Audience at a Film School, Saatsuma and Couture gig at the Northcote Social Club, 2017. Photo by Peter Cahill.
Featured tracks: Laura MacFarlane – The Narrows and Coded lauramacfarlane.bandcamp.com
Narrators: Welcome to the Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms: Darebin Live Music audio tour, presented as part of Hyperlocal and the City of Darebin’s FUSE festival. The tour visits 15 of the city’s music venues, past and present, and can be enjoyed in sections or completed as a whole in a couple of hours.
Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms was recorded and produced by Kirstyn Lindsay, Iain McIntyre and Teishan Ahearne on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and culture and that their sovereignty was never ceded. They are the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Music has long been at the heart of the City of Darebin’s rich cultural history and the area remains home to numerous venues, which feature over 1000 gigs a year. At each stop of the tour you’ll hear the songs and stories behind over 75 years of music and learn how these venues, big and small, played a role in making Melbourne one of the world’s best cities for live music.
The strip running along and beyond High Street from Westgarth to Preston has long been a major entertainment hub for Melbourne’s inner north. During the early decades of the twentieth century a number of cinemas were constructed. Alongside live musical scores performed as backing for silent films, singers, small orchestras, and vaudeville acts often formed part of a night out at the picture theatre. During the economic downturn of the Great Depression many cinemas expanded their musical coverage, joining the various dance nights in the area in hosting jazz, swing and other bands playing popular tunes.
With the demographic changes that followed World War 2 music originating from Italy, Greece, Macedonia and elsewhere began to be performed in the area, a trend which increased as, with the introduction of TV, many cinemas were turned into ballrooms. Over the next few decades these venues would alternately host cabaret nights featuring dinner and a show and large scale dances, with bands often working multiple floors and stages. Alongside these, community centres such as council town halls, the Aboriginal Advancement League and the Preston Lions Football club have regularly held music events and dances.
The 1950s and 60s saw the rise of rock n roll. Beginning with gigs at the Arcadia Ballroom and small dances in church halls the scene rapidly grew. Every weekend 1000s of teenagers across Darebin would pack into venues to catch local bands as well as major acts at The Preston Town Hall, Circle Theatre and elsewhere.
With baby boomers getting older and licensing laws changing in the late 1960s to allow pubs to stay open past 6pm, rock music increasingly moved into licensed venues. During the 1970s and 1980s Darebin shared in the glory days of pub rock with The Croxton Hotel and the Council Hotel, also known as Cramers and Richies Nite Spot, forming part of the national circuit which ACDC, Cold Chisel and others toured. At the same time these venues and others also hosted DJs and cabaret, country and pop artists.
From the mid-1980s onwards the number of live venues in the area began to dwindle. The remaining ballrooms became reception centres and many pubs stopped hosting bands. At the same time a new generation of musicians were moving into the area. While they were often playing in other suburbs, their music could be heard emanating from lounge room rehearsal spaces and house parties.
Led by newcomers such as Bar 303, and supported by festivals such as the Darebin Music Feast, new venues increasingly popped up and by the 2010s Darebin was once more hosting dozens of gigs a week with a multiple of musical styles on offer. The area’s musical vitality was confirmed in 2014 when the Australia Performing Rights Association declared that the Northcote and Preston postcodes both rated in the top 10 for the highest concentration of songwriters in Australia.
01 – Introduction