Call for live aid
Legacy … Jet's Nic Cester performs at the Annandale Hotel in 2006.
Photo: Domino Postiglione
As the scramble is on to reschedule the now-closed Hopetoun Hotel's gigs, some of Sydney's most-loved live music venues fear a similar fate.
Crippling red tape, gentrified suburbs and rising property values have made live music a frustrating and exorbitantly expensive business for Sydney's venue owners.
''On top of all the hardships that live venues have to deal with, the number one hindrance to our business has been our local council,'' says Matthew Rule, who, with his brother, Daniel, has owned the Annandale Hotel since 2000.
He claims they have been fighting Leichhardt Council for eight years on everything from development applications to outside seating. An ongoing five-year Land and Environment Court saga over late-trading and noise compliance cost them more than $200,000.
"We're having our last throw of the dice,'' Rule says, referring to a development application being submitted for an improved hotel with a refurbished restaurant.
"We've had to go back and loan and refinance to pay our legal fees to survive. This is for a hotel that supports live music, supports local talent, has never had an issue with the police and has gone from 15 poker machines to nine, which is the lowest we can go.''
Leichhardt mayor Jamie Parker says the council is ''trying to work out ways we can support venues like the Annandale''.
''Everything apart from fire safety and patron safety we can try to work at,'' he says. ''When it comes to security, when it comes to noise management, there is always five different ways you can solve one problem so that's where we just need to keep on having that dialogue with the Annandale.''
Likewise, the City of Sydney Council has pledged to work with venues like the Hopetoun - but its doors remain closed, at least until the new year.
"To say live music is dead is wrong," the owner of Newtown's Sandringham Hotel, Tony Townsend, says. "But it's become difficult keeping up with the changes in legislation and it's somewhat difficult, even in an area like Newtown, appeasing the neighbours."
Owner of the Sando since 2004, Townsend spent close to $250,000 in legal fees, sound measurement and acoustic protection following residents' complaints.
"While it cost the residents the price of a stamp and a letter, all the onus was on us to prove we complied. If I didn't have that sort of capital up my sleeve then it would have closed the live side down," says Townsend, adding that the Sandringham Hotel now runs
120 acts a month and has the numbers to justify a new 300-seater live music space due for completion late this year.
Townsend credits a late-trading license for the Sando's success, saying a couple of extra hours after a show allows people to have a drink and ''makes all the difference''.
Industry insiders say the loss of another venue like the Hoey would further prevent new bands from being found and honing their craft.
''It's going to be a struggle for those smaller venues always but they've got to be there - otherwise the flow-on of musicians from the ground level won't happen,'' says Adam Yee, a booking agent and promoter.
''I dread to think what happens if the Excelsior and the Annandale follow the same route as the Hoey.''
Determined to survive, some venues are opening later and for fewer nights a week or seeking out corporate dollars. The Metro Theatre, after facing financial troubles, signed a two-year naming sponsorship deal with Virgin Mobile last month. The Annandale did the same with Jagermeister in 2004, allowing for events such as Jager Uprising, a weekly competition for young bands.
The general manager of the Oxford Art Factory, Mark Gerber, says his venue was designed for more than just live music.
''You can't look at live music as a seven-day-a-week venture, we don't have the numbers,'' he says. ''Some of our smaller nights with these upcoming bands are bankrolled by corporate functions.''
But the public still have the power.
''If all the people that complained about the Hoey [closing] actually went to see a band and bought a beer, it would not have closed down,'' Gerber says.''Live music needs live audiences; audiences that drink a couple of beers while seeing the talent that Australia has to offer. Those couple of beers might allow venues the funds to stay up to date with new regulations governing places of public entertainment.''