Prompted by Sydney’s flagging music scene, and chiefly the controversy surrounding the iconic Annandale Hotel going into receivership, the Sydney City Council recently launched the Live Music and Live Performance Taskforce, set to explore the issues of bureaucratic red tape, bullying councils, and complaining residents that are hurting Sydney’s live music scene.

The Taskforce’s members comprise a list of music industry professionals and cultural and political figures tasked with, in the words of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, will ‘balance out’ the “regulatory and legislative changes that have led to fewer venues for live music.”

Among the Taskforce’s members are local music activist John Wardle, Paul Nicolaou, Chief Executive of the Australian Hotel Association (NSW), as well as the recently appointed National Live Music Coordinator Dr Ianto Ware, in a role co-created by Sounds Australia to inform the Federal Government on their new cultural policy, and a host more political and cultural figures and live music supporters.

The Taskforce will look at “how to help venue operators negotiate the approvals process and manage noise, ways to open up new and unconventional spaces to performance, and how to support entrepreneurs and performers with staging events,” Moore has stated previously.

Now, speaking in an interview with MusicNSW Executive Officer Kirsty Brown published on The Music Network, Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore speaks about the aims of the Live Music Taskforce, which is set to “report to us by July,” confirms Moore, saying “they will look at the challenges and issues live music faces and we know what some of those are – poker machines, sports tv screening, legislative issues and the nature of the city changing with an increase in the residential population.”

That increase has generated the major problem of noise complaints from local residents. It’s an issue that former Annandale Hotel owner Matt Rule specifically highlighted in his fiery rant against the Leichhardt’s u-turn decision on a late-night trading license for the venue once he and his brother had handed the keys back to the bank. “The end result will be that we will quite actively encourage opportunities for live music and to solve those problems they are encountering.” Lord Mayor Clover Moore

Rule says local council funded a campaign by “three vexatious, lying residents,” that cost him and his brother in “excess of 200K in legal fees, years of lost revenue, hundreds of hours writing counter claim submissions to the liquor board,” and the eventual loss of the Annandale to receivers.

When questioned about the noise complaint issue, and the priorities of council action against established live music venues, Moore stated: “That’s probably politics. And it’s probably not a single person, it might be more than one, but it’s about the balance,” she said. “You have the right to reasonable amenity, but it’s a real problem when people come from Cherrybrook and move to the city and expect it to be just like Cherrybrook.”

Moore also noted that Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne had been “sitting in” on meetings (along with Marrickville’s Mayor), Byrne being the newly-elected Mayor of Leichhardt that has been fighting for the survival of the Annandale as a live music institution, passing his ‘Good Neighbour’ policy and prompting receivers Ferrier Hodgson to push for a 3am license at the iconic pub. 

Moore noted that because of Sydney City Council’s “resources [and] location… we have a leadership role, to share what we do with the surrounding councils and regional councils.” Adding that, the Taskforce will aim at providing solutions to those problems. “This should be an inner-city response, where there is a real focus on creative industries,” says Moore. “The end result will be that we will quite actively encourage opportunities for live music and to solve those problems they are encountering,” she adds.

Following the July report, the next stage – says Moore – is “consultation and the end result is taking a proposal to council.” Continuing to say:

We will be identifying all those other areas that other levels of government need to do, so that will involve lobbying the appropriate figures and I hope that they will be responsive to it, for both the industry and the community. The major parties had no intention of changing liquor laws, but it was a groundswell of community opinion that got that change, and I think that if we can show that we can help solve the problems, whether they are about increased acoustic separation, or finding previously interesting and unused spaces – whatever they are to address the practical problems, that I hope we can convince those other people (like the NSW Arts Minister for example), to come out in strong support.

The Mayor also sung the praises of Live Music Taskforce’s Chair John Wardle, remarking his ‘Raise The Bar’ campaign – that offered grants and funding to help reinvigorate the CBD’s late night culture through a Laneways Business Development Program – was “quite revolutionary and it has revolutionised our city at night.” Highlighting that effective change has precedent in the CBD in regards to supporting live music.

