The recent bankruptcy of The Annandale Hotel seemed to be the last nail in Parramatta Road’s live music coffin. But it might just turn out to be the start of a revival that will turn a currently unlovely and unloved thoroughfare into Australia’s answer to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.
It is no secret that Parramatta Road has been in a steady decline for many years. While once a lively area bustling with businesses, nowadays it’s more like a ghost town with a succession of empty storefronts (can someone please explain to me why the only stores that remain are wedding dress shops?).
The bankruptcy of popular music stores like Billy Hyde and Jacksons Rare Guitars was seemingly the final nail in the coffin, with Parramatta Road struggling to maintain its position as a music hot spot. However, not everyone has given up on the battling boulevard quite yet.
Alex Lange, co-owner of Global Vintage Guitars, believes there is still life to be found on Parramatta Road. Yes, rents are high and that is making it difficult for many business owners but Alex thinks that there are more than enough instrument sellers still around to satisfy all local musos and he, for one, is not worried about going out of business.
Encouragingly, it isn’t just tenacious retailers who are optimistic about the future of Parramatta Road. In a movement quickly gaining traction, Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne is spearheading an initiative to revitalise Parramatta Road as a “live music and cultural precinct.”
The project, which will span the stretch of road from the University of Sydney to the Taverner’s Hill pub in Leichhardt, aims to foster the development of new entertainment venues through a quicker approval process and rate concessions. While venues would have to follow strict sound insulation regulations, there will be increased noise allowances and extended trading hours.
Many locals have already expressed excitement about seeing the area become a live music hub. Alex Lange says that this is what Parramatta Road used to be; happily reminiscing about when he could see three bands in one night by walking between the Annandale Hotel, the Lewisham Hotel and Max’s Petersham Inn. He goes on to say that with the proximity to the city and the rock ‘n’ roll history of the area, there is no reason why the live music hub dream can’t be realised.
Similarly, Carlo Bora, a long-term resident of the area who has been working at Downtown Music Gallery since he was 12, says it would be fantastic to recreate the halycon days of Parramatta Road’s past, insisting, ‘If we build it, they will come.’
The music hub project became official council policy in March this year, largely in response to the famous Annandale Hotel – one of Australia’s most storied and beloved music venues – going into receivership in February. Despite NIMBY noise complaints from some local residents, which played a large part in the Annandale’s demise, it’s fair to say that there are very few Inner Westies who would not be sad to see the pub go. Luckily, at least for now, the Annandale Hotel isn’t going anywhere and the new owners, Oscar’s Hotels, known for other establishments such as Sweeney’s Hotel and Bar Century, have promised to adopt the “same music strategy” as previous owners Matthew and Daniel Rule.
Understandably, some are still apprehensive about the pub’s future. Former Annandale employee and Newtown local Tom Grant says that “Oscar’s Hotels seem like they know what they’re doing in terms of pubs but in terms of live music venues, I don’t know if they’ve tried it before. I think if they can keep the same core staff and management at the pub it should be fine.” As a lover of live music, Tom was excited about the new proposal to turn Parramatta Road back into a haven for the musically inclined but he’s not without his concerns. “Sydney needs a live music district,” he says. “That said, they have to get it right. They can’t just chuck in a pub and a stage and call it a live music district.”
Byrne is well aware of what this project requires – the time, money and community support needed during just the preliminary stages – but he’s not afraid of thinking big. “I have a vision for Parramatta Road which will see it become for Sydney what Broadway and Tin Pan Alley have been to New York,” he enthuses.
It is one hell of an ambition. If it can be pulled off Parramatta Road could become far more than just a rock’n’roll playground for Sydneysiders – it could ultimately become a famous tourist attraction, like Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
In April this year Marrickville Council unanimously decided to support the initiative. And the Good Neighbour Policy – originally created by Leichhardt Council to stop litigation against bars and their owners – is currently being considered by the NSW Parliament for state-wide implementation.
In the meantime, you may have to dig a little to find life on Parramatta Road, but it’s certainly there to be found. On Sunday the 21st of July, for example, [yellow tail] presents Soul Sista Jam at the Lewisham Hotel – a free music session of all female DJs, singers and performers, featuring Ciao’s very cover star and headlining act Charmizzle Von Dizzle (pictured). She will be just one of many musicians performing; living proof that there are solid fundamentals on which to create a Parramatta Road that rocks.
Words: Max Kobras
A rock n’ roll directory of Parramatta Road:
Downtown Music Gallery
Downtown Music Gallery is an esoteric business. With unique guitars and plenty of boutique, supplementary items, this is a store intended for intermediate-and-up musicians. In the words of the owner, “people don’t come here for their first guitar, but they do for their second through fifteenth!” On top of sales, this business separates itself by providing high quality repairs, tuition with experienced musicians, and a YouTube page with over 200 videos that show everything from simple instructions for new guitar players to performances from local, upcoming musicians.
Previously located in Newtown before being forced to move due to high rent and “unsympathetic neighbours,” Blackwire Records is now one of the most interesting places on Parramatta Road. While this is primarily a vinyl store, it is probably just as well-known as a performance space for the gigs they host every few days. Blackwire Records is run by artists and volunteers and is not-for-profit; they are just interested and personally invested in the local music scene.
Bald Faced Stag
In many ways the Bald Faced Stag is your regular, old fashioned pub; they have good service, good food and good beer, all of which is served cheap. But three or four nights a week, the Bald Faced Stag hosts local musicians and has a youth night on Thursdays to give young locals a chance to perform. This is really a local community kind of pub and appropriately so, but it is far more than just a watering hole.
While chiefly promoted as “a watering hole for generations of local workers and residents” the Lewisham Hotel has made a name for itself over the past couple of decades as a live music venue. Currently the home of the Sydney Livehouse, this pub has original bands performing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as hosting regular underage shows on Saturday afternoons. This is a great place for a comfortable, yet rocking, weekend.