JH: ‘French’s Tavern’ Oxford St, Darlinghurst in the late 70’s. It had been a wine bar since early 20th century and started as 1 floor only. They used to pack them in with jazz and blues until they opened downstairs for music 6 nights a week. Saturday afternoons were more laid back so a band could have a residency for a long stretch. When I was in The Layabouts we held it for 12 months. Many well known bands, Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly and the Dots, The Reels, Richard Clapton and others played there getting an opportunity to try out new material in their early days. They would squeeze in about 100 on a good night and for the price of a couple of mugs of cider you could have a great night out with change from 5 bucks and enough for the bus fare home or walk to a friends house a crash on their floor.
PM: Frenches Tavern was a real part of my entry into musical journeyland…Starting with watching The Foreday Riders every Thursday night, studying the guitarists fingers trying to figure out what they were doing, then finally being able to play on the stage with my band Blue Lights, I guess this was around 1977, the memories are a little hazy of this time! There was an extremely obnoxious bouncer working there, crewcut, foulmouth and lacking in customer service skills! The wet & sticky carpet is still something I have a tactile memory of, having been close to it many times! The back lane was a meeting place for those wanting a breath of fresh or or a lungfull of Queensland heads or whatever was around at the time. I saw Anne Kirkpatrick (Slim Dusty’s daughter) with a tight kickass band there as well.
BP: My band Distant Locust had our first ever gig there mid-85! We were pretty rad electronic-dada then and thought we would be beaten up every time we played. Came close. But god, what an amazing place to give us a shot. In 1991 we went to Europe and signed with Contempo Italy, that was a different band by that time. Last year Red Room asked for poems about Darlinghurst and I wrote this straight off and it’s on their website. God bless you French’s! Here’s the poem.
French’s Darlinghurst 1985
Of course we freaked out
our first gig
we’d played only weird shit in the olds’ lounge room
shrieking poetry over drum machines
lifted from cheesy organs
that sounded unbelievable when you clicked
Rock ‘n Roll/Rhumba at the same time
and a grievous hiss like
swarms of locusts about to descend –
analogue synths, treated bass echoing
its non-musician’s latest griefs
a wash of audio from Lost in Space –
they regarded us with sullen anger
punks who only wanted to pogo
to the Birdman
or the Oils Mach 2
we couldn’t do it
people loved or hated it
I screamed menacingly and leapt up
and down on the wine-soaked floorboards
they bent in and almost broke
getting my balance I glanced up
at the dark, smoky ceiling
from the bottom of a pit
there was nothing more underground than this
when we blew away a crowd
at an amphitheatre in Florence
I gave thanks
to shitty venues like French’s
midnight scenes in Darlinghurst
and the punks
DG: My band Telescopic Frogs had a Tuesday night residency in lateish 80s. No one was there, we drank more beer than the money we earned ala Blues Brothers. Oh dear I feel old
MS: I played regularly at French’s with MX Warheads back in the good old days.
PT: My memories are few. I saw Midnight Oil there 1975 (?) – flailing away on that tiny stage – which actually made me like them. Prior to that, maybe Crossfire – the only jazzrock band in Aus seemingly. And that terrible blues band that was on there all the time. One of the bands I was in – Voigt/465 – played there. We weren’t invited back. But I got heckled well by Rob Younger so that made up for it. In the 80s I rarely went there as other places seemed to have the bands I wanted to see (or play in). And, yes, that cider was awful.
AG: The (erm) few times I went there recall being amazed to come out alive. The only injuries scrapes, scratches and bruises from all that gentile dancing! Think I copped a studded leather jacket in the face once. In the mid-80s I was playing frequently at the departure lounge next door by which time French’s took on another vibe all together… I just loved that it existed at all.
AG: There’s a certain nostalgia for that period in Sydney. It burnt bright for a few short years until gentrification reared and a small number of promoters screwed live music there. The diversity of music being performed and recorded, the JJ’s demo show broadcasting all sundry of noise and squeals, comics and posters of such creations they still make you laugh, and of course costumes some bands wore that fell apart as they played and the rowdy 8mm film scene… Oh, not to forget Crispy Bacon Theatre Co! Formative years for many of us.
DW: So funny incidents happened, one started out at an all too frequent incident, we hear SMASH outside, run out, yes some disgruntled person has thrown a brick through the big front window, again, fed up with this I give chase up Oxford Street, not being able to catch the guy who did it, pointed out to me by patrons out front, I catch his mate who didn’t run as fast. I get him to the ground until police arrive and I say I want him charged with damage, protesting loudly he is taken away and locked up, unable to raise bail. Next day I’m asked to go to Darlo Police to sign a statement that I saw this guy do it, gladly I did, the police then point out he wants me charged with assault, claiming I kneed him in the head, what should I do I ask the officer, Just say he was headbutting your knee, he laughs, but insists I say that. It goes to court, his assault charge against me is dismissed as the magistrate says it’s his version against mine, but the magistrate is a bit sympathetic to the accused who is insisting he didn’t smash the window, and when asked “Well who did it?’, he replies “My mate”, and asked well what is your mates name?, he replies “I’m not gonna tell you” . . GUILTY!! I didn’t feel bad, thinking he could take it up with his “mate”.
MN: I was a late comer to Sydney and didn’t arrive until ’86. Space Juniors were the first band I saw there. Mick and Carl – the boys – were my flatmates In Paddington at the time and I’m pretty sure Jo was the drummer then too. She was pretty sweaty and exhausted
SP: Not only was my band Sweet poison one of the few to have a residency at Frenches but for a while my girlfriend and i took over the kitchen and tried to make a go of it. I forget the owners name but it was a fantastic place to be, between two gay clubs, it stood out like the proverbial dogs balls with all the punk/goth people who used to frequent the place.
BT: I played at French’s with Mr X one night in about 82 or 83. During a break 3 or 4 blokes approached me and said they were in a band called the Lime Spiders and would I play drums in their band. I said thanks but I have something going on. A couple of years later after Mr X collapsed they had hit records and toured the US with Public Image while I was back In Tasmania scratching my arse planning where to go next …
DW: Who can remember before MTV and such visual marketing of music? I can, remembering back to when Grant, the manager of Big Swifty (later to be renamed The Radiators) came and asked for gigs, I asked for an audio tape, he said where’s the Video Player, that he has a video to show me. He was set aback when I said I didn’t care what they looked like, only what they sounded like. Nice person Grant, he could see what was coming. I didn’t care … and still don’t. They played and were very popular there.
PW: Please add Johnny Cole to the bands list. Whilst walking past the Hopetoun to get a sicky note from Dr Benno and Johnny’s fish n chips….I past a lovely old man busking in the daytime…….Johnny Cole…….he was wonderful…played acoustic….all Johnny Cash…he was in his late 60s, slim, wore a suit like n Division 4, very sharp, had a wonderful voice and spent all his money at the tab…..He looked like a cross between Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter and Harry Dean Stanton in Wise Blood..he also had an artificial leg so had a slight limp…old vet but not crazy….I asked him he he ever played real gigs, and he said not any more as he didn’t know people locally, so I asked him to come up to Frenchs with me that weekend as i was damn sure that my friends would also love him…..so we met at the Hopetoun and walked up. I had already organised a support for him with Patrick from Moist and Box the Jesuit but I think that night might have been Beasts of Bourbon or Salamander Jim…as I have a vague memory that Greg booked him for a few following gigs. I distinctly remember people asking me if I was going out with him……………..oh god he was about 3 times my age…I just thought he was a wonderful singer and performer…he was the real deal….cool old dude…obviously people loved him. He was a very nice chap too.
MM: When we used to play there it was full of skinheads. We all had long hair, two girls and two guys in the group. Sometimes I wondered if we’d make it through the set but for some reasons the skins loved us and we always packed the place.
RK: shit i think was at least 27yrs ago i played there remember being scared of the older rough looking guys that drank upstairs ha remember my older mates dragging me downstairs saying stay away from them
KN: Arriving from Adelaide with the band Terminal Twist in late ’79 – We landed a rental at 55 Stanley St Darlo for $80 a week,By day 2 0r 3, we found our way up the palmer street hill in walking distance to French’s to check out the local *competition* (we’d come a long way – serious 19-22 y.olds we were). The 2nd band I ever saw at French’s was Tactics. People really were into them in the audience maybe 30 of them. I just couldn’t hear it. Dave Studdart sounded like a howling cat on heat and the band was out of tune. I didn’t know that Canberra sound. Still, I looked around and yep…everyone was really into it. It wasn’t til I heard sekret sekret and the Reels that I thought there was something actually happening here. Just my young and tender years and ears I guess. The first person I saw at French’s was Richard Clapton playing with a violinist upstairs, hair down to his arse in ’76. I remember it like it was yesterday.
