd who walk in and out of the room past them, occasionally stopping to salute and then suddenly remembering they have to have a smoke. The crowd is half old school, which includes the regular blue collar gay blokes, and also half drunken backpackers A great South of the River afternoon, like being in a classic honky tonk, spoiled only by the news that the St Kilda council have issued a $1000 fine between sets to the pub for noise. On Fitzroy street St Kilda they are worried about noise! Shame!
Across the river? Well theres the Old Bar, Bar Open, Yah Yahs (on Smith street where it is surrounded by half a dozen other music venues), The Evelyn, (again several other bars on Brunswick street), The Corner, The Northcote Social Club, Bar 301, the Phoenix, the Edinburgh Castle, the Tote, the Toff in Town, the Workers Club, the Metro, the Hi Fi, Billboard, Bennetts Lane and many, many, many more. What happened?
A few weeks out from my South of the River afternoon and I’m in a hushed bar in Fitzroy, listening to a geeky guy in extra casual clothes fingerpicking an expensive looking acoustic which he has put through a beautiful Fender twin amp. The songs are slow and considered and nuanced and no one talks. He takes an age both to tune and shuffle through his lyrics pages which he has on a music stand. He chats quietly to the audience as if they are old friends, which they probably are. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? I wonder to myself what the effect would be like if he was in that Prince bottom bar, how long would he last with this type of precious, self conscious behaviour? Would they just make him cry before he even started? Would he rise to the occasion and for gods sake speak up a bit or at least bring the tempo up for or five fold? I do enjoy his playing and the sound he gets is just great. It’s just so nice and polite.
That’s what Melbourne could do with actually, a good dose of South of the River saltiness. We’ve had enough of the douchetopia haven’t we?
an evening in the garden- perth writers festival - friday feb 24th 7pm
(in the Sunken Garden - writers festival - talking with writer Simon Collins and playing songs on my acoustic)
Dave Graney, Fiona O'Loughlin and Anne Manne consider why they decided to write about their own lives.
(Tropical Grove-Perth Writers Festival precinct- sat 25th feb)
3rd March - Harry Howard and the NDE launching their album at the Tote.
dave graney and the mistLY -spiegeltent - arts centre melbourne sunday 25th march 5pm
- dave graney
- Let's get Tight - 2017 CD with Clare Moore. Moodists - Coral Snakes - mistLY. I don’t know what I am and don’t want to know any more than I already know. I aspire, in my music , to 40s B Movie (voice and presence) and wish I could play guitar like Charlie Christian or Grant Green -but not in this lifetime, I know.
2014 solo album from Dave Graney. *****"If I've learnt anything in my years of writing about music it's that if you are going to do anything of worth in this tough game, you better have your own thing. Today's generic is easily replaced by tomorrow's. And yet you need to be flexible, to follow wherever the songs demand. In the case of this, only the second credited as a solo album among 30 or so Graney releases, it's a curious yet welcoming lane he walks you down, with acoustic guitars, not much percussion, vibes, smooth sounds. At the end of it you feel like you've awoken from a strange yet pleasant summer's dream. As shot by Luis Bunuel. It ranges from off-kilter reveries (A Woman Skinnies Up a Man, The Old Docklands Wheel) through to the softly seductive (How Can You Get Out of London) and the downright arch (Look Into My Shades, Everything Is Great In The Beginning.) This is music that is neither folk, nor blues, nor country, but it's all Graney, somewhere out to the left field beyond Lee Hazlewood's raised eyebrow. It's astringent on the tongue but sweetens in the telling." Noel Mengel Brisbane Courier Mail
you've been in my mind
June 2012 super high energy pop rock album - blazing electric 12 strings - total 70s rock drive. Greatest yet! available via paypal - $20 pp
SUPERMODIFIED - August 2010 remixed/re-sung/re-strung//remastered/replayed comp via PAYPAL
Knock yourself (2009)-first ever dg solo set-filthy electro r&b-available via Paypal- $20
available as a digital album too
We Wuz Curious (2008)-blazing R&B jazz pop album available via paypal-$20
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
AVAILABLE AS A DIGITAL album
Hashish and Liquor (2005 double disc by Dave Graney and Clare Moore) available via Paypal $25
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
Single album HASHISH available as a digital release