Save our music scene

TWO music industry veterans are urging Newcastle City Council to engage in conversation about the city’s live entertainment scene before it is too late. 

DIRE STRAITS: Musician Grant Walmsley and owner of the Wickham Park Hotel Marcus Wright hold concerns for the future of live entertainment in Newcastle.

DIRE STRAITS: Musician Grant Walmsley and owner of the Wickham Park Hotel Marcus Wright hold concerns for the future of live entertainment in Newcastle.

Grant Walmsley, formerly of The Screaming Jets, and Marcus Wright, owner of the Wickham Park Hotel, said at the heart of the issue was the incompatibility of apartments with existing live entertainment venues. 

“The threat is people making noise complaints and then venues being forced to close earlier or being restricted or shut down,” Mr Wright said. 

“There needs to be conditions on the apartments, like they did in Victoria. We shouldn’t wait or it will be too late.” 

In 2014, the City of Melbourne amended its planning scheme to include a clause to protect established live music venues that ensured “the primary responsibility for noise attenuation rests with the agent of change”.

Meaning, the onus is on the developer to deal with music noise, not the venue. 

In Brisbane, the issue was resolved in 2006 by the development of a Special Entertainment Precinct. Venues within the precinct are exempt from the amplified music noise requirements of the Queensland Government’s liquor licensing laws. 

Walmsley said while Newcastle underwent massive changes, the economic value of a thriving live entertainment scene had not been given due consideration. 

“It’s an opportunity for the council … to look to other cities with live music precincts,” Walmsley said. 

“We are going to have apartments next to The Cambridge, next to The Wicko, next to The Lass, or on top of, or instead of. That equals absolutely zero live entertainment in Newcastle.

“Now is the time to act, throw it on the table and throw it on the agenda or we are going to lose it.” 

We are going to have apartments next to The Cambridge, next to The Wicko, next to The Lass, or on top of, or instead of. That equals absolutely zero live entertainment in Newcastle.

Grant Walmsley

Walmsley said he attributed his three-decade career to Newcastle’s live entertainment scene. 

He remembers a time when there were as many as 20 live music venues operating on, or near, Hunter Street as many as four nights a week. 

Walmsley went on to have an international career travelling the globe with various musical acts. 

“People love to talk about The Screaming Jets, people love to talk about Silverchair,” he said.

“They love to talk about success stories, but the only reason any of us were successful is because we have had a live music scene.” 

Six three-storey townhouses have been approved for construction on a site directly behind the Wickham Park Hotel’s beer garden. 

The venue hosts live entertainment four nights a week.

“I don’t know what is going to happen there … I’m concerned,” Mr Wright said. “I think the council should engage and put this on top of the agenda.” 

Across the street on Maitland Road more apartments are under construction. 

Mr Wright employs 18 staff in the hotel and said live entertainment was linked to jobs. 

He also books The Cambridge Hotel though his agency Big Apachee.

The Cambridge is one of a handful of live entertainment venues still operating in the CBD. 

In 2017, it was awarded best live entertainment venue by the Australian Hotel Association. However, the hotel is currently on the market and speculation is rife its future will be as an apartment block.

Across the railway tracks is the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel. Owner and licensee Ian Lobb last year confirmed he had received offers from developers. 

The Lass O’Gowrie has long been home to Newcastle’s independent, original music scene. It is situated in close proximity to several apartment blocks either under construction or approved for construction. 

Councillor John Mackenzie said he backed the urgent call for better protection of existing venues. 

“As the available venues for live music decline, we risk losing the very qualities of Newcastle that bring people here and make it a desirable place to live,”  Cr Mackenzie said. 

“Clearly, council has undervalued live music and live performance venues in the CBD redevelopment agenda, despite the significant contribution that these venues have made to Newcastle’s night time economy and our city’s national and international reputation.

“There are real and urgent opportunities for council to explore incentives to retain existing venues, and to encourage new operators and start-ups.”

He will be pushing for the establishment of a live entertainment task force to find solutions.

Newcastle City Council is currently developing its After Dark policy to create a “safe and vibrant” night time economy for the city. 

The policy outlines six strategic areas: strategic alcohol management, night time economic development, public domain designed for night, cultural participation and activation; regulation, planning and licensing, and research and evaluation.

However, information published on the councils website about the strategy makes no mention of existing live music venues. 

In a section titled ‘Some Cool Ideas’ it says “small bars are too big. Newcastle should lead the micro bar movement!”. 

The council has called for public input into the strategy via a link on its website. However the link is not currently working. 

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