A SLICE OF MELBOURNE MUSIC HISTORY – WHAT IS THE ‘CARLTON SOUND’?
By Ian McFarlane
“Night-time cold in seeming dark / Midnight savage in Primal Park” – ‘Primal Park’ (Ross Wilson / David Pepperell) by Mondo Rock
The time: the mid 1970s; the scene: inner-city Melbourne… night in the city… Melbourne comes alive after dark… Melbourne is a rock’n’roll town… the Melbourne music scene is pulsating, vibrant, writhing, on edge and seething with activity like a multi-headed serpent on the move.
You don’t have to be a musician to make the scene but you’ve come to watch your idols on stage. In a small, dark pub the air is thick with a pungent smoke haze, the stage lights are hot and bright, the amplifiers are set to overload, guitar riffs slice the hazy air like razors, the thudding bass hits you full in the chest, the singer prowls the stage… he could be dreaming he’s Mick Jagger up there, fulfilling your every desire.
Experiencing rock music in such an environment was a rite of passage for many. From the inner-city clubs, pubs and ballrooms to the vast expanses of numerous suburban beer barns, the Melbourne music scene certainly had plenty to offer.
But let’s focus on the inner-city and specifically Carlton. Inner-city Melbourne is a divided locale: north of the Yarra River you had the pubs and clubs situated in the CDB itself and next to that the pubs and ballrooms of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and most significantly Carlton. South of the Yarra you had Prahran, South Melbourne, Albert Park and St. Kilda each with its own rock’n’roll heartbeat.
It’s long been supposed, when discussing Melbourne music of the 1970s, that the true heart of the inner-city scene was centred on Carlton. Literally situated right next to the CBD, Carlton has always engendered a convergence of influences and artistic pursuits: music, theatre, film making, art, counter-culturalism, multi-culturalism. There were music venues in the area (Martini’s, Hearts), theatre venues (La Mama, the Pram Factory) and the hot-bed of radical thought that emanated from Melbourne University, all contributing to the social and cultural milieu of Carlton town. Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip and Bert Deling’s cult classic film Pure Shit were set on local streets and what’s more significantly both helped capture the voice of a generation.
On a political level, and parallel to such diverse cultural pursuits, it should be noted that this was the era of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, in office from 1972 to 1975. The seeds of creative resurgence and social and political upheaval sown during the 1960s / early 1970s (anti-Vietnam War sentiment, Moratorium marches etc) had well and truly flowered by the mid 1970s. The Whitlam government instigated sweeping changes (the abolition of conscription for example) that had a tremendous impact on Australian society at the time. Carlton was ideally situated to absorb all such influences.
On a musical level, there has always been the notion of a mythical or idealistic ‘Carlton Scene’ in the history of Melbourne music. But what was the ‘Carlton Scene’? And what is the ‘Carlton Sound’? How do you encapsulate that sound, that ideal? And who are the prime movers who helped develop the scene? No-one’s really attempted to pull all the pieces together into a cohesive, cogent whole… until now.
It all comes together now: David Laing, Creative A&R manager at Warner Music Australia, has compiled (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene Of The ’70s, a sprawling, 44-track double CD that offers a convincing case there really was a Carlton Scene if not necessarily a particular Carlton Sound. By pulling together many disparate tracks from such notable Melbourne bands as Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Sports, The Bleeding Hearts, Stiletto, The Pelaco Bros, The Dots and Mondo Rock it paints a whole new picture of what the Carlton ideal was all about.
Not everyone agrees with the basic premise, however; music writer / scenester David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell (who wrote extensively about Melbourne music of the mid-’70s for Juke magazine) for one doesn’t see the Carlton Scene as being the epicentre of all things Melbourne rock. While he says there was probably a Carlton mentality, he sees Melbourne inner-city music as being more holistic with just as much gigging activity south of the Yarra and other northern locations such as Fitzroy and Richmond.
He does have a point but it’s also interesting to note that Pepperell wrote the lyrics to one of the key songs selected for this compilation: Mondo Rock’s ‘Primal Park’. The lyrics capture that gritty realism and sense of running wild through late night Melbourne, like some Bacchanalian feast for the soul. When asked what the lyrics mean, Pepperell explains that they came from a more deep-seated subjective space rather than attempting to explain the scene on an objective level.
