The Prince of Wales Hotel is used as a US Military HQ during WWII
In General Macarthur's famous Fitzroy Street address he predicts the rise of I Spit On Your Gravy
Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
Before I got there
Only three things happened at the POW before I started gigging there.
Originally it was a family hotel and they eventually stuck a bar on the front. They tore that down in 1936 and built the POW we know and love.
While General Douglas Macarthur was in town they used the POW as a military HQ. US troops camped near the Australian barracks at the top of Fitzroy Street and the local professional girls became ensconced (may not mean what you think it does).
The drag shows were top notch. Pokies on Sunday night was legendary and then the lezzos got into the act with Pennies on Monday nights.
the Illegal Room
I was in a band called the Editions. Ross McVean, an ex-copper, let us start a run in the Regal Room, a tiny side room off the Piano Bar (now called Circa) opposite the Band Room. We called it the Illegal Room. We'd book hard core Punk bands and The Editions would play every Saturday night.
The first night was with a band called Boot Boys who did a Hard Core Punk version of Skippy The Bush Kangaroo. I think they were all Skinheads. We opened with a faithful rendition of Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love In My Tummy which we'd do to annoy the fuck out of our Punk audience.
For some reason not many people came and it only lasted a few months. 3 PBS, the Indy radio station, took over the room and we played empty rooms elsewhere.
3PBS Benefit or 'How I annoyed Mark E. Smith'
PBS threw a benefit gig with the Fall and James Griffin and the Subterraneans (who I lent a snare drum to which was later stolen by some junkie). It was a huge gig. There must have been 20 people there. Which made me feel better about the Editions.
I met Mark E. Smith in the toilets just before he went on. He was throwing up into the urinal. I walked in and went "Mark E. Smith! I always wanted to meet you." I shoved out my hand for a shake. He told me to "Fuck off!" in no uncertain terms while vomiting everywhere.
James Griffin and the Subterraneans were great! The Fall were also great even though my new friend Mark was so fucked he couldn't sing. For half the gig he held a tranny (a small radio not one of the acts) up to the mic tuned to some talk back show.
I'd been doing handbills and posters for Joe Gaultieri who ran the Venue. Ross McVean started me doing the POW posters too and he'd suggest something gross for each week's poster. I guess that's where the bad taste thing started. He'd suggest somethign disgusting and I took it from there.
The poster that got me into the most trouble was when Bob Hawk's kid was caught with drugs. I did a POW poster of Bob Hawk outside St Kilda Caf' trying to sell smack in front of sign that said 'Soft drugs' instead of 'Soft drinks'. St Kilda Caf wanted to sue Ross MacVean. The Caf had at this time been drilling holes through their spoons because the junkies who scored there kept stealing them to fix up. Asking for a 'burger with the lot' meant something else. One night I asked for one and they wanted to charge me $50! "Fifty bux for a burger? This ain't Maxime's!"
the Thursday Crawl
Neil Wedd took over as a band booker which lead to a hey day for the Prince and the beginning of the institution I dubbed the Thursday Crawl. (I wrote a song about it for I Spit On Your Gravy's first album St Kilda's Alright.)
From '84 on every Thursday night there would be 3 bands on for free in the Band Room. If a band wasn't any good we'd wander up to the Ballroom. Inevitably the street would be full of punters walking the other way and the conversation would be something like, "The band is shit. What's on at the Prince?" or vice versa. And "Got 20 cents?" - the pots and the Prince were only $1 and not much more at the George.
the Thursday Crawlers
My band I Spit On Your Gravy had been packing the POW on a weekly basis. We were breaking house records as well as everything else (we set fire to the curtains one night). We'd play the George too of course. Unfortunately a show that evolved into a small dick competition went horribly sideways when representatives of the Liquor Licensing Commission walked in. The show was stopped, The George lost it's license and I never got my prize - the coveted Golden Ruler.
I Spit On Your Gravy could not get a gig in Melbourne. Ross was afraid of losing his license. So we played the Thursday Crawl under various names including: Ian Rilen's Toilet, the Thursday Crawlers, Here Come the Leather Nuns (one with a bucket of chips for me), Stay Neat, I Am Your Head, Everything You Know Is Wrong and a few more I don't remember. Moronic Vice Squad representatives carefully disguised in Choose Life T-shirts and sporting rubber mohawks with the typical copper moustaches were 'infiltrating' our audience. We invented the 'spot the undercover Vice Squad member' game. It was popular with the crowd but didn't win us any friends with the Victorian Police Force.
The Brady Bunch Lawnmower Massacre
Not being allowed to play under our real names killed the Gravies vibe and we all drifted off into different bands. I formed the Brady Bunch Lawn Mower Massacre (it was really I Spit On Your Gravy part 2). For the band's lifespan the Bradys played every Thursday night in the Piano Bar at the POW. Our gigs featured me fucking chickens (rubber, raw and roasted) as well as cantaloupes, fish and a quail (though that was at the Venue). The material was a mix of Country Music and Punk but all the songs were about St Kilda, mainly St Kilda girls, bars, drinking and Contact Pool - a game the band invented which featured striking balls on the Pool table with your penis or tits. It proved very popular at the Espy.
On the night Essendon smashed Carlton in the Grand Final (1993) I wiped my arse on stage with a Carlton jumper and announced it was our last show. We got a bloke from the public bar to play the pool cue like a Tea Chest bass and he ended up playing in my next band the Gravy Billys, a Country splinter group. Alex Sandy was his name and he must have been in his 60s. He even did solos!
Shonky Tonk took over the Thursday night residency and played for another 10 years at the Prince. The night the Brady bunch folded I walked around the room and picked members from the support bands saying "Wanna be in a band?" They all said yes and a week later we had a a set of new material ready to roll. The legendary Peter Lillee, the legendary Dave Moll, the legendray Jeff 'butcher of Brighton' Weiner and the legendary Fred T. Farlow with the legendary Shane 'Shubox' Jenkins, AKA 'the drunkest drummer on Earth'. Band highlights were being Kinky Freidman's backing band and supporting Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver at the Rod Laver Arena!
The Fuck Fucks
I formed the Fuck Fucks on the same night as Shony Tonk. Our mission was to out Gravy the Gravies, to out Brady the Bunch and to insult all forms of decency. The band would usually be totally naked by the end of every gig and an impromtu live sex show was the mark of a good night.
The POW had us on every Sunday. I don't remember why we stopped playing the Prince but I do know we closed it down on more than one occassion. Don Duval was running the POW at this stage and he didn't give a fuck - he loved us. We moved to the Gershwin Room at the Espy for a year because we couldn't fit enough people into the Piano Bar. The band's still going and it's been 20 years. And they said we wouldn't last with the word Fuck in our name! So much for advice from the industry.
Everyone got on with everyone at the POW. The rough, tough criminal types in the Public Bar loved all the gays. It was always a love fest and the POW epitomises the spirit of St Kida. Princes, paupers, poets, pot-heads, poofs, painters, prostitutes, professional criminals, petty criminals, professors and police. Even St Kilda footballers were welcome - though they were the only ones who ever started a fight.