Speaking about the campaign, and her own implementation of moving her Private Members Bill to set up Small Bars, in efforts to reinvigorate a ‘laneway culture’, Moore says, “I don’t apologise for using the Melbourne model.”

“I think its wonderful if cities can be enriched and learn from one another and we are very happy to share the good things we do with other cities,” she adds.

When asked if Sydney had been proactive enough in supporting its culture, in a way that its Victorian cousin has, Moore repsonded: “I dont’ know about that… [but]I do know that there is the potential here. Every new reforming thing we do, people embrace… look at the way we have 60 new small bars in the city area.”

“I think people are really ready for the sorts of change we are introducing and I think the dominant population in the inner area of the city, which is young, wants this. I think we’re just responding to a real need, and I’m sure – in fact I have read, that people are starting to move back to Sydney from Melbourne,” says Moore. “live music is the industry’s biggest employer. That speaks volumes.” – Lord Mayor Clover Moore

“Music is something that builds community, and I think government should play a very active role in that,” says the Lord Mayor. “There are a whole lot of reasons that we can put to government for supporting live music. The issue that they love is how much the industry is worth, which always opens doors within government, is the $1.2 billion dollars contributed to the Australian economy, and live music is a third of that total.”

As previoulsy reported, a Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey demonstrated that the Australian live performance sector turned over $1.2 billion last year with 17.5 million patrons attending live shows, with Moore remarking, “live music is the industry’s biggest employer. That speaks volumes.”

The Live Music Taskforce also plans to present its July report and council solutions for a CBD plan to the NSW Government, in hopes to roll it out in regional areas, which are also experiencing a drying up fo their live music culture, as seen by the call for long-term solutions by local council in Wollongong.

“We have a very lively cultural life here and now, but it could be better, and in some parts of NSW, there is hardly any at all,” Moore tells The Music Network, recounting a visit to a government conference in Dubbo.

“I said to the CEO “wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a small bar and go there for a drink?” she recalls, “and we found 4 bowling clubs, and that was it! So we ended up in one of those, and I thought- ‘wouldn’t people in Dubbo love a small bar, and some live music, and where do all the young people go?'”

As for the creation of the Live Music Taskforce, Moore states simply: “Well, sometimes you need to reach a crisis point before people get motivated.”

The Live Music Taskforce will present their report to the City of Sydney in July, which will be part of a drafted Live Music and Live Performance Action Plan. The members of the Sydney Live Music and Live Performance Taskforce are:

  • John Wardle, a musician, teacher and entertainment policy activist who helped establish Sydney’s small bar scene and end the NSW Government’s restrictive Place of Public Entertainment (PoPE) regulations will chair the taskforce;
  • Jonathan Zwartz, one of Australia’s leading jazz musicians and organiser of the renowned Starfish Club, who has played bass with Australian artists such as Renee Geyer and James Morrison and international stars such as Wynton Marsalis;
  • Dr Ianto Ware, the Federal Government’s newly appointed National Live Music Coordinator for Sounds Australia;
  • Kerri Glasscock, co-founder of the original underground music and performance space 505 in Surry Hills;
  • Associate Professor Shane Homan, author, Monash University teacher, and one of Australia’s leading authorities on live music regulation;
  • Dean Ormston, Deputy Chair of the Music Council of Australia and Head of Corporate Services at the Australasian Performing Rights Association;
  • Dan Zilber, General Manager of Music for FBi Radio 94.5, who has been music director of the community station since its foundation in 2003 and is responsible for all music content across all its platforms including live music venue FBi Social;
  • Dr Kate Shaw, University of Melbourne academic and alternative cultures expert who helped lead the ‘Save the Espy’ campaign to protect the famous Melbourne rock venue;
  • Alex Masso, manager of the Music Council of Australia’s Music in Communities Network;
  • Paul Nicolaou, Chief Executive of the Australian Hotel Association (NSW); and
  • Frank Henry, a lead officer in the development of Brisbane City Council’s Fortitude Valley Harmony Plan, which is considered a landmark example of support for live music by a capital city government.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine