Rock ‘n’ roll in Newtown
By ALEC SMART
From Aeroplane Jelly to ACDC, Newtown has a mixed bag of links to rock ‘n’ roll history, some iconic, others eclectic. Here we undertake a tour of some significant sites around town.
The Sando, 387 King St Newtown
The Sandringham Hotel, affectionately known as The Sando, was for over a decade, one of the most important live music venues in Sydney for launching and sustaining bands during its heyday from late 1980s to late 1990s.
From 2012 it was upgraded and rebranded as the Newtown Social Club, but its past glories were over. It’s now a mini-golf arcade-meets-cocktail bar. I personally remember The Sando evolving from a tacky bar, where elderly men avoided their wives and hustlers enticed naive pool players to gamble on the unavoidable outcome of a few games, to an essential live music venue.
It was poorly set up - the bar service area dominated the majority of the room, with a low stage for bands taking up the entire left wall, meaning punters were forced to cram in, with little room to dance. Ordering a drink usually meant getting jostled by sweaty dancers and dodging coughing chain-smokers, then losing half of your drink on the return trip to a safe spot to consume what was left. But the atmosphere was electric.
From 1987 to 1991, Celtic folk-punkers Roaring Jack (Australia’s lively answer to The Pogues), had a Thursday night residency at The Sando that saw the venue routinely jam-packed with rowdy punters spilling out onto the pavement. Their song, Yuppietown, was critical of the gentrification of Newtown and surrounds.
The Whitlams also had residencies at The Sando. Singer-songwriter Tim Freedman adapted a poem by local writer Justin Lowe for the band’s 1999 tribute song God Drinks at the Sando. The Whitlam’s biggest hit, Blow Up The Pokies, a memorial to bassist Andy Lewis (who took his own life due to a crippling gambling addiction), also referenced the venue in the opening line: “There was the stage, two red lights and a dodgy P.A…”
Freedman wrote several songs about Newtown, including 12 Hours and Year of the Rat. Satirical TV show Chasers mocked his apparent obsession in their Newtown Song with the words “There’s a thousand songs I’ve written and they are all about bloody Newtown!”
Spanish-style garage, 426 King St Newtown
The 2002 comedy-drama Garage Days is set in Newtown and features multiple locations along King St and Enmore Road, Sydney Uni and Marrickville Bowlo.
Among these is the 1930s-built former garage at 426 King St, which has been neglected for years having miraculously survived developers’ wrecking balls.
The film is about an ambitious but mediocre rock band seeking the attention of a major music promoter to further their career, in a time when many venues replaced live music with poker machines. (‘Pokies’ did indeed eviscerate Australia’s once-vibrant live music scene in the late 1990s).
The Palace Hotel the band loiter in is in fact a studio set, but the exterior utilises the Hollywood Hotel in Surry Hills. The band also performs live at the Homebake Festival in The Domain, which ended in 2012.
The script was written by alt-rocker Dave Warner, who had a hit in 1976 with the controversial but delightfully gritty album Mug’s Game. Greek-Australian director Alex Proyas (The Crow, I Robot) told Dark Horizons in Oct 2002: “I shot a lot of the movie around Newtown which was fantastic – I used to live there for many years - being able to glamourise Newtown, show off the ‘exotic’ side of it, was kind of a challenge...”
294 King St Newtown + Victoria Park Pool
At the former band rehearsal studios in what is now Newtown Gym at 294 King St, in a second floor rear-facing room overlooking Erskineville Road, a band that stamped their indelible mark on Australia’s cultural identity had their first rehearsal in Nov 1973.
Near the corner of Wilson St, above what was until recently Civic Video (now Thai Pothong Restaurant), four lads - guitarist Malcolm Young, drummer Colin Burgess, bassist Larry Van Kriedt, and vocalist Dave Evans - gathered for the inaugural rehearsal of powerhouse rock band ACDC.
In July 2017, original vocalist Dave Evans told Canadian magazine Cornwall Seeker how he was recruited to ACDC version 1.
“I answered an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper for a heavy rock singer and Malcolm was on the other end of the phone line when I called... He asked me to come for a jam with Larry and Colin as they were forming a band. I met up with them and jammed and we then shook hands and said we had a band! We did not have a name yet though. Angus auditioned a week later as his band Kentuckee had also split up and then he was accepted as the fifth member of the yet unnamed band. We decided on AC/DC a few weeks later.”
ACDC’s first public gig was at Chequers Nightclub at 79 Goulburn St in the city on New Year’s Eve Dec 31 1973. On 1 April 1974 they performed at Victoria Park Pool, on the corner of City Rd and Broadway, and this is where Angus Young first wore the iconic school uniform that remains his onstage outfit almost 50 years later.
