Where do we go now ? Oh Sweet Child o' Mine.
I'll begin by saying it's not my intention to speculate, but there have been enough past history to justify many people's reason(s) for speculating.
The Espy St Kilda, has been the home away from home for so many people. It is perfectly positioned (6.9km or 14 mins from Melbourne), about the same for me from Bayside. It is 'the' place to see local bands; 'the' place to meet up; that sunny Sunday arvo drinks; where you first got in with a fake ID (or walked in without having your age checked!); where you saw that iconic Aussie band when they were just playing to a handful of drunk punters.
For me, it's been the backdrop to so many of live band shoot; it's where I forged many friendships and valued clients; it's where I fulfilled my dream of photographing the likes ofNuno Bettencourt way back in 2005, to Richie Sambora, and of course, where nearly a decade of my craft refined, photographing one of our favorite Melbourne's own - Electric Mary.
It's also where funny memories are carved, like dropping my entire bag of tobacco, whilst attempting to roll a smoke front centre of stage (and no, you don't pick anything back up once you've dropped it.) or losing your ATM card in the machine, and it's only the start of a five hour/ three bands night.
For others though sadly, as I've heard, read or witnessed myself, are memories of most expensive pub beer; Getting thrown out for no particular reason; Refused entry for being drunk, despite having been on the sober wagon for over a decade; or turning up to ticketed events, queued for hours only to have the artist not show up; Perhaps turning up expecting the usual Friday night local rock, to discover it's R&B night (?).
There's so many point of discussion surrounding this closure, and speculations of if/when/how/what will reopen in the future. The one point I particularly want to raise isn't even about The Espy. It about getting some sort of dialogue on, is this.... What's been done in the music scene, that can be done differently, that may have saved this and many other venue from closing (permanently or otherwise).
It is my opinion, and I am by no means an entrepreneur or successful in business, or have ANY experience in the pub/music/booking scene, but it seems so many people I have spoken to agreed, yet we continue to see this same method of operation, with the same outcome, time and time again.
First, there's no structure, certainly not a fair one, that ensures ALL parties involved gets what they deserve. I mean, from the venue itself, who sets the scene, to the booker who finds the artists, to the promoters or marketers, the artists who slave so so hard to get their family and friends to fill a room. Who/When/Why do some charge at the door yet most don't ? and then charge a mortgage for a stubbie ? Who/why give or not give a cut at the bar ? Just $1 from a $20 ticket sale goes to the band ? Is the house sound guy getting the same benefits as the lighting guy ? perhaps a pro photographer who promotes not just the band, but the venue as well, time & time again without ever getting any kudos !
I stress again that this is not about Espy, but any 'rock' venues that are soon becoming rarities, who all want punters to fill rooms, but refuses to pay bands; Bookers getting formula so wrong that punters are confused what night is rock & which is R&B or HipHop; or they lump the responsibility on bands to get the line up, and then blames them for a poor turn out; Venues refuses to invest in marketing & promotion and then blames bands (who are almost always cash strapped) for poor turn out; Pissed off bar & security staff who continue to work for peanuts, and creates a poor experience for punters. The cycle continues, people easily find something somewhere else better to spend their money. Less bands gets booked, and/or gets paid less, and it goes on and on and on.
We can keep looking at this soon to be a distant past of historical venues like Espy, Palace etc, and many others, here & interstate, and their significance to the local (and sometimes international) music scene, or look forward to a true solution. Do I have one ? Seems like everyone's opinion is similar, just not one does anything about it. I have spoken to many who all agree that this is NOT a government issue (local or otherwise), that the only 'real' way people will continue to feed the industry, is by working the cause and effect backwards. and to do that, it can only work with the input of representatives from each section of the industry. A THINK-TANK of some sort, that consist of Venue owners, bar managers, bar staff, security staff, labels, booker, promoter, marketer, bands, band managers, roadies, lighting tech, sound engineer, and yeah, maybe even a photographer.
The discussion HAS to surround how this can be made fair to EVERYONE, and how to educate the masses on their expectations. How do we transfer the same expectations that you have to pay $20+ to get into a night club to hear a DJ, but not pay even $10 to see 3 great bands on the same night ?
Let's start talking coz there's not many 'Espys' left here in Melbourne before we start having conversations like.... "Remember when..." just like we do about the Sydney rock scene.