AH: I did indeed drink at French’s… many many times. I started in ’74 actually when I was 15 (back in the day when under-age drinking was barely a notion) in the jazzy/fusion/bluesy days. My boyfriend at the time was in Currents (Paul Radcliffe – bass), who played there, and then I had a whirlwind torrid affair w Mick Kenny from Crossfire (he was a naughty boy, that one), who also played there. It was also the scene of my first but brief foray into the world of psychedelics. What a hilarious night! [Oops – am I allowed to say all that stuff here? Ah well, too late!] Jayzuz – I haven’t thought about this place in years! I wish I could say the memories are flooding back but they aren’t… Well, specifics anyway. What I do remember is that those days were lots of fun!
BC: Definitely drank there, played there, acted like an idiot there and so on. Big time nights for me and friends was the 1978-79 era, though I recall seeing former band-mate, the late Rick Doolan, with his biker confederates in Bandanna as late as 1985. As I mentioned elsewhere, I actually have a cassette tape which still plays of about twenty minutes duration which was recorded on a pretty cool hand held machine upstairs mostly in February 1979. This is almost all highly embarrassing rubbish dialogue between myself and friend Richard Brooks. Other friends and lovers make cameos. But the ramshackle pissed up atmosphere is on there, I guess. There’s lots of background noise and interjections. I’ll see what i can do with it one day soon (I’ve got the gear to convert cassette to mp3). The trick will be to maybe get 30 seconds or a minute of stuff that people here might dig.
For the record, i was the guitarist in suburban amphetamine rockers The Press. We played there quite a few time in 1978 at least. One of the distinguishing features of this era was the band who played Saturday afternoons (!!!!) prior to us setting up. That band was The Layabouts, who did nothing but 12-bar songs. Rock n roll, blues, boogie, rhythm & blues, Louis Jordan….a whole bunch of genres… but strictly 12-bar style (someone correct me if I’m wrong about this)..
SH: French’s was the first place I ever went out to, I was 14 and it was 1981. Saw a band there called the Bent Elbows. I remember asking them why they called themselves that and they said cos they liked their beer. I guess that’s the only reason I remembered their name.
KK: Used to go in of a night come out early mornings summer sun blaring down into ya eyes…yep use to do a bit of time travelling at French’s…
GZ: Something along the lines of drunken bravado like if ya don’t give us money were gonna hit you even though you would already be so out of it thar one push in most cases from said victim would have you falling over the ground in a drunken stupor I very rarely arrived at Frenchs sober the othe popular and more preffered method was just to let your girlfriend do the bludge cause she was just better than a big dumb drunken slob in docs with a mohawk
PM: Did anyone ever use the rehearsal rooms that were across the road upstairs behind the shops? Instead of lugging our gear up there we plugged into some conveniently placed amps & were having a good old bash when a couple of red faced guys came storming up waving their arms around… It turned out okay in the end, they were Andy Gibbs backing band, they let us finish our recording using their pro (at the time) gear. Also that day was an amazing solar eclipse, I remember looking out the window to a very eerie light. About 1977 that was…
SP: For a lot of bands at that time, Frenches does hold fond memories because it was a place that original bands were welcome and we cut our teeth in that tiny venue! Many famous bands started at Frenches!
BP: I lived at French’s from the mid 70’s to it’s ultimate demise. Ray even liked me I think. My mate used to always crash by French’s time of the night and it is still a standing joke between us.
BS: Filth did not play Frenchs. I only played there with members of Johnny Dole and the Scabs in a band I can’t remember the name of. Could have been the Crooked Hearts. I remember sitting on the edge of the stage and sincerely crooning “Stand by me” to confused punters expecting something far more horid.
EG: I remember the first time I went to FRENCHES…….I was a country kid and moved down to Sydney for my HSC year ) I had read about the venue in RAM magazine) I was with some kids and were off to Uni of NSW for some classes at night. As we drove back I made them stop car on Oxford street and said we have to check this bar out. as from Car I realised this was the venue I had read about, Within 20 minutes I offered so many drugs ,,it was packed.and so punk rock.. I LOVED IT !!!!!!! The kids I was just freaked (Mondo Rock fans) and wanted to leave, eventually they did. I got the train home… and every chance I could it was always there (That with The Southern Cross my fav hang for the next few years)
AG: I recall someone having a fit on the stairwell and a bunch of us carrying the guy upstairs, someone keeping the geezer from swallowing his tongue. I wasn’t at French’s often enough to forget, but often enough to remember.
BM: had a glass thrown at me one night by some yob who thought my hair was ‘too long’ (it missed thankfully) – but that was my only experience of trouble down there – on the other hand, recall the woman next to me one night take a deadfall from the stool to the floor, lay there for a sec, then with a little help get up and resume drinking… pills….
BP: So, Sekret Sekret had a Monday night reso in 1980 and one week they told me they had decided to call themselves The Ken Gormly Explosion.
Of course, I thought they were just taking the piss, but there it was in the fucking Green Guide!..fuck!!..on my way to my dishwashing job, i hear George Wayne call it on the JJ Whats On, sniggering ‘Oh, dear, we mustnt miss that one’..fuck!!!
I get there for the last set after work, take a deep breath, go downstairs..and theyve gone through my room adorned the stage with my shit!!…Fuck!!!!
I guess they loved me.
MF: French’s, stumble down the stairs, drink , watch , listen to bands, fall back up the stairs , off to TUC or Bondi Lifesaver…somewhere else…lol,all a drunken haze but still remember those dark steps down …and up
PW: I also lived around the corner from french’s in 83 on palmer street, the orange people were still on the corner unfortunately. I lived in a basement flat in a terrace about 6 doors down. so so many people would crash when they couldn’t get home. I do remember that a punk that had a limp lived there before me, I forgot his name.
LB: I remember a time pogoing at frenches with Orange people there freeform dancing to the same band…there was only enuf space for “Up” not “sideways” dancing… A very cosy venue…
MC: Played there with the oils 76-77. oils had a thursday nite residency for most of 1977-wild times. it was amazing we all fit on that stage along with an organ and a full teak leslie cabinet. for about a year it was french’s thursday narrabeen antler saturdays. i remember going across the back alley to the oxford funhouse after the show and seeing johnny dole and the scabs many a time. the french’s dunnies were always about an inch deep in water-saw my first OD there at a tender age
PM: I remember the Oils first gig there, pretty sure it was a Saturday arvo… Poor Peter having to change into his pants on the stage. Funny I’d usually have that memory of him in his undies at French’s when he was talking on TV as minister! Fuck you guys were loud, one side of the PA blew up first song!
MP: A bouncer kicked the dunny door in to bounce myself and underage sister sarah out onto sidewalk. he was very committed to his work
MS: Can’t say I was a regular, it was a place I tended to end up at after somewhere else, still, was probably there a fair bit. Can’t recall much but do remember one night, standing watching The Singles play, beer in one hand, rollup in the other. Suddenly the rollie is swiped out of my hand and I look up to see man-mountain Ray take an inquisitive toke. He then returns it to me with a nod that says “you’re lucky that wasn’t one of those funny cigarettes”. He took that job very seriously and got a lot of respect for it.
RO: I definitely felt (and feel) an attachment to French’s 1981-1984 that I didn’t feel for other venues, much as I liked the Hopetoun, the Southern Cross / Strawberry Hills, Paddington RSL, Trade Union Club and a dozen other places. Part of it was the music, but part of it was also an edginess, a craziness – all freaks are welcome. I’d go to the Manzil Room afterwards just to calm down.
PH: I played my first gig in Sydney around 1980 there with The Young Docteurs. We limped to French’s in my Escort panelvan after it had thrown the harmonic balancer around Campbelltown on the way up from Canberra.
MS: It was an amazing time, where things were moving so quickly that local laws couldn’t keep up, and the police were content to turn a bit of a blind eye to so much that wouldn’t be tolerated today. I think so many venues went under because the masses of planning/health & Safety/insurance etc. just killed the little guys, and only the ones that switched to poker machines could afford the sometimes hefty renovations. I feel sad that my kids won’t get to experience places like Frenchs’, the TUC or so many other places you could pop in and see live music every night of the week, with money you scraped up from under the bed.
JC: I first started frequenting French’s on weekends watching Richard Clapton upstairs. There were afternoon gigs there on Saturdays? Could go out grab a bite then back in for an evening gig. Must have been early 70’s? When the lower level became a venue I’d get in there for Crossfire and Currents. ’74/’75?. Started playing in bands myself from ’76 so didn’t get in there as often. Managed to play there a few times but I think it was all coming to an end by then. Probably ’81/’82? Have enjoyed the odd curry at Tandoori Palace… just to indulge and remember this great venue. Go to the loo downstairs and checkout the ghosts. All pretty friendly btw
ML: Strange recollection I know but here it goes anyway.. .my fading memory of the place is climbing the stairs and heading to the back to get to the women’s toilets. By the end of the night and after too many beers it was just a whole lot easier to go to the men’s downstairs. I’m pretty sure I was not the only one…
JL: I was a patron from late 69 as far as I can remember!!! ha loveeeeed the place – cool as for some crazy, unknown reason – why did everyone have such a blast there!!!! I’ve put it down to party animal spiritual grounds. Sounds logical to me anyway, so that’ll do me ha
JA: frenches,and cheap bottles of scrumpies wine,the bedhogs played there,and we practically lived there,the first time i went there,it was more or less a hippie hang out,then up to tayler sq to the funhouse to see the Hellcats.
EG: FRENCHES was not only a punk venue It is the venue MIDNIGHT OIL got its inner city audience It featured a lot of blues and even jazz.blues bands in early and mid 1970s a soul band like the Layabouts and even real arthouse stuff like Black Eye The venue was so diverse, Even in the punk days after 1979 the most popular bands Electic Pnadas a pop band… it was like CBGBs I dont believe the sando prodyced the range and the bands that had such INTERNATIONAL success like Radio Birdman Inxs and MIDNIGHT OIL,,,,yet was central to Sydney punk scene…Really was one Sydneys most iconic venues.
GZ: Frenchs wae a much more fertile breeding ground tp me, the Sando was a johnny cum lately I think Frenchs diversity over the years is what makes it a defining venue,being willing to put on bands of various genres takes one part genius and one part pure insanity.For myself the fledgling punk and indie bands found there way thru venues like Frenchs The Trade and The Southern Cross and of course The Sussex and The Civic………
PN: Ahh Frenchs.
We lived round the corner in Riley Street 78/79 so occasionally stepped over the bodies at the bottom of the stairs for a night out. I couldn’t come at scrumpy so i might have had a nice glass of Hock, the Darlo white of choice circa then.
I know our band Wild West played there once, round 1980, photo evidence attached. Although in our early days we had this dumb idea of changing band name every time we played so it might have been Grab A Guitar or God The Movie or Grab A Garage.
I ‘did’ the light show (slides/super 8 movies), at Voigt’s show there in August 78, couple of pics from that night here.
I too remember seeing Midnight Oil round 77? Never cared for them but Peter Garrett’s jar of honey stuck in my mind.
I think i remember seeing The Singles who were part of that cool Sekret crowd and i liked a lot.
Coz I’m a hoarder i kept the Daily Telegraph “Green Guide” for 7 August 1978, the week of Voigt’s gig (still called Voigt-465 Radiators). The scan of that week’s listing reveal a few more names – Big Swifty, Rugcutters, Arnhem, The Layabouts, Snuff. As was the practice at the time I’m sure i hated them all.
By a stroke of luck that same week the Guide actually had an item about French’s being awarded a midnight closing license. 1.30am lock-out? Ha boo-hoo.
Thanks. If none of this actually happened its the hock’s fault.
CH: I found this in my diary 15.9.83. MX Warheads aren’t playing at French’s anymore, someone left tap on downstairs and flooded bottom of French’s.they got blamed. I was 15 years old!
MM: Feed-time , doing a line, in dingy toilet, of amphetimine cut with fluorescent light globe , bleeding nose laughed at by skins , crawl home later.
SB: I did drink at Frenches Tavern in the 70s. I was a fan of Junior and the Goldtops and went every Thursday I think it was to see them and Saurday night to see Foreday Riders.
PK: the models came up from melbs and played one night ,troy mascot punk got into a fight with one of the guitarists .troy was fully spitting on him for the first set then threw a full can or bottle at him and then it was on ..fuck it was funny, total pandemonium. troy had lined him up earlier in the day we were all outside the anz across from frenchs drinking piss and being obnoxious wankers to all and sundry and they(models) drove up oxford st in a convertible looking like pop stars and generally swanning about . that was enough for troy he had his mission for the night.
RD: I wish I could remember some band names, I do remember people with instruments downstairs circa 1979 making music, and a bar with a steady supply of Stones Green Ginger wine, and the dark haired barmaids lovely smile and big Ray: a great place, a safe haven from sanity.
MD: A band I was in, No Class, played French’s once supporting Examplehead, and it was great to see the floor crowded and people craning their necks from the stairs to get a better view of the festivities……..
SM: ha ha, I remember a fateful night when i was talked into drinking datura juice by a bunch of people, cant recall who, but i was with all these people up the Cross and then I ended up at Frenchs and walked down stairs thinking, I feel alright, this doesnt seem to working – it was packed and some band was on and suddenly everyone starting turning into werewolves, really intense realistic hallucinations. I ran out screaming into the night. arrrrrrrrghghghghh
AT: The Kelpies played at Frenchs’ once, 16 fights during the set, well that I saw, all very theatrical, like Brando & Lee Marvin, these high fashion punks punching each other’s heads in to a hopped up primal beat. Why? Well, I’d say amphetamines played a part, and being young and excitable!
PK: this boat load of american sailors hit sydney circa 79 and some of the afro american sailors ended up in frenchs, they wanted to buy some acid we got a packet of winny reds divided it up into 10mm squares and put a black texta dot in each square then laminated it both sides cut them up then sold them 50 at @20 bucks each. enough to say an hour later they were back looking to beat me up . as they walked through frenchs looking for me and friend we had to crawl under the tables and chairs telling everyone to shut up as we did till we got to the front door and bolted back to stanley st squats .. full adrenalin an laughter . another great night at frenchs for the books.
JS: It was in 2001 and I was driving along Oxford street and I saw a park near where frenchs was so I parked and went to the Indian restaurant, where a staff asked if they could help. I said I was looking to have dinner with a group of people and asked if I could look around, in which they obliged. Now this is before it was renovated to what it is today. I walked down stairs and looked around nothing apart from a few Indian motifs on the wall had changed upstairs and downstairs. I asked the host about karaoke and she replied yes they had karaoke facilities both Indian and western styles. My response was do you have any Feedtime or southern fried kidneys music and started playing air guitar while asking the question. Her response was a extremely worried no. So I said I won’t be coming here. I later rang Rick Feedtime and told him where I had been and encouraged him to go and look but his response was it would be too heart breaking. I suppose places like frenchs and the palace hotel had that mind altering influence on , well it did on me and I’m glad.
WB: I did drink at French’s Tavern ( Wine Bar ) c 1968-9, usually the Cider at $0.50 a Pint x 4, loved the squishy carpet underfoot, the Blues and Jazz that was being played upstairs rear to a VERY packed crowd, and then in the early 80’s downstairs where I did the sound for a friends band The Gents …. what a great era and place it was. One of those from The Gents is playing in Bathurst tonight.
GB: The night The Thought Criminals played and someone down the front found a stash of alcohol stored under the stage and everyone in the place wound up with their own bottle of Spumante.
MD: I remember one night the place was rocking along nicely until the band decided to play “Somebody’s gunna get their head kicked in tonight” which was the cue for some skinheads to cut loose on a few longhairs……..
LAC: I don’t have many clear memories of being there. But I was there a lot. Pretty sure I played there at least a few times. Think that may have been Aberration doing somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in…. Well I remember often when we used to play it fights would start up.
AT: My most memorable moment at Frenchs was overdosing in the back lane on Tuinols and some white powder , only to be brought back by a bucket of water to the face …. Best days!
RP: Sue, knocking out 2 Bull Dykes, from Ruby Reds, whom attacked her from behind, on Oxford Street, I know miss Susie!, cause big Ray told me in his 20 years of bouncing!, he’d never seen anything like it!!, Sue, you threw one of them over you’re shoulder, splat on her back, and completely knocked out the other dyke, with a right hook!! Lol, and you told me you didn’t remember a thing, as Ray said, he was watching you walk home , knowing how out of it you were, concerned for you, and these 2 went to jump you, knocked them out, got back in you’re feet, and proceeded to walk home!, Legend!, Girlfriend!!, xx
JB: I used to love going there but think I was barred for being underage……. I remember drinking lots of cider there with Macca, Richard and little Pete, Aaron running amok, can’t remember the toilets thankfully. Saw various bands but I couldn’t tell u who they were now.
BY: I can claim first going to French’s in circa 74. I have a feeling that my first management charges also played there in about ’74/75, Ward and Johnson who had just released a wonderful album on RCA. I’ll check with Dan Johnson and get back. Have just read David’s history below and the picture he paints of Paul is nothing like my memory of him. Guess I saw his public face and not the behind-the-scenes one. I haven’t spotted anyone mentioning the standard band fee which from memory was $130. I have Mi-Sex’s old gig sheets stashed away somewhere…I’ll look up the actual Frenches dates someday.
