First published on 1 Nov 2013. Updated on 11 Nov 2013.
Richmond’s National Theatre opened first as a movie house in 1921 in Bridge Road and was subsequently gilded with some impressive Art Deco frills in in the mid-'30s. It ran films consistently for a few decades before being handed over to the Cosmopolitan Picture group for their mostly Greek circuit of foreign movies. Post-war new Australians were gifted a haven to experience cinema from their homeland which they would never otherwise see on the big screen. The movie theatre closed as late as 1985, and was reimagined as a rock venue a few years later.
Downstairs was cleared of chairs, but upstairs remained a seated and unofficial area to chill out at what had been renamed the Old Greek, a major venue wholeheartedly embraced by Melbourne rock fans.
It may have resembled a charming faded period piece but the Old Greek rocked and sweated to the firebrand music of bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, Pop Will Eat Itself, the Cramps, Faith No More, the Pogues and locals like TISM, the Hard Ons and Cosmic Psychos. Seattle came to town in the form of Mudhoney. It was a venue for legendary and wall-quaking gigs. Bands who visited the Old Greek were uncannily captured at the apex of their powers.
The floor was never modified or modernised, and remained sloped from the back bar to the lip of the stage on the angle of your average cinema. There were no steps or horizontal landings, no mezzanine levels, nor proper dancefloor or pit. Just the creak of timber under foot. You tended to be fighting gravitational imbalance at all times, leaning slightly backwards to remain upright wherever you stood, and this before the first beer, not just after the sixth.
The venue somehow lost its license – a friend remembers smuggling in a slab of Melbourne Bitter on one occasion to compensate – and things started to go wrong. The death knell for the theatre was sounded with a fire (not at a gig, thank god) and then a fire sale. The building was allegedly going to be refurbished again as a cinema by movie restoration expert John Love, but the plans stalled, and the Old Greek was disembowelled in 1993, the site re-opening as Sportsgirl. All evidence of some of the city's greatest alternative rock gigs was obliterated. The memories... well, those are another matter.