Rock Tour Bus pt. 1

Sydney by Rock Tour Bus

Part 1

Hello. When I’m not trying to contribute something worthwhile to society, I pretend to be a singer in a band. This I have done for 20 or so years, even at one stage brushing the national consciousness like an accidental groper on the peak hour train. In my long flirtation with the outer end of showbiz I have met some very interesting people, and of course, some dullards and popinjays of the worst kind. One of the least preening and consequently most worthwhile is a chap called Colin, who runs Colin has driven me a number of times on my travels – or perhaps that’s travails – to the rock monuments of Sydney, and always with a cheerful and intelligent anecdote. When I think about travel in Sydney, my mind always returns to the view from Colin’s charter bus window. After all, it’s the only way I remember the place, a particularly jaundiced, tunnel-visioned view of the city, but I guess it makes a change from Getaway.

So here it is: Sydney through the windows of the rock tour bus. I apologise in advance for penning the least revelatory or even accurate portrayal of this huge and complex city. I will not get to the heart of Sydney’s shifting personality. I will not explore the cultural nuances that separate Sydney and Melbourne – or the fact that there are none. I will not bring you the characters of the street, as in a Don Walker or Tim Freedman lyric, or paint a portrait as vivid and challenging as Whiteley in his Yellow House years.

Nope. Apart from a couple of childhood holidays in the North Ryde Caravan Park, I have seen a very small part of Sydney many many times. The same handful of roads. The same Sydney tour bus windows. The same destinations. I’m like the businessman who tours the world and has only ever seen conference rooms and virtual whiteboards. My seminars, however, were always in stinkypoo rock venues. Same rigid set of rules. Different dress code.

There is a slightly flat feeling that sets in when you finally go to Greenwich Village in New York, and instead of being infused with the spirit of the young Robert Zimmerman or James Marshall Hendrix, you just feel like you’re in Fitzroy or Darlinghurst. So it is with rock venues: despite all the mythologizing, CBGBs isn’t all that different to the Annandale Hotel. But that’s OK. I make that point because you don’t have to travel overseas for some true rock architecture. Next time your tour bus takes you west of Sydney along the Parramatta Road, past this history-soaked venue, you should doff your hat and pay some respect, if only for the long, winding list of musical ghosts haunting its suitably dark interiors. Even though the owner, on the hotel website, says “Our gaol was to support Australia’s emerging talent” I think he’s referring to the artistic goal, not the confined spaces.

There’s another way in which the Annandale is similar to CBGBs – it’s an endangered species. The New York club, famous for launching the careers of Blondie, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, et al, closed its doors in 2006 after a dispute with the Bowery Residents’ Committee. This is the spectre on the shoulder of all inner city rock venues – the emergence of the city-dwelling groover who likes these suburbs because of their ‘character’, then wants to remove said ‘character’ when it interrupts their sleep. Judging by the desperate pleas on the website for punters to behave responsibly upon leaving the premises etc etc, the Annandale’s hold on existence is a tenuous one. Better tell your tour bus driver to hit the Parramatta Road while you still can.

By Damian Cowell