RE: Old guy, used to have a puff, ride my motorcycle there on a Wednesday night to see The Foreday Riders, have three middies of cider. Well I remember when I was young and the world had just begun and I was happy. 1976.
DA: I got off the plane on 16th January 1978, walked up Oxford St and heard music, walked down into French’s Wine Bar and heard Crossfire. Amazing place, amazing band. Yo Paul.
JW: I remember a school mate who had the mod look and refused to drink down there, he said it was dangerous and full of Punks. I told him not to worry because “I was born in the briar patch”!
MdlH: When I first got to Sydney from Perth in 1983 the dole was $64/week and my Taylor Square flat, above the chemist opposite Kinsellas was $50/week. A flagon of Pacific port was $2.50 from the bottle shop downstairs, phew. Went down well with rice, onions and herbs. Many nights I wandered down to French’s for a glass of water and the odd cider when I was feeling flush. Eventually my band Tall Tales and True played our first ever show there. I did not know of the lengthy history with some of our classic bands having got a start there. Fond memories…..
CS: Well I started going to French’s in the early 70’s very cool place to be saw Cold Chisel’s first Sydney Shows there late 70’s and ended up with half of them living with me in Taylor Square fun times. The 80’s were hit and miss but was on the fringe of the punk scene managing Local Product and later Itchy Rat post the hay day for my younger punk friends Sarah Mitchell Melissa For Kate Everingham Ashley Thomson Adam Roche amongst others so guess I got the depth and breadth of the French’s experience
SH: i remember chisel’s quasi residency at French’s , i lived just off boundry st darlo/paddo my favourite bit was when Don Walker and Mossy sent Barnsey to the bar and just the two of them did a bunch of songs including Georgia on my mind … ‘
DPM: i lived at French’s post Funhouse and also post the whole ‘true’ Punk movement in Sydney. some of the funniest nights ever and always some wonderful new band to catch.
CC: I have some memories of hanging out downstairs at Frenchs in probably about 82-83 to watch the band MX Warheads – my girlfriend was ‘seeing’ the singer at the time.
PR: Ah! after a (Raglan Road) gig in the early eighties: early gig….. French’s Tavern, late gig…. Martin’s Bar, very late gig….. Gilligans Island!
Great times, great music great little part of the world! 70s, 80s, we played the Paddington Green, Courthouse, Grand National, Light Brigade, Century – should have changed the band’s name to Oxford St.? French’s was like the school canteen!
GM: will try to dig up some old MAD SHADOWS pictures from early 80s especially the night David Bowie turned up and sat through a half /hour of our set. DB and his crew dropped in after doing the show ground ,didnt get to meet him as we were on stage but got told about it when we finished. Yes they were good, we were just young kids at the time I was actually underage when we started playing gigs at frenchs, but we lied about my age and the show went on. Oh yes and we were the brats that graffitied our name on the wall adjasent to the downstairs loading dock.
MVdM: Wow good old French’s, hung there as a punk in the 80’s and many years later ended up knowing and doing shows with my good friends The Foreday Riders. Talk about full circle!!
CC: Didn’t someone give Marilyn a wack up the ear in French’s at some point in the early 80’s? Skirts, nice long sweet smelling hair and work boots were not to every ones liking at the time, and Oxford Street had not yet become the big gay scene it was going to become? But is not now….. Memories…
GC: Hey Dave, those early days were great, I was reluctant to move downstairs when you first opened it up, alot of the old regulars took a while to leave the upstairs bar. The cops wearn’t that friendly to us early on. Remember, they would be waiting outside at 10 and grab the usual suspects. Poor French guy Roger would get nabbed every Sat. night. Best memories are when Richard Clapton nailed all the material on Girls Album every Wed night before recording it. I think the decline certainly hit with those frozen meals!
MW: Hi, two bands I was in played at Frenchs: YNOT about 1975 and Double Edge about 1982. Also about that time a girlfriend of mine Clare de Lune was on the bill.
SH: My brother Chris and I played French’s a couple of times in 78 with a band called Mighty Little, all kiwis, but formed in Sydney … we also had a residency at the Rushcutter Inn when it was called the Whitehall ( and Leo De Castro was the SP ,,, ahhh memories ) and the Windsor Castle in Paddo , pre gentrification … Jimmy and the Boys used to do saturdays …
SL: I spent many nights at French’s. I used to work for a band called Railroad Gin which had a residency on Tuesday’s I seem to remember. Crazy sweaty nights with an interesting crowd. Many old roadies used to hang out there in fact used to help each other load out. Never happen now. I have some shots the band did out in the back lane which I will post. Memories!!!! Thanks.
DW: So much gear, so many people, all the way from Queensland, great nights with RailRoad Gin, always went down so well, another band that were welcome anytime they were available. Funny but true story, we’d had a dispute with a wine supplier so decided to change, they told us we couldn’t, that if we did they’d send some characters to wreck the place, this late afternoon these three characters showed up with Ross T., the rep, saying they were coming to teach us a lesson, at the same time RailRoad Gin roadies turned up in their truck with some of the band and yelled out to us, Ross T. and his mates thought we’d brought in backup, thought they were outnumbered so shot through, never to be seen again.
WJ: Sometimes I’d leave Frenchs with a very determined notion of going to the Manzil room, only to wake up in the daylight having crawled into the garden of (I think it was) a mental home, I knew I’d be safe in there?
MG: Arr, the sweet caress of Caritas asylum, South Sydney.
LK:The bar went right along the wall to the right. The feature that struck us all was the cider glasses. When I went there in ’77 downstairs was accessible. I went to Frenchs everyday after work for years.
DW: In the 70’s the cider glasses hung over both bars, at street level, being upstairs section of Frenchs, bands never had a raised platform or stage to play on and it was most awkward for musicians getting bumped by people heading to the toilets behind the band area, downstairs solved that.
GC: Hey Dave, those early days were great, I was reluctant to move downstairs when you first opened it up, a lot of the old regulars took a while to leave the upstairs bar. The cops weren’t that friendly to us early on. Remember, they would be waiting outside at 10 and grab the usual suspects. Poor French guy Roger would get nabbed every Sat. night. Best memories are when Richard Clapton nailed all the material on Girls Album every Wed night before recording it. I think the decline certainly hit with those frozen meals!
AN: Early in our move to Sydney, after time spent in the wild mountain yonders of Tassie, the band, to wit the Sweetest of Poison, got a residency at said Tavern. One gentle afternoon, after the usual chaotic sound thingy or boot inspection or what ever musicians do when they are playing but not playing and sound guys are thingy checking and yelling inanities into penis like wire covered protrusions at the end of black electrical cords, a tall, ginger headed gentlemen with an axe strapped to his back and a flighty young, cross legged Tasmanian and I were sitting at the upstairs bar in said Tavern. A nine foot six ex-paratrooper was at the door blocking out the sunlight and most of the rest of western civilization. Flies circled apathetically in the dust drenched air and cockroaches did what they always do in Sydney- shit and procreate. We were joyous in a restrained sort of a way, for no discernable reason. Overt joyousness being frowned upon in said Tavern, on slow Tuesday afternoons. None the less we were joyous in a curmudgeonly Tasmanian sort of a way, so thought we’d live it up a little and go up-market and actually buy a drink. Pooling our meager resources- a copper coin, a promisory note, a one dollar advance for the upcoming gig, a piece of barely chewed gum and one of Mr. Micheal G’s best paint brushes we decided to order a glass full of cheap alchol. No hell, lets live it up we agreed, we’ll order a whole bottle, we’ll half a used bottle will do, as long as no one has spat in it. The French Riviera was a bit beyond our living it up sort of imagination but we definitley weren’t in downtown Burnie on a Sunday afternoon, so life was a bonus and living it up was definitely in order. We called the barkeep over, having woken him from some Afghan inspired dream and ordered, ‘a bottle of your finest… well cheapest red if you please’. ‘A bottle of red? He replied, eyeing us suspiciously reaching for the large No.9 baseball bat installed under his bar and his slip-on knuckle dusters. ‘We’ve had none of that muck in here since the beatniks lost their hair, clipped their beards, gave up poetry and became arts administrators. We were not to be turned, we were Tasmanian, we’ll the majority of us were and the other was an honorary. We weren’t going to be deflected by some big city grifter with attitude… and a very large bat. ‘Find us some wine our good man’ we howled in unison.’ ‘Fuck yers’, the bard of Oxford Street replied, ‘I’ll ave a look out the back, but don’t hold your breath.’ We sat there holding our breath. After a little time he returned, covered in dust and spiderwebs gleefully holding a bottle of red plonk in his hand. ‘What do yer know yer in luck gentlemen.’ And then the fateful words poured from his honeyed lips like nector. ‘And can yer fuckin believe it there are about another four cases down there.’ We sat very still and crossed our legs. ‘Err how much do you want for that pretty shitty looking bottle of no doubt rancid vinger?’ The ginger headed gentleman with the axe strapped to his back asked in a jovial sort of a way. He was always pretty cluey with negotiations involving money. ‘Oh I don’t know, how about a couple of bucks and if its drinkable and yers want another, go and help yourselves and it’ll cost three bucks a bottle. We of course spent the rest of the day traipassing backwards and forwards looking for spiders and pretending we were drinking from the original bottle. This was 1982-3, the little lable on the bottle I noticed, the moment the barkeep had re-appeared from the netherworld read 1967. Over the next three months or so the Sydney chapter of the newly formed Tasmanian Wine Appreciation Society (members 3 + invited guests) drank their way through about four cases of the best Fuck You vintage 1967-69 red plonk ever bottled, at three bucks a bottle plus the odd freebee for all our hard work. Oh joy of joys, such salad days, I might have drank at French’s!