“The lyrics to ‘Primal Park’ were an allegory of my crazy life in the late ’70s,” Pepperell explains. “Primal Park was Melbourne at night and the ‘midnight savage’ was me. I didn’t exactly know what it meant when I wrote it. The lyrics all bubbled up from my subconscious. It all makes sense now.”
In contrast, Ross Wilson – one of the key figures in Melbourne music – sees the Carlton Scene as a good umbrella term to explain the motivational forces in play at the time.
“It was a matter of all these bands gravitating to a central point where the audiences were,” he says. “I’d started out at places like the T.F. Much Ballroom and other venues such as Berties and Sebastians in the city, but then by the mid-’70s I was playing around Carlton with Mondo Rock. I’d also become immersed in the business side of things before then, I’d started a publishing company and was mentoring people who were writing their own songs, instead of just covering other people’s. Guys like Greg Macainsh, Wayne Burt, Peter Lillie. Macainsh and Lillie were sending things up but they quickly found their own stride. I was saying you can write your own songs, and the fact someone had said that to them meant they were able to move forward.
“Skyhooks were making socially relevant music but it was only when Shirley Strachan replaced Steve Hill as lead singer that the band found its focus. I produced those early Skyhooks albums and they were hugely successful. And the most important thing is that on the back of that massive success, Mushroom Records made enough money so that it allowed Michael Gudinski to sign and record all those other groups such as The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons and the Models. Gudinski has gone on record as saying that I helped change the rules when it came to things like song publishing and record production. I’d signed Greg Macainsh to a 70/30 publishing deal which was unheard of at the time; 70% for the song writer, rather than 50/50.
“I think the Carlton scene did have its own distinct flavour. Of course there were all the other gigs in Fitzroy, Richmond, Prahran, St. Kilda and wherever but Carlton had that mix of music, arts, theatre, politics and everything else that seemed to draw it all together. Also, a lot of people on the scene came from a left-wing / Trade Union / socialist background which had an effect too. Steve Hill was a full-on socialist. Also, guys like Stephen Cummings and Joe Camilleri were influenced by the sounds they heard coming out of the UK and the records released by the Stiff label in particular. And the main thing about the Carlton scene is that most of the musicians were total misfits, they just didn’t fit into any pop star mould. Guys like Peter Lillie; I mean, there was no glamour involved. It was almost accidental that Stephen Cummings was good looking.
“DO THE LYGON STREET LIMBO – HOW LOW CAN YOU GO-GO?”
Ultimately, it all comes down to the music on offer. Just for the fact there are so many significant bands in the one package, I for one am convinced that there was indeed an identifiable Carlton Scene if not a specific Carlton Sound.
The music ranges all over the place, from riff-based boogie rock and R&B-laced pub rock to commercial pop and reggae-infused pop/rock. Much of the music bears a lightness of touch that flies in the face of the heavier sounds prevailing elsewhere on the Australian musical landscape (for example, bands such as The Aztecs, AC/DC, Coloured Balls, Rose Tattoo, The Angels and Cold Chisel). As is the case with any compilation of this nature, there are numerous tracks that stand head and shoulders above others that, while they might be essential and intriguing to the whole concept, don’t really cut it.
Predominantly the Carlton Scene was situated in a pre-punk environment (featuring bands such as Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Company Caine and The Pelaco Bros) leading into a kind of proto-New Wave aesthetic (as epitomised by the likes of The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, The Dots and Man & Machine).
The main Carlton venues of the day were Martini’s (Imperial Hotel) and Hearts (Polaris Inn) but other significant venues that featured heavily in the development of Melbourne music included the T.F. Much / Much More Ballroom (Fitzroy), the Reefer Cabaret (Ormond Hall, Prahran), Garrison (Windsor), Hard Rock Café (CBD), Dallas Brooks Hall (East Melbourne), Storey Hall (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, CBD), Bombay Rock (Brunswick), the Tiger Room (Royal Oak Hotel, Richmond), the Kingston Hotel (Richmond), the Station Hotel (Prahran) and many more.
