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GPAC DAYS: a brief memoir By Dave Parsons(1989 - 1999)
As the Geelong Jazz Club holds a "Back to Alcoa Studio One" night as part of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre's 25th Birthday Celebrations, it's time to remember the GPAC days and to assess the significance the GPAC days for the club.
GPAC's entrepreneurial first general manager, Peter Nicholson, had been one of the important figures in the birth of the club. He was Vice President of the first committee, which was formed to, among other reasons, to support the bid that Nicholson was making to hold the 1981 Australian Jazz Convention at GPAC.
With Nicholson's support, there was an abortive attempt to run a club special event in what was then known as Theatre 3 (later to become the Old Music Hall). The construction work was not finished, and the function featuring Ade Monsbrough and Neville Stribling's Jazz Players was held elsewhere. Nicholson was eager to have the club as a tenant, but the dub was by this stage happily ensconced at the Bush Inn.
The club held its first function at GPAC on 4 October 1981. It was a one-off Sunday afternoon fundraiser for the forthcoming Australian Jazz Convention in the GPAC foyer with two bands JBS and the Blue Dolphin Jazz Band. The committee at the time believed that hotels and licensed clubs were the venues best suited to jazz events, so over the next ten years, the club functions were held at Golf View Hotel, The Bush Inn, Argyle Hotel (now Irish Murphy's) for relatively short periods; the attractive, but out of town, Derwent Hotel at Batesford; the somewhat depressing Workers Club in Newtown; and the function room at Tudor Manners Motel in Belmont.
Tudor Manners was an attractive venue. It was fully licenced, meals were available, there was seating for 120 and the band was able to play to midnight. However the positioning of the band was a problem, the acoustics were not as good as one might have wanted, the dancing space was small, and the dancers obscured the audience view of the band.
The committee organised a special mid month function featuring Alex Hutchinson's Jazz Unlimited to be held at GPAC's Old Music Hall (the venue that had been provisionally called "Theatre Three") on 16 June 1990. . At that time GPAC was running late night entertainment in the foyer, and as a bonus, club members who attended the special function were given free admission to the foyer after Music Hall function concluded. Nine days later, the real truth emerged.
A letter to members from Secretary Joan Gardner read: "Dear members A few months ago we approached the management of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre regarding the `Old Music Hall' where you know our `Special Event" with "Jazz Unlimited' was held on June 16th. If you were there that evening you will be aware that the real reason was to try it out as a possible new venue for our monthly functions. Our special event was a huge success and when our president Bev H., announced the real reason behind it all, the response was overwhelmingly in favour of re-locating to the `Old Music Hall', effective immediately and we sincerely hope that you will support this decision."
The first regular club night at the Music Hall was held on 7 July, and featured Society Syncopators. The attendance was 70 members and 36 non-members. Some new members joined and the club made a small profit on the night. The next newsletter was optimistic. "We had a terrific turn-up too. Of course it is too early to say whether this was due to the new venue or because we had the Syncopators' there.
Hopefully it was a bit of both." In reality, the attendance was no more than popular bands had attracted at Tudor Manners. But there were pluses. The room had more atmosphere, the view of the band was better, there was more dancing space, and the acoustics were much better.
If the committee were hoping for larger crowds than had been at most Tudor Manners events they had to wait a little longer. Popular bands that followed, Maple Leaf and Black Adder, attracted similar sized crowds. The popular Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble was booked for October. The band had gone to the previous year's Mildura Jazz Jamboree as relative unknowns, but they had been a great success. The committee had been expecting a large crowd. Even so, the committee would not have anticipated the audience that attended: 108 members, 68 non-members and 1 very late arrival who was allowed in at half price. The profit on the night was $679.
The next newsletter had a photograph of a beaming Joan and Ron holding a large Sorry Full House" sign. An analysis S of the club financial records shows that an audience in excess of a hundred was needed to break even on an evening using a six-piece band The attendance at the following nights at the -Old Music Hall was variable depending on the band, but, over all, confirmed the wisdom of the move to the move.
It was to be an exciting. defining and, at times, frustrating period for the club, but it was to be home to the club for nine important years It allowed the club to consolidate in confidence and financial security. It was not necessarily an easy time for the committee. A contract had to be drawn up with GPAC each year. GPAC was a totally different type of organization than the club had previously dealt with, and was more bureaucratic. The club was probably "small fry" within the organizations that used the complex. During the early GPAC days it was necessary for the committee reinforce to GPAC management its need to fulfill GPAC's side to the contract
In those early days it became necessary to send a letter to GPAC management indicating the club's needs for a function. It was precise: "WE WILL NOT require the piano. We require the LARGE STAGE. Lighting for stage. PLEASE curtains for mirrors... BAR to be opened at 8.OOpm with all prices on display (see list attached as supplied by your Keith Halfpenny) ...We require FLOOR PLAN ONE for our set up (PLAN ATTACHED)...Would you please inform the necessary staff."
Despite this there were still occasions when the committee was forced to write to, and meet with, GPAC management to ensure the club's needs were met, and the terms of the agreement adhered to.
