Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Palais de Danse, a casualty of St Kilda’s fiery curse?

As most readers of this blog would know, the area currently known as the ‘St Kilda Triangle’ wasn’t always just the Palais Theatre, assorted palm trees and grassy slopes, and a dirty great car park.

Indeed, there was a time when the Palais Theatre wasn’t the only Palais in town. Next to it stood the Palais de Danse, a grand music hall of sorts (as well as a famed example of interwar architecture), which attracted party people from near and far.Nothing's changed there, then.

Photo: courtesy of Walking Melbourne (Palais Theatre to the left)
Mind you, the building we now know as the Palais Theatre was once also called the Palais de Danse (before its stint as Palais Pictures, which preceded its current incarnation as the Palais Theatre)…Confused? Yeah, me too.

Anyway, the Palais de Danse that concerns us here is the one built to the north of the current Palais Theatre in 1925 and designed by none other than Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion, NOT the Palais de Danse that is now the Palais Theatre! Got it?

Here’s an old photo of the Palais de Danse with the Palais Theatre (then Palais Pictures) and Luna Park, to put it in perspective.

L-R: Luna Park, Palais Theatre, Palais de Danse in the 1930s. Photo: Palais Theatre website

Stardust memories

In 1962, the poetically named Stardust Lounge was built, adjoining the Palais de Danse. Much to my annoyance, I’ve been unable to find anything out about this particular nocturnal haunt: the perils of not being a trained historian, I suppose. (If anyone reading this remembers going there, do get in touch!)
The Stardust Lounge. Too bad there are no punters to be seen. Photo: State Library of Victoria
 Photo: State Library of Victoria

Towering inferno

But by December 27, 1968, the Stardust Lounge and the Palais de Danse were gone, burnt down in a huge fire that would ensure they went down in history (and flames) as casualties of St Kilda’s so-called ‘curse’. Nobody was ever charged. (Intriguingly, the Palais de Danse caught fire soon after being built too, but from what I can ascertain, that one was salvageable).
1968 St Kilda Stardust Lounge and Palais de Danse on fire" by Jason Mervyn Barnett. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Could it really be a curse? Or is St Kilda some kind of weird firebug vortex? 
The burnt-out ruins. Photo: Herald Sun
Whatever the truth may be, the fact remains that the suburb has seen more than its fair share of massive blazes over the years: eleven of them in 88 years, which have caused serious damage or complete destruction to some very significant buildings (the most recent being Donovan’s restaurant in August).

But the mystery doesn’t stop there. A few years after the Palais de Danse and Stardust Lounge burned down, the Palace Theatre was built on the same site… only to suffer a similarly fiery fate in 2007.

Anyway, here’s what the site looks like now:
Facing the bay
Facing up towards the Esplanade
To quote the great man himself, William Shatner… weird or what?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Melbourne song of the month: "Shakin' All Over"/Normie Rowe & the Playboys (September 1965)

They say you can’t improve on perfection, but I’d argue that Normie Rowe’s version of the Johnny Kidd & the Pirates classic “Shakin’ All Over” comes pretty close. Released in September 1965 as a double A-side with “Que Sera Sera”, this monster hit needs little introduction. Apparently it was one of the top-selling Aussie 45s of the 1960s; certainly, it remained in the charts for more than half a year and hit the number-one spot in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. 

Normie was already a teen idol by the time “Shakin’ All Over” (his fourth single) was released, but this catapulted him into almost intergalactic heights of pop superstardom. And no wonder! He sings it like he means it, if you catch my drift. Can’t you just imagine the effect this must’ve had on his teenybopper fans?! (Actually, no imagination needed. The video at the bottom of this post provides a clear picture, showing Northcote’s most famous son miming the song on The Go! Show to a hysterical studio audience)

Normie-mania in all its hormonal hysteria! Unfortunately, I don't know the names of either photographer
I should mention that I love Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ 1960 original of “Shakin’ All Over” – particularly the guitar sound and the vocals -- and I think it’s a tragedy that Kidd died so young because anyone who could pen such a gem at the age of 24 surely had a brilliant future ahead of him. I’m also partial to The Who’s rather macho rendition of the song. But Normie and his Playboys take it to another level: quickening the pace, embellishing the middle-eight and adding a hypnotic keyboard line that gives it an extra dimension of grooviness.

And that stinging guitar — goddamn!! It’s brutal and beautiful at the same time, like a tiger about to pounce on its prey and tear its throat out. Or something. Actually, I saw Normie and the original Playboys at the Flying Saucer Club about a year ago, and if memory serves me correctly, lead guitarist Bill Billings performed “Shakin’ All Over” with the same guitar he used on the recording. (I just wish I could remember what it was. Some kind of Maton?). Age hadn’t dimmed its bite, that’s for sure – it sounded killer.

Normie Rowe has a four-octave vocal range, and judging by his show last year, his golden tonsils are still going strong. But in “Shakin’ All Over” he sticks to a seductive, swoon-inducing rock’n’roll croon. Purrfect.

Which is more than can be said for his bizarre reworking of the song with celebrity chef Curtis Stone for a Coles ad about hormone-free meat back in 2012… Ahem. Best to not go there. 

Say no more...
Far better to end on a high. And so, I give you Normie on The Go!! Show: a surreal little snapshot of teen hysteria at its peak…