BW: yes I was a punter there from the late 1960s and played there under the stage name Leroy Suave every Saturday arvo for just over two years, 1978-80, with the Layabouts.
PS: Luved the place after i was first taken there by my old Uncle Tom,who was a real regular,well if u lived in Charlotte Lane just down the old stairs that would start on Oxford st & u liked a bit of a drink & music well say no more.Their must still be a few people around Darlo that knew my Uncle Tom Stevo,Tommy Stephenson.He was well known as he lived around Darlo for quite a decades.
RM: I played/sang there in about 1971, probably in the rock band Chorda Tympani, but possibly in the Oakstone Jug Band, in which case it would have been 1972.
DW: Crossfires first album featured a great photo taken downstairs at Frenchs when they held the monday night residency, before moving on to The Real Ale Cafe in the city, or as they said Georgie Fame called it The Flat Ale Cafe.
SH: I sang in a couple of bands at French’s including Berlin and Doris Day had a drink there as well!
MC: Post midnight lock-ins at French’s, drinking $1 schooners of flat scrumpy cider served from 2L glass flagons. You could stay of you kept drinking. Some conversations were had; can’t remember any of them though. My funniest memory of French’s is seeing Simon Townsend (yeah, from Wonder World kids TV show) there one night. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and thongs. WTF? I thought. He was there to meet Wednesday Kennedy who ended up as one of his reporters. Ha ha ha. He must’ve felt out of place
LF: When I was a wee punker Ray (the bouncer at Frenches) used to show up in his cab (all over Sydney) and drive us home for free. It was bizarre how many times it happened. He also stepped in and stopped me getting a kicking on more that one occasion from skins (normally called big/little steve/allen or spider) lol. There was also a little bootie (called Libby) that saved me one night then Ray jumped in when some skinhead gave her a smack. I only really remember my feet sticking to the floor downstairs and Rhonda the Honda attempting to rape me but I did have many fun times there…
JN: We played there in late 70’s..early 80’s.. “ROUGH JUSTICE “… 3 chord Chainsaw …. Rosco .. Marky .. and me Johnny … remember sticky floor .. Sweating your Ring out .. Blowing the walls out. standing out on the footpath .. reviving for the next set .some great nights had there .. lugging up and down those stairs .. oh .. The O.P.Rum days … Civic..Haymarket .. Chequers .. Vulcan. ..Strawberry hills.. S.T.U.Club.. etc…
JC: Well, it was a time that the punk scene was small and only centred on a few pubs and Frenches was a pretty mixed audience. The Punks liked the Clones, cause we were the only band in Sydney playing 60s and we played very fast. In the middle of a set we saw this line of punks coming down the stairs to our left and we noticed them slowing making their way through the audience and lined themselves across the front of the stage. There they proceed to spit at the band. As any good professional band would under these circumstances, we continued to play and managed to dodge the spit or protect ourselves with our guitars. Thing went well until Mark copped a golly in the eye … and for a quiet fellow … he went off … he swung his Hofner across the conveniently lined up punks and the neck of the guitar only gave way on the third head. Mark was still not finished and grabbed his Bass amp head and threw it at the remaining punk who hadn’t started to run. This was a valve amp that weighed a ton and took the startled punk to the floor. The Punks disappeared and we continued and finished the night. Later on, when we were packing up, the Punks returned, walked down the stairs to an empty Frenches, with just the Clones. We thought it was on … The punks looked quite upset and asked why we had got so angry and hurt them with our equipment? We said that we didn’t like being spat on. They were shocked! They said that they really loved us and were only showing their appreciation!
MF: What I remember from Frenchs was searching behind the cushions for dropped pills …
SH: My brother Chris and I played French’s a couple of times in 78 with a band called Mighty Little, all kiwis, but formed in Sydney …
BJ: I never seen a band at Frenches but to me it’s still an essential part of our cultural history & like others i love reading this. I can remember the mince from the Civic, The Barmaids from the Stagedoor & fish tank from the Lifesaver but I never graced the stairs of Frenches. I’m sure I would have been right at home.
MC: Woo! And what fond hazy memories of a very different world it was back then…and so glad to have grown up through that period …So Much Fun!
VK: i recall in about ’92 or early ’93, i was out in Sydney for a while whilst living in London; thought i’d check out the old venues; alas, the only thing close was that pub on City Rd up to Newtown; oh yeah, The Lansdowne; I went and saw Louis Tillett one week, and me ol’ mate Hugo Race another night; I went up to French’s, which had turned into a non-music type of wine bar or such.
MH: You mean French’s that used to be on Oxford St? OK…yes we played there back in the 70’s as Vela…later on the off shoot is The Choirboys. I loved working there as audience reaction was so positive. Food was good too.
DW: Loved this band [Pantha], they really packed the place. The most memorable night with them was when after I’d pulled out of Frenchs and went to EastSide, Pantha were booked but asked if I minded THE DOOBIE BROTHERS playing with them. Definitely a night to remember, both bands played away til late.
EEO: My first band, the Southern Fried Kidneys, did shit-loads of gigs @ Frenchs. For many years it was my second home. Its where I cut my teeth and grew up in more ways than I care to mention. Oh if only those walls could talk!
AA: 1980, 15 years old and cheap black-russians! Not sure I ever recovered. Less scary than the Trade Union.
MK: 1981, 13 years old- thought Frenches was scary and STUC tame!!!
ROV: Chris’s skills as a guitar maker led to him developing an act (the Chris Turner Band) where he smashed up a surreptitiously donned replica of his strat at each show. He’d repair it (sometimes with a new neck) and then do it all again. I remember a show back in 1978, at French’s Tavern in Oxford St when he shoved the head stock through the canite stage ceiling and walked offstage and it just hung there, feeding back, until the roadie got up there and turned the volume knob down.
GS: I made a list from the bands directory and clearly *despite mandies remember seeing 34 of them. I met my first husband at Frenches. The place is important in the stories of my life and I’m sure it’s that way for many.
WH: Identity X was one of the early Punk bands of The Civic Hotel and other inner city haunts … we played about half dozen gigs at French’s some with Queens Ann’s Revenge … Identity X were the early members of Wrong Kind of Stone Age … Gavin, Wes, Geoff … Cheers thanks for the memories!
CM: For a hell of a lot of people, French’s was a way of life, an escape from personal trauma. It didn’t matter what you were, what race, what religion. Once thru those doors, you were home.
CC: lovely place … I recall in ’75 I went there a few times … one night I saw my pal drummer Rob Souter and his (then) band Lizard getting paid $20 each for the gig – I thought “wow, big dough … lucky buggah”
ST: 1979 I remember driving down from Brisbane in a battered old Holden HR with a bunch of punks escaping the oppressive police state of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and seeing the barbiturate casualties arrayed on the footpath outside French’s waiting for the ambulance or the police to arrive. Thank Baal I made it home.
CB: Just getting down the stairs was always fun, junkies shooting up and trip man walking around selling trips from a plastic Baggie saw some great bands there over several years, started the night here then moved on to the lifesaver lots of laugh and great fun.
JP: legend has it that John Lydon turned up to watch XL Capris at Frenchs in a Sia- like blond wig.
PG: We [ Midnight Oil ] were only playing on the northern beaches, no one would drive across the bridge. They weren’t prepared to drive the extra ten miles or whatever it was to see us. Eventually someone saw saw that every week 200 or 300 people were turning up and leaving smiling. We eventually connected with French, who in those days was quite a central force in Sydney music. And he said, “Well, look, you can have Monday – which isn’t going to be a very good night.” When we played French’s on Monday and we played the Adler on Friday, that was our big week. Two gigs!
BY: I had the honour of being promoter of the Antler Hotel (Narrabeen) on weekends at that time and Garrett is right, Oils used to put in around 300 on a Fri night, yet were unknown elsewhwere but Frenches was the beach-head that first got the vibe going for them in Sydney.
