Melbourne's March For The Ages
DARREN LEVIN reports on yesterday’s SLAM rally that saw 20,000 Melburnians take to the streets in support of live music. Photos by KRISTY MILLIKEN.
For all our inherent scensterism and bitchiness, our allegiances to north and south, our sub groups and micro-scenes, our arguments over authenticity and revivalism, when it comes to the issues that matter – namely the attack on our live music scene – Melburnians can sure show a united front.
About 20,000 people (two Merediths worth) marched from the steps of the State Library of Victoria to Parliament House yesterday in protest of a liquor licensing regime so senseless and arbitrary that it’s forced the cancellation of at least one bouzouki show, not to mention the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel.
Holding instruments and placards aloft (“Punish thugs, not pubs”, “Defend the Fender”, “Let There Be Rock”, etc.), protesters trailed behind a flatbed truck graced by emcee Brian Nankervis, the RocKwiz orchestra and members of the Rats of Tobruk Pipe Band, who blasted out the riff to AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’ just like they did 34 years ago. Back then, it was a crazy idea concocted by Bon Scott and director Paul Drane for Countdown and shot with minimal fuss for $380. By contrast, yesterday’s rally was a massive organisational effort undertaken by SLAM co-organisers Quincy McLean and Helen Marcou and their team of volunteers, but when the dust settles, it’ll surely be just as epochal.
Just as the closure of The Tote last month galvanised Melbourne’s rock community – for a few beautiful moments, we were one nation under GOD – the SLAM Rally was unique in its size and scope. The diversity of those marching was reflected in the range of speakers who regaled us with “war stories” from a temporary PA set up at the foot of Parliament House.
There was harmonica player Rick Dempster from the Brunswick Blues Shooters, whose weekly gig at the Railway Hotel in North Fitzroy was the first casualty of the liquor licensing crackdown. There was Paul Kelly, who lauded some of Melbourne’s now defunct pubs and clubs for providing him with an education. ARIA-winning pop singer Missy Higgins spoke of her first tentative gigs with her brothers’ band, before praising how unique Melbourne is on the world stage. Irine Vela from traditional Greek outfit The haBiBis told of the challenges faced by ethnic and world musicians, who’ve had to play unplugged given the linking of amplified music to “high risk” conditions.
There were passionate pleas from the likes of Tim Rogers, Clare Bowditch and our very own Pikelet, who certainly didn’t look out of place among the assembled rock royalty – everyone from Mick Harvey and Molly Meldrum to touring musician Amanda Palmer from The Dresden Dolls and The Dirty Three’s Jim White. Striding confidently to the podium, she delivered a poignant reminder of how music fosters togetherness, citing her six bands as evidence of a healthy, thriving scene. “We’re strong enough as a community to overcome anything,” she said.
The rabble rousing was left to Triple R stalwart Jon Von Goes. In typically animated fashion, he spoke of the difficulties faced by his local, The Lomond Hotel, an “accidental institution” hit hard by rising crowd control costs. “The costs of security is crippling,” he noted. “These guards are getting paid more than the bands.” He later went on to list three incidents that The Lomond has had to deal with since the high risk conditions came in including a punter ejected for smuggling in a takeaway pizza and a dementia patient from a nearby psych ward who caused a scene. “High risk my arse,” he exclaimed. “Music does not create violence, it does the polar opposite.”
There were musical performances too. From Dan Sultan, Vika Bull and Paris Wells leading the RocKwiz orchestra (supplemented by Even’s Ash Naylor doing his best “Angry Angus”) through the final rendition of ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’, to Hey Hey perennial Wilbur Wilde and a couple trumpeters, who reminded us that celebrating diversity also meant sitting through a few bars of freeform jazz.
Ian Bland read a brilliant poem, before rally organiser Quincy McLean briefly took to the mic. After thanking attendees for their support, he directed his wrath towards a group of opportunistic Libs waving signs reading, “The Liberals Love Live Music”, on Parliament steps. “What’s with those jokers with the placards?” he yelled. “I’ve never seen any of you drinking at The Tote.” The final speaker of the day, Fair Go 4 Live Music’s Jon Perring, took a more bipartisan approach. He thanked Premier John Brumby for his “genuine” goodwill, praised The Greens and the Libs for their support (the latter was meet with a chorus of boos), and yet still urged everyone to “hold them all to account”, especially in an election year.
Perring said he was hopeful a resolution could be reached within three to six months; a far cry from the “three to four year” figure quoted to him by Minister for Consumer Affairs Tony Robinson at a high level meeting last month. Protestors were also buoyed by the news that an accord had been reached between industry representatives and the government that urged the director of Liquor Licensing to ease crowd control requirements on venues that would otherwise attract “high risk” conditions.
What that means for the future of small pubs across Melbourne and regional Victoria is unclear, especially when its implementation still rests with an unelected bureaucrat, clearly drunk with power and unsympathetic to any overtures thus far. But it’s a step in the right direction, a united voice of solidarity that shows that sometimes Victoria really is the place to be.
Here’s how the action unfolded on Twitter…
4.06pm: Bagpipes just started up. People going nuts. Ash Naylor playing guitar on the truck.
4.07pm: Held up outside QV.
4.09pm: Leaving in 5.
4.16pm: Superman just made an appearance on Lonsdale Street.
4.17pm: Molly Meldrum and Wilbur Wilde are part of this march.
4.19pm: "riding down the highway going to a show, music ain't high risk - the laws have gotta go" everybody…
4.28pm: Coming up to Bourke Street now. Nankervis still rockin the mic.
4.34pm: After 78 bars of verse finally a chorus… sung by Kram.
4.38pm: Where’s Wally?
4.39pm: Just passed the M+N office.
4.49pm: Just arrived at Spring Street.
4.58pm: Dan Sultan singing now…
5.04pm: Some opportunistic Libs holding placards on the steps just got booed