In Brisbane, Andrea Black finds a rich musical past (and present) that could give any Australian city a run for its money. From the Saints to the Go-Betweens, and the legendary venues and stages that brought them into the world, this is one self-guided stroll that music fans can’t miss.
I’m standing at the birthplace of Australian punk. Well, a two-minute walk away. Traffic is flying by on Upper Roma Street in Brisbane, but all I can hear are the opening chords to The Saints’ ‘(I’m) Stranded’ from 1976, blaring through my headphones. In front of me, a huge mural of the four founding members of the band looms large.
It was just around the corner, on Petrie Terrace, that The Saints had their share house and rehearsal space, called Club 76. It’s long gone now, but as I wander around on this hot summer day, I can imagine them playing 45 years ago: Chris Bailey snarling with a deadpan stance next to Ed Kuepper’s abrasive guitar strumming.
And up on Caxton Street is the former Baroona Hall, one of the community halls that bands such as The Go-Betweens and Xero frequented through the 1970s and 80s. After various incarnations, it’s now a live music venue once again, named Lefty’s Music Hall.
This part of Brisbane is just one of the areas to visit on a self-guided music tour. This is a city that honours its musical heritage, thanks to a number of passionate advocates. If Dr. John Willsteed—the man who commissioned The Saints mural—had his way, there would be a whole series of place markers around the city, called ‘The Streets of Your Town’ trail (named after the Go-Betweens song).
John, a former member of the seminal Brissie band, envisions a digital trail pinpointing former venues, rehearsal spaces and recording studios, each site opening digital documentaries to the musical past. “There’s a whole layer of very rich cultural heritage from our not-too-distant past which is a bit buried to some extent,” John, now an academic at Queensland University of Technology, tells me.
But for now, it’s strictly DIY. I’m just using a map on my phone, though John has given me some excellent tips (it helps that he knows his product inside out). Over in the south-western suburb of Oxley, there are two parks dedicated to musicians—The Saints’ Ed Kuepper Park and nearby, The Go-Betweens’ Robert Vickers Place Playground. John is all for this recent trend of landmarks named after characters from Brisbane’s musical past. “If there’s more of it, it will make a difference, it will make people aware,” he says.
John is humble, so he doesn’t mention Go Between Bridge, which spans the Brisbane River, and was named after a public vote in 2010. When I grab a CityCycle and pedal across it, it’s impossible not to hum ‘Cattle and Cane’ along the way.
Next stop is across town in Redcliffe to check out the newly upgraded Bee Gees Way, a 70-metre walkway dedicated to the Gibb brothers. In interviews, Barry (the only remaining brother) becomes teary-eyed when describing the simpler life growing up on Moreton Bay, of fishing and playing pinball.
The Valley is the hub of Brisbane’s epic present-day live music scene, where venues such as the Tivoli and the Zoo host local and international acts, and events such as BigSound, night in, night out.
Along the path, past the statues, Barry has lovingly curated and captioned photos of the four brothers. Beyond their toothy grins, pelts and gold chains, the siblings were arguably some of the best songwriters of the 20th century. The stroll ends with a video screen showing home movies of the boys in Queensland. ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’ is piped over the loudspeaker.
If you’re in need of a pitstop, grab a beer or two at craft breweries Newstead Brewing Co and Range Brewing en route to one of the best records store in town, Rocking Horse Records, to hunt for vinyl. Of course, Brisbane’s live music scene is still thriving today, with a host of world-class musicians doing the rounds at any given time. Right near the breweries is one of the best live venues in town, The Triffid, housed in an old World War II supply hangar in Newstead.
Holding a XXXX Gold, co-owner John ‘JC’ Collins stands in the beer garden under a giant mural of cassette tapes featuring Queensland musicians. He grew up listening to The Saints and The Go-Betweens and has had an illustrious music career of his own as a member of Powderfinger. Stacked up on the painted cassette deck are Custard, Kev Carmody, Screamfeeder, Violent Soho and Fur. There’s a new addition: The Chats. “We add one album every year on our anniversary, we have bit of fun unveiling it,” he tells me.
JC is another passionate advocate of local music. He co-owns the Fortitude Music Hall in the Brunswick Street Mall, a 3,300-capacity venue which opened in mid-2019. In part, the hall is a tribute to Festival Hall, a prized Brisbane venue that was torn down. “We built it like an old theatre, it feels like it’s been here for decades—because Brisbane knocked everything down including Festival Hall, Cloudland and lots of theatres,” JC says. This is not just in the notorious demolition man Joh Bjelke-Petersen days, but more recently too: To build apartments.
“The idea was to bring back that old-school feeling. It’s got the big round theatre lights, like you’re at Radio City in New York,” he adds.
On opening night, Queenslanders Ball Park Music and DZ Deathrays played, with guest performances by members of Powderfinger, Custard and the Grates. “We’re proud of our music history,” says JC. “In the Fortitude Music Hall, I’ve got photos in beautiful frames of what great Queensland venues looked like and a chair from Festival Hall with a light on it— those little touches that revert back to Queensland’s history.”
The Fortitude Music Hall is in good company. The Valley is the hub of Brisbane’s epic present-day live music scene, where venues such as the Tivoli and the Zoo host local and international acts, and events such as BigSound, night in, night out. Then there’s Ric’s and the Black Bear Lodge—a candlelit live venue tucked away upstairs in the Brunswick Street Mall. Plus, there’s dining galore in the various nearby laneways.
How many other Australian cities can you think of that not only have a rare punk single in their library collection, but also a whole new generation of musicians carrying the torch with such gusto?
During the day, you can head to Bakery Lane, home to some of the oldest intact commercial buildings in Brisbane. Here, The New Black Cafe, Cakes & Shit, Nom Nom Korean and NomNom Ramen and Sake are all good options. By night, head to Ada Lane, next to The Calile Hotel for Southeast Asian cuisine at Same Same or to nearby Gerald’s Bistro for phenomenal Middle Eastern. Or if you’re running late for a gig, grab the classic at Ben’s Burgers just behind The Zoo in Winn Lane.
Back at the Triffid, JC is setting up the rider backstage. This includes a generous spread for up-and-coming bands (“they’re the ones that can’t afford it”), and a comfortable backstage area with a shower. There’s a bottle of Moet (or Veuve) that’s cracked every time a show sells out. The Friday evening crowd is feasting on quesadillas and halloumi burgers in the beer garden.
At the Triffid door, I spot a poster for an upcoming Ed Kuepper show, the ex-Saint who went on to form the Laughing Clowns and has had a successful solo career. JC will have the champagne on ice that night. If you’re in town and if you can find one, you might want to ask Ed to sign the Fatal Records pressing of The Saints’ ‘(I’m) Stranded’ 45, recorded across town in West End, currently selling for more than $1,000 a copy.
If you can’t, there’s a copy that’s available to be viewed and listened to at the State Library of Queensland. How many other Australian cities can you think of that not only have a rare punk single in their library collection, but also a whole new generation of musicians carrying the torch with such gusto?
Queensland is good to go, and you can experience Brisbane and beyond on one of Intrepid Travel’s immersive, small-group itineraries in Queensland. Head to Intrepidtravel.com for more information.
Sydney-based freelance travel writer Andrea Black specialises in travel relating to design, history, architecture and music. When visiting a city she will track down vintage vinyl record stores and bring home a local release from way back, the perfect sonic and historic artefact of a time and place.