19 Nov 2018
Denizens of Australia’s other cities may scoff when Melburnians claim the title of music capital of the country. But look at the evidence. When some of the smaller live music venues were threatened by changing licensing laws, SLAM (Save Live Australia’s Music) was formed to protect the scene. In research conducted in late 2014, it was discovered Brunswick was the songwriting capital of the nation, with Northcote, Fitzroy North and Clifton Hill close on its high-stepping heels.
That’s not to say that it’s all about too much beer and sticky carpets in dingy venues. Far from it, in fact. There are definitely some classic pub-style venues catering to crowds and bands who like to rock. You’d go a long way to find a hard-rock fan who hasn’t heard of Collingwood’s The Tote [67-71 Johnston Street, Collingwood]. It was almost closed down permanently in 2010 – thanks, SLAM, for sorting that out – but now has shows five nights a week. For a relaxed but loud night out, Cherry Bar [AC/DC Lane, Melbourne], on the famously named AC/DC Lane, can’t be beaten and has a range of bands performing late into the night.
New on the scene is a sister venue for New York’s Birdland, Bird’s Basement [11 Singers Lane, Melbourne]. Like the Manhattan original, it hosts the highest quality local and international jazz acts in a purpose-built, amphitheatre-style room. Two performances a night are presented in a dinner-and-show format. A stalwart of the scene is another jazz bar, Paris Cat [6 Goldie Place, Melbourne], which models itself on a 1930s bebop club from the City of Light. Here, you could be lucky enough to see a swing band or a diva singing the blues.
For those who like to see touring acts from overseas, there are a number of venues, from intimate Corner Hotel [57 Swan Street, Richmond], for instance, to much larger. The Forum [154 Flinders Street, Melbourne] is a Moorish revival dream, with more than 1500 people able to fit into the theatre. Oasis, Katy Perry and Nick Cave have all played the atmospheric venue.
To get closer to the local scene, Brunswick is an excellent place to start. Old-school local The Retreat [280 Sydney Road, Brunswick] has free music – from singer-songwriters to late-night DJs – every day, while the slick Howler, hidden at the back of a car park, tends towards more experimental acts for a cool crowd.
For visitors to the city, there’s no barrier between you and a show. Even without pre-purchasing a ticket, there are plenty of venues to choose from at the last minute. In the city centre are venues such as The Toff in Town [2f/252 Swanston Street, Melbourne] and Max Watt’s [125 Swanston Street, Melbourne], and for those with a sense of adventure, the inner northern suburbs are where live music really strikes a chord (pun intended). The Northcote Social Club [301 High Street, Northcote] in – you guessed it, Northcote – has recently been revamped. And with venues like The Catfish [30 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy], The Workers Club [51 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy], Yah Yah’s [99 Smith Street, Fitzroy] and the Grace Darling Hotel [114 Smith Street, Collingwood] in Collingwood all overflowing with quality local and touring talent most nights, you’ll never struggle to find a fun night out.
Don’t think music magic only happens in the evening. For some daytime tunes, keep an eye on the website for Basement Discs [24 Block Place, Melbourne]. It hosts free, acoustic gigs in the store at lunchtime (usually on a Friday). Michelle Shocked, Jimmy Webb and Tim Rogers have all graced the tiny stage.