23 August, 2012

To say its been an eventful week for the Sandringham Hotel is a bit of an understatement. I caught up with owner/manager Tony Townsend, here’s his side of the story:

Talk me through the events of Monday

We had a pretty good weekend and as I always do I went and did the banking and then sat at the computer to EFT our suppliers when I realized our bank account was frozen. I was then called downstairs where 3 guys from Ferrier Hodgson were waiting, one of them Morgan Kelly informed me that they had been appointed by the bank as receivers. I sought legal advice but by the time my solicitor returned from holidays on Wednesday my position had significantly diminished. Since then we have received a buy out figure to get out of this situation as a joint venture. I can smell the corporate nature of these guys and fear they will restrict us on the less popular mid-week nights and the downstairs free band nights.

What were the factors which lead to this situation?

The previous owner was only here 3 ½ years and botched the whole Sando. I had a noose around my neck with the lease next door. It’s also a tough market to do food, there are 190 restaurants in Newtown, some charging $12 for a plate of spaghetti bolognese. You just can’t compete.

In 2007 we found ourselves in the situation of having to pay $200,000 to defend our right to play live music as per our license. We had to defend ourselves through local council and then alcohol boards. This involved taking noise readings inside the venue, next door and up the street 24/7 over a one month period – which we had to pay for and ended up being 100% compliant. For the price of a 50c stamp, which these neighbours paid to send a complaint letter we had to shell out nearly a quarter of a million dollars to defend our license, we weren’t reimbursed for any of our costs.

Then we got into trouble with Bankwest about 12 months ago. Our monthly mortgage payments jumped from $16,000 to $50,000 with no notice. We’re not rich people, we paid $4m for the hotel; I had $800,000 in savings and had to borrow the rest.

What do you have to say to those who have come out and critised the venue this week?

Its amazing people with an opinion who decide to write these ill informed, nasty vindictive articles. I’m reading one now on Mess+Noise by Andy Calvert, I cant believe a musician would write it, shit canning the venue and misquoting us. These are the worst sorts of digs, they have no understanding of the actual dollars and effort that has gone into the joint, it just dumfounds me.

Its frustrating given the situation we find ourselves in when bands write these articles putting the boot in. we give them the opportunity to play, I’m in a no win situation – I’m an asshole if I cancel the downstairs gigs, I’m an asshole if I cancel upstairs. You will always experience some problems making upstairs and downstairs work together.

As for the “Cold Chisel cover band” [Brendan McLean refers to in his now infamous Faster Louder article] I know exactly who he is talking about. They don’t even play Chisel, when they play covers they do it in a fucked up way so its not even recognizable.. Why would a musician celebrate a venue closing?

As for his production charge argument I thought I was doing the right thing. I canned the $2 door charge and only charged the bands $300 if less than 75 people show up. Because I got kicked in the ass for this policy I made sure it was cheaper than the Annandale and charged the bands $200 regardless which they all seemed happy about.

If it was about money we would put pokies in. when we purchased the venue pokies accounted for 65% of revenue, its now 14% so we’ve turned it from a casino back into a pub. The Sando has experienced zero growth since 2005, the only ones who are are the pokie pubs, we’re just treading water.

In essence the ones who are complaining are those who on a 4-band bill had 30 people watching them. And they expect me to be happy with that? I’ve heard bands walk out saying, “at least we got paid for that rehearsal”, that’s when we introduced the incentive.

As for claims bands had to come looking for me, I always make myself available to help the bands out. If they have ideas on how to do it better, tell me I’m always happy to listen.

This is what frustrates me about those who criticize us. They don’t understand the facts, what we’ve put into the joint. Just to book a band to play the venue is hard and for some to complain without communicating with us… Brendan McLean did not speak to me following the gig he spoke of or before writing that article. They don’t understand – its not about the furniture or the decor or the furniture, its about who goes there and losing another live venue.

I was here in the early days when Paris Green would play in the Horseshoe Bar, 50 could fit inside the rest would spill out onto the street. It was a pretty ordinary venue, it was the people who made the venue, and in the cold light of day it was a shithole. I inherited the furniture, the Sando furniture mark I was pathetic. We developed the venue and gave 120 bands per month the opportunity to play and then to be kicked in the guts? Some of these critics – lets call them “keyboard critics” compare Sando to Oxford Art Factory and Standard. They are not serving pub prices, you pay for the venue, Sando still operates as a pub.

We are music people; my wife worked for Universal and I was a band manager (Sunnyboys and Eurogliders to name two) and wanted to get a music pub in the area happening.

There were also comparisons to venues such as the Union. The Union doesn’t give a fuck about the customer, doesn’t give a fuck about food and certainly doesn’t give a fuck about live music. They lose money on bands and food, hardly anyone wants an $18 steak but those who do will dump money in the pokies. Same with Botany View and the Rose. We’ve gone out of our way to hide the pokies, if I could sell them I would but they are part of the security of the loan. These blokes must walk around with blinkers on if they see a “gig” at the Union with two blokes and speakers on a stick and think that’s great? Fuck me..

The thing that bugs me is that they celebrate losing another venue, the Hopetoun was a shit gig. But it was a gig.

If our readers want to get along and support the Sando what shows are coming up?

Clag from Melbourne are playing tonight (last Saturday), Slaughterfest on Saturday 21st July I think will be awesome, I like it loud and rough, think that will be a sellout. Then also Rosetta (US) and City of Ships on Saturday 28th July.

Note from the author: I conducted this interview to allow the management of the Sandringham Hotel to tell their side. I do not seek to inflame the venue v artist argument I would love to see both sides unite to support small live music venues to prevent more closures. Also hopefully local council can acknowledge that there will be noise generated by pubs and that if a handful of neighbours complain they should be reminded that they chose to move next door to a pub, the pub did not chose to move next door to them. And finally that you the reader will get along to a gig at the Sando and show some support.

Update 17.7.12: yesterday Tony and Kim were asked to pack up their belongings and finish up by the receiver. This effectively robbed them of the opportunity of trading out of their current financial situation. Tony remains in good spirits and plans to continue the fight. The hotel will continue to trade and gigs will still go ahead so the Sando needs your support now more than ever…