From Northcote Social Club to the Pink Palace, this audio tour explores Darebin’s vast music history

From Northcote Social Club to the Pink Palace, this audio tour explores Darebin’s vast music history

Vardos perform at Open Studio - image by Peter Cahill
Words by Tom Parker

The Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms audio tour comes as part of FUSE Spring.

Across the last few months, FUSE Spring has presented nearly 50 online events – each taking place with the current COVID-19 restrictions in mind. Exploring music, visual arts, radio broadcasts, podcasts, film and art-focused walks, the festival has provided a fantastic new creative escapade for Melburnians resigned to the humdrum of extended lockdown.

Some of FUSE’s most notable activations included Infinite Thanks – a collaborative art project run by Melbourne artist Kaff-eine that celebrated the spirit of the LGBTIQ+ community. As part of this, Kaff-eine invited LGBTIQ+ folks and allies to send through their LGBTIQ+ hero alongside a story of thankfulness and Kaff-eine crafted a growing collection of small devotional paintings based around these personal stories.

Another standout event was Nobody Can Stop The Music – a special online panel that took place in late September to honour the storied live music history of Darebin. The forum saw panelist Bunna Lawrie, founding member and lead singer of Coloured Stone, joined by multi-instrumentalist Rose Turtle Ertler, to chat about the region’s famous live music past.

Then there’s HYPERLOCAL, a new series of immersive art works that’s celebrated the familiarity of Darebin’s streets, buildings and landmarks. As part of this, the City of Darebin’s storied music history has been documented through fascinating audio tour, Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms: Darebin Live Music Venues 1955 – 2020.

Curated by Iain McIntyre, the renowned Melbourne historian, musician and writer who’s edited and co-written a host of books, including the musically-inclined Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era and Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand, the audio tour is available through the FUSE website as well as via the Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms website. McIntyre was helped by Kirstyn Lindsay and Teishan Ahearne in producing the audio tour.

As McIntyre attests, the City of Darebin’s music identity isn’t just characterised by the likes of current establishments, Northcote Social Club, Bar 303, Merri Creek Tavern, Wesley Anne and The Croxton Bandroom, to name a few, music in this region stretches all the way back to the early 20th century.

“The tour covers 15 different venues,” McIntyre says. “Initially, we went with [the time range] of 1955 to 2020 but it extends all the way back – like we’ve got some cinema historians talking about the very early days. But yeah, it’s a mixture of current venues and what’s the stories behind those venues, and in some cases, like with the Northcote Social Club, we focus on its history as the Commercial Hotel. That’s a hotel that was built in the 1850s or whatever.

“And then with Wesley Anne, we focus partially on what sort of music’s happening there but also its history as a church school and an exotic fish store and various things.”

Hello Tut Tut at the Northcote Social Club – image by Peter Cahill

Not only does Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms explore the lineage of the live music venues themselves but also the artists who have defined these cultural institutions and the City of Darebin’s music history as a whole.

“With other places, we’re more focusing on a musician,” McIntyre continues. “So with the Merri Creek Tavern, Mick Thomas talks about his history in Northcote and the song he wrote this year ‘I Heard Sally Singing’ which is about the last gig he had at the Merri Creek Tavern before the lockdown.

“We’ve also got people like cabaret singer Tony Pantano, who had a background as well in ’60s rock bands and soul bands, talking about playing pretty much every venue in Darebin, not so much recent, but up to the ’80s [him] playing pretty much every venue, whether he was doing cabaret gigs or rock gigs.”

Using the free Echoes app, Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms can be undertaken as a guided walking tour that will take you on a physical adventure through the music stretches of the Darebin region. It can also be listened to as a series of episodes or read from home with the full transcripts also available.

Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms is now accessible via the audio tour website and will remain available for two years. Find out more about FUSE here.

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