PL: I first went to Frenchs at age 14 with my much older brother and his uni mates after we marched down George st in a small anti -vietnam war protest in 1969. The Foreday Riders blues band were the resident group at the time. A half pint of cider was only 20 cents ! Later when the larger Moratorium anti- war rallies took place during 1970 and 71 demonstrators would congregate at Frenchs at the days end. These demos often got violent hence you would escape out of the city to French’s wine bar. Protest placards would be leaning against the front window in Oxford street. There was only the one floor back then and you couldn’t move as people jammed in. Some demonstrators had bloodied shirts. Mostly University students and some year 12 high school kids. It always amazed me that I or my friends were never asked to show I.D even though we were obviously under age teenage drinkers. For the next 10 years going to Frenchs became a regular event.
HE: played there once in Bremen 38.
we only ever played three gigs.
lineup was – myself: vox
william (can’t remember his last name): guitar
ken turner: bass
nigel (can’t remember his last name): drums
this would have been in 1981. It was winter.
PT: I remember going when bands such as The Amused and Southern Fried Kidneys were playing (and others I can’t remember) and having a fantastic time. Never saw a single fight, met friends I still see today. Got to also watch the mardi gras go by. At the time it all didn’t mean much but now feel lucky to have been there.
SP: Oxford street in the eighties was a pretty wild place. One night after a gig, wearing eye makeup (which i still do, when i play, call me old fashioned lol) After a gig at French’s I went with a friend (She was a girl) to Patches, a gay club down the road. I was fairly drunk I think! haha. Anyway we went upstairs to this club and i had hair extensions, looking a little like Marylin (Not Munroe) As the evening rolled on I was approached by some gay men who thought i was gay too.(I had that effect on people back then, god knows why) They found out this girl was really a girl and took offense that I’d gone there with an actual woman. (She did look a bit like a man in drag because she was really tall) The bouncers threw me out rather aggressively and my testicles luckily slowed me down on the trip down the stairs! LOL! dazed i stood up, a little wobbly and stood against the wall outside patches. A bunch of guys from Paramatta walked by and saw me. They thought i was a gay guy too so proceeded to belt me up, so that night i got thrown out for not being gay and belted up because some guys thought i was. Oh dear..I ended up at St Vincents Hospital at 4 in the morning feeling very sorry for myself. I thought at the time that Oxford street sucked! LOL “Damned if I am, damned if I’m not” hahaa The next day at rehearsals i looked like I’d just survived a boxing tournament and the band members said “What the hell did you do?” Just another brick in the wall!
WJ: You couldn’t win, especially in those days,those guys often came into the city ,some even in their pre heroin addiction green and gold track suits, looking to find some accommodating women and when they found no one was interested in them because they were yobs, they would collect their consolation prize, which was taking out their frustration on any one who looked different to them,and usually in a groups of no less than three?
WJ: I used to clean the toilets at Frenches and fortuitously a couple of days after setting my bedroom alight while I was asleep, (candle on milk crate, after too much to drink trick, my boots were burnt beyond recognition), I found a mysterious tube of rolled up money enough to buy a new pair .there was also the occasional little brown block of this or that and other assorted ‘things’ but generally a shitty job.
AA: I remember coming in on Saturday morning just on closing to take home the PA gear not so good. Ripping gaffa tape off the old carpet and winding up up the cords etc. circa 1983-4.
AL: I used to go to French’s in the late 1970s (yes, a bit of an oldie here!) Memories include Four Day Riders, Midnight Oil, Jimmy Barnes etc…. but there were many more. Great days … or should I say nights!
PC: I played my very first ever live show at Frenchs Wine Bar in Oxford Street with [ Divinyls drummer Richard Harvey ].
JG: The Foreday Riders, Margaret Roadnight, Dutch Tilders, Judy Bailey, Cyril B. Bunter Band, Gypsy Dave Smith. Much preferred when band played upstairs! Such great memories, drinking Stones Green Ginger wine, an’ still carryin’ the rare blues record or a copy of Great White Wonder or Blind Boy Grunt that I mighta picked up at The Pitt.
ST: I know I used to frequent French’s in late 1979 but I have little memory of the bands (or indeed anything) – Jimmy and the Boys and (maybe) Tactics. However, your FB group has enabled me to re-connect with an old friend from those days, Deborah, and we have recently met and caught up on the intervening 36 years. It was fantastic – sent us both spiralling back to the days of our youth.
LC: I did my first ever lighting gig at French’s … I had a box with 4 light switches on it (the kind you find on a wall). I had one green light, 1 blue light, 1 red light and a white one that clapped out halfway thru the gig … the band were called New Breed.
SD: I was just a wee gromet and played bass in my first pub bands The Bridge and No Romance (either or both would have played there).. Some members of these bands also played there in The Strangemen (I think)… I mixed Lemmee Caution, and the other bands that played on the same bill. Jeff, (pre Wiggles fame) was doing the PA system if memory serves… Got 1/2 beat up there one night by skinheads right there in the entrance where the old red phone was… beating was stopped by a huge guy with a mowhawk…. I remember the Orange People nights too… as a teenager that place sure was an education I never got from the suburbs!! Miss it like mad!
SF: I know 1000% I drank at Frenchs, circa 82 … Stinky, Liverpool and FourBalls drove a busted Valiant with no brakes, Briz to Syd … the car broke down on the median strip 20 metres away from Frenches … we knew Sydney, like, ZERO … but as we laughingly abandon the car in traffic we saw Dale ET (from GC) and Kinley Klacker … both beautiful RIPS … but we knew we had landed on the right side of the planet … AND SCRUMPY CIDER ON TAP??? … and the Bhagwans Orange cats were cool to give us drinking money coz we sang Roxanne … So began an adventure that led us all headlong into oblivion … punks from other planets, acid fuelled medieval battles in the state forest, murderbycop … mind boggling ultra violence from skins … live music and livelier weirdos … an awesome 4 storey squat on Cnr Fitzroy street and Sth Dowling … weird sex, heavy drugs, and heavier scenes … busking, begging, nickin and legging … watching out for my friends as they cracked it, up at the Wall … sleazy and easy … we laughed at the world and sometimes it laughed back … sometimes it chucked rocks at us … cops killed Mac in the Darlo lockup … and I had to split … they hurt my feelings … and we each had one foot in the steel door anyhow, too much dash for our own damn good … it was just dumb luck that kept me on the toe … AS FOR FRENCHES? IT REACHED OUT AND STOPPED OUR CARS MOTOR AS WE WERE DRIVING STRAIGHT PAST … FUCK YEAH, I DRANK THERE … IT FOUND THREE TOTALLY LOST PUNKS AND MADE OUR HOME THAT CARNIVEROUS CITY … WE FED ON IT, AND IT ATE US ALIVE … WE KNEW WE WERE TOGETHER FOREVER … IN RAPTURES AND FRACTURES … VIVA LA SIN CITY … VIVA LA FRENCHES TAV.
JD: Ha ha … I can see you guys now – you stinky and Liverpool in my mind right at that time. Cass and I saw Dale (rip) and Mark (rip) there and immediately felt at home. The joint had an easy atmosphere and especially leaving Brisbane’s public and cop anti-us policy. Frenches was about meeting like minded others that we could sit in our glory and bask in the shine of dm’s and the call of a misunderstood lot. Frenches was reunion and fun. Great staff and easy to get to & opened its unconditional doors to a wave of creativity every bloody day … tribute and cheers to Frenches – you are a memory to many …
PLH: let me recount of what I can about Frenchs, it was as far as I remember a wine bar and you went down the stairs with the stage for the band on your right. IDIOT/SAVANT played support there to The Thought Criminals. The response was limited, but the coup de grace was finding out that somebody had done a big gob on my Italian Suit jacket (from Skin Deep -proprietor Ian Hartley & editor of Spurt magazine) and none of the band telling me till after the gig. But hey it’s only saliva and as Bono said in an interview about the Punk phenomenon “we always spit on our heroes”!
PL: Last week I visited a pub located not far from where Frenchs wine bar was located in Oxford street. I bought a glass of apple cider which cost a whopping $8! This brought back memories of when in 1969 I was 14 and would often visit Frenchs on a Saturday night with a mate to see The Foreday Riders Blues Band and mingle with Sydneys coolest set of people. We would drink a glass mug of cider which cost only 20 cents. Brandavino was to expensive at 25 cents. Since then the price of cider has sky rocketed by 4,000 %. In 1969 /70 we would catch a train into the city , eat a bowl of fried rice in Dixon st , then walk up Oxford st to Frenchs and drink two mugs of cider plus be entertained by Foreday Riders all for $1.00 and for another 23 cents buy a soft pack of Peter Stuyvesant cigs. Those were the days.
