Melbourne Music: 2009

Over on my Patreon, the Duo Ex Machina novella Sacrifice is being released in fortnightly chapters. It’s all scheduled and the cover will be revealed later in March.

In the meantime, I’ve started work on the brand new book in the series.

The next Duo Ex Machina novel, Number One Fan, will be set in Melbourne in 2009, five years after the end of Sacrifice.

One of the things I’ve been looking up is when various music venues began operating. I don’t want to have them popping up in one of those little, intimate music venues doing secret show if that venue wasn’t open yet!

I’m still deciding which real life venue I might use (if I decide to use a real one) for a particular sequence – partly because I’m still deciding what kind of music one of the boys is doing for a side project.

Cherry Bar (pictured, featuring my niece’s band Bronze) is one obvious pick. It’s been around since 2000 and has a great reputation for (and history of) nurturing local talent as well as hosting intimate events for big name acts, after parties and – once – saying no to Lady Gaga rather than oust a local band who’d booked the stage. Wikipedia claims that Noel Gallagher liked the venue so much he offered to buy it in 2002.

The building above it caught on fire in 2008. Cherry Bar only suffered water damage but it took six months to get the wiring fixed. However, it was definitely open and rocking again by 2009.

It’s such a classic Melbourne venue too – down an alleyway called AC/DC Lane. It got that name in 2004, in plenty of time for the setting of this novella, after being burdened with the tedious ‘Corporation Lane’ for most of its named life.

Another possible location for the scene is The Toff in Town, a venue on the second floor of a well-known ‘vertical laneway’, Curtin House on Swanston Street. (Curtin House is also home to Cookie Bar, the Metropolis bookstore, boutique fashion and a rooftop bar that’s a cinema in summer.)

The main bar features railway carriage-style booths, from which you can press a buzzer to summon a waiter for your order of sharing plates and excellent wines. The music venue is on the other side, featuring live music, DJs, album launches and the occasional comedy show. It would be perfect for a soft launch of the proposed joint project, especially is the music is a bit more alternative and distanced from Duo Ex Machina’s pop oeuvre.

The Toff, by the way, is named for the detective in John Creasey’s books from the 1930s-70s. The Toff was the Honourable Richard Rollison, the high-born amateur detective who mingles as easily with the rough types as with the gentry. Since Milo and Frank keep falling into crime plots very much against their will, there’s something very pleasing about using this venue as a location. (The Toff pictures here, by the way, are all publicity photos provided by the venue for my old Melbourne Literary App, which is no longer available.)

I have one more nominee for a 2009 location for a music event, and that’s The Blue Diamond Club. Designed to look like a Manhattan speakeasy but run on the 15th floor of a Queen Street office building, it had a lot of pizzazz and a sense of the theatrical. I actually used it in a scene in Walking Shadows, where various vampires converge, Gary proves not to be completely useless in a fight, and a vampire falls off the balcony. Good times.

The Blue Diamond was created in 2006 by Henry Maas, famous in Melbourne as the owner of the Black Cat cafe in Fitzroy, its companion music venue the Night Cat, and as the lead singer of jazz-funk-salsa band The Bachelors From Prague.

The Blue Diamond had a big blue (fake) diamond on a turning pedestal as you stepped out of the lift, and you always had the feeling that if James Bond wasn’t seducing secrets from Russian spies in one corner, then surely The Saint was insouciantly plotting somewhere to steal a lot of boodle.

Over time the Blue Diamond became less smooth and stylish speakeasy, where you had to be a member to get in (which we were), where everyone dressed up in the groove, and the mood was mellow, to a broader, less distinctive and much less atmospheric venue. I suppose a theatrical demeanour can only make so much money.

I’m at the end of this 2009 music reminiscence and I think I’ve now answered my own question.

Look out for a scene in Number One Fan set at The Toff in Town. Who knows, we might even get an action sequence out of that rooftop bar.

[A version of this post first appeared in my Patreon on 16 February 2018]

Review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

Real life is often an inspiration for fiction. Some real events resonate so strongly they inspire a lot of different ways to filter and explore the event, its social context and its repercussions.

The 1930 Melbourne murder of schoolteacher and aspiring writer, Mary “Molly” Dean, is one such event. It’s referenced in George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, in the memoir of Betty Roland, who knew Dean, and in the 2002 play Solitude in Blue.

Poignancy and a mysterious fascination were lent to Dean’s grisly death by the fact that it remains unsolved, and that she was in a relationship with local artist, Colin Calahan, and had been the subject of two of his paintings.

I knew none of this when Echo Publishing sent me a copy of Katherine Kovacic’s The Portrait of Molly Dean, except for the fact it was based on a true event. I resisted any research in favour of just taking in the story as presented.

Kovacic’s debut novel is a marvellous blend of history and invention and uses the notions of art restoration as an effective narrative device to reveal her invented version of the truth.

It begins in 1999 when art dealer, Alex Clayton, buys the Colahan portrait of Molly Dean at an auction. Clayton specialises in finding artworks that have been obscured or underappreciated, buying them cheap, restoring them and proving their provenance, and re-selling at a considerable profit.

Her initial aim to research a little about Molly Dean’s death to make the picture more attractive to buyers (everyone loves a good murder mystery) becomes almost a compulsion. Shocked to learn the trial for the only suspect was abandoned on the day it was due to begin, she starts to investigate the 70 year old mystery herself.

While her friend John Porter begins to slowly clean the portrait and bring long-lost Molly back into the light, an unknown person is trying to obtain the painting from her.

Clayton’s investigation, told in the present tense, is interleaved with the story set in the 1930s, of Molly’s constrained life at home with her mother, her ambitions to become a journalist and novelist, and the night of her murder.

This 1930s story is, like the portrait in 1999, is slowly revealed, with care and attention to detail.  As Alex explores the case and potential killers, the details of Molly’s life are slowly revealed. It’s an elegant little leapfrog progress, where each woman’s narrative reveals just enough to fuel the next act.

Modern Alex’s independence, backed by John and her dog Hogarth, is a complement to and a contrast with doomed Molly’s determination to break free from her awful mother’s house and assert her own independence.

The two women are very different but they have a kinship, and it’s easy to get emotionally connected to them both. While there’s nothing to be done about Molly’s fate, Kovacic cleverly entangles the reader into concern for Alex, whose investigations are of clear concern to someone from the past.

Kovacic’s style is clean and well-paced, and she manages to give the 1930s and the 1990s each a different feel without being jarring or sacrificing clarity or pace. There’s texture and pathos in this story, as well as courage and surprises.

Kovacic is careful to point out in the afterword of The Portrait of Molly Dean that her resolution to the mystery is her own invention. But it’s a good one, in a well-told story, and a very satisfying read.

Buy The Portrait of Molly Dean

Read more about Molly Dean

Words are like oxygen

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