Right about now, funk soul brother Chris Gill is happy with the state of play in postcode 3065. “Fitzroy has always supported the freaks.” the Northside Records shop and label founder notes, “and the freaks have been good for Fitzroy. The Inner North really is the soul of Melbourne, its future will be OK, it will take some hits, but the freaks will help it survive.”
Gill can’t afford to live in Fitzroy – he bought a house in East Brunswick a few decades back when it was dirt cheap – but he had no hesitation in setting up shop here back in 2001. “Fitzroy has always been the home of funk in this town and it is where I have called my playground for 25 years, so setting up Northside here was a lay-down misere.”
Northside Records specialises in funk and soul, and while other stores have bitten the dust, the Sideshow Bob lookalike remains philosophical. “Change is constant, but one thing that remains and is retained in Fitzroy – and friends – is the love of the groove.”
Gill recalls the drug smackdown made things a little hairy in the ’90s. “The Smith Street heroin phase was heavy,” he says, smudging his eyebrows together. “I worked in the monstrous VideoBusters store then and it was Wild-West time.”
He laments the passing of archetypal joints like “the old Italian Deli on Brunswick Street run by Peter and Maria, and the Black Cat café with their Nutty Chilli Burgers. But most of all Charlie’s Espresso Bar on Johnston Street is sorely missed.”
Gill told Time Out a while back how excited he was when the news came through Trippy Taco would set up shop next to Northside, effectively stunting Gertrude Street’s gradual gentrification. And it has – Northside’s in-store performances now have lines snaking out the door, crossing streams with Trippy Tacos queues. For local furry freak brothers, business is a’booming.
Socioeconomically, Gill posits “the housing commission flats are bookending Fitzroy but the houses in between have shot up in value. There are less sharehouses in Fitzroy but the new [retail, commercial and multi-residential] development on Smith Street will bring a new chapter to Fitzroy and Collingwood.”
Northside Records, 236 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.