Friday, October 2, 2009

Pub rocked: is there hope left in the Hopetoun?

Pub rocked: is there hope left in the Hopetoun?

When good ships go down, most of us are left dumbfounded, stranded on the desert island of despair, powerless to do naught but shout “no!” as our once-cherished idol disappears into the drink.

The Hopetoun: End of an era? Picture: Rachel MoorThe Hopetoun: End of an era? Picture: Rachel Moor

Disciples of the boot would recall the sinking feeling as Matty John’s sordid sexual past was plastered over the papers. Ditto for fans of a certain yeast-based sandwich spread which now appears to be a sacred part of their cultural identity.

But for fans of homegrown independent music, this week’s Titanic disaster was the news that The Hopetoun Hotel, Sydney’s breeding ground for emerging rock talent, had hit a few icebergs and wouldn’t be opening for schooners any time soon. And if you read between the lines, that meant maybe not ever.

The reason put forward by the management was that in a seven day period the hotel had been fined some $3000 by local police for not having adequate security, and accompanied by building upgrades to meet council standards was enough to send the good ship Hopetoun asunder.

Punters were, in a word, devvo’d. Sure it’s no small chunk of change, but what are the management doing that a $3000 fine could sink such an iconic pub? And what are the government up to with licensing laws requiring bouncers to guard venues the size of broom closets?

Within nanoseconds the call rang out: “Save The Hoey”. Crikey, didn’t we just go through this trying to save FBi Radio? Do we really have to get bloody Richard Branson to bail us out of every cultural corner we paint ourselves into?

Jesus Sydney, man up you weak bastard!

The headline “Small pub goes bust in economic downturn” is hardly worth holding the front page for, but the desire to turn such an event into, “Pub closure sounds death-knell for Sydney live music scene” while entirely inflammatory, is worth a gentle prod.

You could argue that grungy 30-somethings that kept the Hoey afloat in its heyday are all starting to grow up, plop out puppies, move to the burbs and just don’t have time to support local bands anymore. You’d hardly hold that against them.

You could also argue that the next generation perhaps aren’t that fussed with pub rock anymore, and would much rather get dolled up and head to unmistakably more “now” locales. That too is hardly a crime.

But Mark Gerber, owner of one such trendy venue, The Oxford Arts Factory, offered a somewhat more realistic reason its failure on Triple J’s Hack, about moving with the times and being more realistic about the scale of the industry.

“Live music doesn’t really pay, we all know that. You need to diversify and look for other ways to make an income during the early part of the week when there’s not that much live music happening. You can’t survive on seven nights a week of live music in Australia, we don’t have the population”.

Maybe Seymour Skinner was right. The times they are a’becoming quite different, and old habits don’t just die hard, they die off.

The question of course is, what’s it going to take to save this sucker? Bankrolling? Pokies? Trivia? Mid-week bar mitzvahs? Opening an uglier, flashier version next door called iHopetoun2.0, galvanising opinion and sending outraged punters flooding loyally back to old faithful?

Whatever crafty measures, something needs to be done, as there’s plenty about this rub-a-dub worth fighting for.

The Hopetoun is much more than just a pub. It’s a small but important cog in a wheel that’s in all our best interests to keep turning, if we don’t want our musical choices dictated to us by Australian Idol dimwits.

For years The Hopetoun has been crucial for emerging artists looking to gain their first steps in the biz. It’s is an attractive yet attainable goal. If you could make a dent at the Hoey, it didn’t necessarily mean you’d made it, but it did mean you were probably onto something and should keep slogging away.

But also, The Hopetoun is one of those pubs that people feel a proper bond with. For those who’ve wandered through its doors, grabbed an earful of music and a skinful of booze, the feeling of loss is somewhat akin to losing a cherished grandpa - the cool one that swore and drank, gave you your first ciggie and told you to harden the f—- up.

And while getting all sentimental over a stupid old battlecruiser might seem somewhat immature, to echo the words of Daryl John Kerrigan in The Castle, fighting to explain the true value of his endangered property, “It’s not a house, it’s a home. You can’t buy what I’ve got”.

The Hoey is that crappy little castle at 3 Highview Cres Coolaroo, and anyone who’s bought a beer there is a card carrying Kerrigan. It’s not overly beautiful and it doesn’t smell all that great. It’s hardly a native title claim, but it’s got something that I want to give myself an uppercut for saying but I’m going to say anyway – heart and bloody soul – which is thin on the ground these days and doesn’t deserve to be banished to the posterity of the pool room for all eternity.

And it would be fortuitous to enlist the talents of someone slightly above the buffoonery of Dennis Denuto to make sure this Sydney landmark doesn’t become just another place to piss away your weekly wage into yet another banal bank of mindless fruit machines.

Save the Hoey. Spread it.

Save The Hopetoun Facebook group.
Save The Hoey on Twitter

Audio (MP3): Triple J Hack Hopetoun broadcast


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