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Live music – worth fighting for

Cass Savellis takes a look at the documentary, 'Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote', detailing the closure of The Tote and why live music venues are worth fighting for.

As this years SLAM (Save Live Australia Music) day approached, it got me thinking, why would there even be a suggestion to stop live music from blossoming all around the country?

You haven’t heard a band until you’ve seen them perform live. It’s also a successful way for up and coming bands to get more people interested and listening to their music.

Live music gigs do not just provide an outlet for bands to showcase their talent, but according to the Life’s Better with Live report on the SLAM website, live music provides almost 15, 000 jobs around Australia and supplies the economy with $1.2 billion.

Over the last few years there have been a number of treasured Melbourne music venues forced to compromise their workings. Recently, this has included The Arthouse, Miss Libertine, The Public Bar (although news say it may be re-opening), and the East Brunswick Club, who is under new ownership that will not continue it’s live gig routine.

The most iconic has been The Tote Hotel on the corner of Johnson and Wellington Streets in Collingwood.

I checked out the recent documentary, Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote, to see the unnecessary steps the hotel was put through due to the new liquor licensing laws.

These forced previous owner, Bruce Milne, to close the doors in January 2010 before it was taken over and re-opened by Andy Portokallis and John Peering the following June.

The licensing laws included rules that were unjustifiable and unforeseeable for locally owned and run venues. One rule stated that a minimum of two security guards had to be present on the premises at all times.

This sent The Tote’s bill from around $60,000 in 2008 to just over $100,000 in 2009. Milne stated that the cost was after he had convinced VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) to reduce the bill to a more sensible amount.

Milne stated that the licensing laws were unfair as they grouped hotels and nightclubs in the same category, which did not operate in the same way, have the same crowds or did not all share a history of violence.

Director of liquor licensing in Victoria, Sue McClellan, attempted to justify the new laws by stating that all live music caused violence, regardless of venues individuals history. Evidence such as local police confirming The Tote as one of the quietest hotels in the area, was disregarded and there was no lenience or assistance to allow venues to work with these restrictions.

Musicians made it clear that The Tote wasn’t just a pub, but a place that encouraged performers and provided an outlet for those with a passion for music to listen, play and learn.

Robert Mayson, member of former band Grey Daturas reinforced that the Tote was, ‘just a little bit different to your average entertainment venue… people could come together without any prejudice’.

It was recognised that there would never be another venue with the same Tote atmosphere, ‘this is a valid form of entertainment and cultural practice for a lot of people… not everyone wants to listen to Britney Spears’, Mayson said.

Spiderbait band member, Damian Whitty, told of how their music was greatly influenced by The Tote around the time of their EP launch P’tang Yang Kipper Bang Uh! in 1991. ‘We pretty much wrote the material for that EP and the album we did after that upstairs here, that’s a testament to how much a pub, The Tote played in our formative years.’

The SLAM group formed shortly after the closure of The Tote, rallying on February 23, 2010 to prove that action will be taken against venues who are ridiculed for providing the community with live music.

A petition was created by the SLAM crew, along with Fair Go 4 Live Music and Music Victoria, to amend the liquor licensing laws so that it did not state live music gigs cause violence and drunkenness.

It also asked for the government to compose a policy in favour of promoting and maintaining Melbourne as the capital for live music in Australia. These aims were achieved about seven months after the rally.

For the third celebration this year, a number of music venues held events in support of SLAM day to show the importance of live music in Melbourne.

Venues such as The Tote, and organisations such as SLAM, go to show how live music is more than just seeing bands perform, it’s about a lifestyle and culture that influences and inspires many.

For those that value local live music, be sure to support upcoming events, make others aware and realise that favourite venues shouldn’t be taken for granted!

Cass Savellis is a final year Bachelor of Journalism student and part of the upstart editorial team. She writes a blog and can be found on Twitter @csavellis.

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