A robust forum was held at the Fitzroy Town Hall last Thursday night in order for the community to come together to discuss the direction and action to take on a critical community issue regarding the future of live music in the City of Yarra.
Since the closure of iconic live music venue, The Tote earlier this year, as well as the increasing threat to other music venues in the area due to noise restrictions and rising liquor licensing prices, this forum was a necessary step towards seeking a resolution to this significant local issue.
Representatives from a cross section of the Yarra music community panelled the lively debate, which included Jon Perring (Fair Go 4 Live Music; Bar Open, The Tote), Tim Northeast (Corner Hotel), Liam Matthew (The Old Bar), Zvi Belling (Public Opinion Afro Orchestra), Adrian Basso (General Manager, PBS FM), Kirsty Rivers (Vice-chair, Music Victoria), Cr Jane Garrett (Mayor, City of Yarra) and Bruce Phillips (Director City Development, City of Yarra).
The sustainability of live music in Yarra is a prominent issue which is affecting many local residents residing in a population dense and ever growing municipality, with a range of needs and demands.
Discussions at the forum ranged from the complexities of legal regulations and compliance mechanisms that currently govern issues associated with the operation of live music venues right through to the working through the challenges involved with respecting everyone’s equal right to ‘a good night’s sleep’ and ‘a good night out’.
Mayor Jane Garret, kicked off proceedings acknowledging that this issue was emblematic of a developing society facing many growing municipalities located in inner cities nationally and internationally.
Councillor Garrett drew applause when she spoke of how she wants her own children to be able to benefit from the pub culture that played such a critical role in her own formative years. She was emphatic in her pledge to the live music sector,
“Yarra’s right behind you”. She said.
John Perrington, panellist and representative from Fair Go 4 live music, expressed his view that if the future of live music was to be managed effectively, it needed to be recognised as an issue of policy development,
”There has been very little policy development at a State or Local government level which is addressing the live music industry and associated amenity issues”. He said and also reminded everyone of the right to participate in and have access to music, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act.
There is currently no policy development on the issues surrounding live music at the state or local level, only separate rules to manage the expectations of residents and venues.
Panellist and local architect and musician, Steve Belling, sees Melbourne as a crucible of live music in Australia.
This view was echoed by participating panellists and venue operators in Yarra.
Adrian Basso , Station Manager of local radio station, 3PBS made the point that policies were currently slient in the importance of music and needed to acknowledge the emotional force of music as how we “connect and socialise” he said.
Tim Northeast - operator of The Corner Hotel in Richmond - and Liam Matthews - from The Old Bar in Fitzroy - both voiced the plight of live music venue operators and the ongoing stress and impact on business viability, arising from the complexities and inconsistencies of relevant regulations.
Matthews furthered this discussion point on the impact of noise regulations and restrictions on business viability for live music venues operators, stating that this is not just an issue of “patching up windows ” in venues as a remedy to reduce noise levels.
Managing conflicting expectations arising from the increasing populations residing near live music venues will require reviewing existing regulations.
"The inconsistencies and inadequacies of existing Planning and Liquor Licensing regulations need to be addressed and a more pragmatic approach adopted, especially as regards noise standards” he said.
Director of City Development at the City of Yarra, Bruce Phillips outlined the sets of legislation and areas of State and local government that Yarra Council is obliged to uphold, listing the reports and recommendations that are considered in decision-making related to permit applications.
He several times alluded to the overriding powers of the State Government in relation to planning issues but was less forthcoming when questioned about the nature of complaints and whether or not they relate to systemic issues.
Iconic venues like The Corner Hotel, are well recognised and respected locally, but also nationally and internationally for the live music acts they consistently represent. Through working together on this issue, the whole community will benefit.
“If there is closure of any more venues, the things we value most about living in Yarra we will end up losing” Adrian Basso said.
Members of the panel endorsed Paul Kelly’s assertion at February’s SLAM protest rally, which drew thousands of live music lovers to the streets of Melbourne back in February.
Kelly proclaimed that live music venues serve as "universities for musicians" and they should be treated with equivalent respect and support.
One key proposal resonating with members of the panel was to explore further codification of best practice.
Rather than leaving it to regulators to codify best practice for the live music sector, the sector could codify best practice itself (as commonly occurs in other industries).
Music Victoria could potentially take this role.
Chair, Victoria Marles observed that there was clearly a desire for the convergence of a flourishing live music scene and people living happily and comfortably. Marles acknowledged it was complex terrain and, drawing on her own experiences in effecting change,
“Great commitment and perseverance will be required to breach the gap between recommendations and regulatory change” she said.
In wrapping up the forum, Councillor Garrett committed to proposing, at Council’s next meeting, that Council forms a Live Music Committee to serve as a conduit between all other agencies and parties, and to provide advice and advocacy.
Cr. Garrett concluded the discussion recognising the critical role live music in Yarra has to play in bringing people together.