Back in the 1990’s, it was common to be playing 4 – 6 gigs every week. I remember one week in December in around 1996, when my band played 12 gigs in one week. Doing two gigs back to back on a Saturday was common, and we were undaunted by the long hours of playing
Times have changed, but I’ll never forget one Saturday in the late 90’s when I did three gigs back to back.
The first gig was 12 noon until 2pm in at The Rocks Square. In this era, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority had a budget to put on live entertainment each weekend. There was a stage and seating, and usually two bands would play. Each band played for 2 hours. Sadly, those days are long gone. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority now administer buskers to come and play for free. To be allowed to play for donations from the general public, you have to get their approval and purchase a busking license.
On this particular Saturday, I had my regular band with me, which consisted of Martin Cilia on guitar, Goby Catt on bass and Paul Carter on drums. We played a broad range of family friendly music.
The second gig was 3pm – 6pm at The Orient Hotel, which is within one hundred metres of the Rocks Square. This was in the days where the Orient Hotel hired jazz groups to play on Saturday afternoons. On this gig, I had with me Col Nolan on keys and Harry Rivers on drums. Both of these guys were once legends of the Sydney jazz scene. Sadly, they have both passed away and are remembered by few.
The third gig was out at Windsor at the Fitzroy Hotel, playing from 8pm until midnight. This was with the same line up as for the first gig, at the Rocks Square. At that time, the people of Windsor were fans of blues and classic rock, so that’s what we played.
The gig was fairly low key, with only a small crowd of people in attendance. As you’d expect, I was feeling pretty tired towards the end of the gig. At around 11:20pm, as we started our fourth and final set, I could see the finish line in sight. Then, at around 11:40pm, there was late influx of people. Apparently, one of the other pubs in Windsor had closed, so many of their patrons moved on to the Fitzroy Hotel, where we were playing.
Within five minutes of this late influx, two women started fighting. I remember watching a woman grab another by the hair, and then using this as leverage to swing her off her feet and onto the floor. Within a minute, this had escalated into an all-in-brawl. Everyone in the pub was engaged in fighting. This included men, women and bar staff. It was like something from a Wild West movie.
Bear in mind that these were the days before pubs hired security staff. Also, there were no “responsible service of alcohol” laws. Any incidences were typically handled by the pub’s licensee. And the licensee was punching-on with the rest of the rabble.
On the band’s stage, we “battened down the hatches”, trying to keep our equipment safe. The people fighting viewed a microphone stand as an advantageous weapon for bludgeoning their opponent. Several times we had to wrestle our equipment back off the drunken fighters.
The fighting continued, unabated for fifteen minutes, only stopping when the police showed up. Within a minute, the pub was empty. The licensee had a bleeding nose and a ripped, bloodied shirt. Apart from that, he was fine. He paid us, we packed up and we never played at the Fitzroy Hotel again.