IR: 1977 saw Midnight Oil there.A Tuesday night … about 20 in place … PG eating a steak sandwich on stage. Frenches had free night on Tuesdays when ‘up and comings’ were given a go … saw Cold Chisel when did some of first Sydney gigs after coming up from Adelaide … predominantly a blues set … told this to Jim B many years later he was amazed! “What??? You and 3 others???”
NB: I was 16yo in 1978 and found out about French’s through school friends, who used to go there to buy drugs. It was not long before I followed for the same reason. There was all sort of goodies for sale. It was a part of growing up in Sydney at that time, I made new friends, found love, watched bands, found Paddington when it was a squat, and at times spent the night there. I remember Ray the bouncer, Punk Peter, and old Junkie Jim. Now years later I tell people about my adventures at French’s, and no-one believes that those days happened, how could it, but it did. It would make a great book, that there was a place like Frenches Tavern, a story that needs to be written!!!!
PK: Yeah it was between August and Christmas 79. They [ Teenage Radio Stars ] drove up from melbs in a big old caddie with the roof down, they were poncing around darlo and just generally being way cool Melbourne rock star types, I recall there was a big fight that night … Troy with all the safety pins in his heads (mascot punk, now deceased),,, stood in front of the guitarist and just gobbed (spat) at him all night. In the end the poor guy lost it and smashed troy over the head with his guitar and naturally enough, it was on … a really memorable night!!! And yes they were still the T R STARS. I was so off my guts in those days but French’s memories manage to stay strong … Indelible memories !!??!!!!!!!!!
PM: …walk up to the bar…couple of ciders…couple of marsala and oranges for the girls …fourday riders pumping out the blues……closing time …standing out in the cold debating who’s party sounds best….grab directions and as many people that can fit in the kombi and head off. …party….wake up in the morning…walk down to the closest corner …read the street sign….get out the street directory to find out where you ended up then head home or to the beach….ahhh frenches
BB: Haha. I remember starting big on Thursday nights (payday). Drinking through an all nighter, off to work Friday. Straight back into it Friday night. Ray shutting the doors at closing time and letting the select few remain. Tossing us out in the sun to a Saturday morning shopping crowd, dragging our drunk arses to the early opener, then to the Civic. Paddy’s market for a quick feed. Somebodies (anybodies) house for an afternoon kip. Up and off to some beer garden in Crown street. Then start all over again at French’s Saturday night. Repeat Sunday. Try to scavenge enough money to get to work on Monday and spend rest of the week recuperating and getting ready for Thursday again. Thus went my youth and my liver
RD: From the people we hung out with at French’s from 81-83? Daryl Sharp, David Macintosh, (Macca), Paul Beebee and David Macree (Ed the Ted) have all passed away. We were all shocked at the death of Macca in Darlinghurst Police Station holding cells, of a Cerapax overdose and failure of duty of care by Police. Ray the bouncer was studying Law at the time and was representing Daryl who was with Macca at the time of his death, and demanded an inquest. The Police were not made culpable and Ray was not informed of the Court Date. Paul died of a Heroin Overdose in ’86, Daryl committed suicide in 2001 and Ed died of Liver failure around 2004? Such a tragic end to four beautiful damaged souls.
GG: The Alan Lee Quartet, Friday night regulars in the late 60s. I remember their bass player was Ray Dermody because he taught me Commerce/Economics at school during the day. Always c a good crowd to the point where they introduced membership for a few bob which got you a badge with the harp logo and priority entry.
DW: All true, the badge was of an irish harp with the number 86 on it, as in 86 oxford Street, the logo was also on the under awning sign at the front. from memory the badge was mainly green with gold, perhaps a bit of red on it.
GG: Irish harp, predominately green with gold trim, 86 in the middle and matched the logo on the sign out the front. Don’t remember the red bit though. Might have been numbered but haven’t seen it for years and don’t know for sure but either way it got you to the front of the queue on the big nights. Haven’t needed it for almost 50 years but I might even have mine laying about the house somewhere. If I find it I’ll photograph it and post it here.
DS: Roger from the Thoughties got some nights at Frenchs; this long narrow dark cellar on Oxford Street. He claimed he’d been to see Paul the boss 49 times and I believed him. We (Tactics) played there all the time and it was always the same. By 8 oclock the joint was absolutely crammed – I mean jam packed you couldn’t move – punks in leather jackets, Mohawks, bondage pants – dames with peroxided hair, short leather skirts, huge mascara and dark lipstick. It was like a bed of nails sitting in a coffin. Everyone looked fabulous. I always wanted to talk to these people but I never had the nerve. They were all eastern suburbs hairdressers, public school boys and such, with a few local drop outs, but it was really all about fashion. Downstairs had this stage which was like the back of a truck. When we played – and we always played real fast – this jammed packed joint was utterly silent and motionless; so we really could hear every note we were playing. You could hear a pin drop and drift across that bed of mohawk nails. Silent. No one clapped or said anything; everyone stood there looking bored like they’d been stuck in a lift.
Maybe it was because we wouldn’t wear punk uniform: I just wore an army jacket and a tee shirt. Geoff wore his 4 bingo caller’s jackets and his clip on bow tie. They stared and they stared and no one could place us.
When the Thoughties came on round ten the joint went berserk. Bodies were flying everywhere and it was time to get out . After we finished I’d go across to the gay club with these two girls I knew. We’d dance a bit and sit round. We’d get back to Frenches just when the Thoughties were finishing. I loved running across Oxford Street between all the traffic; the neon blinking and the big red Aussie moon sitting in the warm blackness, and people coming out of milk bars and yelling at you from the front seat of cars. It seemed like paradise to me. French’s had a lovely blue banner and no one was ever upstairs and a curvy staircase down to all these beautiful people.
When the joint was clearing out, me and Steve Phillips, would load everyone’s gear into my ‘74 Valiant safari station wagon and take it all back to their practice room. Which was upstairs in an old wool warehouse, opposite this vast paddock of bricks and rubble where darling harbour is now. I liked it better then. We’d take the gear upstairs in a big steel industrial lift with a grey cardboard floor. It shuddered and went clank like something from a Jean Pierre Melville movie. I loved that too. For some reason it always took precisely, two hours and fifteen minutes door to door. We played French’s forty times and every one was exactly the same.
Sydney was great then. There hadn’t been any building since the bust of 73 and where darling harbour is now there was just a huge deserted railway yard that was really beautiful. The Sussex was right opposite and in the breaks on a hot Saturday afternoon I’d wander down and walk by the water; the watchmen’d came of their little tin sheds shouting and waving me away like a dog. The Paris cinema on Oxford street was another beautiful building but the Roma cinema on George street was my favorite. You could hear the trains passing behind the screen as you sat and watched the movie. I walked everywhere. I felt really free.
PKL: Wowee. My name is Perry (Pez). I many times went to Frenchs. I lived at the infamous Stanley Street squats on off 77-81 . I had the 4 rooms at the top of 92 Stanley Street, It was the only 3 storey house of the “Compound”. I would go to Frenches most nights even when broke. I would either sit on jukebox!!! or sit on stairs halfway down much to the annoyance of punters making there way down. I would peer through the bannister ogling at the bands. I was always amazed at the hippie girl who was always front and center and danced to everything. I remember her middle name Olga as it’s my g mother’s name. When I had $$$ I would head to the ladies loo. There was more action/dealing in those toilets than Oxford street. Also great graffiti. Bouncer Ray barred me few times but always talked my way back in. Met girl there we had a son. Looking back she was the one. The guy who ran the place was very nerdie looking. He reminded me of Dudley in TVs No.96. Loved the honking af the Layabouts on Sundays. Remember on lsd and band The Aliens were on. We were spaced for rest of the night. Nights when flat broke and looking for a buzz. It was simple. Just look on floor. Many times finding sodium seconal, tuinal, mandrax etc even cash. Such was the wastedness of people there. Then it was off to the Taxi club to see some very odd humans. Later I’d check out the Opposition drop in, ran by father Stephens, great fella. To finish my night I sometimes went to Piccolo Coffee shop for yarn or?. Can anyone suggest somewhere I can unload heaps of my yarns, stories & amazing happenings about this crazy venue and era. I’d have 10,000 words easy.
Wonder what ever happened to the jukebox. Best jukebox ever.
My memory is not what it once was. If I seen a picture. Do you remember Ching, Robert and Robin or Loners Motorcycle Club at the Compound. I was 17 and was there gopher. They’d give me money to score + get grog. I used to fill a backpack with spirits for them. They’d bash me one minute next they’d give me goey and a wench!! Might start blog. Get stanley St photos off sister. Have Syd Morn Herald account of me at squats. Would have 10,000 words about Stanley St escapades.
