Moves to pull Newcastle’s live music scene back from crisis point

Posted on 12/17/2018

Truman Smith is one of the many young musicians plying their trade around Newcastle, playing original music at venues like The Edwards in Newcastle West. Picture: Simon McCarthyIn a room full of passionate live music supporters, legendaryNewcastle guitarist Grant Walmsley summed up the mood best.

“My great uncle was a bass player at the Palais in the 1940s–now it’s a KFC,” he told a round-table meeting about the future of the city’s live music scene on Friday.

“That fell on someone’s watch. What’s next? The Cambridge? The Wicko? The Lass?”

Artists, booking agents,pubowners andmanagersmet withbureaucrats andNewcastle’s Labor representativesat The Edwardsto talk about how the city’s live music culturehad reached crisis point–particularly for artists who play original music and the venues trying to support them.

Walmsley, former guitarist forThe Screaming Jets, saidunchecked development wasthe greatest threat to thelive music scene.

He said“iron clad laws” were needed to protect the ability oficonic venues like the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel in Wickham, The Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle West and the Wickham Park Hotel to put on live shows without fear of noise complaints from new neighbours.

“I wrote a number one song and I played it for the first time at the Cambridge,” he said.

“Are we just going to knock it down? We know what the issue is. There’s one solution. We need laws at a state level.”

Walmsley said entertainment precincts should be introducedthat weren’t simplydesignatedareas drawnon a map, but were protectionsfor established live music venues around greater Newcastle.

His callfor planning laws to guardvenues againstthe threat of noise complaints from new neighbours in developing areas–and for developers to provide the appropriate sound-proofing measures if their project was near an established venue–was echoed by many at the meeting.

There were alsocalls to support the establishment of a new all-age venue, where young musicians could develop skills, not only in playing live, but booking gigs, setting up equipment and managing sound so they could grow into the new local custodians of the industry.

And some spoke about the need to do more toconvince the general public that live, original music by local musicians was worth paying for.

Several people put their hands up to be on a new task force to find ways to strengthen live music in Newcastle.

Truman Smith has been playingshows around townfor sevenyears, balancing his love of performingwith a sound engineering job and the odd cover gig to helppay the bills.

“There’s no money in original gigs, really, unless you’re a bigger band,” he said.

“I think for the original [music] scene, that’s at crisis point because the number of venues that original bands can play at are dwindling and it’s very hard for an original band to break through and make any money. So you’re not going to be covering your costs.

“As a cover band, you might do alright. But an original band, it’s going to be very hard for them.”

When asked what he thought hadchanged in Newcastle since the heyday of live music in the 70s and 80s, Smith said:“Basically, I think less people are going out to see live music and a lot less people are willing to pay to see it”.

“I think it’s partly to do with the devaluation of music we’ve seen through streaming services and things like that.”

Ian and Sharon Lobb, who have been running the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel for 26 years, said their venue was the first port of call for many young musicians who were starting their gigging careers.

Mr Lobb said ongoing development and an influx of new residents in Wickham meant the Lass would“shortly be under threat”.

“The Lass is the cradle of original music in Newcastle. That’s where everything starts,” he said.“The venues have got to survive first, then the music flows.”

Brian Lizotte, who has run a live music venue in suburban Newcastle for almost a decade, says people need to get out of the house and go to more gigs. Picture: Marina Neil

Get out, go to a show: LizotteIf you ask Brian Lizotte, a simple thing couldhelp Newcastle’s live music scene flourish –people shouldgo to more gigs.

Lizotte, the brother of the well-known n singer-songwriter known as Diesel, has run a live music venue in suburban Lambton for almost a decade.

While he’s seen his fair share of challenges, he says he’s been lucky to have neighbours that know they live near a live music venue and accept that sometimes it’ll get a little noisy.

“I just look at the trials and tribulations of how many venues have come and gone. You almost have to work far too hard to make a music venue work, it seems,” Lizottetold theNewcastle Herald.

“Supporting live, local musicians is what it’s all about –it’s not all just about the internationals and the big festivals. It’s about growing the industry we’ve got here in this town. We’ve got so many great musos.

“Let’s get all the venues going and get the general public off the couch and back into music.”

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes says the city’s nighttime economy is nationally important. Picture: Simon McCarthy

Music industry’s chance to shape policyEveryone with a stake in Newcastle’s once vibrant and legendary music scene is being encouraged to jot down their thoughts on how best to bring back the city’s glory days as a hotbed of live gigs.

The call was made to more than 40pub owners, artists, booking agents and veterans of Newcastle music who met with bureaucrats and Labor representatives from all levels of government on Friday to come up with ways to help make Newcastle’s live entertainment culture thrive again.

While the stakeholders united on a series of ways to move forward, they were also urged to make submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Music and Arts Economy in NSW, through the NSW Parliament website.

The multi-party inquiry was set up in November to develop policies that supportvenues for music and the arts, reduce red tape for venue managers and artists, provide funding options and come up with “policies that could support a diverse and vibrant music and arts culture across New South Wales”. Friday’s meeting at the Edwards was one of several that have taken place acrossthe state.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorpsaid the discussion with industry insiders would help shape state government policy to “ensure the music industry continues to flourish and thrive in Newcastle”.

“As Newcastle evolves, we need to make sure the music industry is not left behind,” he said.“Live music is under threat and we want to support it before it is too late.”

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Newcastle’s night-time economy was “nationally significant”.

“We want to ensure that our iconic live musicvenues remain open and that the Newcastle live music scene continues to thrive,” Cr Nelmessaid.