On 22 July 1974, ACDC, now a glam-rock act wearing brightly coloured stage costumes, released their debut single Can I Sit Next To You Girl? with Dave Evans on vocals, which peaked at number 50 on the ARIA music charts. In Aug 1974 ACDC parted ways with Evans, and formally replaced him on 24 Oct with veteran singer Bon Scott, who was then between bands and working as a shit-shoveller in a fertiliser factory… and the rest is history.
ACDC returned to Victoria Park on 7 Sept 1975 and headlined a 2SM Radio concert, the band playing on the roof of the swimming pool building.
41-49 Alice Street Newtown
Albert Francis ‘Frank’ Lenertz (1891-1943) was a wholesale groceries and liquor merchant and a part-time song writer. In 1923 Lenertz, who then lived at 284 Victoria Rd Marrickville, wrote the song Newtown is an Old Town (That I Love), which was recorded for radio with vocals by a Miss Eileen Patterson.
In 1926 Lenertz became managing director and co-partner of tram driver Adolphus ‘Bert’ Appleroth’s jelly manufacturing company Traders Ltd in Sussex St, City (previously, Appleroth made jelly in his bath!). The following year they relocated the factory to 41-49 Alice St, Newtown (which is now a council housing estate).
In 1930 the company was rebranded Aeroplane Jelly, and Lenertz wrote the theme song for radio: The Aeroplane Jelly Song, which became the longest-running advertising jingle in Australia.
At first sung live several times a week by three-year old Jennifer Paykel, then recorded by music hall entertainer Amy Rochelle (who sang it in a childish voice), in 1938, seven-year-old Joy King was chosen to sing the definitive version after winning a state-wide competition. That adaptation was played continuously on radio and TV over the next 50 years.
At one stage in the 1940s, the advert was broadcast over one 100 times a day, a saturation campaign never done previously. In 1956, 7-year-old actress Barbara Llewellyn was filmed for a TV advert sat on a swing, miming to Joy’s song from 18 years earlier, and although the advert was updated, the song remained the same until the late 1980s.
Imperial Hotel, Erskineville + Camperdown Cemetery
The 1994 comedy-drama, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, about the mixed fortunes of three drag singers in a pink coach full of exotic costumes, featured opening and closing dance scenes in the front bar of the LGBTQI-friendly Imperial Hotel at 35 Erskineville Rd, Erskineville. The Imperial continues to feature drag shows and trade on the international success of the film.
St. Stephens Church and Camperdown Cemetery, Newtown, also feature in a scene at the start for the funeral of ‘Trumpet’, whom, we are told, asphyxiated on peroxide fumes in a bathroom while bleaching his hair.
Incidentally, the iconic coach, described by actor Guy Pearce as “owned by Swedish tourists Lars, Lars and Lars,” was provided by a Newtown character called 'Fast Nick', who owned two coaches and lived in the other parked close to the Imperial Hotel. It's been reported as the touring bus of Newtown-based band The Whitlams, but the group may have used it only once on a trek to Brisbane.
290 Church St + 188 King St + Camperdown Park
In 2013, Sydney reggae-rock fusion band Sticky Fingers filmed the music video for their song Australia Street on King Street. Although the song and accompanying video doesn’t include the actual Australia St, the film clip starts parallel to it on the opposite side of Camperdown Park in Church St.
There the band exit #290 as the singer begins: “It was a real sunny day, we were chilling in the land of the Camperdown Park..” The band members then make their way north along King St then turn into Brown St and up Buckland Lane before entering a door at the rear entrance of 188 King Street for a party/band jam in an upstairs room.
Sticky Fingers, formed 2008 in Newtown when the founding duo recruited a guitarist busking outside Coopers Hotel, were twice rejected to perform at the annual Newtown Festival in Camperdown Park.
Cheekily, they set up their own DIY stage in a friend's backyard nearby on the day of the 2010 festival and the guerrilla performance caught the attention of record promoters and producers who nurtured their recording career. The band headlined Newtown Festival in 2011.
I Have A Dream mural + Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
Some suggest the Sticky Fingers’ Australia Street film clip of the band strolling up King St inspired British pop band Coldplay to record their May 2014 music video A Sky Full Of Stars in Newtown, except Coldplay wander south instead of north, and actually end up in Australia St.
Coldplay invited audience participation via social media just 12 hours ahead of the filming, attracting 250 fans.The guerrilla-style, single-take video features the band members wearing portable amplifiers, instruments in hand.
It starts with singer Chris Martin strolling the footpath before meeting up with the other band members beneath the I Have A Dream mural on the side wall of 305 King St - artist Juilee Pryor’s heritage-listed painting of Martin Luther King’s face above an Aboriginal flag.
