Your Safety & Wellbeing

19 April, 2021


Some of Melbourne’s smallest venues take centre stage at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl for Happy Mondays, a COVID-19 recovery initiative.

Melbourne is famed for its live music scene. On any given night it’s possible to hear anything from Senegalese funk to nu-metal, classical to techno to good old fashioned rock ‘n roll. But in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously closed and devastated the industry in one fell swoop.

“Being a session musician who is heavily involved with at least 10 bands and solo artists, I saw meticulously-made plans wash away like a sandcastle built too close to shore,” says bassist and industry stalwart Richard Bradbeer. “Personally I lost all my work for 2020 with the exception of a handful of online or video performances like Delivered Live and Isol-Aid.”

As Melbourne tentatively began to reopen later that year, COVID-19 restrictions favoured live music in larger venues or outdoors – where physical distancing was easier to maintain. Smaller venues simply couldn’t afford to open with so few people in the audience, and an entire industry of musicians were struggling to find opportunities to perform.

“All my offers to perform relied on playing multiple performances in one night and audiences were reduced by up to 90%,” says Richard. “Despite the incredible opportunity and invaluable effort to get the gigs happening again, I didn’t see how it could be financially viable for venues or artists without making the ticket price affordable to only a privileged few.”

Despite having no formal background in putting on events, Richard had an idea.

 

Live at the Bowl. Photo Mark Gambino.

 

'Live at the Bowl'
Photograph by Mark Gambino

 

“I thought that if venues could operate by proxy in a central, outdoor, public location – maybe we can see gigs operating at the right capacity,” he says. “In October I emailed the highest qualified person I knew in the industry – Bonnie Dalton, Creative Victoria’s Senior Manager of Contemporary Music. I put to her a template for a series of gigs, curated by local venues at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Bonnie swiftly facilitated an introduction to Director of Programming Edwina Lunn and Contemporary Music Producer Kat Murphy at Arts Centre Melbourne who really made that dream happen.”

The project, called Happy Mondays, was created in partnership with Richard and Melbourne Music Week alongside eight of Melbourne’s best-loved music venues. The Tote, The Old Bar, The Evelyn, Northcote Social Club, Bar Oussou, The Gasometer, Colour Nightclub and the Curtin Hotel each selected a musician or band to represent them on stage as part of Live at the Bowl – Arts Centre Melbourne’s season of live events at the newly configured, COVIDSafe Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

“As one of Melbourne’s bigger arts organisations I believe it’s our duty to support projects like this one, and to provide a platform to more marginalised voices,” says Kat. “These local venues are the beating heart of the music scene and were very hard-hit by COVID. We were able to give them the support and access to a much larger audience at the Bowl, showcasing what they do best.”

 

The Murlocs onstage at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl

 

The Murlocs perform at 'Live at the Bowl'
Photograph by Mark Gambino

 

“Venues and bands often have strong interconnected and complementary connections. Most bands usually have a ‘home’ – a supportive venue, a familial bond with the staff, and most likely discounts at the bar – I wanted to transport this feeling into a much larger venue,” says Richard. “But most importantly I wanted the venues and artists who had been savaged by the pandemic to pocket some cash, and for thousands of people to be able to enjoy the communion of live music safely again.”

The response to the project was overwhelmingly positive.

“Those music venues have such a fan base and community around them. So watching the performers as well as the venue owners and staff be able to walk around their particular night and catch up with their patrons and old friends was so lovely to see,” says Kat. “Most were incredibly stoked just to be asked, given the year that they’d been through.”

“Being asked to participate in Happy Mondays was a huge event for us,” says the team from The Old Bar, in Fitzroy. “Booking Cash Savage & The Last Drinks to represent us at such a massive show was something that never crossed our little venue’s mind as something that would ever happen. To witness what we consider a world-class band strut their stuff on a big stage in front of more than 1000 people was truly astonishing. The money we made on the night enabled us to upgrade our PA system at Oldie and make every gig sound as good as the bands that grace our stage deserve. Truly a bucket list moment.”

 

Live at the Bowl

 

'Live at the Bowl'
Photograph by Mark Gambino

 

For a project that started as the ruminations of one bassist – and went on to embrace eight venues, eight acts and thousands of punters – Happy Mondays has made an indelible mark on the Melbourne music scene.

“As part of Happy Mondays I’ve had the honour of playing at the Music Bowl twice this year with Mia Wray and Vika & Linda,” says Richard. “It’s been a home away from home, and the professionalism and kindness of all involved has been remarkable. I’m already missing the security guards who I’d run past or bore with small talk 40 times an evening. I want to thank Arts Centre Melbourne for taking a punt on the idea, the inspirational drive of my partner Siobhan McGinnity whose courage and persistence motivated me to “send the bloody email”, and especially to all the punters who put their bums on seats week after week.”

 

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