Decades of dickhead: Joel, Liam & Singa running The Old Bar

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Decades of dickhead: Joel, Liam & Singa running The Old Bar

Old Bar

It’s only right that Morrison is feeling nostalgic, having – along with partners Singa Unlayati and Liam Matthews – held the keys to the iconic Fitzroy watering station and music venue for ten years.

During that time, the unlikely trio has transformed the premises into a cultural centre for music in Melbourne’s inner north, a well-loved location that manages to appeal to the local creative community while being completely bereft of any superfluous trappings. Dimly lit without being dingy, relaxed while remaining professional, one suspects that much of the bar’s personality is inherited directly from its owners.

“This was always one of my favourite bars, so when it came up we decided to snatch it up,” Morrison says. “Both me and Liam come from a music background, so we really wanted to focus on the bands and make it the best place possible for bands to play and for punters to enjoy it. We’ve put a lot of work into it and I’d say it’s definitely reflective of us.

“Running a venue like this, you’re almost like a custodian of the place, you’re not exactly an owner. It’s like the punters and the bands make it as much theirs as you do. So you find out what works and what doesn’t work and then run it along a similar line. If you’re pushing a certain agenda of your own and it doesn’t wash with the crowd, then you’ll see that it won’t work.”

Under the watch of Morrison, Matthews and Unlayati, The Old Bar has hosted a mammoth amount of bands, with several well-known acts cutting their teeth in the cosy confines of the bandroom.

“King Gizz, Courtney Barnett, Wil Wagner and The Smith Street Band have done residencies,” Morrison says. “Cash Savage still plays here lots, Graveyard Train, Brothers Grimm. There have been so many shows. There have been at least nine shows a week for ten years.

“There was times when we first started when there was no PA – it was just the vocal PA onstage and the bands used to mix themselves. There wasn’t even a stage, it was just a tiny little step. You’d see these amazing bands who’d have to mix themselves, which was pretty incredible.”

Morrison also books the bands personally, ensuring a consistency that is unusual in a venue of the bar’s size, no matter the genre of act or night of the week.

“There’s got to be a level of quality for playing The Old Bar, whether you’re a new band or a band that’s been around for 20 years,” he says. “It is, in terms of the bands that play here, shooting a bit higher than the venue can hold, which is why we get bands that probably shouldn’t be playing these small rooms, but do anyway just because of the reputation of the joint.

“That is all down to the crowd and the staff looking after the joint. A lot of punters will walk in and feel like this is their home. And that’s what we want, we wanted people to feel like they have as much ownership of the venue as we do.”

Morrison, Matthews and Unlayati will be celebrating their anniversary of proprietorship with a week-long run of secret shows, the lineups of which won’t be revealed until the day of the event. There’ll be over 30 bands playing, with gigs running every night of the week as well as during the afternoon on the Saturday and all day Sunday.

“It’s massive and it’s going to kill me. I’m ten years older now, I can’t drink every night of the week,” Morrison says.

“I’ve called in a lot of favours. There’s people that have played here from the very first year, there’s people that have played here from the very first week, there’s people that just started playing here last year. But pretty much every single person has something to do with The Old Bar, has a history here.

“We pretty much got everyone that we wanted, so that was really great, and a lot of these bands, as I said, shouldn’t be playing here. But they were gracious enough to say yes and I was amazed at how readily people came on board for this stupid idea,” Morrison says.

“It’s going to be pretty interesting to see people’s reactions. Every night’s a pretty good mix, so you’re going to see at least – there’s four to five bands every night, apart from the Sunday which has like ten – at least half of it you’re going to love, if not all of it.”