Almanac History: The Plaza Theatre, Geelong

 

The Plaza Theatre, formerly in Ryrie Street, Geelong, was one of those grand old-style theatres with extensive lower level seating and a major upper balcony area, as well as the type of fancy interior plaster work that was de rigueur for such places. From memory, it could hold around a thousand people. By the 1970s, though, it had seen considerably better days and become known locally as the flea pit. Now there’s an old-fashioned term, flea pit; in fact, the term old-fashioned is old-fashioned … but I digress …

 

In my teenage years, the Plaza hosted some major shows, featuring a wide variety of acts. I remember my sister Cheryl saw Sherbet there a number of times. On one occasion, I played at the venue in a brass band as part of a charity event featuring local singers and dancers – to a full house. International acts appeared there too.

 

One of my major memories of the place is from 1977, when I saw a double bill featuring New Zealand band Mother Goose and UK group Supercharge, whose hit at the time was “(You’ve Gotta) Get Up and Dance”.

 

I went with a couple of Year Ten mates from school, and recall a few things from the event – two girls we often saw at the VFL football at Kardinia Park, standing behind the goals at the Barwon River end, were about half a dozen rows ahead of us. We liked these girls, but nothing ever happened between any of us except smiles and shy hellos. I think we waved at them at the concert.

 

Mother Goose played first. They had a novelty hit at the time, ‘Baked Beans’, and dressed in oddball costumes, as many Almanac readers would remember; the lead singer, Craig Johnston, appeared as a sailor, and one of the guitarists dressed as a bright yellow bumble bee with black stripes. Another bloke in the band wore a ballet tutu. I wondered if they’d do the full dress-up thing at the gig, and they did, which impressed me, as I thought it would be pretty hard to move about and play an instrument in their costumes. Of course, the main thing we wanted to hear was ‘Baked Beans’, which they performed with aplomb. Ah, what an imaginative chorus: Baked beans / Hot baked beans / Baked beans / Hot baked beans … But really, the rest of the lyrics were clever, and musically the song could be viewed as a kind of novelty ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (I’m not kidding!), with its blend of fifties doo-wop, straight ahead rock, a choral vocals sequence, and waltz tempo section.

 

What struck me about Supercharge from the gig was their fat, funky sound, centred upon a horn section featuring stocky bald sax player, Albie Donnelly. Albie looked more like a night club bouncer than a musician. He was the frontman of the group, too, and a bit of a comedian; at one point, he pulled a fried chicken leg out of his pants and ate it!

 

I can’t recall much more about that Plaza Theatre gig, which may have been the first concert of that kind I ever went to, except that, yes, the venue was dark and dingy, and the seats a bit creaky and uncomfortable. But the music was certainly good.

 

A few years later, the Plaza was demolished, except for some external walls, which became part of a new Geelong Arts Centre, a sleek modernist construction. No progress was made in the process – just one thing replaced by something different, and no better, in spite of the hoopla surrounding the new complex’s opening in 1981. And it’s interesting that Geelong main arts building is again in the process of undergoing a thorough revamp. It’s also an indication of how long I’ve been connected to Geelong, when an important public structure has had multiple reconstructions in my memory.

 

The audience in the Plaza Theatre, circa 1920. Taken from the stage, the photo shows musicians in the orchestra pit and the lighting at the edge of the stage. (Source: Museums Victoria.)

 

 

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, will be published by Ginninderra Press later in 2020. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Kevin, after reading your evocative paragraph on the song ‘Baked Beans’, I immediately went to Spotify and found it (I hadn’t got as far as the YouTube clip). Sounds like a Muppets song! Very entertaining video too.

    Fantastic old photo, they don’t make theatres like that anymore.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Luke. Thanks for your comments. And I think you’re right – there is a Muppets feel to “Baked Beans”, though I’d never thought of it that way before!

  3. My mum loved Mother Goose’s “Baked Beans”.
    Supercharge’s “Get up and dance” was a cracker of a song.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your response, Smokie. Yes, two very good songs, I reckon – and both bands also had other material well worth listening to. For example, I recall MG had a fine ballad called “I Can’t Sing Very Well” and Supercharge had “I Think I’m Gonna Fall in Love.”

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