Right Royal Celebration

18 July 2012 | 7:15 am | Tony McMahon

“A favourite Empress moment? All I can think of are things I don’t want printed in the paper. I do have a couple that spring to mind, but I’m not sure I’m ready for them to be general knowledge.”

Twenty-five years is a long time for any music venue to survive, let alone one as constantly under threat and musically innovative as North Fitzroy's Empress Of India. Inpress will avoid discussing the absurdity of the trope of scum-sucking yuppies moving to a musically vibrant area and then complaining about said music. There are, or should be, plenty of extant discussions around that. Rather, we'll concentrate here on celebrating a quarter-century in the game for this particular old stager, which is just what the venue itself is doing, with a five-day festival of Empress regulars and alumni. These include Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Whitaker, The Bedroom Philosopher, Jen Cloher and Aleks & The Ramps. Inpress asks band booker Jeremy Furze what a quarter-century of Empress shows meant for the Melbourne music scene.

“I think it's really, really important,” he says. “It's quite an achievement for such a small venue to have been operating on a week-to-week level for so long. If you ask anyone, they'll tell you that how small-to-medium-sized venues operate really is a week-to-week proposition. You're constantly asking yourself if you're going to get through the next month; you can't rest on your laurels at all. It's just been so up and down over the years, but we've changed with the music scene. We're not a genre venue; we're an everything venue, so we'll always end up booking bands from anything that develops. The Empress is really special in that way.”

Cash Savage and her band The Last Drinks could probably fairly be described as classic Empress alumni, moving from small time shows to bigger and better things with seeming ease. Given this, it's hardly surprising that her enthusiasm for the venerable institution knows little in the way of bounds.

“All my life, going to see gigs, the Empress has always been there. It's funny, you take this sort of thing for granted, but you shouldn't. So, 25 years is quite a milestone. I just think it's so important to have different-capacity venues. I remember seeing Wagons at the Empress years ago. It's so important that grassroots venues like this exist. Venues like the Empress, they give you a chance right from the start. You go to other cities and try and break into the music scene there and it's really hard because they don't have venues like this one. For me, the music scene would be a lot poorer without places like the Empress existing.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Naturally, we ask Cash if she has a favourite Empress moment, and her answer is about as rock'n'roll as they come.

“A favourite Empress moment? All I can think of are things I don't want printed in the paper. I do have a couple that spring to mind, but I'm not sure I'm ready for them to be general knowledge.”

Furze is slightly more forthcoming.

“It's been consistently weird throughout my time there. One of my highlights would have been seeing the Twerps play there. They just wandered in and played one afternoon for the hell of it. People just poured into the room and lapped it up. It was just fantastic.”

Given all the bands that have played at the Empress over the years, how the hell did Furze go about choosing who would appear at the 25th birthday celebrations? In answering, he reveals what is perhaps the key to this invaluable venue's philosophy and – not for nothing – its longevity as well.

“I wanted to keep a balance between acts that had played here in the past and gone on to bigger and better things with plenty of young acts I'd seen play in the last six months or year who I think are really amazing bands. Hopefully, they'll be that next generation of successes who'll be able to thank the Empress in the future.”