THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Sarah

Sarah’s favourite picture from behind the BL, taken by Bernadette Hermens

SARAH HOLMES

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I’ve been working at Bennetts since January 2008 (that’s a long time ago!). I started off as a door person, then a bar person, now a sometimes manager (when the real managers are having a night off).

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?

I used to go to a lot of gigs at Bennetts while I was studying at VCA, got to know Megg that way and somehow landed a door shift. I’m still there seven and a half years later.

3. What was it like to work there?

There aren’t really enough words, but here are a few. Amazing. Inspiring. Raucous sometimes, quietly respectful others. Sleep deprived. Educational. Relaxing. Stressful.

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?

My favourite nights are in the small room, when there are enough people to create a vibe, but not too many that I’m run off my feet behind the bar —then I can properly listen to the music.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?

In terms of big gigs, I can’t go past the Brad Mehldau Trio, but usually my favourite gigs happen on a weeknight — local performers playing new, original music. There are too many to name!

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

It’s been amazing getting to know the musicians and being part of such a special scene — the Melbourne jazz community is pretty tight. And it’s always pretty hard to believe I that get to listen to such amazing music while I’m at work!

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

It’s always so awkward asking people to keep their voices down during the quieter performances — awkward for them and also for us! Nobody wants to be that person who has to ask another adult to be quiet, but sometimes, if it’s distracting the rest of the audience from the music, it has to be done.

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?

Most of the above! Can I add Guests of the Band to the list? Most of the musicians are lovely; most of the audience members are there for the music, but there’s always a few exceptions…

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?

Weekday and weekend audiences are completely different entities, and are often determined by the band or music on the night. Rowdier music equals a more raucous audience; quieter music usually equals a listening audience. I tend to find that most weeknight crowds are there for the music, while some weekend crowds are there for the ‘jazz club’ experience.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?

I think my longest continuous work shift was last year on the final day of the Jazz Festival — there was a book launch at 1pm in the afternoon, two sold out shows in the big room that night and the jazz jam finishing up at 3am in the small room. And then of course, the hang afterwards. It was a looooooong day. Luckily we have a buddy who is an amazing myotherapist, so he came by and gave us all a massage between shows. It helped.

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?

The most inspirational times were during the gigs, and the magic that happens on the Bennetts Lane stage, but equally enjoyable were the times after the gigs where we get to hang and have a drink with the staff and the musicians.

12. What instrument(s) do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played? – I play the electric bass (and a tiny bit of double). I completed my Bachelor of Music Performance at VCA in 2009. I play with a bunch of bands — rock bands, folk bands, and jazz bands … at the moment The Royal Parks are keeping me busy, and hopefully my own jazz band, The Outfit, will find another favourite venue to play, now that Bennetts will be closed.

13. When you performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?

I always thought I’d be so nervous playing on the Bennetts Lane stage, but surprisingly it felt quite comfortable. I guess since Bennetts is like a second home to the staff, it’s not as scary as it might be to someone not so familiar with the space. The small room was The Outfit’s favourite stage to perform on in Melbourne, and we’ll miss it.

Sarah and Arlene

Crafty musicians? Sarah and Arlene Fletcher in a nice promo shot

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?

I spend my days working in a cookbook store. I love to cook (and will probably have more time for that now that my nights will be free!). I play bass in various bands around town. I like to knit and sew and be generally crafty.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?

There are a few plans in the mix, but mostly I am very much looking forward to a few quiet nights at home.

16. What will you miss most about working there?

I’ll miss the staff the most — they’re such an amazing bunch of people, and some of my best friends. It’s been such a treat to get to work with my buddies.

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?

Perhaps there’ll be another club with a similar name, but it won’t be the same. It’ll be its own thing, which I’m so sure will be a great and unique thing, but it won’t be Bennetts as we know it.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?

The musicians. The audience. The staff.

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is over and after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Hannah Beaumont

Hannah in a behind-the-bar moment of reverie. (Credit to whoever took this pic)

HANNAH BEAUMONT

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I started working at Bennetts Lane from August the 26, 2011. I remember this perfectly because once it struck midnight it was my birthday. For the first few months I was very much a door girl, which was so hard for me to get my head around as I could not believe I was being paid to sit there and enjoy the music whilst the other staff members were running around on the bar. As for the last few years I am pretty much always on the bar.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
One Sunday night I walked into Bennetts and personally handed Jeremy my resume then I sent a few harassing emails and was called and asked to come in for a trial, no job interview took place.

3. What was it like to work there?
Since day one it has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, I can’t even explain my love for that place.

