In the challenging world of Sydney nightlife, any independent venue which can celebrate a 10 year anniversary is deserving of celebration. I spoke with the founder of Venue 505, Cameron Undy, as the club moves towards a decade on Cleveland Street.
Not so long ago an Australian music legend, who does not need to be named here, was at Venue 505 and was talking with Cameron Undy.
“He came up to me and said ‘thank you for creating this wonderful gift to the city’” says Undy. “And of course that really meant a lot to me.”
In a live music scene under siege, Venue 505 is a survivor, and even a thriver.
Coming out of Hibernian House on Elizabeth Street, where famously they had suite 505 for five years or so, Undy and his wife and collaborator Kerri Glasscock have taken a previously nondescript shopfront on nondescript Cleveland Street and turned it into Sydney’s go to venue for roots music.
“Coming here out of Hibernian and coming here was like moving from the underground and going above ground,” says Cameron Undy.
“It was at a time when the regulations were changing and venues like this became possible for people like me, who had no money, and I’d had some friends who had lobbied hard to make the change and I thought it was time to come out and be more serious about it.”
Everything from jazz, blues, funk, reggae, latin and folk music passes its way through and even hybrids thereof, such as the Estonian “folktronica” duo Maarja Nuut and Ruum, who will perform in March on their way to headline at WOMAD in Adelaide.
“I feel like we are real hub of roots music, there is no other venue which is focused on it in the way that 505 is,” says Undy.
“The only thing we don’t do is rock n’roll, because we don’t do loud…but of course if you get a 20 piece reggae band, as we have done, that does create its own kind of loud.”
The 505 program includes major international jazz acts such as British born and New York based saxophonist Will Vinson and his trio, along with local musicians who display their chops in funk and jazz on free admission jam nights.
Undy, an accomplished jazz bassist in his own right, is driven simply by a passion for the music.
But in 15 years, at Hibernian House and now on Cleveland Street, he has managed to turn a number – 505 – into a powerful brand which now bears the standard for the live performance of roots music in Sydney.
The brand is even busting out of Surry Hills, with wife Kerri Glasscock’s management of the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown.
On the Cleveland Street location, Undy says it has strangely helped to make 505 more of a destination.
“The positive thing about being here is that we are in a zone close to the city,” he says.
“The good think is that we don’t have much foot traffic and the bad thing is that we don’t have much foot traffic.
“I guess the positive is that we don’t get too many randoms flying in. The people who come understand the venue, they find us and they come here because they want to hear what we have to offer, and that is a unifying thing.”
280 Cleveland St Surry Hills