Boy and Bear will be stopping in Gladstone on April 23, a boost for the local live music scene.
Boy and Bear will be stopping in Gladstone on April 23, a boost for the local live music scene.

Gigs get Gladstone on feet, but it’s still long way to top

DON McLean sang about the day the music died. Luckily it seems that day has not yet dawned on Gladstone, with concerted efforts underway to revive the town's live music scene.

A dearth of renowned acts making an appearance in the industrial town plagued Gladstone for a number of years, while works were being undertaken on the revamped GECC.

Promoters lured big-name bands north on the premise of playing a solitary show to a crowd forced to pay astronomical prices for a ticket. But it was a struggle and the tide has since turned back in favour of the punters.

ALH Group Entertainment Manager Marc Azzopardi said the refurbished Entertainment Centre in Gladstone was an enticing carrot to dangle before bands wanting to visit regional centres.

Promoters and booking agents could promise a string of tour dates, as opposed to a risky one-off show that, if unsuccessful, could leave bands and venues out of pocket and signal the death knell for live entertainment in town.

"By having a few venues in a run, it makes it affordable for us and potentially the customer, who can get the ticket at a reasonable price," Mr Azzopardi said.

"These bigger acts want to go out (on tour) for the dollars; make no mistake the acts are out there to make money.

"At the end of the day, the difficulty is they're (bands) out there to make money too."

So how then, as a young guy or girl starting in out in a garage band wanting to take a shot at stardom, do you go about getting a foot in the door of an industry infamous for it's flighty nature and manic obsession with the 'next big thing'?

Bands down south are always saying to me, 'how do we get into central and northern Queensland?'

General manager of Pricewar Music, and partner in El Grande Events Tim Price believes fledgling bands did not have to be constrained by their lack of resources and relative anonymity, when trying to catch their big break.

"It's about seeking out bands from other places, saying 'hey, come up and play in our home town, come up and we'll support you'," he said.

"It comes down to bands taking the initiative."

Mr Price is no novice when it comes to dealing with high-profile, home-grown bands.

He has worked with the likes of British India, Ash Grunwald and Magic Dirt, as well as being the man responsible for introducing Dead Letter Circus to the music-loving folk of Gladstone.

He says musicians in other areas are desperate to make an impact in the central Queensland market.

"Bands down south are always saying to me, 'how do we get into central and northern Queensland?'"

Stewart Hill of Dead Letter Circus, performing live at El Grande Festival.
Stewart Hill of Dead Letter Circus, performing live at El Grande Festival.

While quick to encourage local acts to take proactive steps when seeking out gigs, Mr Price also made it clear that local venues could do more to encourage a profession that has been a cornerstone of Australian culture for decades... the live band.

"Gladstone's definitely got enough venues to do it in, sometimes I think it's about just taking that little bit of risk, there are venues that don't like to change up their Friday night cover bands," he said.

But all is not lost in Gladstone. In fact, far from it. A recent spike in live music events, with the promise of more to come, is a positive sign for both residents after entertainment and those musicians hoping to break into the industry.

"I think it's important that they support any band, not just big bands because the more bands you can get walking away blowing bubbles about Gladstone, the more bands we'll get here," Mr Price said.

Getting an audience for those local acts supporting bigger bands is vitally important to the longevity of the music industry in this country.

It can take bands years to score a slot alongside an established group, and the chance to expose their sound to a bigger audience can often be the leg-up which cannons a band from relative obscurity into the music stratosphere.

But it relies on one thing... listeners.

Mr Azzopardi said, while sometimes the choice of support acts for big bands was out of his control, ALH operated under a policy of trying to provide as many opportunities for local acts when bringing headline bands to their venues, including Harvey Rd Tavern, set to host Boy and Bear later this month.

"At the end of the day it's all about providing opportunities for the locals," Mr Azzopardi said.

"Where possible we always put on local supports because in 10 years time we need there to be work for these acts."

However, what was once an institution in this country has hit harsh times in the past decade.

More stringent laws around licensed venues have assisted to strangle the life out of live music in parts of the country.

The closing of the Hopetoun Hotel in Sydney's Surry Hills in late-2009 was a massive blow to the art, that venue having provided the launching block for countless household Australian musicians who first exposed their sounds to the public within that pub's very walls.

The Office of Liquor and Gaming website states that about 33% of complaints received each year were related to excessive noise from licensed venues.

Night Life at the Tannum Sands Hotel - Just Quietly.
Night Life at the Tannum Sands Hotel - Just Quietly.

Under current legislation, any new applications for a liquor licence come with a maximum allowable noise limit of 75 decibels in most cases, not exactly sufficient when an average soloist's sound usually ranges from 85 to 105 decibels, according to the OLGR's own website.

This does more than upset the neighbours, the noise issue has led to some bands having to diversify their sound, in a bid to retain some of their money-earning potential.

Tannum Sands musician Gary Annett, who plays in local band 'Just Quietly', said one impact of noise restrictions on venues had in part led to his own band diversifying.

His band broke into a two-man acoustic duo, to avoid noise complaints during gigs at licensed venues, and have also branched into performing for private parties to prop up their income.

"Most of the pubs just say they deal with 'so and so', they don't just say 'okay we'll get back you'," he said.

"We'll just take whatever we can get, we've done a couple of parties and we've got a couple of private parties in a couple of month's time coming up too."

The onus now must fall on Gladstone residents, to support live music en masse.

Not only does it keep them coming back, but they spread the word in the industry that live music is thriving in central Queensland.

After all, there are plenty of worse places to hit the road.

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