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
You can absorb the music in whichever way you choose to. Sometimes I would try and analyse every note and other times I would have so much on my mind that I would just want to enjoy the performances as background music whilst serving the patrons at the bar.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
For me it would have to have been one of the Monday night gigs which featured Paul Williamson, Marc Hannaford, Sam Pankhurst and Al (Browne). I was pretty obsessed with all of them at the time and was at nearly every one of their gigs. They played Four In One and I just thought “Hmmm that’s the best thing I have ever, ever heard” and I am pretty sure it was only a few weeks before Marc left for the states so it was a pretty significant gig as a listener.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
I have no idea, there are way too many to count. I felt strange even answering the previous question because there are too many great experiences at Bennetts. However, there are two bands in particular that come to mind and they would be the Ray Charles tribute band and the Furbelows, because they are always crazy party nights in which the atmosphere goes off.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Without sounding negative and maybe it is just because I spend plenty of time working in the hospitality environment, I would have to say that at least every shift a customer drives me crazy and it is usually whoever stands at the entrance of the bar. These are just little things though. One shift someone verbally abused me and Sally and threatened to get me fired for not making his martini dirty enough and for charging him eighteen dollars. Also, I dealt with a weirdo a few weeks ago who kept wanting to take photos of the rusty door tin and painting gaps on the wall, and who squeezed my hand a little too hard, but that’s it really. The musicians are beautiful people who are now family to me and everyone is incredibly generous with their time, talent and advice. There was a funny incident that happened in last year’s jazz festival, a regular musician was pretty drunk and ordered a Little Creatures pint and expected it for free from one of the bar girls he had never met; then she said ‘That is ten dollars please’ and he pretty much paid her entirely with silver coins. I still laugh about it now.

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
All the musicians heckle and I think that makes a great atmosphere, as long as the hecklers know the musicians on a personal level. It annoys me when people chat loudly during a performance, especially in the small room where it is very noticeable.

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Yes, I find that during the week the audience is mainly students or deep listeners and on weekends it’s a totally different vibe. In the first few years of working at Bennetts I found that the weekend crowds consist more of walk ins and couples wanting to sit back and listen to some jazz over a bottle of wine. They didn’t necessarily mind who they were listening to, but it was more about an experience, but now, since we are closing down, it seems people have purposely come to catch a gig before the end.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
My longest shift would have to be a shift during the jazz festival, but I cannot think of a specific example as they are all long. Recently I worked from 8 pm until 5:30 am for the Furbelows gig and then the Parliament Funkadelic side show and that was extremely long!

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
My best times can be during the set and after the set because if the gig is sensational and everyone is enjoying it, we either make excited looks at each other or whisper comments appreciating the music during the show or we do the same thing after the show over knock-off drinks or a pack up chat.

12. What instrument do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played?
I completed an Advanced Diploma of Music Performance at Boxhill TAFE and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) at VCA majoring in jazz piano. For the minute I have stopped playing for a few reasons, but who knows what the future will bring. I never really gigged with a band, I think that was part of the problem, I was too focused on practising and improving that I let my own criticism get to me and in the end did not want to do it any more.

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
I have only ever performed at Bennetts for VCA events and it felt very comfortable being on stage for a change.

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I work in a restaurant/bar and teach piano and I am trying to get more into the music business side of things. I would like to own my own venue one day, but for now I’m trying to gain experience in the industry overseas as an artist manager, tour manager or booking agent or all of the above.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
Lots of travel! I am moving to New York for a year from July 1 and to be honest 80 per cent of the reason is because of the closure of Bennetts. After the year is up I have been allowed a month of travel time to see other parts of America and then I will return home via Canada.

16. What will you miss most about working there?
I can’t even explain what I will miss about Bennetts other than everything and thinking about it no longer being around makes me tear up. This club has been the most influential and incredible thing that has ever happened to me and our jazz community and that is not to insult any other venues, because I absolutely love hanging at Uptown for example, but I think everyone can agree with me when I say that Bennetts is an atmosphere and will be deeply missed, it really is the end of an era. It does not matter how long you have been hanging there for you can learn so much about our culture and the music by simply just watching Al Browne on a Monday night. For me, Melbourne just won’t be the same. Others may disagree and that is fine by me, I will just miss having a home to go to for a drink, chat and listen after a long day.

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
Some great things will happen after the closure of Bennetts Lane and the people who will make this work know exactly what they are doing. I have faith that exciting things will happen, but obviously being overseas will stop me from being a huge part of anything.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
The passion and love for the music from the musicians, staff and audiences. A special mention to Michael, Meg, Jeremy, Sarah and Sally who have truly dedicated their whole lives to this place.

