St Kilda moves like Jagger

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By Nabuma                           


St Kilda has always been a hot spot for entertainment and has attracted to its music venues many of the world’s most celebrated artists.  It has also been fertile ground inspiring local musicians and has indeed been a launch pad for many of them.  Some of our most cherished venues have served Melbournians well and we recall them here, along with a few memorable headlining performers who have passed through them, as we take a musical gaze back over five decades.

Needless to say, things over time never remain in pristine everlasting condition – everything being subject to decay, unless reversed by a rejuvenating hand or remedied by tens of millions of renovating dollars, which is what it would take – as the Palais is looking a little forlorn these days.  This is as we should expect, with all the years of entertainment it has delivered to Melbournians over the decades.  All the variety of sounds emitted from its chambers may have shaken its age-old foundations leaving the building a little frayed at its seams.  How those foundations must have swayed when The Rolling Stones first came to town.  Some who were there would look back with misty eyes as they retrieve the memory of that momentous occasion and who heard them play what are now classics, such as ‘Time is on my side’, which was a big hit at that time. It was 1965 and they played two gigs at the Palais.  They had formed only three years earlier.  They were wide-eyed, fresh-faced and the hottest band to come out during The British Invasion.  Fifty years later, while playing at the Rod Laver Arena in November, Jagger encouraged fans to get behind the Ilovemypalais campaign to save the building.

The nearby Palace did not fare as well when it was badly damaged by fire in 2007 and was subsequently, completely demolished.  Sadder still, was the loss of Kurt Cobain only two years after Nirvana’s summer gigs at the Palace in 1992.  At the time they were at the height of their chart success with their second album, Nevermind, which sold 30 million copies worldwide and whose song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was one of the most influential songs of the nineties, followed in popularity by the darker sounding, ‘Come As You Are’.   One of our own home-grown bands,Silverchair made their debut at the Palace with their album, Frogstomp.  It was twenty years ago, almost to the month – October, 1995.  Mere pubescent boys of fourteen, they displayed a talent beyond their years by recording the album, which went on to sell two million copies. A year later they were supporting the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for six shows in the U.S.  Having honed their musical talents since the early age of nine, by fifteen years old they were already well-practised, proficient musicians and ready to take their talents to the road.  They were the youngest band on the band circuit at the time and still attending high school.  Frogstomp has been remastered, expanded and reissued this year to mark the twentieth anniversary of its release in 1995.

Another grand building and music venue is the heritage listed, George Hotel, situated on the corner of Fitzroy and Grey Streets, on the junction where the light rail turns.  Although a nineteenth century construction, built in 1857, it still stands proud and well-preserved, its exterior resplendent on a sunny day, dazzling and all white, it dominates the landscape like a huge, arctic iceberg.  In the late seventies until the mid-eighties it was considered Melbourne’s punk rock home, previously called The Crystal or Seaview Ballroom and Nick Cave’s old stamping ground.  In The George: St. Kilda Life and Times, author Gillian Upton describes the scene:  “In the early period of the Ballroom, bands were divided into two distinct camps – one grew from skinhead roots – in opposition were the ‘art school’ middle class punks, personified by the Ballroom’s anointed sons, Nick Cave and the Boys Next Door”.

For local and visiting musicians, St Kilda has proven to be a playground – a mecca – and for some, their very inspiration.  In April, 1985 Paul Kelly released his song, ‘From St. Kilda to Kings Cross’, a song which became embedded in the Australian cultural psyche, and for St Kilda especially, it became somewhat of an iconic anthem.  The song captures a moment, a year earlier when, after the break-up of his band and his marriage, Kelly packed all his worldly goods in a trailer, borrowed his father-in-law’s Holden and drove from St Kilda to Kings Cross.  No, he didn’t take the bus as the lyrics would suggest.

There is the Espy, The Prince of Wales, and other smaller venues, which deserve their own special attention, and an array of other visiting musicians who have graced St. Kilda’s shores (The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Bryan Ferry, Duran Duran, Joe Jackson, Blondie, Primus, Doobie Brothers, Cyndi Lauper are among them), and an infinity of other musical luminaries, too vast to mention here. But let’s take one last decades-long jump of forty years, back to 1975. Before becoming a global rock phenomenon, AC/DC were based in Melbourne for many years in the seventies and shared a house in 6 Lansdowne Road, St Kilda.  “Whole Lotta Rosie” for instance was named after Rosie, their next door neighbour.   Michael Browning, their manager said in his book, AC/DC Maximum Rock and Roll, “If it hadn’t been for Melbourne, AC/DC wouldn’t have existed.  There wasn’t enough of a support system anywhere else in the country”.  If there ever was a testimonial for the inspiration, encouragement and fertile ground that Melbourne has provided for musicians over the years that would be it.  And St Kilda, where many bands cut their teeth, has been undeniably a significant, some would say essential, part of that story.

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