St Kilda Music Walking Tours

St Kilda Music Walking Tours

Walk the walk, hear the talk
Fred Negro
a crude history by Fred Negro
Pre History     The 60s     The 70s     Punk Arrives    
Crystal Ballroom     Prince Of Wales       The Espy       the Venue      

The Esplanade Hotel in the 50s
The Esplanade Hotel in the 50s
Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

Fred discovers the Espy

I moved from Richmond to St Kilda in 1975. The flat was on the corner of Robe Street and the Upper Esplanade. (It used to be a hotel too!) Anyway, that night, I wandered down to my local for the first time. As I approached I noticed an ambulance parked on the footpath. Instead of a sign 'Ambulance' it had 'Dead Livers' in the same writing. Normally I never went into pubs (sic) but curiosity killed the liver and I summoned up my courage and entered the Esplanade Hotel for the first time.

It was love at first pot. I knew as soon as I walked in I was never going to leave. Outlaw Country Rock band, the Dead Livers were on stage singing songs about St Kilda and Warnambool. The audience comprised drug-fucked and drunk tattooed bikies, transvestites and gays with flowers in their hair, blokes named 'Lucky' without arms or limbs (who were usually good pool players) and the typical St Kilda tourists. I couldn't bring myself to tell the young tourists from the suburbs the sweet honey they were dancing with had one more appendage than they were expecting. Everyone was having a good time.

Not long after I joined the Editions I bumped into Marty Atchison, singer of the Dead Livers, in the Espy toilets. I asked him if we could cover their song 'Holy Mary' - a great song about dropping acid in Warnambool. His response was to give me advice on urination and excretion, "Don't force it son." We became great mates despite the fact that he barracked for Hawthorn (luckily most of the band barracked for the Pies).

The only other entertainment at the Espy in this era were various cover bands and the legendary Ted and Grace. Ted was 80-something and Grace was 20-something and neither of them could speak English. Ted played a Hammond organ with a drum machine and Grace, who was gorgeous, sang. On Sunday they'd sing songs like Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called To Say I Luff You' to an appreciative audience of Punks, Bikies, Trannies and families who'd come for the "Famous Sunday $5 Smorgasbord - all you can eat". A lot of families would walk in and turn around and leave when they saw the clientele - especially the bloke called 'Lucky' with no head, just a hook out of his neck.

Fred plays the Espy

The Editions never played there. None of the Ballroom, POW bands did at this stage. But in 1982 I started doing the handbills for the Tex Nobody Show, a Country variety show that ran in the lounge. Dave Last would do his rockabilly shtick.

At this time me and Phil Grizzly, the guitarist from I Spit On Your Gravy, started busking a bunch of country songs we'd written about St Kilda at the Sunday Market on the Esplanade. As soon as we'd made enough for a couple of pots we'd run over to the Espy. We'd come back to busk again when we'd run out of money. One night we gate-crashed the stage at the Tex Nobody Show and did our three songs. It was a hit and we ended up playing there for ten years, moving to Friday nights after a couple of years.

Fred works the Espy

I became a cleaner at the Espy and had my own keys to the joint. I never missed a day of work, getting in at 4 in the morning, still raging after a gig, often with mates who'd play pool and raid the bar while I cleaned toilets. My first day of work was to clean up the mess the Gravies had made the night before. I'd performed an exorcism on one of the Spitettes who had spat purple creamed corn over the audience, which responded with a hail of glasses and bottles. It was a big job.

Fred is photographed by a dick (ironically)

The Gravies made the bay windows of the lounge our office for notorious drinking sessions. St Kilda Council were on a quest to gentrify St Kilda. There was a lot of harassment of Punks and the Gravies often bore the brunt of the Vice Squad's interest. Believe it or not, the morons at the council hired private detectives to spy on our yobbo activities at the Espy, which was just us getting drunk while listening to Phill Para do Hendrix and playing the Galaga machine.

There was about 20 of us, a lot of girls, some inflatable. If we were doing anything particularly ludicrous a detective would approach us and ask if he could take a photo. We thought they were the press. We'd smile and pose, often half naked doing something public and sexual. "Are you from the Truth?" (The Truth was the crappiest newspaper in town with headlines like "Kylie Minogue is an Alien". They loved photos of us on some debauched night. They'd make up stories for them, probably because they'd feature us with nude chicks.)

the Espy settles in

The Lounge had a number of acts that played there for years. Diana's Kiss was a band featuring the great Ross Hannaford, the great Peter Jones on drums, the great Ray Pereira on percussion and usually Wayne Duncan on bass. They were always brilliant and I was always stoned. Ruby Carter's McJazz, she's a great Jazz singer who is still playing around St Kilda. The Paul Williamson Hammond Combo took over from Ted and Grace. Spot The Aussie was a cover band with Phil Para, Dougy MacDonald and a bunch of Kiwis. The Steve Hoy band played Alt Country originals. Broderick Smith's Big Combo played every Friday. Me and Phil Grizzly, the Gravy Billies, opened for them almost every night.

Dolores San Miguel (see Crystal Ballroom) ran some shows in the Gershwin Room in the mid 80s. In 1989 Trish Shoesmith took over as booker. The era of original bands began but she kept the quality regulars: Phil Para, Diana's Kiss, the Nudist Funk Orchestra and Ruby. Espy Recorders set up out the back an began recording the acts. A lot of great records came out of that place.

The Gravy Billies kept playing and Shonky Tonk began playing after Phil Para on Saturday nights. Sunday nights we'd make grown footballers cower. The Fuck Fucks took over the Espy after out growing the Piano Bar at the POW.

I Spit On Your Last Gig

In 1987 I Spit On Your Gravy did our last ever gig in the Gershwin Room. The place was packed and Gavin Purdy said we should do another 'last ever' gig at the Prince and make some money. We ended up doing 22 'last ever' gigs at every venue on the East Coast of Australia, and we did make money! Thanks Gavin!

Esplanade Hotel from St Kilda Pier, 1891
Esplanade Hotel from St Kilda Pier, 1891
Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

Fred's flat cnr Robe Street and the Upper Esplanade
Fred's flat block corner Robe and the Upper Esplanade

Tex Nobody

Espy Bill, Kinky Freidman

Kinky Freidman autographs my dick
Kinky Freidman autographs my dick
Dave Moll observing on the right

I Spit On Your Gravy Farewell number 2

I Spit On Your Gravy last gig number 2