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is over and after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Jeremy

Jeremy in a moment of quiet reflection on stage at Bennetts Lane.

JEREMY JANKIE

1.  Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I’ve been at the club in various capacities since 1997. I started off building the website, then sitting at the door, then I got roped into bar work. From there I’ve moved on to managing the bar, doing sound, managing the club, and now I’m just that all-rounder guy that every venue needs.
2.      How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
I was sitting at the bar and overheard Michael and Meg talking about needing a website, I stupidly said “I can do that”.
3.      What was it like to work there?
Fun for most of it, stressful now and then, definitely an education on jazz.
4.      Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
A bit of both, you don’t really get to ‘listen’ much, but every now and then there’s that lull in activity when you get to hear something because the entire room just stops to listen as something magical is happening on stage.
5.      Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
The live recording for Chris Hale Ensemble (Chris, Steve Mags, Will Martina, and the late Will Poskitt), one of the few gigs where the entire thing was ‘magical’ as I mentioned above. It was an incredible gig which I still rate as one of the best I’ve ever seen, plus I got my moment on the recording when I accidentally dropped a plate. Sorry Chris :)
6.      What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Harry Connick Jr. turned up with his band one night, a mate of mine was sitting in the audience and I wasn’t really working so I sat with him. Harry came and sat down on the other side of him, pulled a couple of Whoppers (the burgers) out of a bag and nonchalantly offered one to him. It was one of those completely surreal moments that showed musicians, no matter how high profile, were just normal people. We also had a couple paying their tab at the end of the night recently who told us that it was their wedding anniversary and that they had met on a blind date at Bennetts Lane. They’d been married for a few years and recently had a baby boy who they’d named Bennett. That was pretty cool.
7.      What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
I’ve had punches thrown at me a couple of times by people that really were in the wrong place and in the wrong state of mind (both punters and musos), but honestly they’re usually pretty good.
8.      Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
Musicians – they’re brothers too :) I’m not going to name names, but it should be pretty obvious. They can be pains in the asses but great musicians, and we get along fine most of the time. I’ve had to drag a few punters out, including the one person who locked themselves in the toilet to try and see Prince. Media people are usually fine except for annoying photographers who take sneaky photos of you in bad poses and post them on the internet…
9.      Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Weekend audiences tend to like their jazz a little easier to digest, so they’re not really into the ‘hardcore’ jazz stuff, but honestly jazz is so broad a genre now that it’s hard to pigeonhole punters. People are a lot more informed now due to the internet, so they mostly know what they’re paying to see. As for festivals, I’m always entertained/perplexed at the number of people willing to pay premium prices to see a band that plays here regularly simply because they’re playing as part of a festival, but don’t turn up the rest of the year. They’re definitely worth the premium price, but you could be paying half as much and seeing the same band.
10.  How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
I’m going to take a stab and say one of the jazz fest gigs, probably 10am-4am
11.  Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
Both — the Prince gigs were incredible, but after some of the early Cat Empire gigs Harry and Ollie used to do impromptu Macy Gray impressions which were hilariously fun. It’s all about ‘The Hang’
12.  Do you play an instrument?
I play terrible alto sax. I learned in high school, and I haven’t touched it since. I also had a couple of drum lessons with Danny Fischer who after the second one told me I was possibly the most uncoordinated person he’d ever met. Lucky he’s a mate :)
13.  If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
That’s n/a unless you count introducing the band — and that’s pretty terrifying. Or mixing sound for a band, and then they decide to have a special guest vocalist at the last minute named Sting — that’s a no-win situation where if he sounds good it’s because he’s Sting, if he sounds bad, I screwed up. I’d rather be behind the bar thanks.
14.  What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I did some work for an online game, a bit of website design, and I’ve just started booking bands part time at Cellar Bar in St Kilda.
15.  What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
I’m off to be a band booker at Cellar Bar (cellarbar.com.au), maybe a bit of travel, possibly see the sun again.
16.  What will you miss most about working there?
The people — we’ve had some great staff over the years, as well as some incredible musicians. I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with most of them though.
17.  Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
No. There will be replacements, and similar things to it, but you can never recreate it, and I don’t think anyone will try to. It was a rare combination of time/place/people that clicked and worked. That’s not to say there won’t be some great venues though, they just won’t be BL.
18.  What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
Me :p
More seriously, as I said it was the combination of a good location, and dedicated people who sacrificed their own time because they either loved what they were working for or felt the need to make it a better place for musicians to be musicians. Limits weren’t placed on what music could be performed (other than fitting that massively broad category of ‘jazz’), and it was curated in a way that while some gigs might not have a lot of people attending, other gigs could help subsidise that. It also helped get the word out there that if you wanted to go hear jazz, you could turn up any night of the week and find it at BL.

