Radio Laneways and the Melbourne Sound

By | 1 June 2014

It was about this time that I was religiously listening to 3RRR, one of Australia’s biggest independent radio stations, which fed me a delicious diet of originality, vitality and just as importantly, spoken word. I first heard Howlings in the Head on my way to a poetry reading. Lisa Greenaway, David Macken, Kate and Jim Buck were responsible for bring poetic audio to the masses, recording many poets and writers who had never had an airing before. It was here I heard great Melbourne authors, touring interstate acts or international performers make waves with words. 3RRR have always been a champion of words, understanding their power and reach. Greenaway had a voice to die for. She was every bit as enthralling on stage. On air, as the saying goes, she could read a shopping list (of Charles Bukowski) and make it sound haunting and dynamic. Kerry Watson was another mainstay of the 3RRR airwaves. She played a great number of Melbourne poets on her books and writing show and, off-air, Watson and Peter Salmon were responsible for some of most respected (and most anticipated) Melbourne open-mike nights including Slaughterhouse with its Killing Floor. Watson and Greenaway collaborated on various ambitious and incredible poetry nights. One in particular was at The Continental in Prahran where they ‘Skyped’ about 15 years before Skype was invented. They spoke to Ken Nordine and his band over a phone line in Chicago live on stage. It was such a huge success. Watson also video-linked Edwin Torres in the late ‘90s. For this, I will love her forever as she introduced me to the lyrical world of Torres – such a happy place to live.

Stephen Walker’s Ghost in the Machine followed the timeslot Greenaway had left on the 3RRR grid. He played more international acts but carried on the strong poetic thread. Richard Watts later started Burning Time, which was consistently an hour of brilliantly curated spoken word. I had big shoes to fill when I started Aural Text in December 1999 with Stephen Grimwade. We were aware of the wonderful producer/presenters that had been before and we wanted to honour the tradition of playing great spoken word and promote the voices of Melbourne alongside any other important voice. It was a strange thing to be on the airwaves of a radio station that had inspired me in so many ways to become a writer and performer. I had discovered Patti Smith, Billy Collins, Dorris Leadbetter, Henry Rollins, Jordie Albiston all in one afternoon on a radio show. How often can you say that?

Kevin Brophy and Myron Lysenko had started Going Down Swinging in 1980. Amongst the essays, short stories and poetry I had been thrilled with the issue-13 addition of a CD of Jas H Duke reading. I had seen Jas perform only a few months before he died. He had read Remembering Darren Millane (about the 1990 grand final-winning Collingwood player who had accidently killed himself whilst driving drunk). The crowd gave audible gasps, there were people clearly offended, many laughed, one person walked out. He was incredible to watch. He was so clever and unforgettable.

The ‘90s were as varied in content as any other decade before or after. Poets like Tom Ball or Hugh Tolhurst reading ten-minute poems off the top of their heads were breathtaking. Both had poems about playing pool (or maybe I’m just remembering it that way). Dorothy Porter and Christos Tsiolkas on the same bill just killing everyone with their talent. Adrian Rawlins with his deep belly laugh talking about Bob Dylan at any one of his organised readings. Michael Crane had his Paradise Music and Poetry nights and drew in extremely large crowds of poetry enthusiasts. Grant McCracken had his eclectic Sham Cabaret nights, Kate Buck and Cecilia Mellis used to run the Speakeasy gigs in a warehouse in Northcote, Stephen Grimwade and Brendan Ryan had The Mercury Readings in St Kilda and The Dan O’Connell readings started on a Saturday afternoon in Carlton. Cordite Poetry Review was a broadsheet being handed out at gigs. There was no Instagram.

The above is only a tiny snapshot of one moment; it is a mere corner of a multi-rainbowed Polaroid. In Sophie Cunningham’s astute book Melbourne (New South, 2011) Cunningham writes, ‘Melbourne is a city of inside places and conversation. It’s a city that lives in its head.’ This is often true. We are a City of Literature. We have at least one poetry reading every night of the week. (A Sydney poet once said to me, ‘Yeah you have so many, but how many are all that good?’) We are a city of heart as well. We go to things. The Wheeler Centre is a thriving hub. The Melbourne Writers Festival is up there with the best. Express Media is continuing to support new writers all over Australia. The Emerging Writers Festival keeps kicking goals. The Next Wave Festival continues to impress. The Melbourne Poets Union is vital. Australian Poetry is expanding. Are there awesome things I’m forgetting to list? You bet – hundreds of things.

I do miss vehicle or Scripsi or Pelt or Torpedo, writeLOUD or &, I do miss the many exciting readings like Babble, the poetry at Budinskis, the regular nights at The Lounge or The Espy, those nights that went before me in the ‘70s or ‘80s, those that I won’t be able to attend in the future. I know there will be those that will still create incredible work, those that will host it, those that will voice it and those that will publish or read or watch or listen to it. Melbourne isn’t unique to this, not by a long shot. I’ve been to just as many heart-stoppingly strong and wonderful gigs all over Australia. But it’s part of my history, it’s part of where I came from and I want to take a moment to honour Melbourne and all those amazing artists who went before me.

This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: