23rd August, 2012
The Sandringham Hotel aka The Sando is the epitome of inner city rock pub, its not pretty – but it was never supposed to be. The pub has hosted a mix of new bands, locals and well-known acts to an eclectic crowd of locals, students, muso’s and music fans for nearly 30 years. The Sando has unfortunately been in the news a lot of late. In a nutshell Bankwest has placed the venue into receivership and has shut out the owners. Recently Tony and Kim Townsend have joined forces with other pub owners who have been similarly mistreated under the Unhappy Banking banner. To show support and raise awareness there will be a “Save the Sando” rally at Sydney Park on Sunday 27th August.
Part I: “Our place” 1980-1998
Back in the 80s there was no Australian Idol or Voice or X Factor or iTunes, if you wanted to hear original new music you went to the pub. During this decade of decadence The Sandringham Hotel was one of the key players in the Oz Pub Rock scene. Some who graced the infamous stage include: Bernie Hayes, Chris Masuak, Custard, Front End Loader, Fur Burka, Gadflys, Gerling, The Clouds, McBodybag, Roaring Jack, The Hoo Haas, Jackie Orszaczky & The Grand Masters,The Killjoys, Shaggin Wagon, The Slowdowns, Smudge, Spurs for Jesus, Stella One Eleven, Tice & Evans, Trout Fishing in Quebec, Tommy Emmaneul, Tony Buck, The Whitlams and Whopping Big Naughty.
When Warren Spooner took over the pub in 1980 it wasn’t much more than an “old man pub”. Spooner: “when we bought the Sandringham you know it was just a typical suburban pub. It was full of old people who worked or didn’t work and then came to the pub and treated it like their lounge room, got drunk, went home and at eight o’clock it was a desert and I found that to be incredibly boring, it certainly wasn’t the lifestyle that I wanted and I didn’t want to be filling up guys with booze who should be at home with their families. So that’s how it came about I guess. And for me introducing music was the logical thing to do.” Hence the Sandringham Hotel become a live music venue.
There was a strong sense of community and ownership amongst the motley crew of students, locals and muso’s who made up the core group who frequented the venue during this period. They would make running repairs and bring in their own furniture to deck out the place. Spooner: “Some bands would come in there and bring all the furniture out of their lounge room and you’d have three or four lounges and side tables and lamps in the public bar and all the furniture that was normally in there has been stuck out the back because that was the atmosphere they wanted to create.”
This hands on approach was highlighted when the locals built a “beer garden” out the back. The locals took over the back section, fixing the potholes, building furniture, setting up a BBQ to make the place a comfortable spot. The beer garden was a perfect spot for the punters to mingle, get some fresh air, have a smoke, a chat or a snag off the sausage sizzle. Until the day it caught fire that is! Legend has it while “The Gruesome Twosome” were playing Phil Blatch was taking a toilet break. While peering out the window he noticed the shed out back was on fire, calmly finished up and then raised the alarm. In a vain attempt to control the blaze the locals formed a human chain of water buckets from the gents, which had minimal impact. When the real fire fighters arrived they extinguished the flames in a matter of minutes, went straight to the bar, ordered a round of beers and joined in the festivities. The Gruesomes resumed playing with The Doors “Light my fire”.
Anonymous: “Quite a few people lived out the back in that street, out the back of the Sando. I can remember quite a few street parties in the alley way out the back. It was like an extension of the lounge room, across the alleyway into the Sando and back again. And that’s when it was all sort of open, you could just sort of crash in the back door of the pub and back out. So it was quite a community really because a lot of people lived in Station Street, there was about three houses full of about eight people in each one, it was quite a busy, busy space.”
Music was the dominant source of entertainment at The Sando however for a period a cartoon managed to take the spotlight. Rees: “Yeah, as you know six o’clock everything goes off, Simpsons go on, you watch The Simpsons, six thirty music goes back on, everyone starts talking again. Through about 1991 and 1993 that was it, Simpsons six o’clock – the band stopped and that was it, everyone watched The Simpsons, had a few fuckin’ beers, great fuckin’ laugh.”
The Sando was known more for its atmosphere and music than the asthetics, some punters were somewhat taken aback upon their first visit. Rees: “When I walked in that time, Hannah and I were absolutely fucking flabbergasted it was allowed to stay open. I’d never seen a more disgusting dirty pub in my life and it was just phenomenal. It was just shit. When I came back two months later or three months later after being in England and I hung out in the pub for a while [I got to know the venue]. You wouldn’t go there for the pub itself, you went there for the people and went there for the bands. That was a phenomenal difference, it was one of the few pubs I’ve actually been to that there was a real camaraderie with people, you know like a real friendship with the locals and it was fuckin’ great, it really was good. It wasn’t your typical pub and never seen a pub like it again I don’t think, but it was just a real bunch of local people who looked after the pub itself and looked after themselves and the bands. You had to look after Stevie a couple of times but yeah, it was nothing like a pub I’d ever been involved before hand or since. It was not a normal pub it was a fuckin’ time warp. It was unbelievable…”
The layout of the pub was unorthodox in that the bar was situated right in the middle of the main room leaving little room for a stage or audience. A temporary stage made of milk crates and plywood was built. Each night the “stage” would have to be dragged from the boys toilets and be assembled, Now this was no mean feat as the instructions were somewhat subjective and the stage was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, if you got it wrong it was likely to collapse. Luckily there were a group of regulars who knew how to assemble the stage and would eventually help out bands new to The Sando who could not work it out. This included “The Superjesus” who had driven up from Adelaide only to be instructed to build their own stage. They immediately wondered what they had signed up for. Due to the close proximity to the bar the drummer could reach over and order a beer and anyone game enough to stage dive ran the risk of catching a leg in the fan. Rumour has it that Dairy Farmers heard of the stage and raided The Sando, reclaiming their crates and leaving management with a $200 fine.
While The Sando was not much to look at – the locals build the bear garden, brought their own furniture in and built the stage, it never seemed to matter. If anything the sense of community and ownership only added to the locals view of the Sando as “our place”.
In 1998 The Sando was sold to new owners who viewed the pub as a money making venture rather than a community club house. This saw pokies brought in and live music (along with the beloved homemade stage) was sadly ejected. That is until Tony and Kim Townsend took over and brought back the music.
To be continued….
Footnote: this article was based on a thesis written by Brendan Smiles, the photos were also taken from this thesis.