At one stage GPAC General Manager, Ian Roberts, expressed his concern that GPAC could not provide what club wanted. However, issues were patiently and generally successfully worked through. The committee was always conscious of the need to keep entry charges at a reasonable level. Initially the cost of setting up the hall was included in the Hire Agreement. There was a period when the committee decided to do the set up and clean up to avoid the labour charges involved Later. after renovations to the Music Hall. the GPAC contract contained a clause that said that any hirers using the premises would be liable for damage to the floor surface if heavy furniture was dragged over it.
The committee was not prepared to take the risk and decided that GPAC would be responsible for the set up, necessitating raising the entry prices to cover the cost. Even so, the committee often arrived to find it necessary to adjust the set up so that people could actually get to seats. Hanging posters and pictures created a "jazz" atmosphere, and the "Piano Man" made his first appearance on the club stage
There were matters that could not be easily resolved. Smoking became an increasingly significant issue and was frequently debated at Committee level, but resolution was not to come while the club was still at GPAC. The toilets were up a steep flight of stairs. Storage of the club's belongings was a continuing, and growing, issue. Bar facilities, service and pricing had to be worked through. The club had some storage space under stairs that led to upper venues in that part of the GPAC complex. It was awkward to get to, and in hindsight, not a good workplace safety issue. Parking was a problem when GPAC's main theatres were being used for performances.
By 1997 anecdotal evidence suggested some members were driving home rather than make a long walk to the venue. Despite these issues, it was a memorable time and members had the opportunity to hear some fine jazz. During the use of GPAC, the club ran 85 club nights featuring 47 different bands.
The most frequently used bands were Creole Bells who played 8 times; the Maple Leaf Jazz Band and the Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble, each 5 times; Hotter Than Six, Jazz Unlimited, New Melbourne Jazz Band and Society Syncope-tors each 4 times. (if you are surprised that the Des Camm Jazz Band is not on the list. it is because, for much of that period, the band had a regular and very popular, Saturday evening residency at the Bridge Hotel. Richmond.)
There are many highlights of the time at GPAC.
Here are just a few:
October 1st 1992,Madam and her Orkestra successfully tested the hall set up. An audience of more than 150 attended The following newsletter related that. “The place was so crowded, that when another group of people came in. David Bell took one of the tables from the "front desk" by simply cutting through the table cloth with his knife!" Not as drastic as it might seem, white paper was used to cover the trestle tables at this time. On 5th February 1994. Madam and her Orkestra returned. This time 219 people turned up! The Music Hall was cosy with about 120. The committee had anticipated a larger crowd than usual, but nothing quite like this. GPAC was scoured for extra chairs and tables. These were lined up down the centre aisle. There was virtually no spare space. This remains far and away the largest audience at a club night.
The February 1995 night featured Sandro Donati's Yellow Dog Jazz Band with Judy Jacques. It was moved from the Music Hall to the Foyer, as the renovation of the Music Hall was not complete. Just as well, the crowd was 170. Jacques, was a well- known performer from `60s jazz boom, with Yarra Yarra Jazz Band early in the 80's for the club, and TV performances.
It was followed in March. back in the Music Hall, with British born clarinet player. Sammy Rimington, with Hugh de Rosayro s New Orleans Nite Owls. A New Orleans stylist, and long time New Orleans resident had paid his dues in the street parade world, recorded with the old New Orleans masters and was highly regarded. The audience was just under 150. The night was not without its drama. The Committee arrived to find that the smaller, more easily carried pieces of the clubs sound equipment had been stolen from the locked cupboard in which they had been stored. Rhys Parsons, who was operating the sound at this time, sourced equipment at short notice, and the night got underway about the normal time.
Thanks to Rhys' eagle eyes, the stolen goods were later recovered from a pawnbroker. The club was again invited to use the foyer in March 1996, when the club presented Bob Barnard and Friends courtesy of Peter Gaudion who had presented them at his "Jazz Lane" venue in Melbourne. The line up of Bob Barnard (cnt. Idr), Neville Stribling (rds), Chris Taperell (pno), Tony Paye (sbs), Len Barnard (dms) had some of the prestigious names from Australian jazz. Again there was a huge attendance, and a large number of non-members.
In 1995 the club was the instigator in bringing one of Australia's foremost jazz pianists, Clare Hansson to Geelong, and negotiating with other promoters to find enough jobs for the artist. Ten years before this she had performed at the 40th Australian Jazz Convention held a Ballarat, and had invited a young David Gardner, to perform with her. They wowed the audience. David was asked form the group to play with her, and singer Pippa Wilson was invited to join them.
At various times the club was able to have the services of prominent inter-state musicians as guests with Melbourne bands. Sydney trumpet player Eric Holroyd appeared three times with Creole Bells. The late Tom Baker, a Sydney multi-instrumentalist and a towering figure in Australian jazz, played twice with Hotter Than Six. Both these musicians were members of the respective bands when they toured overseas.