THE KEY BANDS
Led by valiant singer, astute songwriter, indefatigable band leader and canny arbiter of the machinations of the music industry Ross Wilson, Daddy Cool can be seen as the progenitors of much of what was to follow on the Carlton Scene. Aided and abetted by Ross Hannaford (guitar), Wayne Duncan (bass) and Gary Young (drums), Wilson and DC captured the hearts of the nation with the sounds of the jubilant Australian dance classic and #1 hit ‘Eagle Rock’ (1971). Their albums, Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! and Sex, Dope, Rock & Roll: Teenage Heaven, are important works that still sound fresh and vibrant today. The band broke up originally in 1972 but reformed in 1974 which is when their presence on the Carlton Scene was in the ascendant.
Contemporaries of the original DC, legendary Melbourne band Company Caine played an eclectic blend of psychedelic-infused blues and avant-jazz that was certainly groundbreaking and out there in many ways. Their 1971 album A Product of a Broken Reality is a milestone of the early ’70s progressive scene. Led by delightfully eccentric singer / be-bop poet Gulliver Smith and guitarist Russell Smith, and much like DC the band originally broke up in 1972 only to reform in 1975 when Keith Glass and David Pepperell reissued their album on the Real label. The new line-up became a notable and influential fixture on the Carlton Scene for another year. They recorded enough new material (half live / half studio) to fill a second album, the excellent Dr. Chop, before calling it quits again.
The brash, rebellious and charismatic Skyhooks were a pop phenomenon in the truest sense of the label. When they emerged from inner-city Melbourne in 1974, Skyhooks irrevocably altered the guidelines by which the local industry operated. They were the right band at the right time. Their first two albums for Mushroom Records, Living in the 70’s and Ego is Not a Dirty Word sold in unprecedented quantities. Bassist / songwriter Greg Macainsh’s biting, provocative songs made an enormous impact at the time. The band sang about buying dope in the inner-city – ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’, sex in the suburbs – ‘Balwyn Calling’, the local gay scene – ‘Toorak Cowboy’. And in guitarist Redmond Symons they featured an archetypal Carltonian personality.
The Pelaco Bros
The Pelaco Bros were one of those seminal inner-city bands that never achieved commercial success but were assigned legendary status by virtue of the personnel who passed through their ranks. Formed in 1974 by singer Stephen Cummings and bass player Johnny Topper, the band comprised, at various times, a trio of exemplary guitarists in Peter Lillie, Chris Worrall and Ed Bates, as well as sax player Joe Camilleri. The band sang about truck drivers, roadhouse ladies and endless highways, playing a mix of rockabilly, R&B and Western Swing that forged a new musical aesthetic for the local scene. One of the bands featured on the 1978 Missing Link album The Autodrifters and the Relaxed Mechanics Meet the Fabulous Nudes and the Pelaco Bros.
The Bleeding Hearts
One of the cornerstone bands of the Melbourne 1970s inner-city scene, an important breeding ground for musicians capable of helping to sustain the Australian music industry. Led by Martin Armiger (guitar, vocals; ex-Toads) and Eric Gradman (vocals, violin; ex-Sharks, Toads), the band was brimming with enormous potential which remained unfulfilled by the time they broke up in late 1977. Keith Glass described the band as a classic case of “right place, wrong time”, going on to say “the arty, mannered, intellectual but still rocking Bleeding Hearts set a new standard in the thriving inner city venues of mid 1970s Melbourne”. And fortunately, before they broke up, they’d recorded enough demo and live material to make up the classic album What Happened?, which Glass issued on his Missing Link label in 1978
The Sports emerged in 1976 from the ashes of cult rockabilly outfit The Pelaco Bros (featuring lead singer Stephen Cummings and guitarist Ed Bates). With the members’ backgrounds in roots music so prevalent, The Sports swiftly earned a reputation as the hottest R&B / soul / rockabilly group on the inner-city circuit. Cummings’ breathy vocal style and nonchalant delivery certainly singled him out as a rare talent. The band issued one classic single after another on the Mushroom label and also caught the attention of Stiff Records in the UK. Another local legend, Martin Armiger (by then ex-Bleeding Hearts, High Rise Bombers) joined in 1978 and alongside Cummings helped push the band into a slicker, more commercial pop direction.
Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons
The original Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons was a funky, energetic R&B band based around guitarist / singer / song writer Wayne Burt (ex-Rock Granite) with Joe Camilleri lending his distinctive vocals and sax work to the band’s sound. The band had formed in late 1975 with members drawn from the breakups of Daddy Cool, Company Caine, Rock Granite and The Pelaco Bros. When Burt left in late 1977, Camilleri (also ex-King Bees, Lipp and the Double Dekker Bros, Sharks) took the band on to bigger and better things (he’d named the group after all) and quickly became its leader and focal point. The Falcons’ rootsy blend of R&B, soul, pop and reggae found its greatest success with the brilliant 1979 album Screaming Targets on Mushroom.
Featuring a trio of female members – Jane Clifton (vocals; ex-Myriad, Lipp and the Double Dekker Bros, Toads), Janie Conway (vocals, guitar; ex-Myriad) and Marnie Sheehan (bass; ex-Toads) – Stiletto earned a reputation as a strong feminist band. Guitarists Andrew Bell (also ex-Toads) and Chris Worrall (ex-Pelaco Bros, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Bleeding Hearts) tied all the pieces together with their inspirational playing. The band only recorded one album, Licence to Rage, and a couple of singles before breaking up in 1979. Worrall and latter-day Stiletto guitarist Chris Dyson (also ex-High Rise Bombers) went on to join Paul Kelly and The Dots.
THE KEY PLAYERS
A towering presence on the Carlton Scene, Ross ‘The Boss’ Wilson has made the most significant contribution to the development of the institution of Australian rock music of anyone covered here. Wilson got his start as a teenager in Melbourne garage / R&B band The Pink Finks (1965), moving onto psych-pop bands The Party Machine and Procession and by 1970 was fronting esoteric, special occasion progressive group Sons of the Vegetal Mother. The Sons spawned the rockin’ Daddy Cool; Wilson then formed Mighty Kong and in 1976 Mondo Rock. As well as writing numerous hit singles for his groups, Wilson produced important recordings for Carlton bands Skyhooks, Company Caine, The Sports and Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons. He remains active to this day.
In 1974, Martin Armiger got involved with the Pram Factory, one of the pivotal Carlton theatrical collectives of the day, writing music for plays. He formed The Toads, with various other musicians involved in the Pram Factory and hit the local pub scene. Film maker Bert Deling engaged Armiger to record the soundtrack for Pure Shit (1975), now acknowledged as one of the legendary Aussie cult movies. The raucous boogie track ‘I Love My Car’ ended up in the live repertoire of his next band The Bleeding Hearts. In 1978, Armiger joined The Sports, writing some of their classic pop songs (‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘Strangers on a Train’). Since leaving the band in 1981, Armiger has carved out a career as an acclaimed film and television composer.
As singer for The Pelaco Bros and The Sports, Stephen Cummings was able to pull off the rare feat of bearing the hallmarks of the classic front man (good looks, distinctive voice, charismatic presence) without embracing all the trappings of fame that the role presented. In other words, and despite his public persona, he avoided being famous at all costs. His lyrics for Sports songs such as ‘Reckless’, ‘Who Listens to the Radio’ and ‘Black Stockings (For Chelsea)’ nevertheless, marked him out as a rare talent indeed. He has pursued a solo career of note since the early 1980s. His 1988 album Lovetown was full of subtle, narrative vignettes where the ironic title certainly referred to inner-city Melbourne.
As one of the greatest showmen and most genuinely talented figures in all of Australian music, the magnetic Joe Camilleri (singer / songwriter / sax player / producer) has been involved in a succession of great bands: The King Bees, Lipp and the Double Dekker Bros, Sharks, The Pelaco Bros, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Black Sorrows and The Revelators. Camilleri is equal parts Otis Redding, Garland Jeffreys, Van Morrison and his own tenacious persona, equally adept at handling a wide range of roots-rock styles, from R&B, soul and reggae to salsa and zydeco, with pop smarts in abundance. His work with Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons (‘So Young’, ‘Hit and Run’, ‘Don’t Wanna Come Down’) in particular presents him as a key contributor to the development of the Carlton Scene.
From very early in his career, the multi-talented Paul Kelly was recognised as one of the most significant singer / songwriters in the country, Australian music’s own rock poet laureate. Inspired initially by the likes of Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Robert Johnson, Kelly’s effortless, narrative song writing style was infused with wry observations, bittersweet emotions and enormous appeal. Kelly got his start on the Carlton Scene with High Rise Bombers and The Dots. He later forged his greatest successes with The Messengers and as a prolific solo artist (he has written over 350 songs) which continues to this day. The recent documentary Stories of Me is a brilliant glimpse into the mind and heart of this most beloved performer.
Eric Gradman was an intense and restless singer who played electric violin and broke new musical ground with his band Sharks, reputed to be the most avant-garde group on the Carlton Scene. Gradman went on to front The Bleeding Hearts (alongside Martin Armiger) and, at the end of the decade, the highly regarded Man & Machine before heading off overseas. With his attention to soulful dynamics, Gradman was unlike any other singer around. He certainly imbued the likes of ‘Hit Single’ by The Bleeding Hearts and ‘Crime of Passion’ by Man & Machine with a great deal of emotional depth and musical gravitas.
Probably the most unsung musical hero mentioned here, in many ways Peter Lillie was the embodiment of the Carlton spirit if far from being its greatest success story. Nevertheless, Lillie’s impact on the scene was felt via his tenacious guitar picking with The Pelaco Bros, Autodrifters, Relaxed Mechanics and The Leisuremasters. He was well versed in numerous styles, from R&B and blues to rockabilly and Western Swing, yet he always injected a uniquely Australian sense of humour into his songs. His best songs celebrated the mundane albeit shot through with a great deal of sprightly wit: ‘Holiday House’, ‘Hangin’ Around the House’, ‘Samurai Star’ and ‘The Birth of the Ute’, an affectionate ode to the humble ‘utility’ pick up. Lillie was also known as the cartoonist behind the satirical After Dinner Moose comic strips in local rock papers.
As band leader, bass player and main song writer for the enormously successful Skyhooks, Greg Macainsh was able to transplant the obsessions and frustrations of modern suburban living into the heady, frantic and intoxicating milieu of the inner-city. While his songs were not the first to address local themes, it was the effect they had on Australian social life that was so earth-shattering at the time. No one had heard the likes of ‘Living in the 70’s’, ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’, ‘Horror Movie’, ‘You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed’ or ‘This is My City’ before. In some ways it’s difficult now to convey the enormous impact Macainsh’s songs had, suffice to say that as a power-packed and socially aware group Skyhooks were the right band at the right time.
THE KEY SONGS
‘Hard Drugs (Are Bad for You)’ – Mighty Kong (1973)
Ross Wilson’s band in between stints with Daddy Cool. ‘Hard Drugs’ was the standout track on the Kong’s only album All I Wanna Do is Rock, a concise and direct anti-drugs song backed by a hard rocking vibe.
‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’ – Skyhooks (1974)
Captured the zeitgeist of the times in one neat, riff-packed vignette: “When the sun sets over Carlton and you’re out to make a deal / Check out who you’re talking to and make sure they are real”.
‘I Love My Car’ – Martin Armiger (1975)
Written by Armiger and featured on the soundtrack to the legendary exploitation / art house movie Pure Shit, ‘I Love My Car’ was a ripping slice of raunchy, hard boogie that matched the likes of Coloured Balls or AC/DC.
‘Hit Single’ – The Bleeding Hearts (1977)
Featuring a combination of proto-punk riffs, a post-Roxy Music influence (minus the glam predilections) and a sense of uncompromising urgency this was music that reeked of inner-city grime and decay.
‘Boys! (What Did The Detective Say?)’ – The Sports (1978)
Speedy, witty and punctuated by Stephen Cummins’ exhortations of “Boys!”, this was another snapshot of inner-city interaction but delivered with humour and minus the paranoia.