As a 16yo going on 17 I was a rabbit in the headlights to the goings on at French’s. There I learned all about drugs sex and of course Rock n roll. Had my first sexual encounter with older woman in the gals loo. She sniffed Amyl Nitrate the whole while. One night I found a purse gave it to Ray. He returned it to owner complete with substantial funds intact. He would always give me a favourable nod on entering. My fav spot was sitting on the jukebox seeing this amazing cross section of humanity make there way down stairs. If anyone else sat there Ray would growl “off”. Good friends whom frequented French’s were Stan Newbury, Annabelle Ferguson & Fiona Carter. Where are you guys. In about 1980 a bloke Ian was hit and killed by bus as he left French’s. I actually was in Brookway Park boys home Adelaide with him in 75. He used to bash me. But meeting up with him at Frenches he took me under his wing and showed me how to survive and Hussle in the Cross. I used to wear a “My Name is Nobody” type hat and one day at the bar a cute blonde swiped the hat and plonked it on her head. Usually a shy fella I blurted out “fuck ya for it”. Next thing I’m being towed out with the hat back on my head. Was with her 6 years… The Cross & Oxford St were full of hippies when I arrived and full of punks when I left. I much prefered the free love of hippies as opposed to the angst of punkdom. Don’t get me wrong one my fav Sydney gigs of all time was “Exploited”. At Frenchs I seen the brill Exploding White Mice who partied on at my squat. (have no idea where the bag full of S12 came from). When and why did the place close. Once talking to someone at Mardi gras in Nimbin he said he seen the large scrapbook of French’s whilst dining at the restaurant that was next door circa 2005. Does anyone know of this priceless archive…
PC: I played my first ever live gig at French’s!
LT: I frequented French’s for a year or so mid 70’s I think – downstairs was happening but there was also a small bar upstairs. So many adventures since – both wholesome and not so – that I now have trouble with my recalled time sequences. Just occurred to me to google French’s Wine Bar and lo and behold, a website and Facebook presence. I was not involved in the band / music side – apart from as an appreciative listener but was involved in the burgeoning drug scene. I actually had a developing career in computer systems at the time (went quite far) but somehow also had good pot connections. Weed and occasionally small amounts of hash was my thing at the time and I did rather well at French’s – not dealing direct myself but through a couple of lieutenants that could slip thru the crowd with less notice than my 6′ 1″(long hair and beard) would allow. The only name I recall from that time was a barmaid nicknamed “squirrel” – quite cute and we were close for a time. There was a “heavier” drug scene – mainly smack – but I was never involved. I am still and always was a shocker at remembering names but if squirrel rings a bell I would appreciate a timing correction. Pretty sure Surrey Lane was where I lived and a small crowd would often be there after French’s closed. I like to think that I had a good name not just for my veg curry but for good deals of quality gear – I did check that my lieutenants were not taxing the deals on top of the earn I already provided. I have now (am 70) retired back in NZ where I come from – quiet life fishing mainly.
BK: I was there the night Richard Clapton played his first gig at Frenchs after a stint OS. I was a regular on Monday nights to hear the Riders. I remember when Margaret Roadnight played her first gig there…loved that place. It was never as good when they opened downstairs as it was with just the one level.
RH: Formerly Adelaide’s Gun Control, Funhouse played there 2 or 3 times at the outset of 1984 after moving to Sydney and changing the name. The band had a single on the airwaves at the time and we later split with members ending up in THE CELIBATE RIFLES and MUSHROOM PLANET, etc.
BK: Frenchs was much better before they went downstairs. Foreday Riders, Dick Hughes, Crossfire … Margaret Roadknight, Richard Clapton, Jeannie Lewis … When the “post punks” moved in, it lowered the level of Cool Bohemia.
MH: I thought it raised the level of cool punk. I remember coming in as a teenager probably 13 in ’77 with my dad to see crossfire and yeah it was ok but I was with my dad. Came back probably ’82 and woohoo it’s for the punks scrumpy n rowies all the way. Just a matter of perspective sorry if you reckon we lowered the tone .ps probably prefer to see crossfire than ww24 today.
PKL: Frenchs scrapbook??? Around 20yrs ago (ca 2001) I was in the restaurant that used to be next to the Frenchs site. Having a conversation with the owner he said he never went to Frenchs but seen the big scrapbook which gave him an idea of the place. He said he was in Tandoori Palace (Frenchs) when shown the book! Can anyone confirm it’s whereabouts. Love to see this book….
LS: I worked there. We’d been wandering around the city during the day, the parks along the foreshore of Sydney Harbour, posing draping ourselves over cannons and such. My workday started in daylight hours, we’d unlock Frenches, walk in close the door and set about setting up for the evening. To say we were a bit under the weather that day maybe selling the fact short a tad. David, I was concerned that your perpetually worried looking brother, MY BOSS, who would call in briefly to unlock the tills etc before disappearing to his other gaming occupation might be concerned. So I picked up a Menu or Magazine, pretending to be deep in concentration reading, assured him all was fine masking my personal truth 😛 . Urrmn pity it was upside down though and I hadn’t noticed. I never got in trouble just the same, Paul wandered off as per usual. Strange tides.
EB: Frenchs there was no bouncers at the door in 1974 it was like a candy store once you walked in it was like falling down a rabbit hole bounce bounce bounce lots of bunnies jiving some went for the music some the booze the rest went to party with the coolest crew no matter where you came from a friend could alway be found and you could ride on with the riders the sound of the blues all your problems got left behind far out and grooving for brave hearts and free spirits ! No rules no fear !
PA: Hey there, well I remember going there when I was 15 or so about 71 with a pal from school when it was just upstairs, ( no downstirs)street level and was a sort of post beatnik ” wine bar” and they had a little jazz outfit in the corner and wine barrells for tables …I’ve had a few too many drinks…but I feel surprisingly ok.😉🤪🍀👍 you get vertigo thinking about places you got drunk that long ago.
BD: It was easy to get in underage much easier than suburban pubs. So it gave suburban 15 year olds a inner city beatnik experience with cheap wine older women with mystery and gently gracefully rebuffed your suburban pick up attempts. But occasionally you’d be pleasantly surprised !
PJN: in 1978 I was the bass player in a band called The Inmates. Punk. Stooges, Damned and Pistols copies and a few of our own songs. We came from Armidale to Sydney to make it and of course went to bits in a welter of the usual things affecting bands at that time. But before we did, we played the Stage Door (supporting Rrats Bander), the Grand (with the Slugfuckers, as I remember it), the Civic, the Native Rose, and Frenchs. Twice, I think. Must have been December 78 or Jan – Feb 1979. I remember opening for the Thought Criminals there once, and the other occasion I can’t remember, except that blood was spilt, because a girl who was with us (I won’t mention her name, she’s a Buddhist now) threw a cider mug across the room at a guy who she said groped her, pow, right on the forehead. The Inmates were Simon Proctor, vocals, Preston Stahlut, guitar (and he could really play) John Solomons drums (ditto) and me, Peter Newall.
SL: I spent many nights at French’s. I used to work for a band called Railroad Gin which had a residency on Tuesday’s I seem to remember. Crazy sweaty nights with an interesting crowd. Many old roadies used to hang out there in fact used to help each other load out. Never happen now. I have some shots the band did out in the back lane which I will post. Memories!!!!
DW: So much gear, so many people, all the way from Queensland, great nights with RailRoad Gin, always went down so well, another band that were welcome anytime they were available. Funny but true story, we’d had a dispute with a wine supplier so decided to change, they told us we couldn’t, that if we did they’d send some characters to wreck the place, this late afternoon these three characters showed up with Ross T., the rep, saying they were coming to teach us a lesson, at the same time RailRoad Gin roadies turned up in their truck with some of the band and yelled out to us, Ross T. and his mates thought we’d brought in backup, thought they were outnumbered so shot through, never to be seen again.
SB: I was Lyn, behind the bar at French’s in 1978 to 1979. I was 16 when I started working there and I left on my 18th birthday! I confessed to Paul that I’d been working illegally for two years and he was very cool about it and even gave me a reference in my real name. I loved working there and Ray was my favourite person in the world at the time. I kept on going to see bands at French’s after I stopped working there- where else could you see Midnight Oil for free one night and Billy Bunter the next?
WC: Arnhem Babe played there often early ’77 to late ’79. Had ex members from Fat Albert, Rubber Band, Bullet, Andy Gibb, Anne Kirkpatrick, Aspidistra, John and Barry Jarratt, Geoff Bullock (first keyboard player). We also rescued Paul one night when he was being assaulted by a drunk! Didn’t play there weekly. We were often away on tour to make more money. We were held up by the police during a break out the back. Pretty scary until they said they were also in a band and played at French’s. So different to now days. It was easy going there. The police even pulled guns on us! Amazing how they changed. They said there were undercover cops in French’s but I doubt it. If they were they were there for fun. In the early 80’s I played there with Jim Finn, also the singer Cat Critch who later formed the keyboard duo Plan 8.