Melbourne’s regional city of Geelong has brought some prominent Australian acts to a national level, with the likes of Jet, Magic Dirt, and The Divinyls’ scintillating frontwoman Chrissie Amphlett among them, but the local scene hasn’t always been so fertile.
The Galvatrons (RIP) once lamented the vibrancy of their hometown in their breakout hit ‘When We Were Kids’, singing: “I’m stuck in a town/with just not enough kids/to try and make up a scene.”
But the city that has spawned such acts as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Vasco Era, and Missy Higgins is quickly being considered a dead zone for fostering new and local talent, according to venue operators and bookers in Geelong.
Following the recent closure of popular live music venue The National, better known as The Nash, in mid-October due to structural instability after two decades and nearly 2,000 acts gracing its boards, yet another music venue has gone under amidst fears for the city’s cultural scene.
As The Geelong Advertiser reports, live music venue The Wrong Crowd shut its doors this week, with owner Richard McLean saying that Geelong’s live music culture could not be salvaged.
“There hasn’t been a scene at all for a while now, as far as I can tell,” said McLean, noting that many “wouldn’t even pay $5 to get in the door.”
“For example, we had an artist from America last week and of the 15 people who actually came, 10 were from Melbourne,” he said.
On such poor attendance, many venues can no longer afford to hire local bands and lesser-known acts, while others simply rely on DJs and cover bands to bring the punters and avoid the same fate that’s befallen CBD venues like The Wrong Turn and the Nash.“There hasn’t been a scene at all for a while now, as far as I can tell…” – Richard McLean, The Wrong Turn
The Max Hotel is one such venue, who employs cover bands and hasn’t had an original act through its doors in 16 months.
“There are no plans to bring that back because it’s just not financially viable,” manager Damien Michael told The Geelong Advertiser. “Bands playing original music just get nothing. One time it was just myself and one other person in the crowd.”
Managers at Beav’s Bar and The Elephant and Castle have also bemoaned their state of affairs in struggling to pull large crowds for original acts, agreeing it was more profitable to plug house music, cover bands, and the occasional visits from international acts.”
One local music figure however is hoping that it’s a lean patch in what will be an upswing of fortunes.
Steven Nichols, of Spinning Half booking agency and artist management, spoke to Forte Magazine about the ups and downs of Geelong’s live music scene in the last half-decade.
Nichols, who has booked local talent for shows at Beav’s Bar, The Bended Elbow and The Arena, spoke positively about the fortunes of his city’s cultural scene. “Geelong’s music scene has been on the rise over the last five years and is still on the way up. It confuses me how people can see it any differently.”
Nichols pointed towards the upcoming reopening of The Wool Exchange Entertainment Complex’s upstairs ballroom in February as a major turning point.
The 650 capacity venue, called Stage 1 is a massive two-tiered venue with dance floor space and bar, and Spinning Half have already booked and announced headline shows from Ash Grunwald (tickets available now) and Pete Murray early next year, with a view to showcasing both national and international acts to Geelong.
“Hopefully, we’ll give people a reason to get off the couch and come see something great,” said Mr Nichols.Geelong’s music scene has been on the rise over the last five years and is still on the way up.” – Steven Nichols, Spinning Half
Additionally, following the closure of The Nash, the venue that he managed events for, Al O’Neil has been appointed as the new band booker for fellow regional venue, The Barwon Club, according to Forte Magazine.
“I’m looking forward to the change and the challenge the [venue] has to offer,” said O’Neil. “After working at the Nash for so long hopefully the transition will be seamless,” adding that “the history of the venue excites me.”
O’Neil also outlined some great acts that will be making their way to Geelong via his bookings, “2013 is shaping up great already with some amazing international acts coming through, The Three Oh Sees, Woods, Hunx and his Punx as well a MTV’s Bam Margera, couple this with our thriving local scene, the Barwon Club is in a great position for original live music.”
In more positive news, Geelong Mayor Keith Fagg is also keen to support local music and the arts, seeking support from local council, residents, and businesses in developing a new Geelong Festival that will celebrate and showcase local, creative talent and could be going ahead as early as next year.
“We have great talent and professional people in a whole range of creative and cultural disciplines,” said the newly-elected Cr Fagg. “My idea is a festival that has a range of musical, theatrical and artistic pursuits.”
The festival scene, much like the concerns over local talents lacking a presence in local venues, has been underwhelming in Geelong; which aside from last year’s Festivus For The Rest Of Us which featured the likes of (the now defunct) Little Red, Children Collide, The Vasco Era – the region has been starved for major music events.
The creation of a new music festival in Geelong would in turn help sustain live music venues and the local bands and acts that rely on them to be seen and heard, hopefully, the combination of new venues and opportunities in Geelong can help bring the pulse back to its cultural scene.