‘Lowdown’ – Paul Kelly and The Dots (1979)
Taken from The Dots’ self-released EP, one of the earliest songs written and recorded by Paul Kelly. Combined everything that was great about his song writing: melody, heart, soul and just a cracker of a tune.
‘Primal Park’ – Mondo Rock (1979)
The quintessential song about Melbourne nightlife: dark, mysterious and hedonistic lyrics, yet enveloped by one of Ross Wilson’s characteristically vibrant, tuneful and enticing melodies.
‘Only The Lonely Hearted’ – Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons (1979)
From The Falcons’ breakthrough album Screaming Targets, this was the first Paul Kelly song recorded by another band. Falcons’ singer Joe Camilleri certainly knew the value of a good song writer.
THE KEY (INNER-CITY) VENUES
At this point we’ll examine some of the landmark inner-city rock venues that helped facilitate the development of the Melbourne music scene during the 1970s. From progressive rock through the Carlton Scene onto the rise of punk / New Wave, this is where it all unfolded. Not all these venues were centred on Carlton (and it’s certainly not possible to name every venue around town during the decade) but it’s worth looking at this from a wider perspective.
T.F. Much Ballroom / Much More Ballroom – Cathedral Hall, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
In many ways, the T.F. (‘Too Fucking’) Much Ballroom was the Melbourne equivalent of the great San Francisco venues of the psychedelic era, such as the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium. Presented by promoters John Pinder and Peter Andrew from the Let It Be booking agency, the original T.F. Much ran from August 1970 to September 1971 while their subsequent Much More ran from December 1971 to December 1972. A unique feature of the concerts was Hugh McSpedden’s liquid light shows.
The ballroom was spiritual home to legendary Melbourne acts such as Spectrum, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, King Harvest, Lipp and The Double Dekker Bros, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Daddy Cool, Company Caine, MacKenzie Theory, Wendy Saddington and the Tribe theatre group. Daddy Cool played their final performance (to that time) at the Much More Ballroom on 13 August 1972, the results of which came out as the live album Daddy Cool Live! The Last Drive-In Movie Show in 1973.
The Reefer Cabaret – Ormond Hall, Moubray Street, Prahran
Audacious promoter Mike ‘Fastbuck’ Roberts launched this infamous concert event in late 1974; patrons were encouraged to smoke joints openly which naturally tended to attract the attention of various authority groups. Among the many attractions was the screening of Reefer Madness, the notorious 1936 propaganda film about the wicked weed made by the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Writer David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell described the Reefer Cabaret as “The last bastion of the flower children, the obvious successor to the T.F. Much and Much More, it represents a large part of the communal Melbourne Consciousness”.
The art-deco styled Ormond Hall had actually been running as a pop venue since the mid-1960s, but this was the grown-up, subversive, anti-establishment flipside. All the big name Melbourne groups appeared there: Daddy Cool, Renée Geyer and Sanctuary, Ariel, Ayers Rock, Madder Lake, The Dingoes, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Skyhooks, The Pelaco Bros etc. The live album A-Reefer-Derci documented the final Reefer Cabaret concert (December 1975). The venue was briefly revived as Stoned Again in 1976.
Martini’s – Imperial Hotel, Rathdown Street, Carlton
Run by promoter Adrian Barker, Martini’s was the premier Carlton rock venue for many years. The hotel itself had an Italianate past with heavy drape curtains around the venue, so consequently it was always dark inside. All the important Melbourne bands played there – The Dingoes, The Toads, Company Caine, Daddy Cool, The Pelaco Bros, The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, Stiletto, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, High Rise Bombers – as did many interstate touring acts such as Sid Rumpo, Jeff St John, Kevin Borich Express and Cold Chisel. Martini’s was also one of the first Melbourne venues to add newer, punkier acts to the bill, such as Radio Birdman, Boys Next Door, JAB, Models and Flowers.
The other important Carlton venue was Hearts at the Polaris Inn which is where Company Caine played a long residency in 1975. And although it wasn’t held in a pub venue, how’s this for an archetypal Carlton Scene gig – “Xmas in Carltonia” (December 1976) featuring The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, Millionaires, Stiletto and Ready Rubbed held in the Horticultural Hall of the old Trades Hall Building, Carlton.
