Interview: Darcy Byrne
Earlier this month, news emerged that the Annandale Hotel was entering into receivership, following years of battling with local residences and Leichhardt Council. Darcy Byrne, the new Leichhardt Mayor, was quick to lend his support to the venue, claiming that he wants to help The Annandale, and Black Wire Records, and rejuvenate the Leichhardt area, transforming Parramatta Road from "an eyesore" into a live music hub.
Could you fill us in on the history of the Annandale Hotel's struggle with Leichhardt Council?
For decades, a vibrant part of the live music culture has been at the heart of what has made the inner-city a fun and interesting place to live, but let's be frank, councils and NIMBY activists continue to threaten the viability of the industry by collaborating against licensees through vexatious and costly legal action. In the past legal action by Leichhardt Council has cost rate-payers and the proprietors of The Annandale hundreds of thousands of dollars and it's been a significant factor contributing to the difficulty that they're in at the moment.
You're new to the role, elected as Mayor just four months ago, largely on a live music platform. What have you done since September to help live music in the area?
We have a report coming back to the council this month that will look at every avenue available to Leichhardt Council to promote live music in our local area and to make Leichhardt Municipality a hub for live music in Sydney. I want to reform our planning controls, to stop this sort of vexatious and costly legal action, I want to have a look at our events policy, do what we can to expand festivals, including hosting them in existing venues and to give more avenues for local performers and young people in particular to get a start in the industry. But more than that, you know, music knows no borders, this is not just an issue for Leichhardt Municipality, the question is: how do we make sure that Sydney has a thriving live music industry for the future? I want to make sure that whether you go to Newtown or Surry Hills or Balmain or Annandale that you can go out and see a great live show. It should be part of Sydney as a global city. And that's what I'll be fighting for in the months to come.
So will you be working with the Sydney Lord Mayor in her Live Music Taskforce?
Yep, so I've asked for Clover's co-operation and we do have a representative from Leichhardt Council, our events coordinator — who has a background as an entrepreneur in the live music industry — is part of that taskforce. I'll be working as closely as I can with local government representatives from across the metropolitan region to get this fixed, but it does take a bit of bravery. I mean, too often in the past council's have given in to the temptation to pander to a handful of residents, it's certainly the case in relation to the Annandale Hotel, what's required here is for people to take some responsibility and stand-up on behalf of young people. There is nothing that young people are more passionate about than seeing the live music industry succeed and just because young people are too busy to turn up to boring old council meetings doesn't mean that elected represtantives can ignore their passions.
So, how are you going to engage with young people?
I'm trying to build a grassroots campaign. We've initiated a campaign called Labor Loves Live Music to lock the New South Wales Labor Party into supporting far-reaching changes to our planning system, to encourage live music across the state. There are local Labor representatives on councils across New South Wales who are pursuing these reforms. But we do need to build a united front. This is a political campaign, we need young people, music entrepreneurs, performers, people involved in the industry to come together, stand-up and say "live music has to win out over NIMBY-ism".
Right, but how are you actually going to effect that?
Two things; one, social media is an incredibly powerful tool for this, so young people who maybe don't necessarily bother reading the daily newspaper are engaged online and the response that I've had from being active on this issue, taking up the fight and putting forward solutions to the problem has been quite phenomenal, but sometimes the old-fashioned methods are the best. I will be going out and making phone calls and door knocking in our local community, talking to young people and not-so young people who know that live music at the very heart of what's good about this community, and seeking their support and more importantly their participation in this campaign.
Ok, so let's say The Annandale survives this and it continues to book live acts after the residential development next door is completed, will you be able to guarantee, or at least aim to ensure it's protected from noise complaints coming from those premises?
Yeah, I think we can do a lot better than this legalistic approach. I'll be looking to implement a "good neighbour" policy, which will see council take a leadership role in bringing together licensees and local neighbours over a coffee or a beer so that we can resolve noise issues before they occur, rather than doing what's happened in the past, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of rate-payers money and costing the venue a similar amount in order to achieve exactly the same result. So I don't want to suggest that noise concerns of local residents won't be addressed. They will be. It just doesn't have to be in the courts.
I wanted to ask you also about Black Wire Records, just up the road from The Annandale. It's currently unable to operate as a shop because although they've signed a retail lease it's listed by council as a restaurant, this is despite the premise never having operated as a restaurant, and the owners who have been there since the '70s insisting that it's always been a retail space. It's quite embarrassing, how can something like this happen?
The issue has just come to my attention recently and I've insisted on having a meeting between council planning officers and representatives from Black Wire Records, which will take place next week [editor: this week]. My view about this whole prescient, including Black Wire Records and The Annandale and the whole of Parramatta Road, is that there's potential to turn Parramatta Road from what is currently an urban wasteland, an eyesore for Sydney, into a live music precinct, that can bring the place back to life. I want to work with the proprietors at Black Wire Records to try and make that happen.
There seems to be a lot of confusion within council as to what's happening with Black Wire, in an internal council document it says there has been no noise complaints and this has been confirmed to Black Wire staff by council. But then another council document says that an acoustic report is required due to noise complaints.
Sure, look it's not an issue that I've been closely involved with, it hasn't come to the elected councillors themselves, but I know that it's become problematic. I want to see Black Wire Records succeed, which is why I've asked them to come and meet with me next week [editor: this week], along with council officers. I'll be seeking to do everything I can to resolve the problems.
For your plan to promote live music in Leichhardt to succeed, you're ultimately going to need the council's support — and this is a council that hasn't always supported live music, as we've seen — how likely do you think it is that you're going to get any of this off the ground?
I think there's a growing recognition in the community that something does have to be done to revive the live music scene here in Sydney and, to be fair, I think in recent years because of state government legislation changes we have seen some positive improvements. I think if the danger that The Annandale is currently under is not a wake-up call to councillors on Leichhardt Council and to everybody else involved in the live music scene in Sydney that governments need to get their act together and start doing more to support live music — then nothing else will be. I'm confident that when we bring forward comprehensive policy proposals that can improve our local community by making it a live music hub and better support iconic venues like The Annandale that we can win the support of other councillors. But, as you say, it's a controversial issue and will require some courage and bravery from everybody on the council.
This interview originally featured on episode 2 (February 16, 2013) of Backchat. Podcasts of all their broadcasts are coming "soon". Listen to AH and Cathycall dissect your local political/musical issues LIVE every Saturday morning from 11am on FBi.
Sign the 'Labor Loves Live Music' petition here.