St Moritz and Bananas, Earls Court and the Palais Theatre, 1950s - Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
Bananas was running in the late 70s and was the only place in St Kilda you could see Punk bands like the Boys Next Door before the Ballroom opened.
Bananas was a little venue above Saint Moritz on the Upper Esplanade where the Novotel now stands. Saint Moritz was a dance hall that had been turned into an ice skating rink. You'd enter a door by the main entrance, go up the stairs, and find a room wrapped around a bar, leather padded booths and a view of the bay behind the band.
Before the Venue I was running Bananas. I think...hazy days, everything was happening so fast. Two Jewish guys owned it. They sold their licence to the Palace because the council wouldn't give them a liquor license.
The first gig I ran there was Rose Tattoo. They played so loud they pinned you to the back wall. They were going for it. Laurie (Richards) may have taken over after me.
I also remember a night the Editions were supporting Tony Katz. No one was there except us and a junkie asleep in the corner. Tony had a radio guitar thang and was running around the room, jumping off the bar and behaving like he was playing a stadium. He even set his guitar on fire and threw it up in the air catching it during his solo. I wondered what he'd do if he actually had an audience! I never found out.
the last night of Bananas
Bananas was a dodgy place. Rose Tattoo (the Tats) were playing with the Tony Katz Band. The joint was full but half way through the Tats a bunch of coppers walked through and spoke to management at the bar. The next thing they took down all the TVs and video players (remember them?) and gave them to the cops who took them away.
The Editions used to do a Wednesday residency so we were quite used to the local law leaving with a few slabs or cases of wine. Consumer electronics was new.
Earl's Court was a large dance room on the Upper Esplanade next to St Moritz. It had been a dance saloon since 1928 and it's named changed from The Lyric to Earl's Court in 1932 when it became a dance hall. It would sometimes host films and nightclubs as the "Palm Grove", "Sergios"and the "The Taxi Club". After a decade as a reception centre became The Venue and for 6 years presented Australian and overseas artists to crowds of over 2,000.
Earl's Court was being run as a Greek Reception. I went and talked to them, it would have been the early '80s. They weren't making money. I said I wanted to be a partner and I wanted to have first option if they decided to sell the place. So we signed contracts and I borrowed 20 grand. I put it into the account and it disappeared straight away. They were so far in debt. I said, "Fuck! I've gotta work my way outa here."
I was talking to Michael Roberts. He said, "There's this great venue in London called The Venue." And he showed me the logo. It was great. So I added the Southern Cross stars to the 'Venue' and made it Australian.
I did a deal with a new touring company, Dirty Pool. They had Cold Chisel, Divinyls, Mental As Anything and INXS. So bang, the first 4 Saturday nights I had 2,000 people a night. In fact the first night I had 2 and half thousand but it was too many. As soon as Premier heard we were pulling 2,000 people a night they said, "We'll give you bands!" Then they tried to come in and take it over. They tried to heavy me. But I'm a Fitzroy boy. I stood up to them and they knew I meant it. So they backed off.
I fixed the place up a bit. I built a 6 foot stage in there, dressing rooms, and I started living at the top. We were running Wednesday to Sundays.
But the federal government bought it from under us and turned it into cheap housing. The owner didn't find out until there was nothing we could do about it. I met the major and started a petition. I mean Tina Turner played there, the Cult, Echo and the Bunnymen. John Mayer played there, INXS, Style Council, Human League. But it was too late. You don't have a chance against the Federal government.
It's only now they've realised Rock is culture but it's too late, they're behind the eight ball, there's no rules. There's so many bands and they're all doing free gigs. So the good musicians won't work. They won't play for less than 150 dollars, 200. All you're doing is getting the crap bands. And that's why I don't like free gigs.
The Venue was the Bombay Rock of the South. Same set up. I saw the Angels and bands like that there. Suburban beer barn bands. And then I started doing all the artwork for the place.
Joe was the best bloke ever.