The Tiger Room – Royal Oak Hotel, Bridge Road, Richmond
Billed as a Rock ‘n’ Roll Theatre Restaurant, and run by promoter Laurie Richards, the Tiger Room was launched in October 1976, playing host to the likes of Ross Wilson’s Mondo Rock, Millionaires, The Bleeding Hearts, Gulliver’s Travels (the new band that emerged out of the demise of Company Caine), Spare Change, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Angels and Living Legends (aka Keith Glass Band aka KGB). Glass was billing his band’s performances under the banner of ‘Mod Night’, having originally been a member of 1960s psych-pop band Cam-Pact.
Also significantly, the Tiger Room was the site of historic Melbourne performances by The Saints (April 1977, just before they went to the UK) and Radio Birdman (June 1977). The venue was re-named The Tiger Lounge in October 1977 and opened its doors to newer acts such as JAB, Babeez / News and Boys Next Door (later to evolve into the more artfully malevolent Birthday Party). Also gave rise to an infamous Bleeding Hearts bootleg album, Live at the Tiger Lounge.
The Station Hotel – Greville Street, Prahran
Affectionately known as ‘The Snake Pit’. Promoter Mark Barnes opened this venue to live music in 1971 and as such was one of the longest serving inner-city pub venues in Melbourne. During the late 1960s / early 1970s, Greville Street, Prahran, had a similar vibe to such overseas equivalents as Ladbroke Grove in London and Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco.
The venue was essentially just a stage in the front bar opening straight onto the street but as Martin Armiger has commented, “some serious connoisseurs of rock music hung out there”. It was always packed with a diverse range of people – in particular when the likes of The Dingoes, MacKenzie Theory, Skyhooks or Daddy Cool played. AC/DC also honed their stage chops at the Station; it was the site of some of Bon Scott’s earliest gigs with the band after he joined in September 1974. The album Live at the Station documented a series of hot nights recorded during March, 1976 and featured The Dingoes, Myriad, Saltbush and Wild Beaver Band.
Hard Rock Café – Spring Street, CBD
Previously known as the Victoria & Albert (aka ‘Berties’) discotheque during the mid to late 1960s when the likes of psych-pop bands The Zoot, The Twilights, The Wild Cherries, Cam-Pact and Doug Parkinson In Focus held court. Berties also played host to the development of the early ’70s progressive scene – Spectrum, Jeff St John and The Copperwine, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, King Harvest, Daddy Cool, Blackfeather, Syrius, Chain etc.
Promoters Michael Browning and Rod de Gruchy re-opened the venue in 1974 as the Hard Rock Café, whereby Coloured Balls, Split Enz, AC/DC, Buster Brown, The Dingoes, Renée Geyer Band, Ariel, Madder Lake, Ayers Rock, Daddy Cool and The Pelaco Bros could play till all hours, while guitarist Lobby Loyde’s open Jam Nights were a weekend highlight. Browning went on to manage AC/DC.
Bombay Rock – Phoenix Street, Brunswick
Originally opened in the CBD during 1977 as the Bombay Bicycle Club, and relaunched as the 1978 Second Coming, the multi-level Bombay Rock was one of the most popular Melbourne venues for years. Literally every Australian band of note played the main room upstairs, while the downstairs lounge bar was the perfect location for the up-and-coming outfits keen to make an impact on their own terms. It was also an important developmental ground for the burgeoning Melbourne punk scene, with the likes of JAB, Negatives, Boys Next Door, Teenage Radio Stars and X-Ray-Z honing their chops as part of the Bombay Rock New Wave Extravaganza Nites (March-April 1978). Mondo Rock recorded the live portion of their classic album Primal Park here in May 1979.
Crystal Ballroom (aka Seaview Ballroom / The Ballroom) – George Hotel, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
With its crumbling facade and magnificent marble staircase leading up to the main band room, the George Hotel originally dates back to the 1850s and was a popular destination for holiday makers and also European immigrants following the Second World War. What ended up being the band room with a stage erected at one end had actually been the main dining hall back in the day, although it also had a sprung floor for ballroom dancing. As the brave new world of late 1970s music in Melbourne was unfolding, the venue opened as the Wintergarden Room in August 1978 run by promoter Dolores San Miguel before it was relaunched as the Crystal Ballroom during February 1979 by Laurie Richards. San Miguel returned in March 1980 with the Paradise Lounge in the large downstairs room.
The Ballroom became known as the legendary Melbourne punk / New Wave venue, the place to be seen and the spiritual home to the likes of the Boys Next Door / Birthday Party, Models, Tch Tch Tch, Whirlywirld, International Exiles, Man & Machine, La Femme, The Editions, The Ears, Laughing Clowns, Essendon Airport etc. All the major bands played there as well, from The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons to Flowers (later Icehouse), Mental As Anything and Midnight Oil. And of course, performances by international visitors such as XTC, The Members, Wreckless Eric and Iggy Pop went down a treat.
(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene Of The ’70s (Warner Music Australia)
1. Skyhooks – CARLTON (Lygon Street Limbo) (1974)
2. The Sports – WHO LISTENS TO THE RADIO (Original single version) (1978)
3. Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons – SO YOUNG (1978)
4. Paul Kelly and the Dots – LOWDOWN (Live) (1979)
5. Stiletto – MIDDLE OF THE BED (1978)
6. The Bleeding – Hearts HIT SINGLE (1977)
7. Daddy Cool – BOY, YOU’RE PARANOID (Live) (1972)
8. Mighty Kong – HARD DRUGS (Are Bad For You) (1973)
9. Mondo Rock – PRIMAL PARK (1979)
10. Mark Gillespie – SUICIDE SISTER (1980)
11. High Rise Bombers – FASTER THAN LIGHT (1978)
12. The Toads – EUDIL (1975)
13. The Pelaco Bros – MECHANICS IN A RELAXED MANNER (1975)
14. Relaxed Mechanics – TRUCKIN’ CASANOVA (1976)
15. Millionaires – GOSSIP (1976)
16. The Kevins – OUT AT NIGHT (1979)
17. Martin Armiger (and Buzz Leeson) – NO REASON 1976
18. Parachute – THE BIG BEAT (1978)
19. Spare Change – LET’S GET RICH TOGETHER (1977)
20. Glory Boys – BALLAD OF GOOD & EVIL (1980)
21. Eric Gradman Man & Machine – CRIME OF PASSION (1979)
1. Martin Armiger – I LOVE MY CAR (1975)
2. The Bleeding Hearts – BOYS (Demo) (1977)
3. Stiletto – ROZALYN (1978)
4. Paul Kelly and The Dots – I SEE RED (Live) (1979)
5. Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons – ONLY THE LONELY HEARTED (1979)
6. The Sports – SUDDENLY (1979)
7. Mondo Rock – TELEPHONE BOOTH (Live) (1979)
8. Daddy Cool – SATURDAY NIGHT (Live) (1974)
9. Skyhooks – HEY WHAT’S THE MATTER (Demo) (1973)
10. Company Caine – BUZZIN’ WITH MY COUSIN (1975)
11. The Indelible Murtceps – BLUE MOVIES MADE ME CRY (1973)
12. Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – ROLL THAT REEFER (Live) (1975)
13. Stephen Cummings and Dave Flett – THE THIRD DEGREE (1976)
14. Rock Granite – YOU GOT ME WHERE YOU WANT ME (1975)
15. Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons – SOMEDAY IT’S GONNA COME TO YOU (Demo) (1976)
16. Mark Gillespie – COMIN’ BACK FOR MORE (1979)
17. Autodrifters – LOCKED OUT OF LOVE (1975)
18. Fabulous Nudes – I’LL BE A DAG FOR YOU BABY (1976)
19. The Pelaco Bros – TRUCKDRIVIN’ GURU (1975)
20. Peter Lillie and The Leisuremasters – HANGIN’ ROUND THE HOUSE (1978)
21. The Sports – LIVE WORK & PLAY (Live) (1978)
22. High Rise Bombers – RADIO SHOW (1978)
23. Eric Gradman Man & Machine – BRIGHT BOY (Demo) (1979)
24. Skyhooks – THIS IS MY CITY (1976)