ARTS FUNDING PROTESTS TODAY

Early Hoofer dancer

An early Hoofer dancer

Do you know the Hoofer Dance? If not, you have a small window of opportunity to learn it and then turn up at protests across Australia about what’s happening to arts funding under the Abbott Government.

Details of the protests in each of the major cities are below, and here is a link to a post by The Music about budget cuts.

http://themusic.com.au/news/all/2015/05/21/call-for-aussie-artists-to-shake-their-thang-in-protest-against-budget-cuts/

For another view, here’s an article by Peter Craven published in The Age that argues George Brandis may be doing a good thing by handing control over arts funding to public servants.

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/arts-minister-george-brandis-could-put-an-end-to-arts-mediocrity-20150520-gh4o7l.html

And here’s another view altogether by former Arts Council chair Rodney Hall:

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-regrettable-rise-of-the-arts-bureaucrat-20150519-gh4o01.html

Then, if you remain convinced there is a need to protest and agree that what’s happening is a bad thing, take to the streets.

I hope musician Adam Simmons doesn’t mind, but here’s some thoughts he posted on Facebook:

“It has just been announced that the Australia Council is cancelling its June funding round, cancelling certain programs and reassessing their programming overall due to the recent grab of money by George Brandis in the recent National Budget. Due to measures put in place last year, the major arts organisations have their funding protected and have not had to shoulder any of the “heavy lifting” being called upon by the Federal Government. The cuts are directly to the core funding of small to intermediate artists and organisations, which are actually feeders of talent, audiences and ideas into the major organisations. This is the same short-sighted mentality and unfairness that has been imposed in many other areas by this Government. I have come to firmly understand the value of arts in a very broad sense in the community and feel they are what help bring us together in better harmony — the Government either is to naive to understand this or are calculatingly cruel in dismantling the apparatus by which we may become a better, kinder society.

“Hug an artist, go to a show, listen to some music, stroll through a gallery – tell/write to your local councillor, state & federal representatives and let them know you value arts at all levels – grassroots, community, local through to the mainstream. It is all good and none should be cannibalised for the other.”

Protest details:

Sydney: When: 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: Hyde Park, near Archibald Fountain

Melbourne: When: 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: ACCA Forecourt, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank

Canberra: When: 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: Garema Place

Brisbane: When: Arrive by 1.10pm, Dance at 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: King George Square

Hobart: When: 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: Elizabeth St Mall

Adelaide: When: 1.00pm, Friday 22 May, Where: Parliament House

Darwin: When: 1.00pm, Friday 22 May, Where: More details to come

Perth: When: 11.30am, Friday 22 May, Where: Perth Cultural Centre, outside PICA

Lismore: When: 1.30pm, Friday 22 May, Where: Lismore Art Space, 1 Norris St

DOWN MEMORY LANE 3

Scott Tinkler

Scott Tinklier 18 May 2015

NEXT month (after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and after what is sure to be one hell of a party) Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz will be posting some images from the past. In this case, it’s the recent past — 18 May 2015.

You may have been in the band or in the audience, but we hope some of these pictures rekindle memories of great gigs.

ROGER MITCHELL

Al Browne

Concentrating: Al Browne, 18 May 2015

Marty Holoubek

Marty Holoubek 18 May 2015

In the moment: Julien Wilson

In the moment: Julien Wilson, 18 May 2015

DOWN MEMORY LANE 2

13 April 2010

Familiar faces: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

NEXT month (after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and after what is sure to be one hell of a party) Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz will be posting some images from the past.

You may have been in the band or in the audience, but we hope some of these pictures rekindle memories of great gigs.

ROGER MITCHELL

Familiar faces: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

Stringing us along: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

Familiar faces: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

I thought I was wearing a black shirt: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

Familiar faces: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

Gianni who? Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

Familiar faces: Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

In sync : Bennetts Lane 13 April 2010

DOWN MEMORY LANE 1

Bennetts Lane April 10, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

NEXT month (after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and after what is sure to be one hell of a party) Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz will be posting some images from the past.

You may have been in the band or in the audience, but we hope some of these pictures rekindle memories of great gigs.

ROGER MITCHELL

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010

Bennetts Lane April 4, 2010