I’ve never done a bus tour of Perth. Never thought I needed to since I was born and bred in the city and figured I knew most of it already simply by walking and driving around. But the opportunity arose, in the middle of a busy Fringe calendar, to hop on board a Hidden Music Tour bus, sit back, relax and take in some sights and sounds of the city’s musical past.
I’m glad I hopped on that bus, too. Not only was I in the company of some serious music fans, but on board was a group of girls enjoying a pretty wild hen’s afternoon. With every one of them dressed head to toe in ’80s neon spandex, I knew this trip was going to be one hell of a retro laugh.
The journey began at a the location where once stood the venue known as the Canterbury Court Ballroom, where silent pictures used to be played in the 1920s to the soundtrack of some dude on piano. That ’20s scene made way for the vaudeville era, reminiscent somewhat of what Fringe World is today, so it’s nice to see where the Perth arts scene really began.
Then it was past a few other legendary venues including the Hole In The Wall theatre (which I’d thought was always the name of it as a theatrical venue but learnt today that someone simply kicked a huge hole in a small music venue, from which eventually theatrical acts emerged, mixing acting with the music – fascinating stuff!).
One venue I’d never heard of is the remarkable Coolbaro Club in East Perth which opened in 1946 by a group of Indigenous folk who were stuck with the sad rule of not being allowed in the CBD after to dark and so opened their own venue as close to the city as they could. The Coolbaro ended up being the coolest place to hang in the late ’40s, with the who’s-who of the entertainment industry always ending up there to hear the latest tunes from overseas (somehow, these Koori folk scored vinyl records ahead of everyone else in Perth, so kudos to them!).
Between being shown various venue, and so as to keep us entertained on the bus, the organisers played classic songs in the background, often inviting patrons to sing along, and let me tell you, the gaggle of fun Irish girls enjoying their hen’s day truly let it rip to tunes by Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington and, on a more Aussie bent, Johnny Young and Johnny O’Keefe. The music isn’t all old-old-school either with several modern classics by likes of The Triffids, AC/DC and INXS thrown in for good measure (all three bands having had their roots in Perth).
Host of the tour, Randa Khamis, of Randa and the Soul Kingdom fame, along with co-host Monique Boucher, truly know their local music info, sharing all manner of sordid stories about the music scene back in the day.
For someone who has enjoyed music since I was a kid, and who has worked as a music journo for the greater part of my adult life, I still found this tour most educational, enlighteing, and certainly entertaining.
I’d recommend that if you missed the bus this year, book early next year. It’s a magical mystery tour with a patriotic vibe about it that makes you proud of the sounds that have come out of the world’s most isolated city. Antonino Tati