One of Melbourne’s treasured live music institutions has made a “heartbreaking and humiliating” decision to go public with their financial troubles, turning their downturn in attendance into a rallying cry to get people back into the see a band, have a beer, and support live music venues.
The Old Bar in Fitzroy has managed to ride out the storm of liquor licensing problems, noise complaints, and council red tape that have suffocated some of Melbourne’s less fortunate live music venues, but a post on the band’s Facebook page alerts that their current troubles could mean that the venue won’t make it through the winter. The statement reads:
It’s heartbreaking and humiliating to have to announce on such a public forum that you are in trouble. The last six months have been extremely difficult for a lot of businesses including us and the reality of The Old Bar as you know it closing is looming. If things remain the way they are we won’t see this winter out which is really distressing for us as owners but also all our wonderful staff. Sorry to post about this again, we just want you to know where we are at.”
Speaking to Tone Deaf this afternoon, Joel Morrison, who co-owns The Old Bar with Liam Matthews and ‘Singha’, says the decision to ‘go public’ was not an easy one. But despite fears of drawing attention for the wrong reasons, Morrison says that letting people know was a matter of necessity as much as urgency.
“It’s really hard to come public about this without it sounding like a ‘poor me’ situation, which is something that I really didn’t want to do,” says Morrison. “[But] it’s got to that point where we need to let people know that we are in a bit of trouble and unless people come and help out we’re not going to stick around for much longer.”
Morrison says that the drop in patronage was symptomatic of the change to the colder seasons, “coming into winter is always a little bit quiet across the board but I think it’s been pretty quiet for about six months or so now, the attendance is down,” he says.
“When it does come to winter, a lot of people take the music venues and [Melbourne] scene for granted, and always believe it’s always going to be there. But we’ve seen in the past a lot of venues shutting down. Without people coming to see your shows and having a beer that directly affects why people shut down.” “It’s got to that point where we need to let people know that we are in a bit of trouble and unless people come and help out we’re not going to stick around for much longer.” – Joel Morrison, The Old Bar
Morrison says that while the venue’s situation is dire, it’s a case of letting people know about their situation before it’s too late. “The whole reason of going public with it is we have to either speak up now or then it gets really dire and we have to start really thinking about closing, and we’re almost at that stage now,” added Morrison.
“As I said it feels absolutely horrible… I sound like a complete whinger but it’s just the reality, unless we let people know then we’re going to be in a lot worse trouble and we might not even be here.”
However, The Old Bar operators aren’t looking for charity, or even begging – their Facebook post noting “Instead of bricks we just wanna sell beer. We are not in need of charity, just to be busy for gigs.” A point echoed by Morrison, “we’re not actually looking for charity or anything like that at the moment, we’re still putting on bands, still paying bands… we just want people to realise that without some support [venues] can’t really exist.”
The solution seems simple enough, says the co-owner; “We’re not saying come out and get smashed every night or anything like that but it’d be good for people just to drop in and have a beer and a natter with the bar staff.”
On a more positive note, the forthcoming Leaps And Bounds Music Festival, which is throwing the spotlight on over 50 venues in Melbourne’s Inner-North in a series of unique concerts and music events, will hopefully reverse The Old Bar’s fortunes.
“We’re going to be putting on some special shows for that,” confirms Morrison. Saying that bookers from Yah Yahs and The Standard were “taking the reins” on organising shows for Leaps And Bounds, but teased “from what I’ve heard it all sounds pretty good and I think it’s a great idea.”
Head to theoldbar.com.au/gigs/ for all upcoming gigs and show your support for Melbourne’s live music scene