Saturday, 7 May 2011

the end of the X

All these photos taken in July 2008
Perhaps the most iconic of Sydney's many singer-songwriter nights had its final gig last Monday night.  We're talking about a place everyone called "the X".  Sadly, the pub has been sold to a pub-entrepreneur who is infamous for ripping out the p/a systems and destroying any vestiges of the live music that in the past had served each venue so well and the people and performers who had involved themselves with it.

Monday nights at the X were a great deal more than just a singer-songwriter night.  There are many of these all over Sydney, and many fine ones too.  With the X there was the location, the room and the buzz all combined; making it a creative and social hub with few comparisons.

The X is situated on Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, just at the base of the steep hill with the one-way traffic running towards Elizabeth Street and Central Railway Station down towards the southern end of the city.  It's one of those places that captures a spirit and buzz of generations past, and with it, a charged sense of the present moment.  You feel the clammy though enticing sense of the working-class eras in all of the furtive terraces adjoined to each other in those side-streets, so well-portrayed in novels such as Ruth Park's 'The Harp in the South'.  You sense a great deal of bohemianism in the air, or sense of a 'charge', or city 'rush'.   It is a perfect example of the upside to city living, where you take on a creative buzz or aliveness from the feel of the time and place.  I feel a buzz in and around the X - albums like Chisel's 'Breakfast at Sweethearts' or the Church's 'Of Skins and Hearts' needle in my brain as I walk around Foveaux Street at any hours of the day or night.  (Studio 301 where the Church recorded their early albums is only a 10-15 minute walk away).  Needless to say there'll be less bohemianism in the air in Foveaux Street now that the X's live music scene is destroyed.

An elegant bar with a warm, inviting atmosphere is (was) attached to the cavernous music area where people would play, meet and mingle.

Below is former Kanuk John Chesher who ran the night for seven years.  He really did a great thing in building this night up.  He is a very stylish player and singer.

Admittedly I only attended the X on Monday nights semi-occasionally and when I did it was mostly to watch and say hello to a few people.  It's the sort of place that was just great to visit as well as to play at.

There's always been an astounding range of talent presented to pub-goers and other players at the X on a Monday night.  It was the perfect place for beginners, for established singer-songwriters to try out new songs and perhaps promote their other gigs.  There were novices, instrumental geniuses, singers with incredible operatic voices.  I've always been amazed at how, as one example, one person with their acoustic guitar (or piano) can be so individuated as a performer or writer; that everyone carries with them their own unique style and sound despite sharing the minimal tools as performers, their customary guitar and voice.  I've always loved and been inspired by that, thereby respecting everyone's talents and uniqueness as artists in the process.

I've met many crucial people at the X, before and during the Monday night Chesher era.  I've met Gav from Velvet Road, ZaraMeow, and Pennie Lennon and other great people at the X.  It's that sort of place.  In what is a vast and often stand-offish city, the X is one of the few places where like-minded people could join together and mingle and be free to socialise and to immerse themselves in a creative and charged atmosphere.  For this reason, and personally in that I've met so many people there, its closing is a sad event.  I know too that many other musical partnerships and relationships were formed at the X.

Tuesday night jazz-jams weren't bad either.  They're now gone, too.

John Chesher below advising on the mixing desk.

The last Monday night at the X on 2 May went on until 12:45 in the morning!  Ironically I had a headache and only came for a short while before going home.  It was a packed out night.  Funnily enough I'm not rueful or upset about the discarding of music at the X.  Needless to say I won't be returning to the X.  Life changes, life moves on.  Surry Hills will be all that more poorer because of this venue disappearing from the live music-map but the zietgeist is bound to spring its multi-thronged head someplace else.  That's the cycle of life.  It moves on.  

Goodbye, X.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...