Joe rang me up one day saying, "Hunters & Collectors have just cancelled tonight. The show was sold out. What am I going to do?" He was fucked. Coincidentally that day I'd seen Jonathan Richman walking around Acland Street with a guitar over his shoulder looking lost. I found him and asked him if he wanted to do a show. He said 'yes' and that night he absolutely killed it. One of the best shows I'd ever seen and he didn't even use a mic!
Bo Diddley and Fred
Bo Diddley was in town and playing the Venue. I saw him coming out of the Diplomat Hotel, I used to live opposite. He was wearing a bright red jacket with "Bo Diddley - the king of Rock and Roll" embroidered on it. I yelled out "Hey Bo Diddley!" He came over and I made him a cup of coffee. He told me he was playing the Venue that night but the band didn't want to rehearse. I tried to convince him to come to our rehearsal room and we'd back him, "Fuck those old farts!" He said, "Maybe later, but for now I want to find a newsagent to buy a stick book."
I went with him to the newsagents next to the Prince Of Wales and he bought a Fiesta because it was full of "home girls" and I bought a Hustler because it had the byline "57 pages of pink". We walked back and he said, "See you tonight at the Venue."
That night, after our respective self pleasurings and a great gig, we met in the band room and I asked him how his wank went. With thumbs up Bo Diddley told me, "Good!" A really ugly groupie was hanging around. Bo said to her, "Come back to my room and I'll read you the Bible." She said, "I want more than the Bible." He said, "I don't do that kind of thing." But the next morning I saw the same groupie walking down the stairs of the Diplomat, sore and Bo-legged. "Hey Bo Diddley!"
The Gong Show
We started doing the Gong Show there which we'd started at Macy's in South Yarra but it had gotten too big. Joe had a room out the back called the ???? The first night we put it on the Gravys were the panel of judges. Brian Mannix was in the audience, a total dick. He was throwing coins at our faces. I had a big bag of props out the back included motor cycle helmets so we put them on and the coins bounced off our 3 bonces. The bouncers loved Brian Mannix for some unfathomable reason and did nothing.
The Gong Show always had a really good band on first: The Corpse Grinders, The Johnnys, Painters and Dockers, the Gravies or a touring band doing a Monday gig. It was $2 to get in and it was always packed. The actual Gong Show was the most ridiculous show ever put on a stage. We should have been paying people to come in. It was rubbish.
There was the human vacuum cleaner. A bloke would stick a plug in his arse, pick him up by the feet, they'd play the sound of a vacuum cleaner, and he'd be pushed around and gobbling up a trail of Twisties he'd put on the stage. (OK that was me.) A favourite act was a guy with a fish tied to his cock who would sing the theme to popular TV shows such as The Love Boat. (OK that was me too.) Other times a bloke would say "This was my impression of Fred Astaire" and stare at the audience until he was Gonged. (OK that was me too.)
Sometimes a dozen guys would get up and form the MuckMuck Tabernacle Choir and sing "Muck, muck, muck, muck." to the tune of something classical interrupted by the occasional "Can I have a rubber biscuit?) It was surreal. (I wasn't in this act.)
The Salada Sisters made regular appearances with a variety of acts including the famous Dying Blowfly which always got a standing ovation.
Robby Rocket came out with a piano accordion wearing roller skates and his Residents eye ball mask and played Pop Goes The Weasel and tap danced till he fell over. That was probably the height of the artistic quality of the Gong Show.
Chad Morgan appeared once. He stood on the side of stage and said "For fuck's sake." between every act. He was still, drinking back then. If things got dull Paul Elliot would put a TV or something stage and blow it up. It was dangerous, the whole show was dangerous, and it probably criminal but it was amusing.
Fred meets The Monkees and Tina Turner
I met the Monkees at the Venue. It was just Davy and Peter with a crack band backing them. On the big stage you couldn't see Davy Jones over the foldback. Him and Peter had grins from ear to ear. It was like a karaoke show for them. I went back stage, Joe introduced me to them. They were smiling so much and Peter was being whacky just like the TV show. One of my finest Rock moments, it went much better than when I tried to crack on to Tina Turner in the same room a few years before. I was young and single, she had legs that went all the way up to her incredible bum and she said she liked how I drew her incredible bum on my poster. I thought I was in with a chance. She shot me down and broke my heart. Just for a change I went to Bananas and got drunk watching Tony Katz burn another guitar in front of the usual sleeping junkie.