Thereafter they all stroll south and congregate with fans for a singalong in the pedestrianised zone beside the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.
Young Henrys Brewery
In Feb 2018, American alt-rock band Foo Fighters teamed up with Newtown brewery Young Henrys in Wilford St for a beer named Foo Town Lager, made with American hops.
The limited-edition brew coincided with the band’s 2018 Australian tour, which also involved small concerts at a number of Australian venues, including Hollywood Hotel in Surry Hills, where the beer was served.
Young Henrys’ previous pairings of limited-edition brews with rock bands include: YouAmI (‘BrewAmI’ in 2013, to celebrate the band's 20th Anniversary Tour); Dune Rats (‘Dunies Lager’ in 2016) and Queenslanders DZ Deathrays (‘Pils N Thrills’ pilsner for the Blurst Of Times Festival in Brisbane in April 2016).
Other Newtown music links
Richard White, a former musician and refrigerator mechanic who used to repair guitars for AC/DC and The Angels and also built a lighting system for one of Midnight Oil's tours, started WiseTech Global from his Newtown basement. WiseTech, which provides logistics software for the world's biggest transport firms, is now used by over 5000 companies worldwide.
Frenzal Rhomb, featuring St Ives High schoolmates Jason Whalley and Lex Feltham, formed in Newtown to participate in a Battle of the Bands competition in 1992 while Whalley was studying Philosophy at Sydney University. The band was named after a pet rat that was itself named after a parallelogram optical prism that redirects light, called a Fresnel rhomb after its 1817 inventor, Augustin-Jean Fresnel.
Ignatius Jones, former singer of 80s OzRock band Jimmy & The Boys, and former Creative Director of Vivid Sydney (2011-2019) is a Newtown resident. Jones, with creative partner David Atkins, directed the 200 Sydney Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and wrote and directed the stage musical The Man from Snowy River.
Murray Cook, founder of hugely successful children’s TV band and media phenomenon, The Wiggles, is a Newtown resident. Cook was The Wiggles’ guitarist/songwriter from 1991-2012, when he stepped back from performing to focus more on creativity and production. In 2015 he joined R&B band Soul Movers.
Guitar Magazine once speculated that Cook was perhaps the most influential guitarist in the world due to his being the first that young children are exposed to during their formative years watching The Wiggles on TV.
Bart Willoughby, drummer/songwriter with Indigenous reggae band No Fixed Address, co-wrote the song Newtown Dreaming in 1993 with another Murray Cook – not the aforementioned Murray from The Wiggles - which was recorded with the band Mixed Relations on their album Love.
The Lemonheads’ 1992 composition My Drug Buddy, from their best-selling album It's A Shame About Ray, references King Street. The song has no chorus with sentences that don’t rhyme: “We have to laugh to look at each other. We have to laugh 'cause we're not alone. As the cars fly up King St, it's enough to startle us…” Songwriter Evan Dando told SongFacts that the ‘drug buddy’ was his friend Nicole and the lyrics inspired by a night they spent together in Sydney, high on amphetamines.
Monica Trápaga, jazz singer and actress, was also a presenter on the Australian children's series Play School from 1990-98 and sang the theme song to kids’ program Bananas In Pyjamas. Trapaga was also a presenter on TVs Better Homes & Gardens from 1997-2003 and thereafter managed Reclaim, which retailed home accoutrements and bespoke furniture at 356 King St. until it closed down at the end of June 2015.
John Kennedy’s Love Gone Wrong 1985 song King St references three Newtown venues, two of which have gone. Maurice's Lebanese restaurant, the downstairs of the 1889-built Trocadero former indoor roller skating rink at 69-77 King St is now a print store with offices above; and Coles' New World supermarket at 69-77 King St, is now the multi-screen independent cinema Dendy’s.
However, The Hub at 7-13 Bedford St, then a pornographic cinema, which Kennedy ironically describes as the “jewel in the crown” of King St, is with us, albeit now in transition to become a large craft beer bar and entertainment venue called Urban House of Brews.
Kennedy also wrote a song called Ghost of Newtown, which references Camperdown Cemetery: “I’m sitting on a headstone in St Stephens cemetery”, which he sang with his band The Honeymooners.
The 1982 drama movie Monkey Grip, although set in Melbourne, was filmed primarily in Sydney, including Harbour View Hotel at Dawes Point in The Rocks. Co-starring the late Chrissy Amphlett, whose band The Divinyls provided the soundtrack, some indoor scenes were filmed at 6 Warren Ball Avenue, Newtown.
The second music video for The Go-Betweens‘ breakout song Streets of Your Town, the colour version (not the black & white video) includes the platform of Macdonaldtown Station among a montage of city scenes.