Words Mark Ireland.
Photos Stephen Boxshall.
For the past nineteen years Cherry Bar has been a huge part of not only my personal rock’n’roll life, but also of Melbourne’s. Any visitors who come to Melbourne who like live music, the one answer you give them is simply Cherry Bar.
What made this simple hole in the wall bar such a special place for music lovers, this can’t be told in one sentence, because it means so much to different people for many different reasons. For aspiring bands, it was a place to cut your teeth and get a chance to play on a legendary stage, it was intimate. There was no barrier between the bands and the stage, and it wouldn’t take much to fill. For touring musicians, it would be a place to kick back after a gig and maybe jump on the decks and turn the crowd on.
For me personally, it would be a place to live out my inner rock star persona, being on that tiny stage made me feel like I owned the world, and all the crowd would graciously indulge me, playing the shittest air guitar in front of fifty people made me feel like I was playing to a crowd of 1000’s.
Cherry Bar made everyone feel included, never once did I feel any pretension from anyone there, when AC/DC Lane was packed for the yearly street rock’n’roll festival Cherry Rock, people were only ever there for one reason and that was live music. If any kind of pretentious behaviour was hinted at, you would’ve been shut down immediately.
Most of my memories of Cherry are a bit fuzzy, but weirdly enough I find it pretty easy to recall all the amazing gigs I’ve seen there. Maybe that because the experiences were so penetrating, when you can see and feel blood flicked from the guitar frets, see the spit that hangs from the singer’s mouth, the experience is taken to a deeper level.
Dallas Frasca a couple of years ago at Cherry Rock, where she managed to get three quarters of the crowd in the laneway to get down on their knees and then jumped down from the stage and got between everyone, this kind of intimacy was not at all unusual ay Cherry gigs.
Seeing Kadavar for the first time, these Swedish giants could be mistaken for White Walkers from Game of Thrones, their riffs are as big as the giants themselves.
Being swamped with Fu Manchu fuzziness at Cherry Rock in 2012, the sheer vibration alone was enough to make your knees buckle
Meat Puppets, legends from the ‘80s scene, this band took me by total surprise. Everything about this band passed me by back in the day, so being up close on the side of the stage and being flattened by their riffs was a face melting experience.
Meeting Linda Blair from The Exorcist and watching her DJ was a surreal experience. Linda had a great sense of humour, the first song she played during her set was the appt ‘Devil Inside‘ by INXS.
The Rockdogs had a charity night there a couple of years ago, where the footy players played and other celebrity singers played their favourite Australian songs. One that sticks out was Stella Angelico doing an emotionally wrought version of The Divinyls ‘Boys In Town’. Stella was truly possessed by Chrissy Amphlett that night.
The times that hold the strongest memories for me was always the Cherry Rock Festival, the sheer amount of anarchy I saw over the years was pure mayhem.
Stevie from Clowns stage diving from the bar into the crowd and missing the ceiling by about a metre was one of the craziest things I saw.
Vice Grip Pussies nuding up without a care in the world, was something that would’ve shocked most crowds, but these kind of antics were common place at Cherry.
If the Bitter Sweet Kicks were ever playing it wouldn’t be out of place to see Diamond Jack Davies hanging from the rafters.
It was these special nights that really made Cherry feel like it was your own personal house party, because there was always this do whatever the fuck you want attitude.
On the last weekend before closing there was two special days of emotional gigs. On the Friday, Southern River Band played till the roof came down, lead singer Cal Kramer should be a politician, he might talk a lot of crap, but bloody hell is he charismatic. They are one band you could walk away and have a solid opinion about, there is no in between, they kick off on stage and punch you right in the face and continue to do so for the next hour. I left the gig sweaty and emotionally empty. But not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I knew the end of Cherry was near.
The big finale at Cherry Bar was always going to be one for the ages.
There were no big name bands playing just all the amazing local acts that have played Cherry for years. Riff lords FLUFF kicked off the day and played a mammoth set that set the tone for the day.
The tiny bar across the alleyway (Jack and Bones Bar) had just kicked off and Zombitches were being total maniacs and destroying the bar and the crowd simultaneously.
Another thing Cherry is known for is exposing new bands to a bigger audiences one of my personal discoveries has been Child. This band play deep blues in the sense of Lobby Lloyd and ‘70s era Billy Thorpe. With every song they create an ache that gets deeper with every riff, first your knees go and then your legs go, it keeps going till you’re on the floor because the riffs are so immense.
As I walk back into the alleyway, DJ Mermaid a permanent figure of Cherry for years, is playing all the songs the Cherry Massive have grown to love as anthems over the years.
Don Fernando haven’t played for awhile so it was good to see them back on stage.
When Batz hit the stage, immediately the stage lit up. Chrissy Aubrey has the same enigmatic energy of Karen O and Chrissy Amphlett, you can’t help but be drawn into her aura. It was about half way through the set that Chrissy lent down to me as I was standing in front of the stage and touch my forehead with hers, for about 30 sec, I swear the whole of Cherry came to a standstill. It’s these kinds of interactions that put Cherry on a different level, not many other venues would you be able to be that close to the performers and have that shared intimacy.
Cherry Bar and AC/DC Lane will always have a permanent fixture in my life, the small unassuming hole in the wall, was somewhere I always felt like David Lee Roth on stage, but danced like a drunken monkey, and the best thing about this, I reckon everybody had the same thought at one time or another when they went there to.
Cherry Bar at AC/DC Lane is Dead, Long Live Cherry Bar.