A new exhibition runs at HOTA, Home of the Arts from 8 December until 17 February. Titled ‘Let There Be Rock’ it explores the live music scene of the Gold Coast across three decades which turned out to be critical in shaping the city’s cultural identity.
From 1970 – 1999 the Gold Coast boasted a large number of venues, especially given the city’s modest population numbers across those decades. On any night of the week you could catch a band of local or international significance at any number of the city’s purpose-built live music venues.
In the words of ‘Dog’ Williams, musician and owner of 90s Broadbeach venue The Doghouse, “we had live venues like we have golf courses now.”
Of course times were different then. This was prior to nightclubs as we now know them, when going out on the town involved one dollar drinks, ringing eardrums and the knowledge that your clothes and hair would reek of cigarette smoke for days. There were no Responsible Service of Alcohol laws, no random breath testing, no major music festivals, no internet, and no social media.
‘Let There Be Rock’ celebrates the venues of that era, as well as the bands that passed through the Gold Coast and the punters who faithfully (and gently) pulled posters off walls, kept scrap-books and ticket-stubs and even the bricks from the city’s most beloved and talked about venue The Playroom.
But why is it that venues like The Playroom and its counterparts Bombay Rock, The Patch, The Jet Club and countless others hold such a special place in our collective memory?
Archie Cox was the owner of The Playroom when it was forced to close in 1999. He says back then live music was just an ingrained part of the city’s culture.
“You could see live music five nights a week,” Archie said.
“You could be anywhere from Surfers Paradise at the Beergarden on a Wednesday night through to the Grand Hotel on a Thursday night and then Bombay Rock on a Wednesday or Thursday.”
Archie says times have changed, with technology playing a major role.
“You went out. You went looking for culture. You went out and had fun. Experienced something. You were involved in it. Because people make culture. Culture is an organism. It starts with something. It needs to be fed. And then it grows. To do that with live music you need people to engage.”
“These days we live our lives through our phone,” Archie said.
Dog Williams said the cost of putting on bands and the non-return for venue owners also had an impact on his venue the Doghouse as well as the rise of the nightclub.
“Nightclubs just started to explode in Surfers in the early 90s,” he said. “Rock ‘n’ roll became uncool and [there was] the rise of doof dance music.”
“And I guess also, live music became more expensive, which coincided with the rise of the big festival, the first of which was Livid. Then we had the intro of Big Day Out and Summersault and all those other ones and all of a sudden, the relevance of live music six to seven nights a week became redundant.”
Margie Tol, who supplied memorabilia for the exhibition, having worked at The Jet Club and The Playroom over the 70s and 80s agrees that festivals had an impact.
“They’ll go to Splendour in the Grass and see ten bands, whereas before there were bands every night,” she said of today’s gig goers, “and if you missed them at the Playroom you’d see them at the Jet Club the next week. It was just a totally different era.”
Mark Duckworth, who currently programs Blues on Broadbeach and Groundwater Country Music Festival, produces local bands and records with his own duo Greys was actively gigging in The Julian Date across Gold Coast venues in the 90s. He says the major difference back then was that you had to go out to connect with people.
“It’s a no brainer. You had to go out to communicate with people and feel like part of a community,” he said. “And, live music thrived. It thrived from Wednesday night to Sunday night. You could watch bands all the time and bump in to all different kinds of people and didn’t have to text, or Facebook. You just went and you would assume that people who were into like-minded music would turn up and you’d have a good time with whoever was there.”
Another Gold Coast musician, Peter McFarlane was also touring through the City at that time with his band Finch. Now performing with McFarlane’s Lantern, he also says one of the major societal changes that impacted venues was the internet.
“Everyone’s so busy on their phones,” he said.
“You can be entertained for hours on Facebook. There wasn’t that entertainment back then, so people used to go out. Friday and Saturday night, everybody went out, mainly to see a band.”
“It took years for them to get pokies into Queensland too, so that fostered a good live scene up here, as soon as they got pokies up here and turned a lot of these entertainment rooms into pokie rooms, it quashed a lot of that,” he added.
Tammy Stoneman is a Gold Coast resident who met her husband at The Jet Club in the early 80s. They’ve been married for 29 years now and Tammy remembers that era as a real heyday for live music.
“It was the sort of time you could see a band seven nights a week if you wanted to and you could get work for seven nights a week as a musician,” she said.
“For musicians it was a time to really hone your craft and get good at what you were doing. I don’t think that exists anymore. It’s harder to get gigs and harder to find those venues. It was just that culture. People loved to go out, seeing live bands.”
“It was a social thing, a community thing,” Tammy said.
The exhibition includes posters, back-stage passes, merchandise such as band shirts and venue t-shirts, other branded ephemera (including spumante from The Playroom), anecdotes, media clippings and the Playroom neon sign, which was acquired by the Gallery on behalf of the citizens of the Gold Coast.
As well as exhibiting memorabilia and ephemera from those three decades of live music, the exhibition also features a number of side events, including Gallery Up Late conversations with members of the music industry, past and present, an exhibition of current local music photographers, hands-on art activities for the kids and much more.
Acknowledging where we have been, and where we are set go in the future, the City of Gold Coast is set to reignite the live music scene via the recently endorsed Live Music Action Plan 2021. The Plan makes live music a priority and provides a blueprint for the City that will positively impact the live music sector on the Gold Coast by providing access to resources, promotion of Gold Coast music nationally and internationally and stronger partnerships across all tiers of government, peak bodies, and private enterprise.
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‘Let There Be Rock’ opens at Gallery at HOTA on Saturday 8 December and runs through to 17 February.
Archie Cox and ‘Dog’ Williams will be in conversation at the opening function on Saturday 8 December.