Iconic Richmond venue The Corner Hotel has a long history as a live music venue that stretches back to rooftop jazz concerts in the ’40s, but it’s been over the last 20 years that a rejuvenated Corner has cemented its place as one of the most vital live music venues in Melbourne, and Australia as a whole.
Presented by Leaps & Bounds and Labour of Love, the 20 Years of The Corner event will celebrate 20 massive years at the iconic venue, announcing the artists who have made the shortlist for the newly-introduced annual prize, the Corner Award. There will also be an exhibition of live music photography by veteran Melbourne shooters Carbie Warbie, Mary Boukouvalas and Ian Laidlaw, featuring some of their favourite moments photographing The Corner, as well as poster artwork and adverts from the last two decades.
According to Ian, “People can expect a mix of great shots from a wide variety of Australian and international artists over the years – and hopefully some shows that they have been to themselves.”
The exhibition will be open on Saturday the 2nd and Sunday the 3rd from 11am to 5pm at the Besser Space, 15-25 Keele Street, Collingwood. With around 4000 live gigs under its belt, the Corner has a fascinating history to share.
As we celebrate 20 years in its current guise as the go-to venue for Aussie and international acts alike, we’ve spoken to some of the people who have been deeply involved with the venue over that time, to get their perspectives on just what made it such a successful and longstanding part of Melbourne’s musical landscape.
Speaking to us are Richard Moffat, who booked The Corner for almost all of those 20 years, ending his monumental tenure in 2014; Ben Thompson, who has spent a decade-and-a-half working with the Corner in ticketing, publicity, and as the director of Corner Presents; and veteran music photographer Ian Laidlaw, whose photos taken at the Corner over the years will be on display this weekend.
Photo by Ian Laidlaw
Starting Out At The Corner
Richard: I was booker at Fitzroy venue The Punters Club in the ’90s. The owner there wanted to expand to a bigger room, so we went on a long search and saw loads of rundown spaces. The Corner had been closed for ages, having had a few different owners in prior years. I think the last guys did a runner with door and bar takings after a gig! When we first looked through, there were still half-full pots of beer (now a greenish colour) on the bar, even though it had been boarded up for months.
Ben: I was volunteering on the Triple R front desk in 2000, and my receptionist skills must have caught the eye of Richard Moffat, who’d have a chat on the way in to do his Incoming radio show and who was also the Corner booker. I first worked selling tickets over the phone, then as the music co-ordinator, then the publicist – and my office ended up booking the venue 15 years later.
Ian: The first show I shot at the Corner was around ’09 with Yves Klein Blue whilst on the road with them. Two years later I moved down to Melbourne and started shooting for various publications, and found myself shooting regularly at the Corner.
The Corner’s Best Gigs
Richard: I have fond memories of The White Stripes, Ben Harper and Queens of the Stone Age in the early years, but my favourite gigs are always the ones where local bands sell it out for the first time. When you see an act go from first show to full house, it’s a great journey… They always start by playing to friends, but no one has 800 friends!
Ben: So many. The White Stripes played a killer show in 2002 before they got big. Ozomatli one New Years Day, that was a huge party. Rodriguez on his first Australian tour… The Life Without Buildings show changed me. There have been so many special shows over the years.
Ian: Any show that The Smith Street Band and The Bennies have played there has always been a highlight.
Career Highlights At The Corner
Richard: Booking Midnight Oil was a big one for me… It was late ’90s I guess, three sold out shows. I saw them a lot in the ’80s as a teenager at places like Kooyong and Festival Hall, so it seemed slightly surreal to have them at the Corner.
Ben: When I started out in music I thought going to the ARIA Awards would be a highlight. After 15 years, the real highlights have been the awesome nights watching my favourite bands, surrounded friends.
Ian: Just getting to photograph artists who I really respect and enjoy their music on such an intimate stage with a packed room.
Photo by Ian Laidlaw
What It Means To Melbourne
Richard: I love community, and people sharing and celebrating creativity and original music of all kinds. In these phone-obsessed/short attention span times, anything that gets people off the couch should be celebrated and honoured.
Ben: The Corner is a Melbourne institution – a cultural institution. It hosts quality national and international touring acts most nights of the week, has an awesome rooftop bar, serves good food, has a front bar with DJs, is open ’til 3am. No fights, no drunks, no attitude. Where else does that?
Ian: It’s a place I always enjoy going to, to photograph or catch up with people. It just has that great vibe.
Why It’s Lasted
Richard: I think a key element to the Corner is simply that is has never been ‘cool’ – all styles of music and people have been welcomed to the space. The variety also means staff never know what to expect, so they can never get complacent. There are always new people coming and always new acts to book. The Corner tends to shape-shift with the times, hosting whatever is popular.
Ben: The Corner is able to host every conceivable genre of music any night of the week. It’s a welcoming and comfortable space, it sounds great, and people love seeing shows there. This is a testament to the programming vision of Richard Moffat from the beginning, and to the dedication to hosting live music from Matt Everett and Tim Northeast, its owners. Its been consistently excellent for 20 years!
Ian: It’s such an institution that has had so many Australian and international legends grace its stage. I’m sure that feeling that any artist gets while playing there has something to do with it. Who doesn’t want to play the Corner?
Strangest Corner Moments
Richard: Curiously, I once had a ticket-buying male punter ask for a refund at a Monster Magnet show due to the fact that the band asked some female friends of theirs onto the stage to take off their tops. The band played the show as advertised, so sadly no refund was given. I offered to buy him a beer.
Ben: Several pairs of ladies’ undies left on the dancefloor after the first over-18s Peter Combe gig
Ian: I can’t say I’ve seen anything “strange”… I’ve seen loads of crowd surfing, and sing-a-longs with rooms full of smiling faces… So not that strange at all!