LIVE MUSIC PUBS FEATURE
Known as the cradle of original live music in Newcastle, The Lass O’ Gowrie is not your average pub. And the reason for that, is because it’s not run by your average hotelier…
For the past 26 years Ian and Sharon Lobb have been at the helm of the Wickham-based Lass O’ Gowrie Hotel and for Ian, a 67-year-old self-proclaimed fossil, fogie and advocate for old-school ways, there is no place he’d rather be.
“I don’t do social media, I don’t have email and I don’t even know how to turn on a computer,” he explains with an unmistakable hint of pride.
“I’m old, I’m a fossil and that’s how I do things. If you want to talk to me, then you call me, that’s it. But in saying that, I do understand the value and importance of social media and we have someone here who makes sure we have a presence on Facebook and Instagram.”
“I’m old, I’m a fossil and that’s how I do things. If you want to talk to me, then you call me, that’s it..."
The couple have lived upstairs at the venue since 1992 and without intention, Ian has sewn his passion for individuality and separation from conformity into the fabric of the venue. It is undoubtedly this sense of freedom and acceptance that has seen young bands and music lovers flock to the hotel for more than 20 years.
“They’re safe here,” he says.
“There’s no pressure to perform and no judgement, it’s a safe haven. There’s also all different kinds of people and music and everyone can come in and share in that. It’s a wonderful atmosphere.”
According to Ian, who prior to taking on the hotel was a beer delivery driver, original music had never been on his radar until he and Sharon came to the Lass.
“We were from Sydney and Sharon was a singer. She’d been on television on Saturday Date and I drove for both Tooths and Carlton & United Breweries. At the time, this was the cheapest freehold in the state and when we got here I realised every second or third kid in Newcastle was a muso. There was so much talent and I thought maybe we could cultivate that. Right away we started putting on three or four bands a night so everyone would get a turn on stage. And that’s how the Lass became a cradle of live music. This is where they come to have a go, to gain confidence and show what they can do.”
"When we got here I realised every second or third kid in Newcastle was a muso. There was so much talent and I thought maybe we could cultivate that. .."
What had once been a hotel with an entertainment line-up limited to one performance per week, under Ian and Sharon’s watch the hotel’s gig guide quickly transformed to include a line-up of more than 20 bands every week.
“We’ve tried all kinds of things over the years, but for the most part we've been underground. We never really advertised but the kids who appreciate original live music and who want to be part of that know where we are. I particularly like when new kids come to play their first gig and bring their families along to watch. There’s mum, dad and grandparents all proud as punch and it’s a wonderful thing to watch.”
Three and a half years ago the venue did take a hit when the connectivity of Railway Street, where it is located, was severed from Hunter Street.
“That had a big impact because all the kids used to just walk over here. I had to sit down with people from NSW Government to make sure we still had access and last October they opened a large-scale walkover, but it’s still taking some getting used to for the kids that come here.”
Access issues aside, while some may argue the landscape of Newcastle’s live music scene is undergoing significant and irreversible change, Ian’s commitment to supporting up-and-coming original acts remains stronger than ever.
“There is plenty of talent around, in fact there are kids knocking on our door every day wanting to play. There’s no shortage of that. I can’t answer for other venues, but this is where they start before graduating to bigger stages and there’s no shortage of inquiries."
“There is plenty of talent around, in fact there are kids knocking on our door every day wanting to play..."
“Newcastle has long been an incubator for musical talent and that hasn’t changed. There’s some wonderful music coming through here at the moment, but the catch is you have to come and listen to it. We’ve seen some great performers play here before they graduated to bigger things including Kira Peru, Dave and the like. I don’t know about other people and places, but I haven’t seen any decline in kids wanting to make their mark.”
Cadillac recently played at the Lass' Bandapalooza VII event which showcased 12 live bands. Image by Area 51 Lice Photography
"There’s some wonderful music coming through here at the moment, but the catch is you have to come and listen to it..."
Ian says the trick to making the venue work so well, is scheduling multiple bands that in turn attract a harmonious and appreciative audience. And with more than 50 bands sending in gig requests every week, it is a delicate balancing act. One that Ian feels he has perfected over the years.
“When you have four bands on each night and each attracts 30 people, then there’s 120 here to watch and be exposed to the other acts. You learn as you go how to book them in a way that pleases the whole crowd and that’s just something that comes through experience. When it comes off it’s great and that’s what we do here. We look after local kids and often provide a stage for bands from further afield as well.”
Looking to the future, Ian says he would like to remain at the helm for as long as possible. But he is also aware a day will come when he has to hand over the reins.
“When the day eventually comes to move on, I would like to see the pub go into the hands of someone who will carry on the legacy we’ve created.
"But for now, you will still see me up the back every night with a big smile on my face, or out in the beer garden chatting with the kids. I have an incredible appreciation for what we have here. The pub is my loungeroom and the beer garden my backyard. Being here just makes me happy.”
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Nikki Taylor is Australian Hotels Association - Newcastle Hotels Representative