I often think of Tina now, I am sure she's wondering how life could have been if only she hadn't rejected me. "I could be playing bottle shops and trams stops in St Kilda. Living the dream!"
Trashing the Venue
I Spit On Your Gravy used to play the back of the Venue and upstairs a lot. I think Joe put us on just to shit his bouncers who hated us. Joe would encourage us to be more and more outrageous.
One night there had been a garbo strike and the rubbish was piling up in the street so I took our rubbish down to the venue and decorated the stage with weeks of old garbage. After forncating with it I throw it over the crowd.
The bouncers wanted to kill me but I ran upstairs to hide in the office with Joe. But when I came back to help the band load out I found the bouncers had smacked up the Spitettes and told them the rest of the band were going to get killed once we packed up. We sent the girls off and ran home with shopping trolleys full of our gear.
My brother Ross had just got back from India. We met the peace loving hippy at a Richmond pub for a catch up. One of the Venue's thug bouncers came up to us and he mentioned I Spit On Your Grave. I said it was I Spit On Your Gravy which raised his ire. He slapped me across the face and knocked me off my chair. My brother said, "Peace man" and copped a sdmack across the face and the ear-ring ripped out of his ear. The bouncer then took me out and tried to knock a new window in the brick wall with my head. I lost a contact lens but gained some stitches. The last thing he said was "Don't ever play at the Venue again."
Of course we had a gig there the next night and I remember fucking a pig's head in the eye on stage. Luckily Joe sacked him and I have never seen him since.
From Pies to Venues
As a kid I'd tap dance and watch Fred Astaire movies. When I was a teenager I'd listen to 3XY and 3UZ radio stations. All the rock songs: Johnny O'Keefe, Normy Rowe, 6 O'Clock Rock and all that stuff.
We moved to Williamstown and I studied piano at St Mary's but I lost it when we moved back to Fitzroy. So I never played in a band which I don't regret because what I really enjoy is making a band sound great.
I was working for Four'n'Twenty (pies and pastries) delivering pies to all the lunch shops, so I had this van. Anyway Max Vella sang in a band called Fat Daddy, they wore masks...this is before Kiss. Two Maltese, an Italian and an Aussie drummer. I knew their brothers, they were doing gigs and, "Joe's got a van." So I managed Fat Daddy and a band called Muddy Farmer. I had a sign with Fat Daddy on one side and Muddy Farmer on the other and I'd change the signs around depending on who was working. We bought a PA and I used to do the sound.
We used to work the Sunshine Heights Hotel. We'd fill it on a Thursday night but we couldn't get a gig in town. Premier (booking agency) had Melbourne the balls. So in the early 70s I started working for Premier and managed the bands on the side. I'd book bands like the Boys Next Door, James Freud, Barry Earl's Suicide bands. Barry worked in the agency too.
But I didn't want to be an agent. I didn't want to be stuck in the office. So Frank Stivalis suggested I run some gigs down the coast. I called it Lorne Follies. Renee Geyer, Captain Matchbox, Split Enz, AC/DC. I worked with Hush, Ted Mulry...all the classic Aussie bands.
Brian Goldsmith had a club in the Bourke Street Mall called the Bombay Bicycle Club. He closed it while he was fixing up the Underground. So I started running the Bombay Bicycle Club. I really enjoyed that but it finished.
Blondie did a gig there. When Blondie came out for the first time I toured them. That was unreal. I toured a few bands and I liked being on the road but what I really liked was running a gig.
So I looked around and found the Copacabana in Brunswick Street. It was run by Greeks, a Greek nightclub. But they were going broke. I turned it into Bombay Rock and ran it for 3 or 4 years. But they wouldn't clean it. People's feet were sticking to the carpet. I told them I'd leave if they didn't have it cleaned by Xmas. But they didn't give a fuck, they were raking it in. So I walked away. That's when I started managing the Checks with Paul Hester and John Clifforth.