The Annandale vs Brendan Maclean: Will live music survive?

When Sydney musician Brendan Maclean responded to news that The Sandringham Hotel has been placed in receivership with an opinion piece detailing the venue’s failings, he triggered an impassioned reaction from much of the music community. One of the strongest responses came from The Annandale Hotel who wrote an open letter highlighting just how hard it is for places like the Sando to remain viable in the face of ” endless licensing and council issues” and concluding with a call for action from Brendan and his fellow “armchair commentators to come down and enlighten with me your experience and expertise in how to run a live music hotel. ”

Not wanting this important discussion to devolve into a bogan vs hipsters slanging match, Brendan and Annandale owner Matt Rule agreed to step out from behind their keyboards and sit down with FL to discuss a problem which is effecting both venues and musicians alike.

Here is what happened.

Brendan’s opinion piece for FasterLouder this week really touched a raw nerve. There’s a lot of passion around venues and live music, and when a venue closes down it’s not often that you hear the other side of the story. Let’s start with Matt, do you think it’s important when a venue closes to dissect what went wrong?

Matt: The reason I wrote what I wrote is that I know how hard it is. We’ve copped it, when we took the “for sale” sign down and we said we’re gonna have a crack at doing ‘buy a brick’. So many people went “oh, it’s old, gets shit bands”, so many people wanted to lay the boot in to us. We couldn’t understand why? People were sort of taking pleasure in seeing our demise.

One of the big problems we had, and we didn’t comment on it, no one actually knows outside what has actually happened in this hotel apart from us. People get on their computers and say we had a shit metal band on, they deserve it, well the reason we have that metal band on, out of the last 12 months, out of the 3 or 4 major booking agents, we have only had a dozen shows. We have had to put on 200 shows or more ourselves. It’s time consuming and hard to find. Splendour in the Grass didn’t give us one side show this year. There are a lot of reasons these venues are closing, and that’s only on the music level. Our music has been good for 10-12 years now. Huge costs brought upon this hotel by outside forces.

It all started off as two blokes wanting to own a pub and put on good live music.We spent a year in mediation court in the first year when they wanted the pub back. We ended up $500,000 worse off than where we wanted to be. The legal bill cost about $250,000. As a small joint who doesn’t support poker machines and with increasing outside costs we literally don’t have a cent to our name.

“We literally don’t have a cent to our name.”

I’ve never met the bloke from the Sando, but I can imagine what he’s going through and I think it’s disgusting to see people complaining about green room or metal bands downstairs.

We’re a long way of being out of trouble, I’m doing all the work around here because we need to save money. If we do fall over, which we are working our best not to do, if people start writing things “oh well, it was shit, I was there on a Wednesday night and there were 4 people, and a crap band playing, why don’t they make it free? why don’t they do more advertising?” My biggest point is that I get sick of people grandstanding and sticking the boot in to some poor bloke. Mate for the bank to walk in to your business, shut you down and kick you out when you have a wife and kids.

Let’s hear from Brendan now, what are you thoughts after hearing all that?

Brendan: I know I’m not a regular face but I have lost count of how many times I have been here to see bands. I had a lot of problems with the Sando.

Matt: You can’t stop Joe Blow from getting on his computer and writing something in a public forum, but for yourself as a musician and an actor, you have that responsibility to go and find out what’s going on before you get out there.

Brendan: For me, it was my experience at the Sando that was shit. Since writing the article, I have received about a 50/50 response. I’ve had people saying they want to throw a brick through my window, but also a lot of musicians writing to me saying they had the same experience there, and I don’t think people have that experience at the Annandale.

Matt: I guarantee you that people will come here and will basically say that Matt Rule is a grumpy bastard.

Brendan: But you put out a positive energy about musicians, that’s the difference. Whereas Tony, yes it’s hard to run a business, but he didn’t do that. He repeatedly put out PR releases that hung shit on musicians and fans. It’s probably also my mistake for booking myself there when I already knew there would be things downstairs. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been booking an acoustic nights on a Wednesday in the middle level. It is a pity there was no money to refurbish it because it looks like a relic.

Matt: Well to tell you the truth, so does this joint.

Brendan: But I don’t think it does, if you look back here [points around], everything that’s been done with it.

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