Swamplands is the laidback, unpretentious live music venue that caters to everyone

Swamplands is the laidback, unpretentious live music venue that caters to everyone

Words by Augustus Welby

Located on High St, Thornbury, Swamplands offers live music six nights a week as well as a pool table, regular drinks specials and a burger kitchen.

Thornbury was a fairly sleepy neck of the woods when Calvin Hillis and Peter Malbourne opened the bar (originally called Tago Mago) in 2010. Their primary aim was to bring live rock’n’roll to the area.

Swamplands has since built a reputation across Melbourne and welcomed scene stalwarts Hugo Race, Kim Salmon, and the late Spencer P. Jones to its stage along with musicians from across the genre spectrum.

The weekly programming includes open mic Tuesdays, ‘Whiskey Wednesday’ acoustic sessions, and Sunday afternoon recovery sessions. The louder bands tend to hit the stage from Thursday to Saturday.

“Initially we thought of it as being a heavy metal, loud music venue,” Malbourne says. “But we’ve definitely evolved to cover all genres nowadays, i.e. acoustic music, a bit of blues, obviously rock’n’roll and electronic music.

“We’re not just a one-trick pony now. We try to cover all the different varieties of music. Through the years we’ve [even] had poetry reading and comedy. We just try to cover all the different music and dramatic sides of the artistic industry.”

High St, Thornbury now has several spots that offer live music, including the Thornbury Local, Barton Fink, Café Gummo and Lentil As Anything plus larger capacity venues, Thornbury Theatre and The Croxton. Swamplands differentiates itself from the former by squarely focusing on live music.

“We can cope with big bands and noise and a crowd that purely come to see or listen to the music. We’re not trying to be a restaurant or a boutique beer bar. We’re all about the music and we cater for that,” Malbourne says.

Malbourne doesn’t feel any sense of competition with the nearby establishments. Rather, Swamplands unites with its neighbours in cultivating a community atmosphere.

“We want [High St, Thornbury] to be a bit like Brunswick St in the ‘60s and ‘70s – a destination area,” he says. “People can come to Barton Fink or Carwyn Cellars to have a few beers and a wine then they come across to Swamplands and listen to a bit of live music. They can spend a whole night here, not purely at the one venue but at a number of different venues who cater for all needs.

“I love it when people are walking up and down the street and they pop in and say ‘we’re just going to go to Carwyn Cellars for a few beers’, and they go there then they come back down. I like to see people moving around – we just like people coming to the area; they can come to this destination and there’s a fantastic different variety of bars and restaurants to go to.”

The venue recently started offering food – specifically, filthy burgers and generously indulgent chips. Malbourne endeavours to keep prices reasonable across the board.

“It’s a middle income area and we try and design the pricing of the alcohol and the eats appropriately,” he says. “Not everyone’s a millionaire walking around here. I want it to be a female/male-friendly bar that has good music, good alcohol at the right price and cheap food so people can enjoy a bit of a nibble.”

Swamplands cultivates a comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere. It’s laidback but not a total dive, and music has remained its lifeblood since day one.

“It’s all about the music, it’s all about the people that come into the bar. I’m just the facilitator, but it’s the people that make the bar and the musicians that put in the effort. It gives me a bit of a kick when 60-70 people come to a gig and people are jumping around enjoying themselves. That’s what I like.”

Check out Swamplands open late Tuesday to Sunday at 744 High Street, Thornbury. Head to their Facebook page for upcoming event info.