There’s a gigantic faded banner hanging across the facade of Fitzroy’s Cape Live that says: 'Bands Every Night'. There hasn’t been a live band at the venue for over two years. Back in 2010 the liquor licensing board figured that live music lead to violence, and that its venues were ‘high risk’. (Sounds like something straight out of Footloose, huh?) This meant live music bars and pubs were required to have two bouncers on the door even if there are only 10 punters watching a band, and an active CCTV system which no dingy music venue could afford.
Back in the Cape’s salad days a jazz band consisting of saxophonist Andy Sugg, his daughter, singer Kate Kelsey, and their mates played weekly gigs. They didn’t draw huge numbers, but their crowd was dedicated and the Andy Sugg Group was a stalwart act in Melbourne’s jazz scene. When the Cape was forced to cut its live music, the Andy Sugg Group lost their gig. Since then, Andy and his daughter Kate recorded an album in Berlin, played at festivals and kept up their independent gigs.
Lo and behold, Melbourne’s live music scene is recovering slowly but surely ever since we all made some noise at the national SLAM rally – and due to the behind-the-scenes work of the SLAM movement over the last 12 months. The rally, which you can read about here, lead to changes in Government legislation. Live music venues were declared ‘high risk’ status no more, but it’s taken some venues a little longer to get back on their feet than others. “It’s easy for brand-new venues to put on live music now, which is great,” Andy Sugg says. “But most venues that put on live music have been around for years. So they’ve had to go through a complicated process to have their high risk status annulled.”
As soon as the provisions were changed a handful of venues jumped in to get back to the business of music, like the Tote, Andy says. There are some venues that will never take on live music again because it’s too difficult to go change their liquor licence back, or they’ve come to terms with taking their business in a new direction. “And then there are venues that will get to finalising the process in their own time – the Cape is one of those venues.”
“Jazz is one of those music forms that tends to play to small audiences, in small clubs,” Andy says. “Large performance spaces can afford the security provisions because it’s viable for them. But folk, singer/songwriter, acoustic, and jazz is that kind of music play to small audiences, and the venues that put on those shows really suffered.” Kate recalls a time when the Cape was a place she used to hang out at on the weekends. “Before it was deemed a high risk venue, the Cape had an upstairs and downstairs area with live bands playing in both – it was one of the most happening places in Fitzroy. Its music was mostly funk, soul and jazz.”
This Thursday, the Andy Sugg Group play the first of their weekly gigs at Cape Live in over two years. For them, this is a massive step forward to returning to Melbourne what was rightfully ours: good live music. “Melbourne is special. I don’t know what it is – or why. But you can tell at live shows, and at the rally. There’s a spirit, a focus, and a unity.” And the Cape can now wear its 'Bands Every Night' banner with some semblance of truth. Kate adds: the banner “goes to show the venue was set up for live music, and always will be.”