In all those years, there was only one really disastrous night: in June 1994 with a band called Feather Duster and her New Orleans Stompers. It was a dismal night. There were only about 50 in attendance, there was no atmosphere, and people left early because of the poor standard of the music. During 1999 the attendance became variable and, over all, down on the previous year. The trend of a severe fall in attendance during the winter months was greater this year and these functions ran at a loss. The average attendance was below previous years. A number of the reasons for the decline were associated with the use of the Alcoa Studio.
The committee investigated alternative venues. It proved a difficult and frustrating exercise to find a venue of suitable size and facilities, and one that offered the prospect of long-term, assured hiring. Nothing could be found in the centre of Geelong. Eventually, after several inspections, it was decided to move the club functions to the Hellenic Community Hall in Bell Park. On 5 June, after nine years at GPAC, Yaties Maties played the club's last night at GPAC.
The bands that played while the Geelong Jazz Club was based at The Old Music Hall / Alcoa Studio One, Geelong Performing Arts Centre:
16 June (Special event to try out the venue): Jazz Unlimited
7 July: Society Syncopators
4 August: Maple Leaf Jazz Band
1 September: Black Adder Jazz Band
6 October: Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble
3 November: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells
1 December: Radio Rhythm Orchestra
2 February: Owen Yateman Jazz Band
2 March: Grange Burn Jazz Band
6 April: Bobby McGhee's Jazz `n' Jive
4 May: Allan Browne Band
6 July: Total Fire Band
3 August: Golden City Jazz Band
7 September: Jumbo Jazz
5 October: Madam and her Orkestra
2 November: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells
7 December: Jazz Unlimited
1 February: Black Adder Jazz Band
7 March: Maple Leaf Jazz Band
4 April: Nick Polites' New Orleans Stompers
2 May: Jazz on Tap
4 July: Total Fire Band
1 August: Society Syncopators
5 September: New Melbourne Jazz Band
3 October: Madam and her Orkestra
7 November Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble
5 December: Grange Bum Jazz Band
6 February: Black Beach Jazz Band
6 March: Memphis Jazz Band
21 March (afternoon): Fred Parkes' New Rhythm Kings (GPAC foyer, special event)
3 April: Jazz Unlimited
1 May: Owen Yateman Jazzmen
5 June: Golden City Jazz Band
7 August: Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble
4 September: Maple Leaf Jazz Band
2 October: La Vida Jazz Band 6 November: Yarra Yarra Reunion Band
4 December: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells
5 February: Madam and her Orkestra
5 March: Owen Yateman Jazz Band 9 April: Yarra Yarra Reunion Jazz Band
7 May: Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble
4 June: Feather Duster and her New Orleans Stompers
6 August: Bob Whetstone All Stars.
3 September: New Orleans Nite Owls
1 October: Ockertune Jazz Band
5 November: Society Syncopators
1 December: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells.
4 February: Sandro Donati's Yellow Dog Jazz Band with Judy Jacques
4 March: Sammy Rimington with Hugh de Rosayro's New Orleans Nite Owls
1 April: Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble
6 May: Golden City Jazz Band
3 June: Clare Hansson, Pippa Wilson, David Gardner and Friends
12 August: Hotter Than Six
2 September: Storyville Jazztet with Trevor Rippingale, Mike Hallam and Beverly Sheehan
7 October: Jazz Unlimited
4 November: New Melbourne Jazz Band
2 December: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells. special guest Eric Holroyd
3 February: Ken Jones Jazz Powerhouse
2 March: Bob Barnard and Friends
30 March: Madam and her Orchestra. 4 May: New Melbourne Jazz Band
1 June: Allan Leake's Melbourne All Stars featuring Beverly Sheehan and Peter Uppman 3 August: Louisiana Shakers
7 September: David Gardner All Stars
5 October: Hotter Than Six with Nina Ferro
2 November: Graeme Pender Quintet
7 December: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells. special guest Eric Holroyd
1 February: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells, special guest, Eric Holroyd
1 March: Hot `b' Hines
5 April: Louisiana Shakers
3 May: Allan Leake's Melbourne All Stars featuring Beverley Sheehan
7 June: Bob Whetstone's Maple Leaf Jazz Band
2 August: Neil Ruddick and the Brass Connection
6 September: Peter Uppman and the Upbeats
4 October: David Gardner and Friends
1 November: Des Camm Jazz Band
6 December: Hotter Than Six, special guest, Tom Baker
7 February: New Melbourne Jazz Band
28 February: Bob Whetstone's Maple Leaf Allstars
4 April: Hotter Than Six
2 May: Society Syncopators
30 May: The Lounge Room Legends
1 August: The Wombat Jazz Band 5 September: Grovelanders Jazz Band
3 October: Igor Oskolkov Quartet
7 November: Allan Leake's Storyville-Melbourne Connection with Beverley Sheehan and Mal Jennings
5 December: Steve Waddell's Creole Bells
6 February: Fireworks Jazz Band with special guest Nina Ferro
6 March: The Six Marketeers (Prahran Market Band)
3 April: BGI 1 May: Barrie Edwards' Jazz Bandits
5 June: Yatie's Maties The last night at GPAC.
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